Wednesday, July 25, 2012


This work has sought to chart paths through a labyrinth of art-historical practices, concerns, and discourses. The story could have been told more simply but for one fundamental fact: the methods reviewed display family resemblances, but no overarching unity. Moreover, in coming years further divergence, rather than convergence, is likely. Methodologies proliferate to evaluate art that is already known and classified. At the same time whole vast regions of the world's visual culture, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa and post-Columbian Latin America, remain insufficiently cataloged and evaluated. Some, such as southeast Asia and Micronesia, are just coming into view. In these studies, some older methods will prove adaptable to a changed context, while others will have to be generated to suit the special needs of these new realms of art investigation. Before looking, speculatively, into the future, let us briefly review the chief approaches in the order of their appearance.

Successive Models of Art History.
Scrutiny of surviving records has shown that the discipline of art history had a double root, first in Greece and then independently in China. Eventually, however, the Chinese tradition withered, leaving the one derived from Greece as the basis of further development.
At some risk of oversimplification, one may articulate this mainstream tradition in terms of a series of ruling paradigms or models.
(1) From the encyclopedic Roman work of Pliny the Elder, the Natural History, modern scholars have recovered the ideas of the individual who appears to be the first art historian, Xenocrates of Athens (third century B.C.).  Trained as an artist, Xenocrates sought to formulate criteria whereby the development of art could be measured.  To judge from the reflections in Pliny, by the time of Xenocrates a canon of the great masters of Greek sculpture and monumental painting had already developed.  In the early Hellen­istic period during which Xenocrates wrote, the sense that the great epoch of Greek art was ebbing became widespread.
Xenocrates was a participant-observer--an artist-critic who reckoned his own time, somewhat disappointing though it may have been, as part of the picture.  By contrast, Pliny is purely retrospective: he discusses no Roman artists and art belongs to "long ago."  This contrast between art as past-cum-contem­porary and art as only-past was to echo down the centuries; those critics who began as artists themselves tended to be more interested in recent or contemporary works.
In later Roman times this critical tradition lapsed.  It was not significantly replaced in the Middle Ages because art concentrated in the monasteries whose official ideology was that it served only ad majorem gloriam Dei.  Of course, ego interests could not be suppressed altogether, and a good deal of information exists on ambitious patronage figures, such as Bernward of Hildesheim and Suger of Saint-Denis.
(2) While papacy-centered Christianity did not disappear in the Italian Renaissance, it lost its absolute monopoly on mental life owing to the revival of interest in the works of classical antiquity by the Human­ists, perhaps the first intellectu­als of the modern type.
Another new element was the sense of fame, a lure to artists as well as writers and political figures.  This awareness of fame as a kind of earthly immortality counts as one of the roots of the concept of individual genius, now under attack.  And indeed, Italian Renaissance artists deserved to be proud because of their introduction of spectacu­lar new inventions, such as linear perspective and chiaroscuro.
During the fifteenth century a good deal of miscellaneous information about leading artists accumulated.  A notable pioneer effort to organize this data was made by a sculptor turned art historian, Lorenzo Ghiberti. However, the major synthesis of Renaissance art history was achieved by the publication of Giorgio Vasari's monumental work, the Lives of the Architects, Painters, and Sculptors in 1550 (enlarged edition 1568).  This Italian painter, architect, and scholar wrote as the intensi­ty of the Renaissance art effort was waning.  Although Vasari captivated readers in his own day and after through the many piquant details he gave about individ­ual works and their creators, he also propounded an overarching theory of the history of art.  From 1250 to his own time, he believed, there had been three main eras: a merely adequate beginning; an improved but still flawed intermediate stage; and the culminating perfection (which we now call the high Renaissance­).  This summit entailed the possibility of decline (part of the discourse of decadence that has continued to haunt cultural historians down to our own day).  Vasari entertained a normative concept of three styles: the good all'ant­ica style (whereby Renaissance art bonded with its Greco-Roman predecessor) and the bad Gothic and Byzantine styles.  Although he was a rationalist and a believer in "the rules," as a secondary motif he introduced--for a few artists only--the idea of grazia, an ineffable excellence. 
In the West the Vasari model was the second great paradigm, after the somewhat undeveloped Xenocrates-Pliny one.  Gradually over the next two centuries the Italian artist-writer's ideas spread over Europe and become the dominant way of organizing information about art. 
(3) German art history arose with the elegant writings of the archaeolo­gist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, whose landmark History of the Art of Antiquity dates from 1764.  Winckelmann held that one should sternly avoid personalities and write of art as a product of inexorable forces.  The cultural values of ancient Greece, which he had earlier imbibed from the ancient classical texts, underpinned everything, so that Winckelmann may be accounted a proto-historicist.  He also represented a beholder-centered (rather than artist-cen­tered) historiography.  Although he claimed to be interested only in ancient art, he held definite and negative views about the Baroque trends still lively in his own day and fostered the rise of Neo-classicism to counter them.
(4) At the turn of the nineteenth century, the historicist attitude made great strides in Germany.  Discarding earlier models that expressed universal normative preferences, historici­sm emphasized the unique character of each individual epoch.  Above all one must resist anachronistic longings to project one's own wishes onto the past.  There were two main variants: (a) a universal model derived from Hegel, in which art moves from the symbolic to the classic to the Romantic mode in obedience to the commands of Geist or Spirit; and (b) a particularist version, spearheaded by Carl Friedrich von Rumohr, which emphasized the collection of discrete facts and the critical scrutiny of individual paintings. This last preoc­cupation led to connoisseur­ship, a major theme of nineteenth-century art history.
(5) It was only in the 1880s that modern art history finally crystallized out of a new paradigm, one which remained influen­tial, though not exclusively so, until the 1960s.  The Swiss Heinrich Wölfflin created a formalistic system based on the contrast between two "ways of seeing," the first dominant during the Renaissance, the second in the Baroque.  He created a series of terms to characterize this contrast; of these the linear vs. painterly polarity is probably the most import­ant.  The linear mode brings out discrete separations between depicted entities by introducing clear lines and contours, while the painterly approach tends to merge individual elements into a single whole whose fluidity denies any clear boundaries.  (Significantly, this construct parallels Friedrich Nietzsche's contrast between the Apollonian and Dionysian modes.)
In the following decade, the Viennese Alois Riegl and Franz Wickhoff developed similar models, though with more emphasis on cultural factors.  All this "visuality" (or retinality), the apparent belief that the visual array in the eyeball constitutes the sole locus of art, was conditioned by new discov­eries in experimental psychology, especially in the study of perception.  Links with the artistic avant-garde of the post-impressionists, though often posited, have not been ascer­tained.
(6) In turn-of-the-century France, the medievalist Emile Mâle emphasized content more than form; a synthesis between form and content was proposed by his younger German contemporary Aby War­burg, who founded an Institute that still bears his name.  Both figures gave important impetus to the study of iconography, the subdiscipline that addresses stable patterns of meaning in visual schema, and is therefore akin to semiotics.
One of Warburg's protégés was the prodigiously learned Berliner, Erwin Panofsky.  Sometimes misrepresented as a formal­ist, Panofsky sharply criticized Wölfflin and Riegl.  Interested chiefly in medieval and Renaissance art (he felt that for all intents and purposes art had come to an end in the 18th century), Panofsky brought to bear a range of sources, both visual and literary, intended to produce a holistic reading of individual works of art.  Hitler's rise compelled Panofsky to move to Princeton, whence he exercised a beneficent ascendancy over a maturing American art history.  His influence was reinforced by a constellation of other brilliant European refugee scholars.
A post-1945 world, devastated by humanity's most destructive war and the nihilism of fascism, was eager to find its way back to positive values.  Panofsky's emphasis on philosophy, religion, and traditional humanism seemed to be just "what the doctor ordered."  Yet as the postwar world consolidated in secular and technological terms his appeal dimmed.  A new spirit of revolt found Panofsky too stodgy, out of tune with the yearning for innovation and trenchancy.  Moreover, untrained in the strict German traditions of classical philology, many of the polymath's American disciples experienced difficulty in replic­ating his achieve­ments.  Other problems reflected a changed emphasis in academia itself.  Though his system remained unchal­lenged in the immediate postwar period, a decline in academic interest in the humanities led to a neglect of the intellectual ecology that had sustained his teachings.  Within art history, many felt that Panofsky's disregard of contemporary art was short-sighted.
(7) In the vacuum appeared a new cadre of self-taught interpre­ters of contemporary art, heralded by Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg.  Acquain­ted with Wölflinian formal analysis, Greenberg adapted it to explain the abstract expres­sionist paintings he admired.  Subsequently, perceptive scholars in the field of contemporary art concluded that the conceptual apparatus employed by Greenberg and his followers was inad­equate.  They sought new sources of methodological inspiration from France, first from the structur­alism advocated by Claude Lévi-­Strauss and Jean Piaget, and then from post-structuralism. represented by Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault.  The French thinkers, who owed a great debt to German philosophical sources, took aim at what they regarded as sentimental humanism.  Although Panofsky and his followers were more ignored than attacked, the frigid climate in which humanism found itself did not augur well for their cause.  The continental trends, especially in the form of decon­struc­tion, spread from such prestigious centers as Yale and Duke universities, exercising an enormous influence on literary study.  In this way the new model of art criticism, so imposing and rich in allusions by comparison with earlier "seat-o­f-the pants" native criticism, found vigorous allies in other humanistic disciplines.
Old-line critics were dismayed by the abandonment of the formal approach, while others, though in­trigued by the new ideas, found that the often impenetrable jargon and non-visual emphasis of the post-structuralist trend precluded their full allegiance. However, important advances took place in feminist art history, and semiotics still retains much promise.
The present situation may be described as one of "paradigm glut." Those who seek a single model of art-historical methodology today are bound to be disappointed. But awareness of the full range of models, including some that have perhaps been prematurely rejected, enriches the scholar's options.
A recurring problem with paradigm theories is that they ignore causation; one paradigm just seems to come after another. The findings in the main part of the book indicate, for art history at least, an emerging answer to the problem of disciplinary change. The major theories examined generally display some fault lines, major contradictions which nonetheless pass unnoticed while the theory is in its heyday. For example, the Vasari model combined a three-stage scheme of evolution with a series of biographies exalting individual artists. Some outstanding artists were even granted a "waiver," under the umbrella of grazia, from the otherwise inflexible precepts of excellence. Vasari's theory harbored a latent contradiction in that it recognized both group norms and individual norms. The latter collided with the former. How could one be certain that the sublime exceptionality of an artist such as Michelangelo was not really an impermissible aberration? During the eighteenth century, Montesquieu, Gibbon and others pondering historical development began to emphasize the salience of process over that of individuals. This reorientation was picked up by Winckelmann, who retired the idea of the great artist to the background in order to concentrate on the development of art as a phenomenon in and of itself. Yet Winckelmann's theory, too, harbored a major fault line, the concept of the two approved styles, the severe style and the beautiful style, both manifestations of Greek classicism. As the romantic sensibility gained force, this idea melded with the concept of aesthetic pluralism to overturn the domination of normative classicism itself.
The mention of China at the outset serves as a reminder that important art has been produced outside the sphere of European civilization.  Such was the prestige of European scholarship in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that European models were adapted, often clumsily, for the study of non-European art.  Only in the last twenty years have such scholars as Edward Said and Homi K. Bhabha questioned the appropriateness of imposing Western standards on non-European cultures.  More­over, the textbooks commonly assigned give only token representation to non-European art.  Thus the task of constructing a world history of art, first glimpsed by Hegel, remains the outstanding challenge to art history.
This challenge dwells within the internal logic of the discipline, for the plurality of individual art histories seems to invite their consolidation. To be sure, a fusion process of this kind cannot take place in a vacuum. External conditions, such as the fall of colonial empires and the parallel rise of powerful non-Western nations such as Japan and China play a major role. There is also the new assertiveness of internal "third world" groups, such as the indigenous peoples in both North and South America, the Aborigines of Australia, and the Maori of New Zealand.

