The Nature of Representation; a Phenomenological Inquiry

The Nature of Representation; a Phenomenological Inquiry

The Nature of Representation; a Phenomenological Inquiry

The Nature of Representation; a Phenomenological Inquiry

Excerpt

Art historians have long been aware that aesthetic theory, whether Plato's or Sir Herbert Read's, is to be taken at face value only if viewed as a commentary on the artistic practice of its own time and place. They have been less eager to acknowledge that their own labors -- the problems they choose to investigate as well as the conceptual framework within which they see these problems -- may be similarly conditioned, though perhaps in more subtle ways, by contemporary artistic events. Yet the growth of the history of art as a scholarly discipline since the days of Winckelmann cannot be fully understood unless we recognize this relationship. Thus the emergence, at the end of the last century, of Postimpressionism, with its emphasis on formal and expressive qualities at the expense of representational accuracy, had a counterpart in the art historian's new approach to the evolution of styles as an autonomous vie des formes and the consequent rediscovery of periods hitherto neglected as barbarous or decadent, such as Late Antiquity, the Early Middle Ages, and sixteenth-century Mannerism. Similarly, the Dadaist-Surrealist movement of the years between the two world wars, rejecting formal order and self-imposed discipline in favor of visual shock effects, a faith in spontaneity, and the exploitation of irrational impulses, helped to stimulate a greater concern among art histo-

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