Meyer Schapiro on Style in Art and Science: Notes from a Theory and Methods of Art History Graduate Seminar Lecture Course, Columbia University, New York, 1973

By Smith, Terry | Journal of Art Historiography, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Meyer Schapiro on Style in Art and Science: Notes from a Theory and Methods of Art History Graduate Seminar Lecture Course, Columbia University, New York, 1973


Smith, Terry, Journal of Art Historiography


Introduction

Why present this material now, nearly forty years after the fact? Indeed, why make available what is after all simply a set of lecture notes, one amongst the many taken by the hundreds who heard Meyer Schapiro lecture on these topics over the decades of his teaching?

A short answer to the first question is that, while these notes inevitably contain ideas and observations that appear in the considerable number of Schapiro's books, collected essays and posthumous publications, they also contain many thoughts, comments, formulations and speculations that are not to be found in those volumes. This does not, of course, in itself guarantee their value or interest, and certainly there is no suggestion that they represent material that he might have wished to see published. Nor, on the other hand, is there any reason known to me that he would not have wanted them to be made available as what they are: one record of his lecture series on art historical methodology, as presented in 1973.

Allowing of course for the limitations of the recorder, they provide a distinct access to the mind of the most theoretically alive American art historian of his generation, a man passionately devoted to the task of communicating the excitement of the discipline of art history as it confronts the most challenging problems of its time, and thinks itself forward by working through them. This commitment is evident in some of the published collections of his writings, but not the sense-striking in these notes-of Schapiro consumed by his task as he strives to induct a group of students into the fundamental drives of the discipline. More particularly, in the years around 1970 Schapiro was deeply concerned with the connections and differences between modes of inquiry into art's history and into the history and philosophy of science, and those between artistic creativity and scientific enquiry, including information theory. These concerns are, I believe, more apparent in these notes than in the material published to date.

Whether these notes stand as a useful record is a judgement that only each reader can make. In general, I have altered my original notes only when I had misspelled or misunderstood a name, or used intolerably poor grammar, or unnecessarily abbreviated his remarks. To compensate a little for my extremely utilitarian style of note taking, and to assist the flow of reading, I have added definite articles and conjunctions. I have nowhere changed any word of significance, or added any words that might bear on meaning. To assist the reader, I have proposed titles [in square brackets] for those lectures when Schapiro did not announce one. Taking down as exactly and efficiently as possible, and for later contemplation, the sense of what I heard him to say was, after all, the point of my being there in the first place.

I have added in the footnotes full references to the many texts that he mentioned, usually in passing. I have tried to locate editions that he would have been likely to read. They are testimony not only to the depth and range of his erudition, but also to his openness to contemporary publishing in a variety of fields, to texts both arcane and populist. I have not incorporated any material from Schapiro's published work, although endnote reference to these volumes is made when that seems appropriate. Most of the published material, as it happens, is based on texts written before 1973. Schapiro had lectured on the topics covered in these notes since 1963, did so for the years 1974 and 1975 in systematic series, and subsequently returned to many of these topics in lectures on a variety of subjects. My sense at the time-and I still believe this-is that the lectures constituting Art History G6001x, given to a class of, at first, over 70 (mine was seat #72) but by the end, regrettably, perhaps a dozen graduate students, were Schapiro's theory-in-progress seminars. He would bring into the lecture room a set of catalog cards on which he had written some notes and references, as well as, occasionally, a handful of slides. …

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