The History of Art Historiography.
As noted in the introductory chapter, tracing the history of art history has itself a history. From earlier generations, two names stand out, those of the Austrian Julius von Schlosser (1866-1938) and the Italian Lionello Venturi (1885-1961). In keeping with an established Viennese tradition, Schlosser had contributed to the gathering and publication of sources, culminating in his 1912 edition of Lorenzo Ghiberti's Commentarii. These interests converged in his encyclopedic manual, Die Kunstliteratur (1924).i This book of Schlosser's, best known in the enlarged Italian edition, has the limitation of being restricted essentially to the "old master" period, in as much as coverage ends at 1800.
Lionello Venturi learned art history at home, for he was the son of another distinguished art historian, Adolfo Venturi. The first history of art history to attempt its entire sweep--though in summary form--from the Greeks and Romans to the present came from the hand of the younger Venturi. His History of Art History first appeared in the United States in 1936.ii The title is misleading: while Venturi's survey pays attention to aesthetics and criticism, the main emphasis is on the historiography of art.
After World War II a positivist climate set in which the study of art objects came to be regarded as the central, perhaps the only theme, and theory was disregarded. Nonetheless, significant comment on the art-historical tradition was offered made by such émigré scholars as Erwin Panofsky and Arnold Hauser. In recent years Germany and Austria have witnessed imposing efforts to reestablish links with art history as an achievement of earlier German humanism. For the present the products of this endeavor have a piecemeal quality; they have produced materials that are awaiting synthesis. In the United States and in England the climate of poststructuralism has encouraged rethinking of foundations, but has also created a dangerous sense that the earlier theoretical work can be disregarded as hopelessly passé. Nonetheless, many individual studies and biographies of leading art historians are underway, and these will serve to given body and articulation to our knowledge of the history of art history.

New Perspectives on the Art Historian.
These new studies bid fair to end the relegation of the art historian to the role of a ghostly voice lecturing in the dark. The emerging focus is of art historians as active shapers of the consciousness of the readers, rather than mere servers, as it were, unobtrusively proffering cultural nutrients. Further study will illuminate their core personalities (including sexuality and religious affiliations), avoiding reductionism. Some biographies necessarily confront unpleasant truths, such as the National Socialism affiliations of German and Austrian historians such as Wilhelm Pinder, Hans Sedlmayr, and Josef Strzygowski. Already under way is a great collective biographical project, the material on the 1930s diaspora of Central European art historians--persons of a very different stripe from those just named--under the auspices of the University of Hamburg.
Since most people, even those attracted to art in their youth, do not start out with the goal of becoming art historians, after the shift they typically retain important residues of their initial training. Claude Perrault, the seventeenth-century architectural theoretician, and Giovanni Morelli, the nineteenth-century perfecter of the principles of connoisseurship, were both originally physicians. Some leading art historians of middle years of the twentieth century, such as Richard Krautheimer and Erwin Panofsky, first studied law. Unusually, Walter Friedlaender began as a Sanskrit scholar. And some recent exponents of poststructuralism in art history, including Norman Bryson, Thomas McEvilley, and W. J. T. Mitchell, received their professional formation as scholars of literature--French, classical, and English, respectively. In some instances the change of field was signaled by a kind of coup de foudre, a sudden conversion experience, as when Emile Mâle suddenly decided, on viewing fourteenth-century frescoes in a Florentine church in 1886, to devote his life to the study of medieval art.
Of course, the day-to-day experiences of art historians in their working lives are much less dramatic. During the 1980s the J. Paul Getty Trust conducted a time-and-motion study of leading contemporary American art historians, concluding that one of the chief shared characteristics was patience.iii Long periods of contemplation of their chosen works and careful gestation of their written words were features recurring over and over.
Another pattern of scholarly behavior that is just beginning to be understood is collaborative ways of working. In some instances this is seminar teamwork under the direction of an academic mentor; in other instances it is freely chosen association on the "Invisible college principle.

Return to the Problem of Change.
The traditional picture of the growth of scientific knowledge (and by implication of all knowledge) is one of gradual accumulation, whereby the knowers progress inexorably from imperfect glimmerings to ever greater breadth and depth of understanding. Owing to the influence of Thomas Kuhn and Michel Foucault--among others--for many this gradualist model has yielded to one characterized by sudden breaks or jumps. These breaks may be occasioned by a sudden incursion of "up tempo" characterized by a cluster of new knowledge based on the old, or by (as Kuhn would have it) a change of paradigm, in most instances unpredicted by previous developments. In the vernacular, the Kuhnian model has been characterized as "revolutions for the hell of it." However valuable the idea of sudden breaks or ruptures may seem, it is natural for human beings to seek further understanding. For this reason the idea of social contextualization has had enjoyed appeal. Social contextualization may take the form of seeking to identify change with particular interests--interests, say, of a class, a political circle vying for power, or of a nation or group of nations seeking hegemony on the stage of world politics. That art objects, from ancient Egypt to Louis XIV and beyond, have been fabricated to legitimize the ascent or buttress the status of major players such as rulers and classes is unarguable. Yet how far does this acknowledgement take us? A closer understanding may ensue from the study of patronage and collecting. Cultivation of these fields is growing and will doubtless continue to do so.
In the realm of art historiography, what is needed is a study of publishing and audiences.iv In an era before the rise of the public library, one would like to know what were the actual press runs for the two editions of Vasari's Lives, and who actually bought and read this book. Another perspective is afforded by translations. During the French Revolution, in 1790-94 the bookseller H. A. Jansen brought out a definitive French edition of Winckelmann's History, replacing the inadequate one that appeared just before the author's 1768 death and attesting to the continued interest in the work during this period of upheaval. No full rendering appeared in English until the Boston translation of 1872-73. Evidently Winckelmann was more significant for the French Revolution than for its American predecessor.
Studies of publishing would also clarify the spread of popular knowledge, including the ranking of artists. For example, the German Klassiker der Kunst series (1904-37) comprised monographs on thirty-eight artists then believed to rank as major figures. The successor series, Classici dell'Arte, published in Italian by Rizzoli in Milan from 1966 on and reissued in several other languages, offers a canon comprising almost three times as many artists, but even so, some of the masters chosen for the German series do not reappear in the Rizzoli one. An analysis of the differences would throw light on changes in public taste during the sixty years separating the inception of the two publishing ventures.
Another parallel would contrast the organization and contents of the German multivolume series Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft, issued in 1913-30 in 27 volumes, with its even more ambitious English-language successor, the Pelican History of Art, begun in 1953 and still incomplete.

