Art History and Its Institutions: Foundations of a Discipline

By Elizabeth Mansfield | Go to book overview

2

HEARING THE UNSAID

Art history, museology, and the composition of the self *

Donald Preziosi

Certainly we must be attentive to the “un-said” that lies in the holes of discourse, but this does not mean that we must listen as if to someone knocking on the other side of the wall.

J. Lacan, Écrits

It's to provide knowledge and allow people to get access and education about modern arts and culture and also to be able to purchase related products. It will be rich in content and it will also have a community component and a commerce and merchandising component.

Liz Addison, project manager for a new e-business joint venture
of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and London's
Tate Gallery (New York, Reuters, 17 April 2000)

After what is now more than a quarter of a century of disciplinary self-critique, why is it that we have been perennially unable to escape art historicism? Apart from the massive and growing commodifications of art history and museology as ancillary professions of a larger infotainment and edutainment industry in which all of us today are implicated, what most deeply supports and naturalizes our interest in the “history” of art, and motivates our abiding concern with “visual cultures”?

Certainly, these include assumptions about how the world of art or artifice sustains and legitimizes our individual and collective identities: how it is that our existence as subjects is permanently and essentially tied to the world of objects into which we are born and within which we always live as individuals and members of communities. Fundamental orientations on time, memory, history, and identity have underlain and made possible the art historical and museological practices we know today. These in turn rest upon very particular dialogic or dialectical relationships imagined to exist between ourselves as social subjects and the object-worlds we build ourselves into.

The idealist dualisms enabling art historical and museological practice in modern times are particular forms of a largely uninvestigated secular theologism

-28-

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