Critical Terms for Art History / Edition 2

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"Art" has always been contested terrain, whether the object in question is a medieval tapestry or Duchamp's Fountain. But questions about the categories of "art" and "art history" acquired increased urgency during the 1970s, when new developments in critical theory and other intellectual projects dramatically transformed the discipline. The first edition of Critical Terms for Art History both mapped and contributed to those transformations, offering a spirited reassessment of the field's methods and terminology.

Art history as a field has kept pace with debates over globalization and other social and political issues in recent years, making a second edition of this book not just timely, but crucial. Like its predecessor, this new edition consists of essays that cover a wide variety of "loaded" terms in the history of art, from sign to meaning, ritual to commodity. Each essay explains and comments on a single term, discussing the issues the term raises and putting the term into practice as an interpretive framework for a specific work of art. For example, Richard Shiff discusses "Originality" in Vija Celmins's To Fix the Image in Memory, a work made of eleven pairs of stones, each consisting of one "original" stone and one painted bronze replica.

In addition to the twenty-two original essays, this edition includes nine new ones—performance, style, memory/monument, body, beauty, ugliness, identity, visual culture/visual studies, and social history of art—as well as new introductory material. All help expand the book's scope while retaining its central goal of stimulating discussion of theoretical issues in art history and making that discussion accessible to both beginning students and senior scholars.

Contributors: Mark Antliff, Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, Stephen Bann, Homi K. Bhabha, Suzanne Preston Blier, Michael Camille, David Carrier, Craig Clunas, Whitney Davis, Jas Elsner, Ivan Gaskell, Ann Gibson, Charles Harrison, James D. Herbert, Amelia Jones, Wolfgang Kemp, Joseph Leo Koerner, Patricia Leighten, Paul Mattick Jr., Richard Meyer, W. J. T. Mitchell, Robert S. Nelson, Margaret Olin, William Pietz, Alex Potts, Donald Preziosi, Lisbet Rausing, Richard Shiff, Terry Smith, Kristine Stiles, David Summers, Paul Wood, James E. Young

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Originally published in 1996, Critical Terms now appears in its second, expanded edition and includes nine new essays on subjects that have reached prominence in the field of art history over the interceding five years (e.g., "Performance," "Body," and "Visual Culture/Visual Studies"). The book thoroughly examines the variable meanings and historic usage of each term or concept selected for inclusion. "Memory/Monument," for example, considers how memorials have informed collective memory and ultimately affect the course of human affairs. All 31 essays, written by notable figures in the fields of art history and cultural studies, among them Ivan Gaskell, Paul Wood, and Richard Meyer, are carefully conceived and thoroughly accessible. Editors Shiff (C zanne and the End of Impressionism) and Nelson (Visuality Before and Beyond the Renaissance) have given careful consideration to the groupings of their chosen terms and have categorized each under five key rubrics: operations, communications, histories, social relations, and societies. The book is a lighthouse in a field often overshadowed by a miasma of ambiguously articulated theories and multivalent terminology and will prove a vital resource for all comprehensive art libraries.-Savannah Schroll, formerly with Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This companion volume to Critical Terms for Literary Study (LJ 3/1/90) contains scholarly essays that explore 22 terms commonly used by contemporary art historians. Terms such as representation, originality, appropriation, gaze, and commodity are treated within a historical context, and their influence on art criticism and aesthetics is shown. Here, critical visual theories that utilize the terms are applied to key visual images and objects. The diverse artworks cited include the bronze statue of "The Four Horses of San Marco," Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergre," Walker Evans's photograph "Annie Mae Gudger," and Jeff Koons's "Vacuum Cleaner." Assuming a sophisticated level of art history scholarship, the erudite essays contain numerous bibliographic references. The essays are intended to promote research and debate. Recommended for academic and comprehensive art history collections.Joan Levin, MLS, Chicago
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226571683
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2003
  • Edition description: Second Edition, Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 540
  • Sales rank: 645,503
  • Product dimensions: 6.63 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert S. Nelson is a Distinguished Service Professor of Art History and History of Culture at the University of Chicago. Lately he has edited Visuality before and beyond the Renaissance: Seeing as Others Saw and is currently working on a book about the modern lives of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Richard Shiff is the Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Art and director of the Center for the Study of Modernism at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Cézanne and the End of Impressionism: A Study of the Theory, Technique, and Critical Evaluation of Modern Art.