The Sociology of Knowledge
The sociology of knowledge approach arose in Germany with Max Scheler (1874-1928) and especially Karl Mannheim (1893-1947), who helped to spread it in English-speaking countries.v  The ultimate source of this method of investigation lies in Karl Marx's idea of socioeconomic determinants of ideological super­structure. Accordingly, the sociology of knowledge challenges "idealist" approaches to intellectual history--where the interplay of concepts itself brings change--seeking instead to ground advances of thought in the more elemental determinants of the social matrix. In our own day the philosophers Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, Thomas Kuhn, and Richard Rorty sometimes figure as sociologists of knowledge.
A historical problem will serve to illustrate the approach.  As Robert K. Merton and other sociologists and historians have shown, seventeenth-century England saw a remarkable flowering of natural Gilbert's work on magnetism (1600), Bacon's attempt to reorganize all of knowledge (1605), and Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood (1628) are but three major landmarks.  These discoveries stimulated the foundation of the Royal Academy in 1660.  This ferment is all the more remar­kable because England had been scientifically undistinguished in previous centuries.  Why this explosion of knowledge?  Protestantism is the answer that springs to mind.  But Protestant Germany and Sweden could boast no such advances at this time.  Hence the search has narrowed to a particular form of Protestantism endemic to England, Puritanism.  This step was taken by Merton in his germinal study of 1938. Yet some have wondered whether this parallel is really more than a coincidence.  Defenders of the Mertonian model argue that Puritanism promotes the goals of antiauthoritar­ianism, optimism about social transformation, methodological empiricism, and experience.  Recent research has suggested that this grounding in religious allegiance is real, but not exclusive; other factors also contributed.
As a rule professional historians tend to be wary of monocausal explanations, in which phenomenon A is derived simply from cause X.  Instead they prefer polythematic explanations. Thus, the French Revolution came about as a result of agitation by intellectuals (the philosophes), growing secularism and anticlericalism, the incompetence of the royal government, and so forth--not by any one of these alone.
To revert to the Merton problem, the sixteenth-century expansion of travel horizons induced Englishmen a fascination with trade, which enjoyed high status among them, in contrast to other countries. Trade consorted with other "nitty-gritty" involvements, such as laboratory experiments. Another enabling factor may have complemented this one. A recent book by Stephen Shapin suggests that a crucial element was the emergence of the English ideal of the gentleman, creating a climate of trust that allowed scientists to work together to build a community of research.vii
The conclusion is humbling but must be acknowledged: it is hard to assign relative weighting to these various factors (some of which are still bones of contention), so that we may never fully understand why England surged ahead in the development of new scientific knowledge. But surely it is more plausible to see the matter in this light, rather than that of a model of pure. disinterested pursuit of knowledge, which could occur any time, any place.
To be sure, English preeminence was relative rather than absolute. Through the international medium of Latin, English researchers communicated with their counterparts on the European continent. Many of these, especially in France and Italy, were Roman Catholic, so that the "community of discovery" crossed right over the major ideological fault line of the period, the contrast between Protestantism and Catholicism. In fact, as recent advances in Biblical scholarship demonstrate anew, scholars of very different ideological backgrounds can and do work productively together. Knowledge is not simply--as some relativists today seem to wish to assert--a product of ideology, but can transcend ideological differences.
Returning to Robert K. Merton once more, he introduced the important distinction between internal and external approaches. Before his work students of science had generally viewed the subject as one of progress from (relative) darkness to (relative) light, with individual scientists being graded on the "correctness" or "incorrectness" of their views, based on later knowledge. There are obvious difficulties with this view, for scientific progress does not necessarily proceed in a straight line; some approaches, judged marginal at their inception, prove fruitful, while others, which seem mainstream, turn out to be sterile. Nonetheless, there is a place for such internalist studies for they reflect important realities: scientific knowledge is cumulative, and each person who wishes to make an advance must inform him- or herself fully of the state of the question before setting out. However, Merton showed that this line of approach needs always to be examined in relation to its complement. Only the adjunction of the externalist approach, roughly equatable with the sociology of knowledge, could explain long delays (sometimes amounting to many centuries) in follow through, and, conversely, the rapid concatenation of discoveries, one after another, so that achievements tend to "bunch" in particular periods and among particular groups and nations.
In the 1970s a new, seemingly more radical approach to the sociology of knowledge came the fore, the "Strong Program," advocated by the Edinburgh School, with David Bloor its best known exponent.viii Other important contributions have been made by others, including Bruno Latour of the University of Paris. All these scholars draw on the pioneering work of Thomas Kuhn, whose Structure of Scientific Revolutions dates from 1962.ix In any event, the Strong Program of the Sociology of Knowledge emphasizes the symmetry principle, that in terms of explanatory methodology there is no difference between true beliefs and false ones. Astronomy and astrology call for the same types of explanation. In the view of some critics, the Strong Program upsets the balance between internal and external factors, by placing most of the weight on social determinants and underestimating the independent power of the human search for truth.x These critics, who believe that it is possible to formulate concepts in their own realm, tend to refer to themselves as "realists."
The position of the writer of this book is as follows. Although we have learned a good deal from the sociology of knowledge, we should not throw the baby out with the bath. Art history, like the other human sciences, does describe real works and identify real views about them that have been held in the past and the present.
Granted the overall, though necessarily limited value of the sociology of knowledge, how can its approach be applied to help us understand the evolution of traditions of art writing?  Clearly the social matrix has played a significant role in the elaboration of some theories. Vasari's stress on artists' varying renown is clearly grounded in the competing world of the Renaissance states and in the this-worldly emphases of humanism. During the nineteenth century the enormous prestige of natural science led to the formulation of the ideal of a "scientific art history."  Many other plausible instances could be adduced. Yet the identification of such ideological factors may be reductive, as when Martin Bernal suggested that Winckelmann's emphasis on Greek art was a simple product of growing European chauvinism and imperialism.xi  As has been shown in the chapters above, elements such as these play important roles, but art history has its own inner dynamic, which means that it is not simply a reflection of such external factors. Apart from the content of the theories stands the overarching question of professional standing. Today art history is well established. Yet one should ask what it takes to get a discipline started, for the circumstances of origin must inevitably have left their stamp. For a discipline to emerge a generally favorable intellectual and institutional climate is required. 
There seems need for a more specific mechanism: networking.  Recently the higher reaches of this phenomenon (as distinct from its careerist aspects) have been investigated under the old seventeenth-century rubric of the "invisible college," an informal collective of closely interacting researchers, who agree to keep each other abreast of continuing progress along particular lines of investigation.xii
Typically, members of an invisible college are geographically dispersed, and communicate through letter, telephone, and (nowadays) modem and fax, gathering for face-to-face encounters only rarely. In this way a new field of study can be "jump-started" with little initial academic recognition in the form of departments and grants; these come along later.
In the unfolding of art itself, and its various styles, a whole panoply of factors must be taken into account. One realm is growth of technology, offering new materials for painting, sculpture, and above all architecture. Changes in fashion, fueled by the universal desire for changed, lead "jading" and the consequent retirement of styles judged out of date. Pupils wish to surpass their masters. And the market plays a role, in that the drying up of material in one style, so dealers promote others.

