Brainstorm for Take-Home Exam

"Art history graduates can bore you rigid with talk about Derrida, Lacan,
Merleau-Ponty and Foucault, but few can tell you about the carpentry employed
in a 14th century Sienese altarpiece... Fewer still are trained to produce a
catalogue raisonne, the basic compilation of an artist's work and
history... They're incapable of even recognizing what they're looking at."

Discuss Frank Whitford's polemical reading of current art historical
scholarship, building your argument by citing material from your course notes
and readings.

Whitford’s reading of current art historical scholarship criticizes that art history graduates do not possess the very basic skills once essential to membership in the art historical community – they cannot recognize the carpentry in a Sienese altarpiece and are incapable of producing a catalogue raisonne. However, Whitford claims they can talk extensively about recent theorists and can ‘bore you rigid with talk about Derrida, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty and Foucault’. Whitford is critical of new art historical scholarship and its departure from a practical to a theoretical foundation.

Nature of critical theory of the new art history
Questions everything – takes away legitimacy of traditional art history
Questions the structure so doesn’t want to adhere to structure (to create a catalogue raisonne)
Very ideological, rather than practical perhaps, cognitive rather than material
Cant just accept a piece of art ‘for arts sake’ – must psychoanalyze or deconstruct… because we are no longer ‘innocent’ – cant be ignorant of the innocent eye anymore, but are forced to take responsibility and reconcile it

The twentieth century saw the questioning of the very nature of art when artists like Picasso, Duchamp, and Sherrie Levine challenged established art historical discourse, ultimately resulting in the redefinition of art itself. Traditional notions of ‘art’ are just that – traditional, and a thing of the past. Critical theory has opened up art historical scholarship, giving birth to a new type of art history which promotes an interdisciplinary approach and relies highly on thoery - it is intertwined with philosophy, anthropology, politics, and social theory etc.

The term 'art' is transitory and unstable, shifting meanings as it manouevers through time and space, from place to place. So 'art' was once 'art as craft' (to serve a practical purpose, ancient times Cyclades), 'art as a trade', (guilds, technique a conditioned skill [like woodwork], to get paid by a patron, middle ages and renaissance), 'art of the individual' (art for arts sake, expression, modern age). I propose the 21st century has again seen a shift and redefinition of this transitory term – 'art as life'. It’s sooo tied to everything else – postmodern thinking does champion complexity and interdependency! We are in a climate of postmodernity. In vis120 we were given a sequence of slides and were to categorize them as ‘art’ or ‘not art’. Catherine Heard deemed those ‘art’ that were ‘art of the individual’.
Shows the shift of the discipline – it is one of the few disciplines that critiques itself (like anthro).
Talk about post modernism for this q
Art history as this new hybrid critical approach
We must be of our times – it would be against our times to go back to the way it was before and pretend that all this crazy thinking didn’t affect us and our approach to art. Would be against our times to obsess about the carpentry of a Sienese altarpiece – traditional.


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