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Read an Excerpt

Critical Terms for Art History

By Richard Shiff

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003 Richard Shiff
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0226571688

One Representation
David Summers
This essay is a schematic history of the problem of representation, written with an eye toward explaining how it came to be possible to use this term in some of the ways we now do. At the end of the essay, I will suggest how I think the issues I have raised bear on the present history of art.
Representation is often linked to resemblance and to the more general question of imitation; but, even more importantly, the question of pictorial representation has also always been entangled with philosophical representationalism--according to Webster "the doctrine that the immediate object of knowledge is an idea in the mind distinct from the external object which is the occasion of perception." In the long Western discussion of artistic representation there are typically three factors: a thing, its actual image, and a mental image. This third term, in being called an "image" at all, is likened to a work of art made by the mind, and has a special status; it is itself a representation that is always interposed between anything and its actual image; and it is, moreover, spoken of as if providing the model or "intention" for the actual image. So we say that paintings correspond not so much to things as to sensations, perceptions, and conceptions; or that they are, in equally mental terms, "fantastic" or "ideal." Critical judgment has often consisted of identification and praise or blame in terms of one or another kind of mental image. We say that art is, or should be, or should not be, "perceptual," "fantastic," "conceptual," or "ideal."
The words "representation" and "representationalism" obviously and literally contain the term "present"; and they thus also presuppose the presence of something as well as the presence of someone by whom and to whom representation is made. A painter represents a horse to me and to others; my senses "represent" the world to me. These familiar examples immediately give rise to equally familiar problems. How do we know that the world is truly represented to us? For mental images these problems are even greater. If perceptions and dreams are both representations, how do we tell them apart? How do we know the world is represented in the same way for everyone? Are concepts truer than sensations, or vice versa? Representation immediately involves us in fundamental psychological and epistemological questions that have been inseparable from the discussion of art.
The coupling of images made by art--especially painting--and thinking began early. In Plato's Philebus (39 A-B), Socrates imagines someone seen indistinctly at a distance beneath a tree. At such times, he says it is as if we ask ourselves a question: "What is that?" And it is as if we reply to ourselves with a statement that might be true or false. "That is a man." These statements, linked with feelings, are like writing in the book of the soul; at this same book a painter also works, illustrating the text. These paintings may also be true or false, are also linked with feeling, and are integral with perception, memory, and our hopes or expectations for the future. They are, in short, integral with our representations of the world to ourselves for our purposes.
In the Theaetetus (184 ff.), Plato used another craftsmanly metaphor, referring to the senses as organs, that is, as tools or instruments. Our senses are not simply inside us, he wrote, like soldiers in the Trojan horse; rather, they are the various implements, the means by which work is accomplished by a higher, unitary principle, which he called psyche, breath, the sign of individual life, individual life itself. Sensation, aisthesis, rather than simply reporting the world, analyzes it into the modes of the several senses in the very act of apprehending it, and this analysis, this unbinding, is bound up again in the unity of the psyche. The psyche, this metaphor suggests, uses the tools of the senses to negotiate the world, but also refashions the world for itself adequately for this negotiation, and also, at a higher level, adequately for true understanding and knowledge. We know things mediately, through the senses, not immediately. Again, the soul in some way represents them to us.
Aristotle went over the same ground with characteristically different results, once again foundational for the tradition to follow. Plato's psyche became a central koine aisthesis, a "common sense," unifying sensations insofar as they are sensations, and insofar as such qualities as size and movement are shared by data from the different senses. This common sense was closely akin to phantasia, or imagination; that is, it is once again a maker of unified images presented to the mind's eye, and at the same time it "sees that we see." It is the first faculty that in some way grasps things in the world as a whole, forming the phantasms--the images--from which, Aristotle argued, all higher thought must proceed.
The words used by Plato and Aristotle and the innumerable writers who have followed them to describe perception (as opposed to sensation) are heavily visual; terms such as idea and phantasia (the first from idein, to see, the second from phos, light) are part of a dense network of metaphor much older than philosophy. The notion of the soul as a maker of images, an "imagination," the metaphorical painter in the soul, is obviously part of this network.
In the classical scheme I have outlined, the data of sight, likened to the images of painting, are most nearly synthetic in that they are most comprehensive and indicative relative to the data of the other senses. Whereas we may infer or anticipate with probability the smell or sound or texture of things from the sight of them, the reverse is not so obviously true. In this scheme, therefore, sight was the highest, that is, the most mindlike of the senses, closest to the faculties of judgment and reason, which in their turn deal with "forms" and "ideas" and their relations. In these terms, sight (and memory) provided the images completed by the data of the other senses in the mind's painter's representation of the world to itself. (Words, by the same argument, might be said to suggest even the shapes and forms of things, and thus to prompt pure imagination, and poetry, language in the absence of an actual ostensible referent, might be defined as language that was allowed to do that.)
Plato's comparison of the first activity of the soul to painting should not be regarded as positive, or even as neutral. The painter formed opinions, not truth. For Plato, imitations--and therefore images--were dissimulations, inherently culpable because they represent themselves as something they are not. At the same time, they have the power to make us other than we are; we in our turn may be swayed by an apparent reality, the mask and not the actor, neither of whom is subject to reason. This unease about images, this sense of their inevitable duplicity, has persisted in critical language at all levels to modern times.