Rhetorical Analysis and Historical Semantics.
In the foregoing chapters we have sought to attend to the nuances of the words favored by art historians, especially (but not limited to) those writing originally in languages other than English.
It must be conceded that the study of the use of linguistic tropes and strategies in art history has as yet not advanced very far. Broadly speaking, cognate disciplines offer two models, the analysis of language in terms of persuasion and in terms of description. Rhetorical studies, the backbone of literary studies until the nineteenth century, have recently been enjoying a resurgence. Adapted from its original locus in oratorical training, rhetoric still tends to place a considerable emphasis on persuasion.xiii
Until recently art history texts tended to hew to a descriptive or "scientific" rather than a persuasive model--though this is now changing. The traditional ideal was one of transparency in which the writer calls as little attention to the linguistic surface as possible--very much in the way that the glassy-smooth "licked surface" of nineteenth-century salon painting invited the viewer to ignore the picture plane, concentrating on the fictive scene that lies "behind" it.
A few significant art historians have sought special linguistic effects. For example, Winckelmann--whose first love was Greek literature--often used the figure of simile. Approaching the conclusion of his great history he sought a way of emphasizing the challenge of the enterprise of recapturing Greek art that had so long engaged him. "Just as a woman in love, standing on the shore of the ocean, seeking out with tear-filled eyes her departing lover whom she has no hope of ever seeing again, thinks she can glimpse in the distant sail the image of her beloved; we, like the woman in love, have remaining to us, so to speak, only the shadowy outline of our desires . . . ."xiv As the great Austro-American philologist Leo Spitzer observed, such favorite linguistic tropes, when carefully analyzed, will often take us to the heart of the writer's preoccupations.xv First, note in the above comparison Winckelmann's favorite image of the sea, which is on the one hand, an inevitable and natural accompaniment of our world, and on the other, a symbol of the sublime, the unpredictable, and the unruly. Second, Winckelmann's observer is gendered: a woman, contemplating, the apparently male world of art. This comparison suggests the heightened sense of sexual difference Winckelmann had developed by simultaneously feeling homosexual attraction and having to repress its public face.
Two centuries later Erwin Panofsky employed a very different set of linguistic tropes. Perhaps the most striking ones fall under the broad category of irony. Commenting on the tricky question of the possible symbolic interpretation of the everyday objects in the Mérode Altarpiece, Panofsky concluded: "[t]here is, I am afraid, no other answer to this problem than the use of historical methods tempered, if possible, by common sense."xvi The unexpected qualification "if possible" wryly concedes that common sense is, after all, not very common. This formulation links up with Panofsky's sense that many things that are thought to be simple are really complex: they have many layers, and an astute combination of methods--not always the ones most familiar to the scholar--is needed to do justice to the matter at hand. It remarkable that Panofsky was able to clothe this thought in the limpid clarity that characterizes his later prose style, found in the books written directly in English. As Karen Michels has shown, Panofsky's mature style represents a hard-won triumph over the convoluted obscurity of his German writings of the 1920s.xvii In his early maturity he had not yet learned that complex matters must be couched not in a complex style, but in one that is as clear as possible.
Attention to the variety of tropes and metaphors employed by such masters as Winckelmann and Panofsky is rewarding and pleasurable. Regrettably, however, their writing is not typical of the great mass of art historical papers and books, which are much more pedestrian. Perhaps this pedestrian quality is inevitable: each field of research tends to develop a "standard dialect of the tribe" which new recruits can learn and deploy, in part to serve as a badge of their allegiance to, and membership in, the group.
What are the leading features of this everyday art-historical dialect? It avoids affect in the sense of personal judgments or exclamatory outbursts. "Wow" and "ugh"--and any of their more politic congeners--are banned, and the pronoun "I" appears but rarely. The passive voice is ubiquitous, so that processes are said simply to occur to things (paintings, styles, etc.), rather than to be imposed by specified agents. Innovation in thinking, though prized, is presented as slow and incremental, and the product of group endeavor; the writer seeks to be in good company by footnoting other writings tending in the same direction. Modestly, the art-history writer seems content simply to draw the reader's attention to facts.
As regards expository organization, the scholarly paper often employs the device of comparison of two works--say two Renaissance madonna statues or two nineteenth-century paintings of shipwrecks--a preference probably reflecting the prevalence of the two-slide method in classroom lectures.xviii The usual assumption is that difference does not imply hierarchy: the two works compared are of equal value. This contrastive procedure helps to explain the popularity of binary theories of style, such as those of Wölfflin and Riegl.
Underlying the stylistic and organizational gambits elected by art historians is the implication that a style of impersonality guarantees an ethos of impartiality. The scholar must relinquish individual preferences and penchants in the interest of promulgating and ratifying collective truths.
The features outlined above point to an affinity with the perceived ideal of natural science, where careful cultivation of impartiality and objectivity lead inexorably, it is thought, to the establishment of uncontrovertible facts. However, since few art historians have any hands-on experience in natural science, their approach must be characterized as scientistic, rather than scientific. Ironically, towards the middle of the twentieth century, some scientists began to acknowledge the similarity of their procedures--which are often intuitive rather than strictly deductive--to those reigning in the arts. This convergence of view would have been felicitous--but for a certain "ships passing in the night" factor, for each group was attending more what it perceived the other to be doing than to what was actually occurring.xix Skeptics have cast doubt on the claim that art historical writings truly attain unblemished objectivity. Hidden evaluative motives, even ones the writers were unaware of, have helped to shape the topics chosen for discussion and the modes of argument employed.
Be that as it may, how are stylistic norms maintained in the field of art history? First, tyro scholars are naturally inclined to look for models in writings by major mentors, generally their teachers in graduate school, and in turn their teachers. Instructors commend writings they admire, pointing to prestigious journals such as The Art Bulletin and The Burlington Magazine as repositories of approved models of organization, style, and tone. Then there are two "enforcer" mechanisms, one formal, the other informal. Virtually without exception, prestigious scholarly journals are "refereed." That is to say, the editor assigns submissions to anonymous readers, a process known as peer review; these readers will recommend rejection of a paper found to be "out of line" or unconvincing, or major revisions of one considered salvageable, in that it deviates in some less fundamental respect. Then there is the informal, self-administered mechanism. The tyro scholar looks forward to meriting the acclaim (or at least the respect) of older practitioners who will read the article, and tailors its formal dress accordingly. These adjustments fit into a larger pattern of profession-building through adherence to discursive norms.xx
With these in-built protections, it would seem unlikely that any change in art history's discursive norms could ever occur. And indeed for decades it appeared that the prevailing modes would endure sempiternally. During the 1980s, however, the accepted "deadpan" mode of presentation found itself required to share the spotlight with other approaches. A new subjectivity appeared in which the writer openly spoke of him or herself in terms of desires, experiences, and aspirations. A fine example is Linda Seidel's innovative account of a much-discussed work, Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (London, National Gallery). Rightly regarding Panofsky's 1934 article on the painting as pivotal, she approaches the subjective elements in his interpretation through the lens of her own subjectivity. Combining this yield with a careful sifting of post-Panofsky research and new historical considerations, the result is an interpretation of exceptional quality.xxi
The incursion of poststructuralism cast doubt on the "realist" assumptions of earlier-twentieth-century art history--that there could be a straightforward correspondence between the facts "out there" and the verbal description of them. Poststructuralists emphasized the slipperiness of words. They also brought in a new vocabulary, favoring such expressions as "deconstruction," "discourse," "transgression," and "refusal." New periodicals, including Art History in England and American interdisciplinary journals such as Critical Inquiry and October appeared, venues friendly to the new discursive modes.
This change in writing style may help us to understand the character of earlier writings. In fact, the "objective" mode is but one of a sequence of discursive norms that have prevailed in serious writings about art. In his fundamental book Giotto and the Orators, Michael Baxandall showed that Petrarch and those who came after him constantly sought to understand art through the probing the bases of their own literary art.xxii Out of their search for adequacy of expression emerged a concept that has remained central: composition in art. However, Baxandall's in-depth inquiry of transfers from one discipline to another remains virtually without sequel.xxiii
Thus far little attention has been bestowed on the "trickle down" of ideas and formulations from the rarified sphere of scholarly publication to textbooks and classrooms. Studies of other fields suggest that these adaptations in their turn feed back on scholarly discourse--though not so much as to deprive it of its "technical" aura, which guarantees its profession-building and profession-restricting role.
Many laypeople, of course, find that the presentations they encounter are not sufficiently "translated" to make them accessible. Approaching the art world today, newcomers typically complain of the hermetic, "cult" quality of the writings that come their way. Articles in the glossy art magazines, which address mainly modern and contemporary art, seem enveloped in dense clouds of arcane jargon. One senses that important things are being said, but the way in which they are expressed seems almost to constitute a private language intended to strengthen the bonds of elite circles of initiates while repelling outsiders. Sometimes the obscurity is linked to current ideological fashions. An article may urge that adoption of progressive political views is essential; however, the appeal is all too often couched in such obscure polysyllables that even sympathetic readers find it hard to assimilate. In this way the article effectively endorses the elitism that its writer typically claims to oppose.
Professional journals such as the Art Bulletin and Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte are off-putting in a different way. These prestigious organs of the art-historical community seem austerely technical, dourly forbidding any effusions of enthusiasm or advocacy of the objects they discuss. Here too, just as in the otherwise livelier magazines of contemporary art, appeals to old-fashioned virtues like grace and beauty are taboo.
To some extent, these obstacles may be inevitable and even justified. Art-world magazines contain pieces in which critics are struggling to formulate, for the first time, a vocabulary to describe new work.xxiv Thirty years hence the descriptive strategies will be enriched and clarified, but the work will no longer be new. In its iconoclastic search for innovation contemporary art always seems to outrun efforts to capture it in words.

Individual Words in Context (Historical Semantics).
In addition to the approach through rhetoric and tropes, one can concentrate on individual words. Some studies try to do this on a synchronic basis, studying the whole vocabulary of a given people or period as a system of interacting parts. The core of J. J. Pollitt's The Ancient View of Greek Art is an alphabetical lexicon of the chief Greek terms, together with their Latin offshoots, pertaining to the arts.xxv The very thoroughness of Pollitt's roster tends to suggests a unity of Greek thought about aesthetic analysis that is probably illusionary; recognizing this problem, the author provides a 111-page prologue showing the variations in the function of the terms over time.
Another remarkable achievement is Michelangelo and the Language of Art by David Summers.xxvi Dividing the concepts discussed into two main categories, "Fantasy" and "Order," Summers provides extensive historical background on the historical semantics of each term. Of course, if the concept is not among those embraced by Michelangelo, then it is not included. To widen the scope of investigation, one may make use of the various annotated editions of Giorgio Vasari's Lives. A century after Vasari came the first real dictionary of the visual arts, Filippo Baldinucci's Vocabulario toscano dell'arte del disegno, a valuable resource for verifying the meaning these words had in seventeenth-century Italy.xxvii Of contemporary interest would be a comparison of art terms employed in the sixteen-volume Encyclopedia of World Art (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959-68) with usage in the forthcoming Dictionary of Art (London: Macmillan; projected in 40 volumes).
The history-of-ideas approached championed by the philosopher Arthur O. Lovejoy has become well established, but has had relatively little impact in art history.xxviii The value of a multivolume dictionary of pivotal ideas in the arts, were it to exist, can scarcely be gainsaid.

Words as Tracer Elements.
A few episodes in the development of art-historical vocabulary will serve to suggest what a comprehensive study of this stock might yield. The Greeks, who invented the western tradition of art history, began to inscribe their art vocabulary on a tabula rasa; they declined to borrow art terms from their predecessors in the ancient Near East. Indeed when the Greeks sought to describe two major aspects of Egyptian art they used their own words: obelisk ("little spit") and hieroglyph ( "sacred sign"}. The rest of the Greek vocabulary came from two sources: workshop usage and the discourse of the learned. Contrast skiagraphia (shadow painting) and ropos (mixture of colors) with mimesis (imitation) and prepon (appropriateness).xxix The Greeks also invented some specific genres of writing about art, including periegesis (the guide book literature) and ecphrasis (vivid descriptions of works of art, whether real or imaginary).
The Romans found themselves in a more complex position, having to enrich the rather primitive Latin vocabulary so that it could convey all the nuances of the Greek. They followed two procedures: forming new terms from native materials on the foreign model (what linguists term "calque" or loan translation) and direct borrowing. Thus qualitas was formed on the basis of Greek poiotes, while philosophia was simply purloined. As the text of Vitruvius (the creator of the standard Roman architectural treatise) shows, too much borrowing could lead to obscurity and misunderstanding. The meaning of some Latin terms changed over time. Amusingly, the word fornicatio ("vaulting"), which has a purely architectural meaning in Vitruvius, took on a totally different significance in Christian Latin.
Medieval ecclesiastical Latin supplied terms for liturgical objects such as aquamanilium (vessel for water) and ostensorium (monstrance).xxx There were also more general expressions, referring to techniques and styles, such as opus Saracenorum (Saracen work, Islamic art) and opus interrasile (a metalwork technique). Medieval masons developed an elaborate vernacular vocabulary comprising such terms as liernes and voussoirs.
The shop talk favored by Renaissance artisans continued that of the medieval botteghe (workshops). But the new professional class of humanists, largely supplanting the medieval scholastics, created a new rhetoric for the description and praise of works of art.xxxi
State support in France, coupled with the complementary adversary tradition that made that country for long the cynosure of the avant-garde, helped to generate terms that were then exported to other tongues.xxxii However, just as the Romans had plundered the Greek vocabulary, the French took from the Italian, often by simple modification, as fresque from affresco and torse from torso. In borrowing from abroad, sometimes the two donor languages offer a choice: in English contrast Italian-derived studio with French-derived atelier. In our language such terms as impressionism and fauvism, vernissage and cloisonné are of course of purely French derivation.

