Whose Global Art (History)? Ancient Art as Global Art 1

By Colburn, Cynthia | Journal of Art Historiography, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Whose Global Art (History)? Ancient Art as Global Art 1


Colburn, Cynthia, Journal of Art Historiography


Dedication

When asked to write in honor of Donald Preziosi, I began rereading much of his scholarship. I started with Rethinking Art History: Meditations on a Coy Science,2 and it brought me back to the moment I purchased this book at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as I prepared to attend graduate school at UCLA, where I would study Aegean art history under Donald. I also remember the fear that came upon me when I realized that, though I found the book interesting and very impressive, there was much that I did not understand. Having completed my undergraduate degree in art history, I had never thought about the history of the discipline, the influences of its origins, or the complexity of its practice. I had come to think of art history as a fairly tidy, albeit fascinating, story of the world told through art. I would offer that this was probably not atypical of the average undergraduate in art history in the early 1990s. That fear increased as I began Donald's Art Historical Theories and Methodologies seminar at UCLA in 1995. We were working from a reader that would soon morph into his publication, The Art of Art History, but in the seminar the first author we read was Immanuel Kant, including excerpts from his Critique of Judgment. I know I was not alone in my feelings of intimidation; prior to the class in which we were to discuss Kant, I huddled with several other first year graduate students, trying desperately to make sense of what we had read. As the semester progressed, however, that fear quickly transformed into excitement, as Donald, like Ariadne's thread, led us through the labyrinthine historiography of art history, or as he so aptly described in his later scholarship, a veritable Crystal Palace that can ever be expanded and revised.3 In addition to causing us to question our assumptions and open our minds to innovative ways of thinking, this seminar gave us many tools with which to approach our study of art, regardless of chronological period or geographical origin. In other words, Donald spoke to us across our various specializations.

Also striking in Donald Preziosi's publications is the incredible breadth and depth he brings to his writing on the discipline of art history. Those unfamiliar with his early monograph, Minoan Architectural Design,4 might forget that Donald was trained in the art, architecture, and archaeology of ancient Greece, and more specifically, the Bronze Age Aegean. Yet, a cursory reading of Rethinking Art History, or even his much more recent Art, Religion, Amnesia: The Enchantments of Credulity,5 shows clear evidence of his background in ancient Greek art, archaeology, and philosophy. Further, Preziosi's introductory essays that begin each section of The Art of Art History6 show a breadth of knowledge of art historical subfields well beyond ancient Greece and contemporary theory. One might argue, in fact, that it is precisely Donald Preziosi's breadth and depth of knowledge of the field of art history, as well as the value he places on all geographical areas and periods of art, that allows him to engage so fully and effectively in the discourses that impact the discipline of art history as a whole and that speak across our areas of specialization. This is why I would like to dedicate this essay, which argues for a greater role for pre-modern art in the mainstream theoretical discourse on global art, to Donald Preziosi, whose interest in art across time and space has informed his scholarship and that of his many students in order to advance the complex history of art in the world.

Theoretical discourse on global art (history)

Discourse on a global or world art history arguably dominates the field of art history today. This is evident across the discipline and can be seen in college courses, departmental mission statements, faculty hires, museum exhibitions, and recent scholarship.7 For example, recent museum exhibitions include The Global Middle Ages at the Getty, Made in the Americas: The New World Discovers Asia at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America 1960-1980 at the Museum of Modern Art in NY. …

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