Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Shaping of Art History

Photo: Amazon
I enjoyed Patricia Emison's book on the discipline of art history.  Her critical discussion of feminist art history is especially deft and I liked the comment that, "We cannot of course look at works of art with perfectly impersonal eyes, but we can try to make looking at art an exercise in being human rather than merely frail, mortal, cultured and gendered." (p. 75)  In such a short book on such a big topic it's inevitable that it sometimes has a provisional quality.  You can choose to see that as a limitation, but I  relished it as an invitation to further thinking - not so much a lecture as a chat in the pub.  There's an excellent short bibliography if you want to read more. 
Emison's discussion of connoisseurship provides balance and perspective in a debate noted for stridency.  She notes that taste in methodology is supplanting taste in art, and that the connoisseurs seeking to establish their status have been usurped by theorists invoking the status of fashionable thinkers.  It's now a canon of art historians rather than a canon of art history.  Her defence of breadth in an time of narrow specialism is welcome beyond just art history, and I thought many of the book's themes speak to wider debates about the academy. 

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