Art History and Its Institutions: Foundations of a Discipline

By Elizabeth Mansfield | Go to book overview

17

A PREPONDERANCE OF PRACTICAL PROBLEMS

Discourse institutionalized and the history of art in the United States between 1876 and 1888

Eric Rosenberg

It is hardly the case that the history of art was a commonplace in higher educational curricula in the United States in the late nineteenth century. If such a discourse could be said to have taken institutional form at this time, it would be more accurate to look for it in nascent museum and private-collecting patterns, and myriad written examples existing and circulating above and beyond those educational organs more readily associated with the dissemination, or the professing, of the history of art in the present day. 1 There was, however, no shortage of publications in the period between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century devoted either periodically or in singular book form to offering American audiences some sense of a history of art for a culture finding its feet as consumers of world-historical artifacts and some sense of their order and significance in relation to an emerging nationalism committed to determining how to locate and situate the American participation in world history.

One quite visible manifestation of this interest was the emergence of significant, influential and consistently published periodicals devoted either in part or on the whole to the fortunes of modern art and the place of previous examples of artistic production as encountered in the modern world. Journals like Scribners, The Century, and The Critic, while largely devoted to cultural and literary interests, almost always offered space to visual art phenomena of the present or past in any given issue. Meanwhile, magazines like The Art Interchange, The Art Exchange, the Magazine of Art, and the American Art Review were prominent forums for mediating the impact of modern and historical art as its production and reception intersected with contemporary American culture and its concomitant interests.

After the Civil War, a burgeoning art world came to professionalization. As a result, systems of exchange were further institutionalized. The dissemination and proliferation of world-historical art marked an aspect of the surge to professionalize. In turn, meaning making and facilitation were ever increasing projects

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