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How Has Art History Changed?

How Has Art History Changed?

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will present an overview of how art history has changed from the past to the present.

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Tutorial

How has Art History changed?

Taking a look at how Art History has changed over time.

Video Transcription

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Hello, and welcome to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today we're going to take a look at how art history as a discipline has changed over time. As usual, as you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.

The objectives for today's lesson or the things that you're going to learn today are listed below. The first objective is that, by the end of today's lesson, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms. And the second objective is that you will be able to compare and contrast the traditional approach to analyzing art with the revisionist approach or new art history.

Key terms as always are listed or highlighted in yellow throughout the lesson. The first key term is connoisseurship, an art historical method that relies on the recognition of elements of an artist's personal style. New art history is a revisionist approach to art history that emerged during the 1970s that questions earlier methodologies or approaches to art history. And canon, those works of art considered to be most important, usually those studied in art history survey classes like this. The big idea or a common theme throughout this lesson is that art history critique has evolved over time to address changes in the styles of the artwork being produced.

So let's talk about traditional art history. Now the traditional art history approach was emphasized connoisseurship and formal analysis when evaluating art work. And connoisseurship again is referring to elements of personal style and artwork, identifying those little idiosyncrasies that make an artist's oeuvre unique and original.

So an example would be what elements of Alessandro Botticelli's work can be found throughout his oeuvre. And a connoisseur of his work would be able to identify those things from piece to piece. Formal analysis refers to evaluating a piece of art based solely on its physical characteristics. So it's not taking into account outside context. It's taking a look at the physical object itself, whether it's a painting, or sculpture, or relief, or whatever it may be, and evaluating it strictly on it's physical characteristics.

So why do we care? Well, the traditional approach overemphasized the importance of beauty. Those classical ideals that Winckelmann grabbed hold of and the identity of the artist. So that creates two problems. What if the artist is unknown? And the second problem isn't so much a question, more of a statement. This approach didn't translate well into 20th century artistic movements as you'll see on the next slide.

So why did art history need to change, and wasn't it fine the way it was? Well, as the style of art changed, particularly in the early 20th century with movements like Cubism, among others, art historians were faced with a real problem. Take the Cubist painting by Pablo Picasso on the right. As a traditional art historian using formal analysis, how are you going to critique a painting like this?

Paintings like this refute the assumption that art fit a particular mold or needed to look a particular way. If you think back to Johann Winckelmann and his classical belief that the objective of art was to evoke beauty, how would he have critiqued this? An evaluation based solely on formal analysis wouldn't be very kind.

So why do we care? Well, this tendency to view art in a traditional manner is one of the reasons people looked at, and some still look at, some forms of modern art with real disdain. However, when viewed through a different lens, which was the point of new art history, artwork that didn't fit the traditional mold could be evaluated in a completely different and fairer way.

The canon of art history is the collection of artwork that is usually covered in an art history survey class like this. Where music has its standards, art history has its canon. And it's increased to include more and more non-western examples-- so areas like Asian art, East Indian art, Native American and Mesoamerican art.

These are areas that weren't represented before in the traditional canon of art history, but now they are. And there's more than just those four. But more and more areas have been continued to be added to the canon of art history. So we'll start with some of the earlier examples or traditional examples on the right.

There's a painting by Picasso, the Cologne Cathedral's example of architecture that was part of the traditional art canon or art history canon and is still a part of that. Some example of Greek sculpture-- pretty familiar-- Venus de Milo. And now we're getting into examples of non-western art like Mesoamerican art, Japanese art-- this is the Japanese ink painting or ink drawing-- East Indian art, and Chinese art. This is a Ming vase.

So why do we care about new art history and its impact? Well with the revised approach to evaluating artwork, other areas of artistic production were open to discussion and evaluation. The feminist movement of the 20th century more or less coincided with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. An art historian named Linda Nochlin wrote an essay titled, "Why Are There No Great Women Artists," which helped in broadening that discussion that addresssed the issue that women were historically very under represented in art history.

Of course, there are many great women artists. I don't want to leave you with the impression that Linda Nochlin felt that there weren't any, but her question was I think intended to move that discussion forward. So feminist art materialized out of the desire to produce artwork by women and to foster the growth of the arts among women.

Judy Chicago was a very important early activist within the feminist art movement and established the first feminists art program in the country in the early 1970s. So art history has really helped in broadening the discussion of feminism, non-western art, and the influence of popular culture in everyday life on artistic production, something that wouldn't have been possible with the traditional focus on formal analysis and connoiseurship only.

So now that we've reached the end of the lesson, let's take a look at our objectives again to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you compare and contrast the traditional approach to analyzing art with the revisionist approach or new art history?

And once again, the big idea for today is that art history critique has evolved over time to address changes in the styles of the artwork that's produced. Well, that's it for today. I'd like to thank you for joining me. And I will see you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Canon

    Those works of art considered to be most important, usually those studied in art history survey classes.

  • New Art History

    A revisionist approach to art history that emerged during the 1970’s that questions earlier methodologies or approaches to art history.

  • Connoisseurship

    An art historical method that relies on the recognition of elements of an artist’s personal style.