Traditionally, art was taught by asking students to copy existing models while the teachers aided the young artist in their attempt to emulate the masters. Even before art school as we know it today, masters had workshops where apprentices would assist in the completion of commissions, learning the craft in the process. Today, students in art school are encouraged to develop their own styles, influenced by the shift in teaching pedagogies introduced by the Bauhaus. Nevertheless, it is by learning about known works of art that young artists gradually develop their own vocabularies. Still, art history did not become formalized as a discipline until artistic styles were identified and systematically analyzed in context, gradually separating the roles of artist and artisan beginning in the Renaissance and into the eighteenth century.
As a result, art historians began to give prominence to certain artists, artworks, and movements, which in turn allowed the canonization of some artists, artworks, and styles while marginalizing others. The term canon comes from the Greek kanon, meaning “standard,”, but the word also has a religious connotation since it was used to describe the selection of accepted scriptures. According to the art historian Griselda Pollock, “Canons may be understood as the retrospectively legitimating backbone of a cultural and political identity, a consolidated narrative of origin.” 1 Today, the canon is understood as the best, most representative, and most significant texts, objects, or musical compositions, and hence, “what must be studied as a model by those aspiring to the practice”. 2
Of all art forms, painting has been the most widely discussed and canonized, especially in Western art history. In the early 1900s, artists rejected the system imposed by the academic salons, and dismissed the idea of painting as a window to the world and instead began exploring new subjects, methods, and materials. Although Modernism was initially a reaction to the canon, it eventually became the precept, being supplanted by Postmodernism in the 1970s. This cycle has repeated itself throughout history, when artists pause to reflect and reject the accepted style, signaling a change in the accepted aesthetic, cultural, and social values of a culture.