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

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

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

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

Synopsis

A leading critic and historian of nineteenth-century art and society explores in nine essays the interaction of art, society, ideas, and politics.

Excerpt

Any attempt on the part of an art historian to deal with the issue of art and politics must first engage with the politics of art history itself. And this politics, of course, has a history, which is replicated in the career of any single practitioner in the field. In this sense, every art-historical Bildungsroman is, in microcosm, a social history of art history, and deserves examination, however cursory, in terms of the paradigms within which, or--more rarely--against which, new art-historical writing is inevitably formulated.

In my own case, starting out in the field at Vassar and New York University's Institute of Fine Arts in the late forties and early fifties, the dominant paradigm was formalism, manifested, in the case of the art history of the nineteenth and twentieth century, in the triumph of Modernism. At the Institute, Walter Friedländer, then in his eighties, taught me nineteenth-century art, and his echt-formalist David to Delacroix (Wölfflin recycled for the early nineteenth century, even then a revered classic) served as our text. Although issues of subject matter were touched on, serious studies of the content of painting and sculpture were reserved for earlier periods, where such investigations were isolated under the heading of iconography. Modern art, by definition, it would seem, was iconography-free: indeed, in its most simplistic formulation, the whole point of the Modernist effort, from Manet on, was to rid art of its encumbering subject matter, leaving the production of meaning--understood . . .

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