Defining Celtic Art

A definition:
Shall we start with Wikipedia?

“Celtic art is the art associated with the peoples known as Celts; those who spoke the Celtic languages in Europe from pre-history through to the modern period, as well as the art of ancient peoples whose language is uncertain, but have cultural and stylistic similarities with speakers of Celtic languages.”

Actually, I kinda like this one. It has a lot going for it. I’m not completely sold, but we can start here. It does have a few flaws. First, you need the definition of ‘Celtic’ or ‘Celts.’ Then, perhaps, you have to be in tune with the science of historic linguistics and the ability of specialists to tell you when and where certain languages were spoken. And what does ‘cultural and stylistic similarities’ mean?

For some, Celtic art is only the works of pre-Roman Celts. Some feel that subsequent degradation of the clear Celtic style through influence of Roman and later Christian cultures creates something decidedly non-Celtic. Some are only acquainted with the traditions of the Christian times: the Book of Kells, the crosses of Clonmacnois, the Ardagh Chalice. And some are only familiar with the green trappings of St. Patrick’s day, the kilts and bagpipes of Scotland or the spoons of Wales. It’s ok. We welcome the uninitiated. Just don’t bring green beer.

The fact is, that much of the common and popular knowledge of Celtic art and even the definition of ‘Celt’ is based on works that came out in the 40’s. We’ve come a long way, baby, and new information is not getting out there. Stay with me.

Saying that there is any single, representational Celtic style is incorrect. So I will just refuse to address that particular ‘Pre-Roman is more Celtic’ reasoning. Celtic art was influenced in many ways by many other cultures at many different times and developed in different ways throughout the areas recognized as Celtic. It’s my blog. I mentioned your reasoning. I find it woefully inadequate so I will not bother my readers with it.

Why bother with it all? Isn’t Celtic art just art made by Celts? Well, sure. But during the rise of nationalism throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s, artists of Celtic ethnicity identified themselves by their national identity, as ‘Irish’ or ‘Welsh’ rather than Celtic. Irish art has come to encompass the range of styles and techniques one would expect of a modern country, yet the term Celtic art still hovers around the idea of historic and predominantly linear, non-representational design.

Celtic art is art done by Celtic speakers from ancient to modern times. Seems way too narrow. There are artists utilizing the methods and symbolism of Celtic art today. And they aren’t always Celtic speakers. It is a growing thing. The history of Celtic art provides roots, a sense of depth. For many of us, the designs evoke a sense of rhythm, a resonance like music. Modern artists use individual elements of Celtic design like musicians use notes. It is in the skill of the individual artist to create a composition that sings to an audience.

Sooo…..

We can start with some of the Wikipedia stuff. But we’ll make some changes. Celtic art is art created by ancient cultures recognized as Celtic through archeological and/or linguist evidence. It is also art based on the designs, motifs and visual impressions which are recognized thusly as historically Celtic.

Did you see what I did there? I used the word ‘thusly’ but I also added ‘archeological’ evidence. Did Wikipedia do that? No. Does that seem odd, now that you think about it? It should. It explains why Wikipedia had to add the part about cultures “whose language is uncertain.” I didn’t have to do that.

Ah. Outdated views of Celts. I have my evidence. The next post will cover the fads of the historian and how Wikipedia is perpetuating a stereotype.

 


Celtic Art

An overview:

I get excited about Celtic Art. Most of you cannot sit with me over coffee or over a pint, and watch me wave my hands about and draw examples as I tell you about Celtic Art. Maybe it is best, as I might spill your pint.

So here is the start of something amazing and glorious. A blog series on Celtic Art.

A lot of people have a lot of opinions on what constitutes Celtic Art. I want to address ALL of them, which may be a bit excessive, but there it is. So let me know what you think and ask me those questions about Celtic Art that you wanted to know.

I’ll start with a definition of Celtic Art. It might get complicated, but we’ll work out the basis of an understanding so at least we’ll all have an idea regarding what I am gassing on about. The historiography, or the history of how history is analyzed, is also relevant to the discussion, so I’ll throw a bit of that in too. Did you know that scholars of history are prone to fads as much as any Hollywood Diva?

I’ll do book reviews from the specific viewpoint of how the book contributes to the understanding of Celtic Art itself and to the construction and creation of more Celtic Art. Do you have a specific book you’d like me to talk about? I might. I’ll introduce you or reintroduce you to Francoise Henry, D. W. Harding, George Bain and other authors of books on Celtic Art.

Did you ever see a design or piece of artwork on your travels and wonder about it? I have done extensive research on symbols and artifacts, and if you find one I’ve never seen before, we’ll both learn more. Are you planning a trip and hoping to see specific artifacts or museums? Stone Crosses? The Book of Kells? I’ve done a bit of traveling in Ireland and Britain, so let me know what you want to see and maybe I can help.

Have you ever wanted to know how to create some basic designs? I’ll show you a few. More complex designs? Sure, why not? I have studied the geometric underpinnings of some of the most amazing ancient and Medieval artifacts and manuscripts. I have my own collection of sketches used to create my art, I have hundreds of reference books in my library and there are places on the web for information too.

We’ll ramble through history and we’ll ramble through the hills of Donegal. We’ll talk about the Urnfield Culture of the Bronze Age, the Celtic Revival of the late 1800’s and the Arts and Crafts Movement. We’ll put art into historic context. You will see what sorts of influences there have been on Celtic Art from non-Celtic sources, such as Scythians, Greeks and Vikings. I’ll blatantly advertise the works of some modern artists, and hopefully by the time I’ve finished up the outline I’ve put together, I’ll have more ideas and subjects from you and we’ll keep right on going.

I get excited about Celtic Art.

I hope I can inspire someone out there as well.

KJN

 


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