Other Problems of Language, Past and Present.
If the French contributed many terms which were adopted into other languages, Germans pioneered a new mode of art historical narrative. This nineteenth-century achievement was governed above all by historical consciousness, the sense that each phase of art occupied a place of its own in a continuous march of progress. Passionate judgmentalism was out, detached explanation was in. As has been suggested above, the German writers were also influenced by the tone of work in the natural sciences, a status to which they wished art history to aspire.
As the body of this book shows, systematic study of art did not begin yesteryear. Art scholarship is a complex and specialized field and requires terms and usages of its own. The vocabulary and explanatory strategies deployed to analyze art in words reflect a considerable sophistication that has grown over time. The product--today's art history language--is a complex amalgam of the deposit of many cultures and centuries of development within cultures. To start from scratch and invent a new, simpler language would probably produce a more "user friendly" result, but it would go against the grain of art's interpretive community, which is constituted in large measure by the efforts it has made to master the traditions of narrative and explanation that have been bequeathed to it. In any event there would remain the adjustments and obscurities that inevitably accrue from the effort to translate experiences in a visual realm to a verbal one.
The art vocabulary grows by comparison of effects received in one sense with another, as when we speak of colors as "loud" (hearing to sight) or "soft" (touch to sight).xxxiii These comparisons are sometimes said to be grounded in synesthesia, an ability (which seems to be relatively rare) to experience sensations normally received in one sense through another. These "synaesthetic" comparisons probably occur more frequently in some periods of art discourse than in others. One would expect them to be more common in the seventeenth century (the baroque) than in the fifteenth (the early Renaissance); this matter deserves further investigation. Synaesthetic comparisons also help to foster the idea of the "sister arts," that painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, and music are all kin. Else why would they borrow terms from each other with such ease?
As long as they are new, labels of styles such as cubism and futurism can serve as rallying points. This capacity for attracting converts has a more general application, as when in contemporary America the spread of the labels hippy, yuppy, and guppy served as a multiplier effect, vastly increasing the numbers of people who could be classified by them. In the course of the eighteenth century the diffuse term romantic was gaining more and more acceptance.xxxiv When Friedrich Schlegel defined it in 1798 and others followed, the prescription served as an incentive to the creation of contemporary "romantic" poetry (and not long thereafter of "romantic" painting). An antonym is often implied, as in the classic-romantic contrast. Even as many are attracted by the new slogan, others are repelled, as was Goethe who condemned romanticism as sickness. Connotations can sometimes be imposed on words. In the course of World War I some xenophobic French critics tried to make cubism a word of opprobrium, even spelling it Kubisme, so as to suggest that the style had come from the hated other side of the Rhine.xxxv
Terms launched by means of manifestos, as symbolism (1886) and futurism (1909), function as talismans, attracting followers. In keeping with the idea that art is a religion, sometimes the aim seems to be to create a conversion experience.
Almost as if they were themselves alive, terms in vogue can engender other terms. Realism gave rise to surrealism (a term coined in 1917 by Guillaume Apollinaire, but with a different meaning from the one it assumed a little later). In 1911 impressionism generated postimpressionism and expressionism. In turn, postimpressionism (with some help from postindustrialism) generated postmodernism.
By the early twentieth century a chasm had become evident separating popular writing for the middle classes (who sought a palatable version of the culture formerly restricted to the elite) from the increasingly technical writing for art professionals. The latter trend has fostered the multifootnoted display of erudition and the Olympian, impersonal tone that became the common currency of today's art history cadres.
Recently this tone has been called into question, by those who claim that it does not assure detachment and exemption from political parti pris, but has been coopted into the legions of the many forces affirming the status quo. Scholars in the field of communications have examined the content and rhetorical strategies of many fields of current discourse, from politics to medicine and literary study. As yet, however, no in-depth studies of this kind have been published for art historical writing.xxxvi Until this kind of examination is done, we will not have the empirical data needed to arbitrate the linguistic aspects of the dispute between the defenders of traditional, ostensibly value-free art-historical presentations and advocates of the new confrontational modes, who include feminists, Marxists, and semioticians.
Understanding various strains of language, especially those prevalent in earlier centuries, also poses a special problem for the for readers accustomed to working in one language, and that in its present state. Not only did Vasari, for example, write in Italian, but his use of the language reflected a state of the tongue radically different in many ways from the one found now. Care must be taken to avoid "false friends"--that is words that appear similar to their English cognates but in fact have different meanings (e.g. Italian cornice, which means frame rather than cornice, and French roman, meaning romanesque rather than Roman, which is romain) but also to avoid anachronism in English words themselves. Thus when Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) remarked: "All things are artificial, for nature is the art of God." (Religio Medici, 16), he was using the word artificial in a different sense from the one now usual. To reflect Browne's meaning we might rather say "artifactual."
From what has been said one might conclude that we encounter an unending profusion of states of languages and an unending profusion of languages. Or do we? In art history not all languages are equal. From the founding of our own art historical tradition in the fifteenth-century Renaissance to about 1800 the Italian tradition was dominant. The exceptions prove the rule, for even when historians like Carel van Mander and Joachim von Sandrart wrote in Dutch and German respectively, their ideas reflected the Italian tradition that culminated in Giorgio Vasari. After 1800 the power, as it were, crossed the Alps, and German-speaking art historians assumed dominance. On reflection, the first, Italian-dominated phase seems understandable, for Italy was the homeland of Renaissance art itself. It seems fitting that the proud creators of this art should take first place in explaining it. But German art, for all its merits, has not--since at least the Ottonian period--been in the lead. The explanation for Kunstgeschichte's flowering lies in part in the excellence of the German university system, but there are other reasons for German preeminence, and these must be explored in due course.
Some anthropologists, notably Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edward Sapir, have held that language shapes thought decisively--to the point that we cannot even think thoughts that the structure of our language excludes. Most would reject this extreme linguistic determinism today, but there seems little doubt that language conventions help to guide research.

