MSB brainstorming

19 February 2017

Dr Great Art Episode 8: "African Art Survey Problems" in Teaching

The newest podcast episode! Dr Great Art: "African Art Survey Problems." A short Artecdote concerning the difficulty in teaching an overview, or intro survey to Sub-Saharan African art, plus a free art image bank to download. Link to podcast:

Image bank link:


Here is the script (NOT a transcript as I change elements when recording).

Dr Great Art Podcast Eight
"African Art Survey Problems"

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the eighth "Dr (Great) Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.
Today we have a short Artecdote concerning the difficulty in teaching an overview, or intro survey to Sub-Saharan African art.
February is "Black History Month" in the US. And yes, few have missed the irony that February is the shortest month! My contribution to this month has been two years in the making.

I am addressing the problem of teaching African art in a general survey of the whole, well --- the supposed whole ---, history of art. I have taught these classes for years at various university-type levels, fromm the wonderful Swiss Vorkurs through the University. Prehistoric through Postmodernism. However, as we are all aware this history is very limited. It is sexist, racist and classist in many ways. I do NOT believe though that that means we should abandon it. It is NOT wrong --- it is just not the whole truth! Art history, like anything else, has its own history, as well as the history of teaching it.
True, according to the customary presentation of art history, art fades into being, its origin uncertain, marches on, and does not end: the well-established notion of a general march of history. This is tolerable, simply not enough. It does not reflect the real complexity and multifariousness of actual history, in fact, it suggests exactly the opposite: a tidy, hierarchically clear, perhaps even evolutionary chain of events.

There are other options for art history timelines and timeline substitutes, in particular ones which think art has ended (from Hegel through Gombrich to Danto), but I will attack these in another episode.
Totally avoiding ANY timeline, though, I call the Non-Hegemonic or when less magnanimous, the Symptomatic timeline. This might also be called an anti- or non-model, anti-canon: "I give up." In the name of "decentering the discourse" or the like, some art historians do nothing innovative, allowing their fear of incorrectness to lead them into a far worse scenario, a descent into a Consensus-Correct yet unproductive morass of avoidance. 

They teach only potential systems of interpretation, nothing about the primary subject — art — itself. This is often coupled with a deconstructive, quasi-Freudian perception of art as no more than a symptom of some social sickness, one in need of some all-knowing theorist's interpretative cure. Yes, thank God, the wide acceptance of the Western canon as self-evidently universal (even in non-Western regions) is over; yet it is not being significantly enlarged in such a model, but instead becomes a shrunken paucity of visual-aids to criticism. Heuristically, this vision of art history is clearly useless. What can we do! I have my own model (NOT a master narrative), model of the timeline in which art is seen not as mono-historical or posthistorical, but rather polyhistorical. The timeLINE not as a line but as a braided rope. The Brandl/Perreault Braid Model of Art History, as it has been called. Once again, though, this is something I intend to discuss in depth in a future episode.
At this moment, I am addressing a couple very specific details. Sexism: I have addressed this simply by packing as many new and rediscovered women artists into the standard one or two year class. From Sofonisba Anguissola through Cindy Sherman, and many many more. Classism, well, I'm working on it. The artworld does NOT seem to be working on it, but I and a few others are. And then there is racism.

There are many newer international artists we can easily include in art history survey classes, e.g. Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jacob Lawrence, Joyce Owens, Kerry James Marshall, Betye Saar (Say-er), David Hammons, Dawoud Bey, Martin Puryear, Jack Whitten and many more. --- just a few who I teach.

But one GLARING problem is an overview of the continent of Africa from Prehistoric till recent times. There is much research material and many books on ancient Egypt and the Arabian North --- and yes, although white people tend to forget it, Egypt IS Africa. HOWEVER; there are hardly ANY general survey books or sources for the whole rest of Africa! The place where we all originally evolved! There are many good works on specific aspects or cultures or areas of Africa, but no great survey book for the quick yet extensive view required for a survey class. Not surprising, but nevertheless disheartening.

I decided to do something about it. First, to learn all that for MYSELF, and then second, to compile images for use in such classes by me and others. I have spent two years reading, watching educational videos, listening to podcasts, and searching out images. Sub-Saharan Africa, as it is called. From Prehistoric till now. I made an extensive collection of these images and am giving it away for free on the internet. Punt, Kush, Nok, Axum, Ethiopia, Ghana, Benin, Ife, Mali, Songhai, Great Zimbabwe, Kongo, Dahomey, Luba, Lunda, Zulu, Colonialization, Independence, and on through contemporary artists from the areas as well. 

I am giving away a Zip of a whole class in African Art. Please download it, use it and get back to me. Let's build a decent survey class on African art together for introductions. That is one great way to break the barrier of ignorance about the continent in art.

There will be a link in the show notes.
So this week was less verbal info, than a suggestion for and offering of images. That was "African Art Survey Problems."

Thanks for listening. That was "Dr (Great) Art" podcast number 8. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.
I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations.
You can find or contact me at
book me at
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And don't forget to go to, search for African Art Course, (about the fourth post down at this time), download the images and use them!