In Plato's Cratylus (432 A-D), the first consideration in Western literature of the origin of language, Socrates rejects the argument that words are imitations of things; in order to be images at all, images must not reproduce most of the qualities of what they show, and this must be even truer of words. To illustrate his argument, Socrates considers the example of an image of Cratylus himself made by some god, which not only shows his outward form and color, as painters do, but also re-creates his physical and mental inwardness. Cratylus is forced to admit that there would not then be himself and an image, but rather two of himself, an absurdity. Precisely because they are images, then, mental images are also not substitutes or doubles.
In his treatise on the soul, also the first in Western literature, Aristotle (De anima 424a) extended and adapted such arguments by defining sensation as a sign (semeion) of an affection of sense, like the impression left by a seal ring in wax. Again the analogy is to sight, since shape is involved, but also to touch, to real contact. This sign implies a cause (like all signs; Aristotle understood semeion to mean what we would call an index [Posterior Analytics 70a]). As the visual sign became more clearly indexical (rather than iconic) phantasia was more explicitly identified with the postsensationary faculties of imagination and memory. In De memoria (450a) Aristotle called immediate sensation a "trace" or "mark"--typos or graphe--and called its likeness in the mind a "picture" (zoographema, a drawing from life). The difference between sensation and mental image is developed to make the important point that when we remember we do not remember our first sensation but rather its image as an image; otherwise we would not be able to distinguish between reality and memory. It is through phantasia or imagination that we have the capacity to recollect or imagine what is not present. Phantasia is now more than the capacity to "form opinion"; it is the capacity to represent absent or even impossible things to ourselves in the soul's own light, to remember, imagine, and dream.
Aristotle literalized his metaphor and gave it another dimension in the Politics (1340a 30 ff.), arguing that painted figures are not likenesses of character but rather signs of it. The painted figure is a resemblant sign, like that given to the sense of sight, as if it were contiguous with the cause of its appearance, which implies completion by the otherwise experienceable qualities of real things; but this same sign also indicates the inwardness defining and animating what can be directly sensed. We might suppose that the birds fooled by the painted grapes of Zeuxis flew down to them because, seeing their shapes and modeled colors, they could anticipate their cool, moist sweetness; and that Zeuxis worried that the birds had not been frightened by the painted boy who carried the grapes because it meant he had failed to make the birds believe what they could not see--the character of the boy--in what they could see.
The definition of visual images--both those actually painted and those "painted" in the soul--as resemblant signs, and as the occasions for sensory and imaginative completion, leads us around to the origin of the word "representation" itself, which to this point I have been using generally and ahistorically, as we are in the habit of doing. Repraesentatio is a construction around the verb "to be." Praesens is a participial form of praeesse, "to be before," which it means in two senses: the first is simple spatial, prepositional location; the second involves precedence or command, being higher in rank, more important than. Perhaps then "presence" implies that which is not simply before us but which "stands out" and concerns us, that to which we are in a sense subject. Then by extension the temporal "present" might also be what is at hand, what can and usually does actually occupy our attention, as opposed to the past and the future, which are "out of reach."
Repraesentatio had meanings very significant for our purposes. In ancient rhetoric, which developed alongside philosophy, the orator is a painter in the soul who uses the "figures," "turns" (tropes), and "colors" of eloquence to shape assent by persuasion (that is, through sweetness), by the artful joining of words in such ways as to unite imagination and feeling, thus to instigate decision and action. It is not enough, Quintilian wrote (Institutio oratoria, IV, ii, 63; VIII, iii, 62-63) to please the ears or merely to give an account of the facts (narratio) to the judge. Rather things must be set forth and shown to "the eyes of the mind." The artifice of language should afford evidentia, going beyond the perspicuous and probable, making the matter "brighter" and "cultivated." The whole problem of the power of eloquence to make the true more than true, or even to make the untrue seem true, is concentrated in this lawyerly advice. Evidentia --from the verb "to see"-- is what the Greeks called enargeia, brilliance; what, Quintilian wrote, some call repraesentatio. This is a variation of the pattern just discussed; the induced, inward visual sign provokes the apparent experience of other qualities. The sweetness of sounds--the taste and sight of the audible--leads the imagination to a sense of actual presence.
Repraesentatio could also mean a payment in cash. The implicit third term that unites the disparate uses of repraesentatio might be said to be "fullest equivalent"; a repraesentatio is something of equal present force or value. In these terms to make an image means not to make an impossible double, but to fashion a fullest equivalent presence. Words cannot re-create, but they may be fused to memory and feeling and may have an equivalent force in the imagination, much as cash is most immediately equivalent to goods exchanged. ("Representation" is thus at least in part descended from commercial analogy, like the word "interpretation" itself, which is related to "price." To interpret is to negotiate, to have no leisure, to do business, to trade, bargain, haggle, but also to find an equivalent in other terms.) Equivalence has definitively replaced substitution or resemblance in our argument.
To move ahead quickly, the medieval Scholastics defined a sign as "that which represents other than itself to the operations of the mind," joining representation still more closely to signification and separating it more clearly both from substitution and resemblance. Responding to the generally Platonic argument that the cult of God should be "honest," and that poetry and theater, which represent something they are not, are therefore inappropriate to Christian ritual, Thomas Aquinas replied that in the state of our present life we cannot directly intuit divine truth and that it is necessary for ritual to be accommodated to our way of knowing, which is through sense. "It is clearly more useful that the divine mysteries be conveyed to the unlettered people under the cover of certain figures." Poetry and theater cannot be grasped by human reason because they are in themselves prerational, like sense itself; and the mysteries of the faith cannot be grasped because they surpass the powers of reason. Both therefore appropriately make use of figures; that is, they represent. They are the means by which we may at least "implicitly" grasp the truths of the faith. The "lower" visible forms cannot in principle be like the "higher" meanings they manifest; at the same time, however, the need to make the "higher" manifest in sense justifies these lower forms. Always close to such arguments was the theological reply to the iconoclasts--that the sacred image is like its prototype in having a form and in being able to be called by the same name, but not in its matter or substance. The higher could be addressed through the lower, to which it was, however, not equivalent. Behind this lay the theology of the Incarnation and the Trinity.