Concluding Observations: Technology and Tomorrow.
If there is any recommendation of this book, it is that the history of art history is too long and rich to merit scrapping the discipline as a few radicals have suggested. Yet art history must respond to new challenges. Viewed in the longest perspective its "hidden goal" may have been the creation of a world art history. For some this advance to totality may seem a daunting or unappealing prospect, but it is happening all the same.
Clearly, museums will have a growing share in shaping awareness. In today's competitive world, these institutions seem compelled to seek mass attendance in order to survive. For this reason museums seek publicity. They need to capture the attention of journalists and critics--and thereby of the public--through "blockbuster shows." Notices of these tend edge out other, smaller exhibitions. But everyone must acknowledge that the scholarly catalogues issued to accompany many of these shows are outstanding, and contribute significantly to the advance and spread of knowledge.
An important component of the educational function of museums is film. Already in the silent era, some directors had begun to make short films on art, especially painting.xxxvii Television, with the British Broadcasting Corporation in the lead, opened new vistas. By common consent, the model for these productions was the thirteen-part series narrated by Lord Kenneth Clark, Civilisation (1969). The videotapes now widely sold at museums and historic sites represent another instrument in increasing public awareness. Despite the considerable range of offerings available, many critics have concluded that films and videos have not attained the potential enthusiasts envisaged for them. Perhaps this potential is a will-o'-the wisp. Art works are a spatial medium, films a temporal one. Moreover, in making a film there is too much temptation to yield to the tricks of the filmmaker's art--rapid cross-cutting, dizzying perspectives, dramatic music. The presence of the narrator may become intrusive. The creator seems faced with an unpleasant choice: either to produce a work that is informative and faithful to the objects, but dull, or to make something dramatic and exciting, but useless as a vehicle for increasing understand of art. As the French say of translations, "Les belles sont infidèles," those that are beautiful are unfaithful.
Moreover in visiting a gallery or museum one can select one's itinerary and pause for as long as one likes before a work. Except that one can stop a home video, filmic presentations of art works offer no real possibilities of interaction, for the display of information follows the trajectory and timing dictated by the director.
To be sure, there have been some exceptional short films on art. These included The Mystery of Picasso (Henri-Georges Clouzot; 1955) and Jackson Pollock (Paul Falkenburg and Hans Namuth; 1951) showing the artists' working methods. Also significant are Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson's 1970 study of his Utah earthwork, and Running Fence (Maysles Films; 1976) on Christo's twenty-four mile nylon curtain in northern California--works about to be lost or altered. In the crafts films offer a valuable means of documenting techniques, such as ceramic and lacquer. A very few have tried to showcase art historians (for example, Judy Marle's two-part 1989 film visiting Sir Ernst Gombrich in his London home). Anthony Blunt the only art historian whose life featured in full-length films (twice, for television), but that because he was a spy.
The prospects for other technologies are brighter, perhaps even revolutionary. New methods of storing information electronically are increasingly important in all areas of modern life, from banks (ATMS) to libraries (computerized book cataloges and CD-ROM). This advances, first developed for linear materials (texts) are increasingly significant for images. Improvements in storage and retrieval through the polycarbonate compact disks called CD-ROM (Read Only Memory) open the possibility of creating massive banks of reliable digital images for purposes of study and comparison. Electronic data bases serve both to organize existing material (library and museum catalogues; bibliographies) and to guide new projects (painting analyses; structural studies of architecture).
The computer has had a major impact on the management and analysis of archaeological digs. Finds of objects that are numerous, such as pottery shards and sculpture fragments, can be recorded electronically, and, once they are stored, comprehensively analyzed and compared with other data bases. Using state-of-the-art methods, several research institutes have combined to record and analyze pottery fragments found in the ancient city of Rome to determine their provenance. This data will serve in developing the first statistically accurate picture of trade patterns in the Roman empire. Excavated buildings, viewable as ruins, reemerge as wholes through computer imaging.
Laudable as the results are, skeptics caution that one must not be carried away by these advances. For the foreseeable future, such electronic resources are likely to complement, rather than replace, hard copy in the form of books and periodicals.
In this fast-moving field, however, the future holds both predictable and unpredictable developments. The prospects are bright for hypertext and hypermedia, new terms that reflect a new and growing electronic pattern of practice.xxxviii Hypertexts are bodies of written and graphic materials stored electronically, usually on CD-ROM, so that they can be called up by the user in varied combinations that accord with his or her interests. For example, the text of a nineteenth-century novel might be made available together with studies of the author, social conditions, and graphic images pertinent to the story. Instead of being furnished in a fixed place, as occurs in a conventional book, these materials may be summoned by the user whenever needed and in ever-varied combinations. Hypermedia refers to the ability of this technology to expand beyond visible resources, so that, say, historic speeches or music can be presented. Hypertext resources already well developed for classical studies and literature. With the cooperation of the museums, CD-ROM disks, sold on the open market for a reasonable price, have been created for National Gallery in London and the Frick Collection in New York City. In addition to electronic versions of the paintings and supporting texts, these disks also have sound. At present the sound is limited to the pronunciation of the artist's names, but it is easy to see how this might be extended, for living artists, to a series of recordings of interviews with and commentaries by the creator him-or herself.
The print materials of art historiography invite various hypertext uses. Following the lead of classical scholars, one might use these texts to compare versions--e.g. winkling out the successive strata of Pliny the Elder's chapters. Another project would be to assemble a data base of all major art histories produced during the Italian Renaissance, and then search key words such as disegno and maniera. Very large data bases could be used to track filter down-processes whereby "high theory" migrates to popularizations and textbooks.
The repertoires of images being assembled electronically suggest possibilities of (sub)creative manipulation of existing works--changing backgrounds of portraits for example; or, more radically, redoing say Leonardo's Last Judgment with a different perspective system. These possibilities will cause some to exclaim that there are some things that are possible, but not desirable! However, artists are already manipulating images in this way to produce their own works.
What practical consequences can we expect from the increasing role of the electronic media? First, the fact that the Internet is readily available, both at home and in schools and libraries, facilitates the initiation of ever-larger circles into art history. This process will have a democratizing effect, though no one can say how far this will go, in as much as the more complex techniques of research will probably remain the monopoly of a highly trained elite.
There may also be a basic shift in the character of research. The electronic media encourage "roaming" whereby the user ranges from, say, a technical examination of a painting to social history and then on to iconography and comparison with effects in other media. "Compartmentalization" is reduced. In fact, new discoveries are being made through serendipity. As every practiced author knows, new perceptions commonly result from the simple juxtaposition of two ideas that had not been linked before.
Twenty years ago no one could have foreseen the effects of computerized technology on communication and the generation of knowledge as the twentieth century yielded to the twenty-first. Looking forward, the conclusions tentatively sketched above may prove inadequate. In all likelihood, though, the new methods, however unexpected, will complement, rather than replace what has already been achieved. That achievement has been the subject of this work.

i Julius von Schlosser, Die Kunstliteratur, Vienna: Schroll, 1924; Julius Schlosser Magnino, La Letteratura artistica: manuale delle fonti della storia dell'arte moderna, trans. by Filippo Rossi, edited by Otto Kurz, 3d ed., Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1964.
ii Lionello Venturi, History of Art Criticism, trans. by Charles Marriott, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1936; enlarged ed. 1964. Venturi's exile, first in France and then in the United States, resulted from his courageous refusal to sign the loyalty oath Mussolini required of all Italian professors.
iii Marilyn Schmitt, ed., Object--Image--Inquiry: The Art Historian at Work, Santa Monica, CA: The Getty Art History Information Program, 1988.
iv A model of this kind of study is Robert Darnton, The Business of the Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie 1775-1800, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.
v See especially the papers in [Mannheim] Kurt H. Wolff, ed., From Karl Mannheim, New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. The enlarged edition of this book (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1993) provides a review of recent secondary literature, which is also useful for the earlier phases of the sociology of knowledge as a discipline.
As regards art history itself, Joan Hart has shown that Karl Mannheim's concept of the Weltanschauung influenced the thinking of Erwin Panofsky, especially as regards his theorizing of iconology ("Erwin Panofsky and Karl Mannheim: A Dialogue on Interpretation," Critical Inquiry 19 (1993), pp. 534-66). However, the connection seems to have occurred chiefly during Mannheim's pre-sociological period, ca. 1920-23.
vi Robert K. Merton, Science, "Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England," Osiris, 4 (1938), 360-632. See I. Bernard Cohen, ed., Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science: The Merton Thesis, New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1990. On Merton's work as a whole, see Piotr Sztompka, Robert K. Merton: An Intellectual Profile, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986; and
Charles Crothers, Robert K. Merton, New York: Tavistock, 1987.
vii A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
viii Knowledge and Social Imagery, second ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991 (first ed. 1976).
ix Kuhn ranks as one of the most frequently cited thinkers of the twentieth century. See, e.g., Barry Barnes, T. S. Kuhn and Social Science, London: Macmillan, 1982.
x See, e. g., the trenchant remarks of James Robert Brown, Smoke and Mirrors: How Science Reflects Reality, New York: Routledge, 1994.
xi Martin Bernal, Black Athena, vol. 1, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987, pp. 212-15.
xii See Derek J. de Solla Price, Little Science, Big Science, New York: Columbia University Press, 1963 (rev. ed., 1986); Diana Crane, Invisible Colleges: Diffusion of Knowledge in Scientific Communities, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972; and Daryl E. Chubin, Sociology of Sciences: An Annotated Bibliography on Invisible Colleges, New York: Garland, 1983.
xiii A case in point is Thomas B. Farrell, Norms of Rhetorical Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), which traces the tradition from Aristotle. However, the contemporary examples studied in detail, by Governor Mario Cuomo, Betty Friedan, and Vaclav Havel, among others, suggest that the utility of the technique as Farrell sees it lie mainly in the realm of political persuasion. More synthetic is the survey of Thomas M. Conley, Rhetoric in the European Tradition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
xiv Alex Potts, Flesh and the Ideal: Winckelmann and the Origins of Art History, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994, p. 49.
xv For an account of Spitzer's ideas, which have been neglected by art historians, see James V. Catano, Language, History, Style: Leo Spitzer and the Critical Tradition, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. The fullest repertory of tropes is Heinrich Lausberg, Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik: Eine Grundlegung der Literaturwissenschaft, second ed., 2 vols., Munich: Max Hueber, 1960.
xvi Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. 1, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953, p. 142.
xvii "Bemerkungen zu Panofsky's Sprache," in Bruno Reudenbach, ed., Erwin Panofsky: Beiträge des Symposions Hamburg 1992, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1994, pp. 59-69. Michels points out, however, that the German and American periods were linked by Panofsky's continuing preoccupation with etymology and grammar (especially those of Latin).
xviii Sylvan Barnet recommends this approach in his A Short Guide to Writing About Art, fourth ed., New York: HarperCollins, 1993, pp. 86-107.
xix For styles and strategies of scientific writing, see Charles Bazerman, Shaping Written Knowledge: The Genre and Activity of the Experimental Article in Science, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.
xx On this process, and related phenomena, in cognate fields, see Charles Bazelton and James Paradis, eds., Textual Dynamics of the Professions: Historical and Contemporary Studies of Writing in Professional Communities, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.
xxi Seidel's interpretation was first couched in the form of an article, "Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait: Business as Usual?" Critical Inquiry, 16 (1989), 55-86, which was then expanded into a book, Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait: Stories of an Icon, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
xxii Giotto and the Orators: Humanist Observers of Painting in Italy and the Discovery of Pictorial Composition, 1350-1450, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971. See also Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.
xxiii However, in the monograph cited above, Potts has offered some useful correlations between personality, style, and audience for this major figure. Standing at some distance from the concerns addressed in this section, the papers in Salim Kemal and Ivan Gaskell, eds., The Language of Art History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991) focus chiefly on philosophical issues and on the incommensurability of words and images.
xxiv A recent, somewhat tongue-in-cheek lexicon is Robert Atkins, Artspeak: A Guide to Contemporary Ideas, Movements, and Buzzwords, New York: Abbeville Press, 1990.
xxv The Ancient View of Greek Art: Criticism, History, and Terminology, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974.
xxvi Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
xxvii First published in Florence: Santi Franchi, 1681; photographic reprint, Florence: Studio per edizioni scelti, n.d. (with added "Nota critica" by Severina Parodi, pp. iii-xxxiii).
xxviii A major collection of the fruits of the approach championed by Lovejoy is Philip P. Wiener, ed., Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas, 5 vols., New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972-73.
xxix For these and other examples, see Jerome J. Pollitt, The Ancient View of Greek Art: Criticism, History, and Terminology, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974.
xxx Comité International d'Histoire de l'art, Kirchengeräte, Kreuze und Reliquiare der christlichen Kirchen, 3d ed., Munich: K. G. Saur, 1992.
xxxiBaxandall, Giotto and the Orators.
xxxii For a roster of French art terms, but without etymological analysis, see Louis Réau, Dictionnaire polyglotte des termes d'art et d'archéologie, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1953.
xxxiii Walter Ullmann, Language and Style, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1964, pp. 85-88; Ludwig Schrader, Sinn und Sinnesverknüpfungen, Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1969.
xxxiv Hans Eichner, ed., 'Romantic' and Its Cognates: The European History of a Word, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1972.
xxxv Kenneth E. Silver, Esprit de Corps: The Art of the Parisian Avant-Garde and the First World War, 1914-1925, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.
xxxvi A characteristically disappointing, but perhaps faithful reflection of this dearth of analysis is Salim Kemal and Ivan Gaskell, eds., The Language of Art History, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
xxxvii For this point, and those following, see Nadine Covert, ed., Art on Screen: A Directory of Films and Videos About the Visual Arts, Compiled and Edited by The Program for Art on Film, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991.
xxxviii For an introduction, see Paul Delany and George P. Landow, eds., Hypermedia and Literary Studies, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991.


