The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society

By Linda Nochlin | Go to book overview
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Yet it seems to me that both positions--on the one hand, that which sees the exclusion of nineteenth-century academic art from the sacred precincts as the result of some art dealers' machinations or an avant-garde cabal; and on the other, that which sees the wish to include them as a revisionist plot to weaken the quality of high art as a category--are wrong. Both are based on the notion of art history as a positive rather than a critical discipline. Works like Gérôme's, and that of other Orientalists of his ilk, are valuable and well worth investigating not because they share the aesthetic values of great art on a slightly lower level, but because as visual imagery they anticipate and predict the qualities of incipient mass culture. As such, their strategies of concealment lend themselves admirably to the critical methodologies, the deconstructive techniques now employed by the best film historians, or by sociologists of advertising imagery, or by analysts of visual propaganda, rather than those of mainstream art history. As a fresh visual territory to be investigated by scholars armed with historical and political awareness and analytic sophistication, Orientalism--or rather its deconstruction--offers a challenge to art historians, as do many other similarly obfuscated areas of our discipline.

Organized by Donald A. Rosenthal, the exhibition appeared at the Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester (Aug. 27-Oct. 17, 1982) and at the Neuberger Museum. State University of New York, Purchase (Nov. 14-Dec. 23, 1982). It was accompanied by a catalogue-book prepared by Rosenthal. This article is based on a lecture presented in Purchase when the show was on view there.
Donald A. Rosenthal, Orientalism: The Near East in French Painting 1800-1880 ( Rochester, 1982), pp. 8-9, italics added.
The insights offered by Said Orientalism ( New York, 1978) are central to the arguments developed in this study. However, Said's book does not deal with the visual arts at all.
Driault, pp. 187 ff., cited in George E. Kirk, A Short History of the Middle East ( New York, 1964), pp. 85-86.
J. F. B., "Gérôme, the Painter", The California Art Gallery 1-4 ( 1873): 51-52. I am grateful to William Gerdts for bringing this material to my attention.
Leo Bersani. "Le Réalisme et la peur du désir", in Littérature et réalité, ed. G. Genette and T. Todorov ( Paris, 1982), p. 59.
Richard Ettinghausen in Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), exhibition catalogue, Dayton Art Institute, 1972, p. 18. Edward Said has pointed out to me in conversation that


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