why “applied art history”?

In the SCA, I feel strongly that it’s important to be aware of the context and character of the art we’re striving to emulate. Understanding the greater context of our references will allow us to make intelligent, consistent, and appropriate choices. This is vital in several ways.

Firstly, it’s important when balancing our needs as an educational organisation with the needs of our artwork. For an example, the aim of a scroll is as an award, which means the art requires specific features, such as signature spaces or seals, which aren’t served directly out of the box. Adding these features is aided by knowledge of our source material. Applied art history interfaces between the reality of extant art with the needs of SCA art.

Secondly, we also need to understand art history if we want to stretch our creativity beyond replication. Whether we want to customize for a recipient, adapt the materials or methods, or have a personal preference that takes us beyond what we can directly see, our choices should be conscious, and that is really only possible if we understand the context of the artwork we’re referencing. In other words, if we want to riff on the recipe, we’ll do better if we thoroughly understand the original in the first place. Creativity is a natural outgrowth of understanding.

Thirdly, having a greater basis in art history will help us as we explore the Global Middle Ages. As the SCA increasingly acknowledges a wider breadth of cultures more globally, it mirrors the similar broadening of the scholarship of the Medieval world in academia, and both reflect the deepening awareness of ethics, equity, and justice which require us to reckon with our—and our organization’s—colonial pasts. Due to the structures we’ve inherited, often our education on the history of places beyond Christian Europe is lacking. In order to integrate this new art, we might (read: probably do) need some extra education. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know. Humility, grace, and knowledge is needed to do right by these cultures, especially if we’re going to ethically integrate them into our “game”.

The SCA is a population of busy folks with busy lives, and varying levels of interest, education level, and ability. With “applied art history”, I use my experience as an artist, a designer, and a scholar to research, keep up with active scholarship, translate academic work into a form useful for artists in the SCA, and present my research in a multiplicity of accessible ways.

Above all, I aim to help us all do our best artwork possible.