By the second decade of the twenty-first century the process of the globalization of the historiography of art was well advanced.  To be sure, old habits persisted, as in university art history offerings, where the introductory courses tended to continue to emphasize Euro-American art.


As we have seen in the above chapters, the East Asian model was a serious rival to the one that began in ancient Greece and revived in the Renaissance, it was the latter that ultimately triumphed.  Yet its use was not limited to European and North American art, but came to be extended to other realms, notably to Islamic, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian art.

Some manifestations of art, even though they are aesthetically impressive, do not lend themselves to historiographical explication.  A case in point is prehistoric rock art, consisting of engraved or painted motifs of on rock formations, generally in the open air. These motifs are commonly termed petroglyphs.   Examples may be admired in many parts of the world, from North America and Europe through South Africa and India to Australia.  In almost every case we do not know what the motive induced the creators, whose ethnic identity is for the most part unknown, to go to the trouble to create these glyphs.  It is rarely possible to date the works.  These factors impose serious interpretive limitations.  We can record and publish examples of rock art, but we cannot attempt to write their history in the sense discussed in this book.

What are the criteria that make it possible to write the art history of a particular human group, culture, or civilization?  First, it must be possible to arrange the works in a meaningful sequence so that causal links can be identified linking the phases.  In these phases distinctive styles must be evident.  The imagery must show iconography, that is certain stable patterns of meaning that connect with other concerns of the society that has created it. Finally, one should be able to make some statements about the role of the artist in the society, identifying if possible individual artists.

In this book, the analysis of art manifestations that have a history is illustrative rather than exhaustive.  I other parts of the world the conditions for constructing a history of the pertinent art are present, but the task has not yet been undertaken, or at least not undertaken completely.  These countries and regions are, as it were, still waiting in the queue.

Perhaps the most important element that fosters the construction of an art history is the following connection.

Narionalism and nation bulding. 

In a number of countries, art historiography has been linked the emergence of national consciousness and nation building.  Nowhere has this link been more evident than in Mexico, where study of the pre-Columbian art of the Aztecs, Mayas, Olmecs and other Amerindian peoples emerged with tremendous saliency after the conclusion of a decade of turmoil and revolution in 1920.  Motifs derived from this past were incorporated prominently in national symbology, as seen in seals, the national flags, and official symbols of all kinds.  The role of pre-Columbian models is seen particularly in the couple of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, with Rivera tackling great themes in public frescos, while his spouse Kahlo pursued more intimate aspects of personal identity in her smaller works.  Among the Mexican scholars who have made major contributions to the study of the art and archaeology of the nation’s indigenous past are Jorge R. Acosta, Leopoldo, Batres, Alfonso Caso, Alfredo Chavero, Leopoldo López Luján, and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma.

Another interesting case is Ethiopia, a country that has long been concerned with protecting its integrity from outside incursions, both from local and European (mainly Italian powers).  Flourishing from the fourth century down to the present, art in Ethiopia falls into two broad groupings. Best known abroad is the distinctive tradition of Christian art, mostly for churches, including  architecture, painting, crosses, icons, and illuminated manuscripts.  Because of the role of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church over some 1500 years there are close links between this monumental art and that of Copric Christianity in Egypt. The second main trend comprises popular arts and crafts such as textiles, basketry, and jewelry, media in which Ethiopian work is closer to that of other peoples in the region.

In Southeast Asia, the Khmer monuments of Angkor Wat and other sites are so spectacular that they have long compelled attention.  Accordingly, this art is emphasized by the Cambodian government, which maintains an important museum and study center in Phnom Penh.

In Australia, the indigenous traditions of aboriginal art were for a time slow to gain the attention of the educated classes, who generally preferred the European-derived art produced in the largely white cities.  Today, the picture has much changed, and aboriginal art has a considerable following, both in Australia and abroad.  Today the history of Australian art is considered to have a dual object: the aboriginal tradition, which has continued until today; and the settler traditions, deriving from European art.

During the period from 1815 to 1918 the Polish state had ceased to exist.  During that period, studying the country’s art was regarded as major element in maintaining national awareness, and preparing for the resumption of sovereignty, which did indeed come.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century it became evident that Catalonia was developing an important status, in the economy as well as in culture (art in particular), in the Iberian peninsula.  This awareness helped fuel political separatism. While this movement has not yet achieved full independence, the region has developed significant political institutions of its own.

Similarly, in Scotland study of the country’s heritage in art and architecture has helped to foster a sense of national distinctness.  Indeed, Scotland may well be on the verge of actually becoming a sovereign nation.


Mary K. Coffey, How a Revolutionary Art Became Official Culture: Murals, Museums  and the Mexican State, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012;  David Snellgrove, Angkor Before and After: A Cultural History of the Khmers, Trumbull, CT: Weatherhill, 2004;  Andrew Sayers, Australian Art, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001 Jan Bialostocki, The Art of the Renaissance in Eastern Europe: Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976; Jan Cavanaugh, Out Looking In: Early Modern Polish Art, 1890-1918, Berkeley: University of California Press. 2000;  Manuel A Castiñeiras, Jordi Camps i Sòria, and Joan Duran-Porta, Romanesque Art in the MNAC Collections, Barcelona: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, 2008; Modernismo: Architecture and Design in Catalonia,  New York: Monacelli Press, 2001; Miles Glendenning, Ranald McInness and Aonghus MacKechnie, A History of Scottish Architecture from the Renaissance to the Present Day, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996: Murdo MacDonald, Scottish Art, London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000.



Not so long ago it was thought that the open-sesame to the understanding of contemporary art was the overarching concept of Postmodernism.  As time went on, however, it became clear that the term bore different meanings in various fields, so that Postmodernism in architecture, for example, reveals quite different qualities from  Postmodernism in philosophy. The temporal parameters were also uncertain, stretching as far back as 1960 or so according to some writers.  Finally, Postmodernism was not a clean break, for it shared a number of features with the modernism it was claimed to supplant.  

If Postmodernism was the general umbrella term, it welcomed to its sheltering embrace a number of more specific trends, such as minimalism, earth art, performance art, neogeo and so forth.  The identification of these trends, gathering them under the umbrella of an overall concept, represented a prolongation of the older strategy of segmenting modern art into such styles as postimpressionism, fauvism, cubism, expressionism and so forth. 

Yet by 1989, the strategy of assembling a procession of isms or movements had become increasingly unusable as a key to understanding new art.  Practically speaking, there were no more movements, only artists.

Why 1989?  That was the year that the Berlin Wall was breached, signaling the end of the Cold War, which had preoccupied the most powerful nations of the world since 1945.

Now, as in the past, most artists toil in obscurity.  Only a few rise to prominence, seeing their works exhibited in fashionable galleries and included in the great art fairs, such as the Venice Biennale, Art Basel, and documenta, that have increasingly become the showcase for those who have made it.

One can easily peruse the various books of 100 (occasionally 200) “essential” artists of today.  The same names keep recurring, constituting a kind of informal canon of contemporary artists.  Who enters the canon is decided by a confluence of factors, including attention by influential critics, representation by important galleries and appearance at the art fairs, and purchases by influential collectors.

Once an artist has made it into the canon a further process of sifting occurs.  This serves to distinguish the ultimate elite, the blue-chip artists, from the rest.  Typically, the blue-chip group consists of older, established figures.  But not always.  A few artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons made it into the charmed circle at a relatively young age.

Today the ranks of top artists include many more women than previously,  However, old habits linger, and there is a sense in many quarters that some shows and museum collections remain disproportionally male.

Today powerful dealers and major collectors seem to bestride the art world like colossi.   But they cannot have things just as they choose, for critics, resourceful wordsmiths, retain their influence.  In addition these forces are joined by a relatively new body of contenders, the international curators who decide which artists will appear in the great art fairs and other collective venues. 

In this crowded field two opposing camps may be detected. One faction is headed by the huge globalized art dealerships that to the international super-rich – those individuals so dazzlingly wealthy as to be seemingly immune to the economic upsets.  The other group consists of writers, thinkers, and artists, often left-leaning, who cherish vision of art that is politically engaged, historically aware, and socially inclusive.

As a rule, important collectors are wealthy members of the jet set.  But not always.  In New York City a middle-class couple Herbert and Dorothy Vogel managed to assemble a major collection with limited means.  The secret of their success was to visit an artist when her or she was just beginning the process of ascent, when prices were affordable.

Art fairs and recurrent exhibitions.

