The historiography of art history has been a potent theme in the discourses of the
discipline of the last thirty years. And the approaches and methods in the study of
the visual are probably more varied, and more vigorously debated, than in any
other area of historical enquiry. This is so much so that the interest in the practice
and history of the history of art history has at times appeared to be equal to
object-based study and it is arguable that this now forms part of the archive of the
discipline. There is of course no doubt that since the inception of art history as a
field of academic study, works of art have been ‘read’ in a variety of ways. These
different modes of description and interpretation inscribe meaning in to art and
it is here that art and its history are perhaps most intricately linked.
The historiography of art history has been a potent theme in the discourses of the
Art engages the understanding in many ways. Thus, confronted with an allegorical painting such as Van Eyk’s The Marriage of Arnolfini, one might want to understand the significance of the objects it depicts. Similarly, confronted with an obscure poem, such as Eliot’s The Waste Land, one might seek to understand what it means. Sometimes, too, we claim not to understand a work of art, a piece of music, say, when we are unable to derive enjoyment from it because we cannot see how it is organized or hangs together. Sometimes what challenges the understanding goes deeper, as when we ask why some things, including such notorious productions of the avant garde as the urinal exhibited by Marcel Duchamp, are called art at all. Some have also claimed that to understand a work of art we must understand its context. Sometimes the context referred to is that of the particular problems and aims of the individual artist in a certain tradition, as when the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields is understood as a contribution by its architect to the vexing problem of combining a tower with a classical façade. Sometimes the context is social, as when some Marxists argue that works of art can best be understood as reflections of the more or less inadequate economic organizations of the societies that gave rise to them. The understanding of art becomes a philosophical problem because, first, it is sometimes thought that one of the central tasks of interpretation is to understand the meaning of a work. However, recent writers, notably Derrida (1972), query the notion of the meaning of a work as something to be definitively deciphered, and offer the alternative view of interpretation as an unending play with the infinitely varied meanings of the text. Second, a controversial issue has been the extent to which the judgment of works of art can be divorced from an understanding of the circumstances, both individual and cultural, of their making. Thus Clive Bell argued that to appreciate a work of art we need nothing more than a knowledge of its colours, shapes and spatial arrangements. Others, ranging from Wittgenstein to Marxists, have for a variety of different reasons argued that a work of art cannot be properly understood and appreciated without some understanding of its relation to the context of its creation, a view famously characterized by Beardsley and Wimsatt (1954) as the ‘genetic fallacy’.
To criticize a work of art is to make a judgment of its overall merit or demerit and to support that judgment by reference to features it possesses. This activity is of great antiquity; we find Aristotle, for example, relating the excellence of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex to the excellence of its plot construction. Criticism became a topic in philosophy because reflection on the kinds of things said by critics generated various perplexities and in some cases encouraged a general scepticism about the possibility of criticism. Two general and related problems in particular have taxed philosophers. The first is the question of whether criticism is a rational activity, that is to say, whether critics can give reasons for their judgments that would persuade potential dissenters of the rightness of those judgments. The second, a matter to which Kant and Hume made notable contributions, is the problem of the objectivity of critical judgments, it being widely believed that critical appraisals are wholly subjective or just ‘a matter of taste’. Arguments that use deductive or inductive reasoning to demonstrate the possibility of proofs of critical judgments are generally agreed to have failed. Another approach redescribes the critic altogether, not as someone who uses argument to prove their judgments to an audience, but as someone who aims to help the audience perceive features of the work of art and understand their role in the work. This entry will concentrate on the issues of the rationality and objectivity of art criticism.
Many of the earliest definitions of art were probably intended to emphasize salient or important features for an audience already familiar with the concept, rather than to analyse the essence possessed by all art works and only by them. Indeed, it has been argued that art could not be defined any more rigorously, since no immutable essence is observable in its instances. But, on the one hand, this view faces difficulties in explaining the unity of the concept – similarities between them, for example, are insufficient to distinguish works of art from other things. And, on the other, it overlooks the attractive possibility that art is to be defined in terms of a relation between the activities of artists, the products that result and the audiences that receive them.
