Now, of course neither of those works of art and the advancement of the arts they contributed would have been possible without a certain understanding of the (then) contemporary art, but wether they studied early art history or not (I don't know), doesn't seem very relevant. They did know and fully understand the contemporary, and that seems way more relevant for their inventions.
Now, when it comes to photography, one problem, I think, is that since the history is so short, traditions are in a way held more important.
There is a lot of new and exciting photography being made today from artists who rather look to other art forms than early masters of photography, but as we photographers and lovers of great photography tend to be quite conservative, a lot of us tend to dismiss things that we can not trace back directly to the great old masters.
In this regard, I think the analog/digital shift can be quite healthy for photography. As the young digital artists of today have the opportunity to easier look to other art forms for inspiration than early photography, with all the crap that is produced, some good and innovative ideas will emerge.
I think that is well needed in the world of photography.