Particularly characteristic of the art world in the last 25 years are the biennial exhibitions, large assemblies of contemporary art, generally on an international basis.  While the practice has greatly burgeoned in recent years, it origins stretch back far into the early years of the modern period of art.
The archetype is the Venice Biennale.  The first such event was held in 1895 largely with Italian works.  Gradually, the occurrences became more international.  From 1907 on, several countries began installing national pavilions at the exhibition. After World War I, the Biennale showed increasing interest in innovative traditions in modern art. Between the two World Wars, many important modern artists had their work exhibited there.

The 1980 Biennale introduced “Aperto,” a section of the exhibition dedicated to exploring emerging art.  In recent years the event has been guided by a series of influential curators, including Germano Celant, Francesco Bonami, Harald Szeemann, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Robert Storr, and Daniel Birnbaum.

 For 2013, the board of the Venice Biennale appointed Massimiliano Gioni to the post of director. The theme chosen was Il Palazzo Enciclopedico / The Encyclopedic Palace, named after a project by artist Marino Auriti featuring an actual scale model of a museum meant to house all the world's knowledge.
In the United States a similar exhibition has focused on contemporary American art.  This is the Whitney Biennial, which was begun in 1932 as the Whitney Annual,  Ir is held at the Whitney Museum in New York City.  The event has seen a number of changes of focus.  In the late 1960s the administration decided to alternate the showings between painting and sculpture,,  Then in the 1970s it was decided to combine both together in a biennial. The first Biennial occurred in 1973. Since then, the events have become broader in scope, seeking include all media.

As regards the selection process, the Whitney Museum has experimented with different methods of organizing the exhibition. It has employed its own staff members and invited outside curators, including Europeans, to present the show.The 2014 Whitney Biennial is scheduled to be the last one in the museum’s Marcel Breuer building. The Whitney Museum is leaving the Upper East Side for the meatpacking district in Lower Manhattan, where it plans to occupy its new building, designed by Renzo Piano in 2015.

In Switzerland Art Basel was founded in 1970 by Basel Gallerists Trudi Bruckner, Balz Hilt and Ernst Beyeler.  It proved an immediate success.  Three years after its launch, Art Basel welcomed 281 exhibitors and over 30,000 visitors.

In 2002 Art Basel was launched in Miami Beach, under the leadership of former director, Samuel Keller.  At the tenth edition in December 2011 a record number of fifty thousand collectors, artists, dealers, curators, critics, and art enthusiasts participated in the show.

Art Basel debuted in Hong Kong in May 2013.

Documenta (or documenta) is an exhibition of international modern and contemporary art that takes place every year in Kassel, Germany.  It dares its origins back to 1955.  Since every documenta lasts only100 days, it is sometimes dubbed  the “museum of 100 days.”

Each event has a particular emphasis.  For example documenta X (1992) focused on certain key dates for wide-reaching social and cultural upheavals, such as 1945, 1968, and 1976/77.   Documenta XI (2002) was organized around such  themes as migration, urbanization, and the post-colonial experience, In 2012 documenta XIII addressed feminism from a variety of points of view. The exhibition typically gives its artists at least two years to conceive and produce their projects, so the works are often elaborate and intellectually complex.

The preceding account is only a sample of these proliferating events.  In 2012 now fewer that 149 biennales and triennales had taken root worldwide.

A  Map of Contemporary Art

Given the immense diversity of contemporary art - which is inescapable - it is still possible to find some landmarks - common features - in the new art.  At least that is the view of Eleanor Heartney, author of Art & Today, to whom I am indebted for insights that helped me to assemble the following roundup.

1.  Permeation of motifs and styles from popular culture.  In his 1939 essay “Avant-garde and Kitsch,” Clement Greenberg sought to erect a great wall of separation between advanced art and popular culture. Norman Rockwell, for example, was simply not art.  In the 1960s, though, with Pop Art and Andy Warhol, this wall was breached.  Now there are no barriers at all, and artists feel free to allude to comic books, cartoons, advertising, and television shows as much as they please.  For example, from 1999 to 2011 the prolific California artist Mike Kelley labored on the “Kandor Project,” a series of sculptures named for the Kryptonite city where Superman was born and which, according to the DC Comics of the artist’s youth, the Man of Steel kept preserved in miniature form under glass.

2. Everyday objects as art.  Sometimes these things are single objects, modified of not.  In other instances the creator presents us with assemblages of thing.  The intent, we are told, is to bring attention to the excesses of the consumer society.  Yet the effect is ambiguous.  In 2000, for example, the French artist Christian Boltanski gathered masses of old clothes, which he presented in heaps at the Grand Palais in Paris without comment.

3.  The new variety and untidiness in abstraction.  With Ellsworth Kelley and Minimalism, abstraction had opted for clean lines and pristine surfaces.  The new abstraction allows for all sorts of unexpected effects, including color combinations that are deliberately garish. Perhaps the most prominent instances are the viscous squeegee abstractions of the veteran painter Gerhard Richter.  He produces these alongside his more realistic works, producing a kind of visual dialectic.

4.  New representationalism.  Reality is present, but is processed through alienating schemata.  In his recent portraits, Chuck Close presents the sitter’s visage through a diagonal grid producing tiny lozenge-like cells which are filled with dots, crescents, and squares.  At close range the image dissolves into an almost psychedelic abstraction.

5.  Puzzle pictures. These scenes look ordinary, but in fact evoke uneasiness and perplexity - and in fact thoughtful consideration.  The works of the photographer Cindy Sherman are exemplary in this regard.  Working as her own model for more than thirty years, Sherman has interpreted herself in a wide range of guises, which are by turns amusing and disturbing, distasteful and affecting. To create her works, she assumes multiple roles: photographer, model, makeup artist, hairdresser, stylist, and wardrobe mistress. With an arsenal of wigs, costumes, makeup, prosthetics, and props, Sherman has deftly modified her physique and surroundings to create a plethora of tableaus and characters, from screen siren to clown to aging socialite.

6.  Body art.  The human body becomes a zone of alienation, distortion and eve assault, with some effects approximating to porn.  A case in point is Ron Mueck’s disturbing sculpture “Dead Dad” (1996-97).  This piece is a simulacrum of a cadaver of an elderly male fabricated from silicon, resin, and human hair, clinically laid out as if awaiting the attention of a coroner’s scalpel.

7.  Nature modified.  In some cases this art consists either of intrusions on the landscape, continuing the tradition of Earth Art.  An example is Martin Kippenberger’s project known as METRO-Net World Connection (begun in 1993), consisting of dummy subway entrances placed in isolation in a landscape.  Although only two prototypes were constructed - on the Greek island of Syros and the other in the Yukon in Canada - the viability of the project had been demonstrated.  Other artists have sought to bringing nature into the gallery in the form of trees, grass, and other “outdoor” elements.

8,  Rediscovering transcendence in the sense of reprocessing religious imagery, often in a deliberately banal and kitschy mode.  In 1999 a painting by British-born Chris Ofili, The Holy Virgin Mary, became notorious when New York’s mayor Rudi Giuliani assailed its inclusion in the “Sensation” exhibition being held then at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  The work depicts a Black Madonna surrounded by images from blaxploitation movies and close-ups of female genitalia cut from pornographic magazines, using elephant dung as one of the media.

9.  Kleinarchitectur - that is, architecture-like structures displayed either in the gallery or outside on the street.  Using plaster, cement, building samples, photographs, and bric-à-brac, the German artist Isa Genzken creates architectonic structures that have been described as contemporary ruins. For Genzken, the column is a recurring motif  - a “pure” architectural trope serving to explore relationships between “high art” and the mass-produced products of popular culture

10.  Intertextuality. Some works are created to establish dialogue with other works, often  major pieces in the historic tradition.  Mark Alexander’s “The Black Gachet” of 2005-06 is a rendering of Vincent Van Gogh’s portrait of Dr. Gachet entirely in that hue.

11.  Institutional critique.  In November 2012 the Museum of Modern Art displayed Martha Rosler’s Meta-Monumental Garage Sale, a large-scale version of the American custom of the garage sale, in which Museum visitors could  browse and purchase second-hand goods organized, displayed, and sold by the artist. The installation was a space for exchange between Rosler and her customers as they haggled over prices. This was not a first for Rosler wbo had organized other events of this kind at San Diego, Vienna, Barcelona, Stockholm, and London.  Implicitly, the events are meant as a critique of both the larger consumer society and the perceived commercialization of our museums.

12.  Dizzying multiplication. This occurs when the artist gathers a vast number of little objects, more or less identical to form a superheap.  In 2010 the leading Chinese asrtist Ai Weiwei created an installation in London’s Tate Modern in which he filled the great Turbine Hall with one-hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds.

In this vast landscape, one thing stands out: love of spectacle.  Ours is not an art of reticence or decorum, but one of flamboyance and excess.  Possibly the period in the past that it most resembles is the baroque.

As the summary roster of leading features essayed above has shown, it is also extraordinarily diverse.  For that reason, we have only attempted to suggest some of the empirical parameters within which a satisfactory history of contemporary art must be undertaken.  Proper realization of this aspiration remains a task for the future.


Elizabeth Wheatney, Art & Now, London and New York: Phaidon, 2008; Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson, eds,, Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013;  Daniel Birnbaum, et al., Defining Contemporary Art: 25 Years in 2000 Pivotal Artworks, London and New York: Phaidon, 2011; Kelly Grovier, 100 Works of Art That Will Define Our Age, London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013; Bruce Altshuler, ed., Biennials and Beyond: Exhibitions That Made Art History, 1962-2002, London and New York: Phaidon, 2013;  Hans Belting, Andrea Buddensieg, and Peter Weibel, eds., The Global Contemporary and the Rise of New Art Worlds, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012;  Eleanor Heartney, Helaine Posner, Nancy Princenthal, and Sue Scott, The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium, New York: Prestel USA, 2013.


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