Publishing Paradigms in Art History

Article excerpt

This forum on book publishing in art history and visual studies comes about as a result of a long-standing interest on the part of the An Journal editorial board in how and why art books and books on art get published. Today these issues seem more pressing and not simply historical. To that end, the editorial board agreed in February of 2005 to present the current state of these issues to the CAA readership. Evidence of concern in the field as a whole may be found in the number of conferences over the last two years that have addressed the changes in publishing in art and visual studies.1 In Susan Bielstein's recent book on how intellectual property law applies to the visual arts, the author takes on one of several elephants in the room of art-book publishing: the complex issue of image permissions and the rising fees for them.2

Like many of you, as a reader, author, and teacher I have a multidimensional relationship to the art book. It plays an essential role in my professional life and in my imagination. Is there any other thing more important to an art historian and teacher than the art book? I have studied the art book as a distinct but complex entity, just as ethnographers study distinct societies. I began with a series of interviews with editors of art books at the annual conference of the College Art Association. I have also informally interviewed sales personnel at museum and university bookstores on the state of book publishing today. I pursued the outcomes of these conversations with colleagues on the editorial board of Art Journal when the art historian John Ricco chaired it. The board endorsed the importance of the subject for the field as a whole and supported further assessment of the situation in order to bodi inform and provoke discussion with you, the journal's readers. In late March of 2006 I coconvened with Ken Wissoker, editor at Duke University Press, a colloquium on "Art History and Its Publishers." For two days art-book editors and publishers met at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to discuss matters related to the fields and audiences, finances, power, and the future of publishing in art and visual studies. The conversations were animated, at times contentious, and, in the end, optimistic. The publishers speak in their own words here, and I thank them for their openness and their willingness to participate.3 Finally, in June 2006 the Getty Research Institute and CAA presented "Art History and the Digital World," at which scholars, librarians, editors, and industry spokespeople debated matters related to the digital publishing of texts and images. A report on that meeting by Murtha Baca and William Tronzo concludes diis Art Journal forum. As further follow-up on these topics, the CAA Publications Committee will present a panel at the 2007 annual conference in New York, where we hope to engage CAA members in the conversations begun here.

The purpose of the present forum is to provide Art Journal readers with a good sense of the issues that emerged from this research and these meetings. Some statistical evidence was reported at the Clark Art Institute colloquium, and I shall refer to it here. However, the ethnographic impulse has led me to more analytic observations of both the past and the present of our discipline that may be of use as we consider the publishing paradigms of the future and their significance for art history and visual studies.

What value does the project of book publishing in art history have at a time of rising costs and digital alternatives? These digital alternatives present their own values and attractions, but they are distinctive-and not wholly related to book publishing. There is a great diversity in the audience for art books and books on art: the wide community of artists, art historians, museum professionals, and humanists working in all areas of visual studies; educated general readers of books on art; museumgoers; and photographers, editors, and publishers. …