Two types of definition have come to prominence since the 1970s: the functional and procedural. The former regards something as art only if it serves the function for which we have art, usually said to be that of providing aesthetic experience. The latter regards something as art only if it has been baptized as such through an agent’s application of the appropriate procedures. In the version where the agent takes their authority from their location within an informal institution, the ‘artworld’, proceduralism is known as the institutional theory. These definitional strategies are opposed in practice, if not in theory, because the relevant procedures are sometimes used apart from, or to oppose, the alleged function of art; obviously these theories disagree then about whether the outcome is art.
To take account of art’s historically changing character a definition might take a recursive form, holding that something is art if it stands in an appropriate relation to previous art works: it is the location of an item within accepted art-making traditions that makes it a work of art. Theories developed in the 1980s have often taken this form. They variously see the crucial relation between the piece and the corpus of accepted works as, for example, a matter of the manner in which it is intended to be regarded, or of a shared style, or of its being forged by a particular kind of narrative.
Erotic art is art with a sexual content, which may be more or less overt. The presence of sexual content, however, is not sufficient for a work of art to be considered erotic. Although there is more than one sense in which a work can be said to be erotic, an erotic work of art must aim at and to some extent succeed in evoking sexual thoughts, feeling or desires in the spectator, in virtue of the nature of the sexual scene it represents and the manner in which it represents it. This aim, definitive of erotic art, may be a work’s principal aim, but need not be. Erotic art often tends to express the artist’s interest in and attitude towards sexuality; and whether or not it does, seeing it as expressing the artist’s sexuality is likely to contribute towards the spectator’s sexual arousal. An erotic work of art has an intended audience of a more or less specific kind, most frequently men. Erotic art is distinguished from pornography in at least two ways. First, pornography lacks any artistic intent. Second, its main aim is not only to stimulate the spectator sexually but to degrade, dominate and depersonalize its subject, usually women. This article is restricted in scope in at least two ways. First, it concerns exclusively the visual arts. Second, its focus is Western art, and primarily art from the Renaissance onwards.
Term that encompasses work in a wide variety of media, including painting, sculpture, stuccowork and printmaking, produced from the 1530s to the first decade of the 17th century in France. It evokes an unreal and poetic world of elegant, elongated figures, often in mythological settings, as well as incorporating rich, intricate ornamentation with a characteristic type of strapwork. The phrase was first used by Adam von Bartsch in Le Peintre-graveur (21 vols, Vienna, 1803 – 21 ), referring to a group of etchings and engravings, some of which were undoubtedly made at Fontainebleau.
To the ruling elite, portraiture has always had an important function.
These individuals were fallible human beings with bodies that aged and
died like any others. But they also held highly visible public roles, and,
according to ancient ideas of rule, the physical body of the ruler was
symbolically overwhelmed by the powerful nature of the office that they
assumed. The division between the frail human body and the ideal
symbolic body of the monarch is what the historian Ernst Kantorowicz
has called ‘the king’s two bodies’. Portraitists had to engage with the
co-existence of both physical and ideal in the body of the monarch; representations of the visages and forms of people who held power needed
to signal their authority.
Critics and scholars have long debated the significance, charge, and scope of modern museums, variously considered as temples to the fine arts, monuments to science, repositories of history, showcases for political authority, social institutions marketing an image of cultural hegemony, instruments of nationalist propaganda, and, most broadly and pervasively, as a set of “disciplinary” practices engaged in controlling, classifying, and containing objects through explicit architectural means. Although the public institution as we understand it today emerged at the end of the eighteenth century, many museums had already been established by private individuals prior to the epistemological break ushered in by the French Revolution.
Eighteenth-century British architectural theory, while always taking heed of artistic developments in France, at the same takes a very different tack. To understand why and how this divergence of ideas came about, it is important to understand the different philosophical basis of Anglo-Saxon thought as well as unique circumstances affecting it, such as its novel ideas regarding garden design.
study of our subject itself. But the introduction, where we still are, can in this
respect do no more than sketch for our apprehension a conspectus of the
entire course of our subsequent scientific studies.