Week 9, Nanette Salomon, "The Art Historical Canon: Sins of Omission"

Nanette Salomon traces the roots of the art historical canon from H.W. Janson’s The History of Art of nineteen-sixty-two, back to Giorgio Vasari’s book Le Vite De’piu eccellenti Architetti, Pittori et Scultori Italiani, of the sixteenth-century. Here, she argues, Vasari created notions of the artist, art critic and canon that persist to current times, as can be seen in the text by Janson. Salomon investigates how the canon has worked to disclude women and perpetuate hierarchical structures.

Vasari founded an art historical structure which placed Florence high in the hierarchy, stressing accomplishments of High Renaissance artists Michelangelo and Raphael. By using biography and value judgments of influence, Vasari privileged the notion of individual genius, thus giving birth to the ‘artist’. Vasari’s ‘artist’ appears to be a white, upper-class male. Alongside the ‘artist’ is produced the critic, who possesses the authority to assert a ‘masterpiece’. Raffaello Borghini absorbs this idea, but writes from the position of a connoisseur in his book, Il Riposo.

Vasari is accredited with the creation of the art academy, the Accademia del Disegno, which allowed him to influence artists to privilege qualities he declared ‘great’. Drawing from live nude models was common, thereby placing women in the role as models and men as artists, and thus excluding women from creating ‘great’ art. Vasari’s age also saw the mechanical reproduction of works, which broadened the scope of viewers and further helped legitimize Vasari’s academies.

According to Salomon, Vasari and Janson strategized a standard which worked to create a hierarchy. This standard privileged art from central Italy and classical forms. For example, Renaissance art from central Italy was accredited high value, which contrasts art of the ‘North’ which was deemed as craft and insuperior. Art from the Middle Ages and use of non-classical forms were frowned upon. Similarly, the art historical canon worked to disclude and marginalize women from its structure. Feminists are now trying to change this exclusive system by strategies of recovering women as artists and women playing an active role as critics.

Salomon argues that biography has been used to celebrate men’s artistic genius as individual and mystical, whereas it has worked to bind women’s art as being inextricably linked and determined by biographical events. This point is exemplified in the fact Michelangelo and Caravaggio’s homosexuality has not played a dominant role in the viewing of their art, in contrast to Artemisia Gentileschi’s rape which has repeatedly been a point of discussion in regards to her artworks.

Salomon suggests an interesting notion: the heroic male nude and sexualized, and passive female nude have characterized classical works to fulfill men’s homosexual and heterosexual desires. This creates a male bonding experience for viewers to share in ‘high’ art culture.

In all, Vasari generated a structure, an art historical discourse, and canon that still persist to some degree today. Salomon sums this up:
While conditions have changed, the deeper stratifications of gender,
race, and class continue to operate within the culturally expressed
power relationships he articulated. Vasari thus furnished the discursive forms that remain potent in Janson’s moment-and ours (p.355).


At 2:50 PM, Blogger Moribundo said...

I would not presume to understand most of this but it beautifully presented and written.

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Riley said...

i agree with nanette. women have suffered a lot of discrimination in the art world, especially since they are viewed as models more then artists.


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