Art Historian Provides Hilarious & Surprisingly Efficient Art History Lessons on TikTok




@_theiconoclassIf youse come at me again for my Australian pronunciation I swear 😂 #arthistory #arthistorytiktok #baroque♬ original sound – AyseDeniz

Art Historian Mary McGillivray believes art appreciation is an acquired skill. Her TikTok project, The Iconoclass, is bringing those lacking formal art history education up to speed.

The 25-year-old Australian’s pithy observations double as surprisingly sturdy mnemonics, useful for navigating world class collections both live and online.

Some highlights from her whirlwind guide to the Baroque period, above:

If it looks like the chaos after blackout where everyone is stumbling around in the dark under one solitary emergency light, it’s a Caravaggio.

If there’s at least one person looking to the camera like they’re on The Office, it’s a Velázquez.

If there’s a room with some nice furniture, a window, and some women just going about their everyday business, it’s a Vermeer.

Rather than the traditional chronological progression, McGillivray mixes and matches, often in response to comments and Patreon requests.




When a commenter on the Baroque TikTok took umbrage that she referred to Artemisia Gentileschi by first name only, McGillivray followed up with an educational video explaining the convention from the 17th-century perspective.

@_theiconoclassReply to @rajendzzz her dad was hot, comment if you agree #baroque #artemisia #arthistoryclass♬ Guilty Love – Ladyhawke & Broods

At the urging of a Patreon subscriber, she leaps across four centuries to discover an unexpected kinship between Cubism and Renaissance painters, using George Braque’s Man with a Guitar and Sandro Botticelli’s Four Scenes from the Early Life of Saint Zenobius. One is attempting to escape the shackles of perspective by showing surfaces not visible when regarding a subject from a single point. The other is using a single space to depict multiple moments in a subject’s life simultaneously.

@_theiconoclass#arthistory #arthistorytiktok #renaissance #cubism #medievaltiktok♬ original sound – Finian Hackett

McGillivray is willing to be seen learning along with her followers. She’s open about the fact that she prefers Giotto and Fra Angelico to contemporary art (as perhaps befits an art historian whose face is more 1305 than 2021). Artist Dominic White’s wearable, environmental sculpture Hoodie Empathy Suit doesn’t do much for her until a conversation with the exhibiting gallery’s director helps orient her to White’s objectives.

@_theiconoclassWant to see me tackle more contemporary art? Big thanks to @mprg_vic ❤️🪶#arthistorytiktok #arthistory #contemporaryart #artgallery♬ original sound – Mary McGillivray

She tips her hand in an interview with Pedestrian TV:

I’m not very interested in deciding what is art and what isn’t. The whole “what is art” question has never been very important to me. The questions I prefer to ask are: Why was this image made?

She recommends art critic John Berger’s 1972 four-part series Ways of Seeing to fans eager to expand beyond the Iconoclass:

It’s got all the things you would expect from a 1970s BBC production – wide collared shirts, long hair, smoking on television – plus some of the most influential insights into how we look at art and also how we look at the world around us.

Watch Mary McGillivray’s The Iconoclass here. Support her Patreon here.

@_theiconoclassWant a part two? 😏😘 #arthistorytiktok #arthistorymajor #learnontiktok♬ Rasputin (Single Version) – Boney M.

via Bored Panda

Related Content: 

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An Introduction to 100 Important Paintings with Videos Created by Smarthistory

Steve Martin on How to Look at Abstract Art

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her June 7 for a Necromancers of the Public Domain: The Periodical Cicada, a free virtual variety honoring the 17-Year Cicadas of Brood X. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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