George Kubler’s “The Shape of Time”, selections from pgs. 4-8 and pgs. 44-48, discuss art’s relationship with history and time. The reading assigned was divided between two separate passages of the same text, although they both address the same topic of time and history’s unavoidable influence on artistic creation. Kubler’s notion of time is linear, as he describes the history of art as “railroads,” and uses this metaphor to describe perspective of artist biographies’ place within the study of art history of a whole. He believes that studying a single artist, and using his or her story exclusively to explain or illuminate an entire art movement or period is inaccurate, as doing so would be similar to describing a “railroad” from the perspective of a single passenger. It may be accurate in technical terms, but it will be severely limited in scope. Biographies, according to Kubler, are important as a “provisional way of scanning artistic substance” but do not “treat the historical question in artists’ lives, which is always the question of their relation to what has preceded to what will follow them.”
This analogy of art history acting as a linear “railroad” track of sorts is built within another point which he makes, regarding the time period in which an artist functions, as a section of this track. This section, he argues, is inherent to the work produced by the artist, and also others’ reception of it. Added to the usual attributes of “temperament and training” that come to determine an artist’s “position” within Kubler’s track of history, the artist should also establish a “tradition”—the type of art he pursues—that appropriately aligns with his “entrance”—when he enters this track of history. He then theorizes that this “entrance” has as much to do with an artist’s critical and public acclaim as natural talent does. There are many other factors, but the “entrance” into an appropriate artistic environment is crucial.
In the next sub-section, appropriately entitled The Invisible Chain, Kubler asserts that all art is interconnected in the way that rival artists and previous works often inspire and motivate new works, generating a sort of recurring cycle, and giving the ancient tradition of the artist’s muse as an example. Through repetition of a certain form the artist hones his/her skill, but once done, the artist moves on—Kubler asserts this is what artists usually disguise as periods, but may also stem from not being able to push certain aspect or form any further due to such intense repetition. Kubler ends by asserting that the modern-day artist is lonely, since usually the impact of an artist’s work won’t be fully known until long after their passing. His or her works exist in the present primarily as “wonderful and frightening surprises for [the artist’s] immediate circle.”