There is an important difference between this example and the others we have considered. Representation now has a vertical dimension. The fruit in a Roman still life stands before us on its stage and might be seen to suggest the sensory qualities of some real fruit in real light; on the other hand, the orange in the window of Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Wedding invites us precisely through its apparent brilliance to other meanings entirely, to considerations not just of the prosperity of patrons, but beyond that to prosperity itself, to fecundity, perhaps to the fall and the mystery of the beginning of human generations. Of course Platonism had always had a vertical dimension, but there is again an important difference. Plato's "ideas" and "forms," despite their being "higher," were still, if invisible, metaphorically visual, still in an image relation to actual things comparable to the relation of sight and its objects. Aquinas aligned representation on a vertical armature, but the relation between higher and lower is no longer one of similitude. The sign is now truly an allegory, representing to the mind in other terms something it does not resemble. The resemblant sign-- what we recognize as something, an orange, for example--is not, insofar as it is a representation, defined by resemblance. Such disrelation has a clear counterpart in the allegory and personification so pervasive in medieval and Renaissance art and literature. On a thoroughly practical level, but still within the same broad tradition of visual meaning, Cosimo I de' Medici could tell Giorgio Vasari not to show him surrounded by counselors as he decided to wage war against Siena. Instead there should be a figure of Silence and some other Virtue. "That," he said, "would represent the same thing as the counselors."

