Art History's History

Art History's History

by Minor Vernon Hyde

Deconstruction, semiotics, feminism, Marxism, the Other. Whatever happened to the pure pleasure of looking at a painting or sculpture? To connoisseurship? To reverence for artistic genius? The New Art History, as it is called, is questioning most of the assumptions that art lovers have cherished for a long time. Formal analysis of pictorial and spatial elements, the… See more details below


Deconstruction, semiotics, feminism, Marxism, the Other. Whatever happened to the pure pleasure of looking at a painting or sculpture? To connoisseurship? To reverence for artistic genius? The New Art History, as it is called, is questioning most of the assumptions that art lovers have cherished for a long time. Formal analysis of pictorial and spatial elements, the study of iconography, and a belief that the artist and the work of art are of primary importance are all, suddenly, out of fashion. At least for now, they seem pushed to the sidelines by a bewildering array of theoretical approaches and methodologies. These shifts have dramatically affected all facets of the art scene, from how exhibition themes are chosen and which artworks are included, to what critics say about who's in and who's out. Art History's History offers a clear, sympathetic perspective on the present confusion. In refreshingly lively prose, this book presents, in author Vernon Hyde Minor's words, "what art history is, where it came from, what ideas, institutions and practices form its background, how it achieved its present shape, and what critical methods it uses." Minor looks at the history of art history from three angles, beginning with the tradition of the academy, which reaches back to Plato's Academy on the outskirts of Athens, up through the current locus of artistic training, the university. The second approach is a critique of how art was defined and explained from ancient times until the seventeenth century, when art history first emerged as a discipline. Finally, we are guided through modern art history, starting with an introduction to the founders and shapers of art-historical thinking as we knew it until recently - Winckelmann, Kant, Hegel, Riegl, Wolfflin, Morelli, Fry, and Panofsky - on through to the many contextual, historiographic, sociopolitical, and psychoanalytic perspectives that dominate the study and criticism of art today. Art History's History is a very welco

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Library Journal
The current discipline of art history has undergone a number of changes through the years. This book is an attempt to track the evolution of its methodology and demonstrate why art history has been presented and taught, particularly in American academia. In the course of delineating this history, however, Minor confuses brevity for elegance. He mentions the standard authorities (e.g., Winckelmann, Riegl, Wolfflin, and Fry) and gives succinct coverage of Marxism, feminist theory, deconstruction, and semiotics. Yet, while his abbreviated summaries of the treatment of art from antiquity to the 18th century are good, important points seem to be telescoped and their relevance diminished. In addition, his concluding ``Consequences for Art History'' is astonishingly short. Meant for students and general readers, this work does not compare favorably with W. McAllister Johnson's Art History: Its Use and Abuse (Univ. of Toronto Pr., 1988), and the growth of the newer methodological approaches is better explained in The New Art History (Humanities Pr., 1988).-Paula A. Baxter, NYPL

Product Details

Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.62(d)

Meet the Author

Read an Excerpt


Preface to the Second Edition

Since this book first appeared in 1994 there has been a surge of interest in the history of art history. A reader interested in these kinds of issues now has any number of books to choose from, and I have tried to incorporate into the appropriate bibliographies newer publications on the historiography of art history. Because there is this continuing and growing concern with theoretical matters and because art historians find it ever more necessary to interrogate (and even to doubt) the hypotheses and suppositions of the so-called discipline of art history, my editors at Prentice Hall and I decided that a new edition of Art History's History was warranted. As much as I was tempted to do so, I have not recast the basic text. It stands essentially as it was in the first edition. I have, however, updated bibliographies, made some corrections of fact, moved around the odd colon or semicolon, and added new material.

