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Art Through Time: A Global View

History and Memory Compare: Why Might Individuals Document Their Personal Histories in Art?

Untitled, page number 21, from the Arrow’s Elk Society Ledger

Untitled, page number 21, from the Arrow’s Elk Society Ledger
Artist / Origin: Arrow (Elk Society), Cheyenne (active 19th century), Central Plains
Region: North America
Date: ca. 1875
Period: 1800 CE – 1900 CE
Material: Graphite and colored pencil on ledger paper
Medium: Prints, Drawings, and Photography
Dimensions: H: 6 1/8 in. (15.5 cm.), W: 14 ¾ in. (37 cm.)
Location: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
Credit: Courtesy of the Hood Museum of Art; gift of Mark Lansburgh, Class of 1949, in honor of James Wright, President of Dartmouth College

The Triumph of Juliers from the Marie de’ Medici Cycle

The Triumph of Juliers from the Marie de’ Medici Cycle
Artist / Origin: Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)
Region: Europe
Date: 1622–25
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 12.9 ft. (3.94 m.), W: 9.68 ft. (2.95 m.)
Location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Credit: Courtesy of Giraudon/Bridgeman Art Library

Why might individuals document their personal histories in art?

Art can be used to tell the history of countries, communities, or institutions. It can also serve biographical or autobiographical purposes, relating the life story of an individual in order to teach a lesson, commemorate that person’s accomplishments, or assert the subject’s claims to a certain title or position. The Cheyenne ledger drawing and the image from the Medici series seen here offer two examples of ways that such imagery has been approached by different individuals to fulfill their personal aims.

Questions to Consider

  • The artists who created ledger drawings often depicted their own exploits or accomplishments. In grand painting cycles like Marie de’ Medici’s, a professional artist was commissioned to do the work. Using these two pieces as a case studies, what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of a subject telling his or her own story through art? Of a subject hiring a third party to tell that story?
  • Ledger drawings got their name because they were originally drawn in ledger or accounting books. As such, they were portable artworks. The large canvases that made of the Marie de’ Medici series, on the other hand, were created for installation in a specific space. How do you think format might have affected the nature of the audience for each piece? Do you think these works were created with specific audiences in mind? Why or why not?
  • When we think of autobiography, we often think of textual accounts. Why might an individual want his or her story told in visual terms? If you were asked to tell your personal story through words or images, which would you choose and why?

Series Directory

Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2