I studied a year and a half of art history. The first year was during my sophomore year in high school when I took Advanced Placement (AP) Art History, which is basically a class you can take to get college credit assuming you take the College Board’s AP exam, pay the stupid fees, and score at least a certain level (I surprisingly scored a 5, which is the highest score… my art history teacher didn’t think very much of me and probably would have been floored if I told her after). The second semester I did was during my first year at Wellesley, where it was a requirement to take a writing course. Because I felt a bit insulted that I was going to be forced to take a course just on writing (I already had an ego then, clearly), I figured it would be the most efficient use of my time if I took a writing course that combined a credit for some other requirement, so it was a writing course on art history in the end for me.
The academic study of intro-level, general “art history” in the U.S., if not in the western world, really stinks because the powers that be do not give a crap about Asian art. All the focus, because most of the world seems to value the accomplishments of white men, is around Western European and American art. The one surprising thing about my American art study was that it actually did cover some Mexican art (maybe because Mexico is part of North America… I have no idea what the logic there was), which was how I learned about famous Mexican artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Maybe it was because Rivera was commissioned to do some pieces in the U.S. Who knows?
I thought about this today because given that the Persian/Mughal empires used to control the subcontinent of India and the general sounds for centuries, Persian/Muslim architecture and art in general is so massive here, notably in Jaipur where we’re spending our next two days. I’d been exposed to this type of architecture while in Istanbul seven years ago, and I was already in love with its intricacies then. So much love and passion is apparent in these stunning mosques, forts, and archways; the level of complexity of Persian art in general is hard to rival. Their culture, like Indian culture, is so colorful and ornate, so it’s no wonder that everything from their walkways to the walls of their buildings would be so lavishly decorated. It’s as though every wall is a work of art that wants to command your attention.
The highlight of the day for me was at the Amber Fort, which sits just 11 kilometers outside of the city of Jaipur atop a hill. It is a fort and palace that is built of red and white sandstone, and is known for its blend of Rajput and Hindu style of architecture and its mixture of Hindu and Muslim ornamentation. The ornamentation is a mix of paintings, carvings, and jeweled pieces.
Sheesh Mahal or the Mirror Palace is the most beautiful part of this fort. This hallway is embellished with glass inlaid panels and multicolored ceilings; since the mirrors have a convex shape and are designed with colored foil and paint, the walls and ceilings would glitter brightly under candlelight at the time it was in use. The mirror mosaics and colored glass were called “a glittering jewel box in flickering candlelight.” Although we were there during the day, even in the regular bright daylight, the entire hall glittered endlessly no matter what angle you were looking at it or walking past it. Unfortunately, it was packed with tourists, so it was really hard to get a photo without people in it, so I resorted to just taking photos of the tops of the arches and its ceiling.
I’m just in love with the arches of this palace. I took so many pictures of them and stared at them constantly. I’m still looking at the photos I took on my phone now. The idea that someone could arbitrarily decide that this type of art is not worthy of being covered in an art history course is just so stupid and ignorant to me. The level of creativity and craftsmanship that went into structures like this rival, if not outdo, artwork that is famous in France or Italy. People in the west can be so oblivious and deluded.