On the sound advice of one of the readers of the first edition, I have included a discussion of the work of the American critic Clement Greenberg in Chapter 11, "Visual Supremacy: Connoisseurship, Style, Formalism." Because the terms "New Art History" and "visual culture" have received considerable attention in the past decade, I felt that they deserved their own chapter (now Chapter 13). I have also rewritten the chapter previously entitled "From Word to Image: Semiotics and Art History" and have renamed it "Reading Art History: Word, Image, Iconology, Semiotics" (Chapter 15). Although the previous discussion of semiotics remains unaltered, I have added short essays on ut picturapoesis, and on the learned art historian Erwin Panofsky (perhaps the single most potent voice in art history in the twentieth century) and his inculcation into our discipline of the words "iconography" and "iconology." In the final chapter (Chapter 19), I have taken on such embattled but still powerful concepts as influence, originality, and greatness, while making a modest proposal for the adoption of a term quite current in literary theory, "intertextuality." As with the first edition, I have not included footnotes or specific page citations for quotations. The bibliography at the end of each chapter contains the necessary references to artists and texts, however. When the source of the quotation is not obvious from the context, I have included the author's name in parentheses.

I wish to renew my thanks to Bud Therien, who has provided continuing endorsement of Art History's History (and help with another project), and to Marion Gottlieb, who gently led me through the early stages of this revision. Kimberly Chastain, assistant editor of art and music at Prentice Hall, has offered me kind and very useful assistance in our ongoing transatlantic exchange of electronic messages. I look forward to meeting her in person. And those readers who generously agreed to review the first edition of this text have been both encouraging and perspicacious in their suggestions; I would like to thank Jo-Anne Berelowitz, San Diego State University; Charles R Mack, University of South Carolina; and Anthony King, SUNY Binghamton.

Rome, January 2000

Preface to the First Edition

When I set out to write a text on the critical theories of art history, I realized that my archeological investigation of this discipline would cross quite a few boundaries. Art history results from so many different forms of academic discourse that it hardly qualifies as a unique field of study. The histories of criticism, aesthetics, and philosophy count for much in the study of art history. History itself is a complex field of inquiry in the modern university and can have the appearance of either a social science or a humanistic discipline. It can make sense to teach art history within an independent university department, a traditional history department, a humanities department, or a department of fine arts. Art history, it seems to me, is a hybrid and sometimes a handmaiden of other disciplines. I realized that writing about art history as a form of inquiry (which is something very different from the "history of art") would result in a text of mixed but perhaps not blended parts. And so this book is about the study and teaching of art and art history, about the histories of philosophy, religion, and aesthetics, and about the currents of contemporary criticism in art history and other humanistic disciplines. I hope that the breadth of this text makes up for its lack of homogeneity.

One of my concerns was to make the book as widely accessible as possible, which meant that I would have to avoid jargon, become a generalist rather than a specialist (and thereby disclaim a high degree of authority), and assume relatively little art historical background on the part of the reader. This survey, therefore, is only an introduction to the nearly limitless number of issues in art history and should not be taken as anything like the final word. I certainly do not expect agreement upon all points touched upon in the text; rather, I'm anticipating that interested readers will use their objections or demurrals to launch them into further study. This prefatory apology, however, does not absolve the author from errors of fact and substance. For these, I assume full responsibility.

And finally there are those whom I wish to thank. Bud Therien, editor of art and music for Prentice Hall, has helped me, talked with me, and reassured me from the inception of the text to its printing. Prentice Hall's reviewers, Michael Camille of the University of Chicago, Howard Risatti of Virginia Commonwealth University, and David G. Wilkins of the University of Pittsburgh, shared their wealth of knowledge of art history and its literature and helped to lead me in some fruitful directions. And there have been my teachers. Morris Weitz taught a course on aesthetics at The Ohio State University that, nearly thirty years ago, caught my interest in the very questions that I bring up in the text. Marilyn Stokstad encouraged me as a graduate student and continues as a valued colleague to share her knowledge, good humor, and advice. To my mentor Robert Enggass I owe an enormous debt of gratitude and inspiration. My mother, Eleanor Minor, made a point of leaving art books around for me to peruse and dream over when I was very young and forever impressionable. And of course there are friends and colleagues too numerous to mention who have assisted my learning. I wish to thank specifically Paul Gordon and Claire Farago for reading and commenting on parts of my text. My sons remained endlessly tolerant (and largely unaware) of my writing of this book, for which I must thank them. And then, of course, there is my muse.

Boulder, Colorado, May 1993

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >