Cezanne’s Brick

There are many good reasons to teach art history and many rewards. This one is rarely mentioned. It should be.

After you have been teaching for a while, you will eventually receive a postcard from a student or former student. It will be out of the blue. It will include a charming message on one side, often alluding to a class they took with you. The card was probably bought at a museum that they visited recently and, on the other side, you will see an object from that collection; perhaps during class one day, you showed it to them.

Postcard: Cézanne, Still-Life with Basket of Apples (c.1893) and detail

If, like me, you’re lucky enough to teach art students, the message might include an indication, even a sketch, of what they’ve been making, or else of what they might make in the future. If so, it will be a sign that when conditions are right, looking at and thinking about art can stimulate more art.

Pausing, you will reflect that this is one of the uses of art history, and one of the ways it repays those who teach it.

With thanks to Jennifer Aldridge.