Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on him and they still give him much trouble at times …Future ages will bring him new and probably unimaginably great advances in this field of civilization and will increase man’s likeness to God even more. But in the interests of our investigations, we will not forget that present-day man does not feel happy in his Godlike character.
Freud, “Civilization and Its Discontents” (1930:28-29)
The discipline of art history is, by slow degrees, revealing its content—its construction of meaning, the underlying assumptions of its methodology, the manner in which it has suppressed the evidence of its own production—and, in the process of this self-conscious analysis, it is revealing its (dis)contents, its lack. The discomposure currently afflicting scholarship in this field occurred because the world outside this “last bastion of reactionary thought” changed. The audience no longer shares the grand legitimizing beliefs that, since its inception, art history has been confidently drawing upon and reiterating. A reassessment of basic methodological assumptions was undertaken in most other fields long ago as other voices broke through and broke up existing conventions and established certainties. While it is apparent that the critiques undertaken of the methodological assumptions of other fields could be applied with similar implications to the discussion of art history, the discipline continued to employ a methodology that reproduces the cultural hegemony of the dominant class, race, and gender. Art history’s long overdue self-analysis has been brought about, in large part, by women artists and art historians.
Art history has masqueraded as a socially and politically insignificant discourse by enveloping itself in what Hadjinicolaou calls a “rhetoric of empty eloquence.” An important part of the feminist project has been to expose that masquerade: the convenient myth that art history is an archaic, inconsequential field of inquiry removed from the conflicts and conditions