Art History

historicizing the phenomenal ephemeral.

History, certainly, is important. Knowing where you come from and why is essential, and thanking and giving reference to those who came before, who plowed the way to where we are now is vital. But those artists at the club last night were there in flesh and blood for that one night, playing and creating music that will never be heard in that particular way again, and for that they deserve the credit of their night, not an explanation of how and why they got there.

Emily Johnson, “The Conundrum That Is: Writing About Performance,” Mental Contagion

On the surface, Emily Johnson writes of attending a burning hot jazz show at a club in Harlem, but the deeper issue she writes about is the challenge of historicizing artistic experience.

How do we not only represent the aspects of art that are obviously lasting—origins, lineages, linkages, appropriations, and contexts—but also the effervescent explosions of art that “will never be heard in that particular way again”?

It’s easy to assume that the impermanent is unimportant, but when it comes to art, the ephemeral can sometimes, in fact, be sheer power flashing forth, history in-the-making.

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