These arguments have important general consequences. Representation has now become symbolic; the resemblant sign does not merely convey that which it resembles to the mind, as in our earlier examples; rather it is that through which a meaning not defined by image relation may be apprehended. In that sense, the resemblant sign itself has become wordlike. It is not merely "arbitrary," however; rather the thing itself is now a sign, written in the late medieval "Book of Nature," and the specificity of the image, the sign of the sign, is guaranteed by a higher order of meaning, to which access may be had through that specificity.

The Book of Nature was written by God, which did not, however, put an end to the matter. Galileo, laying down the foundations of modern science, returned to the Pythagorean and Platonic roots of the Western philosophical tradition to argue that the Book of Nature could not be understood except mathematically.

Aristotle's common sensibles (which Galileo called primary qualities) could be described quantitatively and provided the basis for the general description of the physical world as quantitative. This mathematical world, appropriate in its economy and clarity to divine writing, was metaoptical, the framework against which the actual data of sense were merely "subjective" affections of an individual. Representation is now not so much of things as of relations, and in these broad terms an equation or the height of mercury in a thermometer may be regarded as representations. Physical forms themselves might be described in terms of the spatial relations they bound, and relations among forms might be defined in the same terms. Perspective began the representation of relations "in" virtual spaces in specifically quantitative terms at the same time that it explicitly unified virtual space for a subject. (Subjectivity would prove to be the deeper principle; the quantitative was simply the means by which the unity of representation was first articulated, and "perspective" would enter the language of modernity as a metaphor not so much for "objective" spatial order as for "subjective" point of view.)

At the beginning of the tradition of modern empiricism, Francis Bacon distinguished between the interpretation of nature (the inference from "facts," that is, from what nature "has done") and the anticipations of nature, which are subjective, and, like a false rhetoric, "straightaway touch the understanding and fill the imagination," leading us into error. These "anticipations" Bacon rejected with iconoclastic zeal as "idols." Bacon's iconoclasm extended beyond the illusory forms of prejudicial error to the metaphorical mental "forms," the final causes, that were the cornerstone of Aristotelian science, the highest consonance between reason and the system of the world. At all levels, the human mind creates fictions; it is, Bacon wrote, "like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it." In crowning iconoclastic terms, Bacon wrote of philosophical and religious systems as "Idols of the Theater; because in my judgment all the received systems are but so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic fashion."

This characterization of representation is truly and simply revolutionary and it is deeply and prophetically modern. At the same time that "nature" may be understood, everything not arising from this understanding becomes a misrepresentation in the distorting mirror of the mind. The scientific understanding of the world thus implies another science, a new anthropology: it needs to be explained why we have represented the world to ourselves in ways that have no warrant in external nature.


Excerpted from Critical Terms for Art History by Richard Shiff Copyright © 2003 by Richard Shiff. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Mediation / Robert S. Nelson
At the Place of a Foreword: Someone Looking, Reading, and Writing / Robert S. Nelson
1. Representation / David Summers
2. Sign / Alex Potts
3. Simulacrum / Michael Camille
4. Word and Image / W. J. T. Mitchell
5. Narrative / Wolfgang Kemp
6. Performance / Kristine Stiles
7. Style / Jas Elsner
8. Context / Paul Mattick, Jr.
9. Meaning/Interpretation / Stephen Bann
10. Originality / Richard Shiff
11. Appropriation / Robert S. Nelson
12. Art History / David Carrier
13. Modernism / Charles Harrison
14. Avant-Garde / Ann Gibson
15. Primitive / Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten
16. Memory/Monument / James E. Young
17. Body / Amelia Jones
18. Beauty / Ivan Gaskell
19. Ugliness / Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer
20. Ritual / Suzanne Preston Blier
21. Fetish / William Pietz
22. Gaze / Margaret Olin
23. Gender / Whitney Davis
24. Identity / Richard Meyer
25. Production / Terry Smith
26. Commodity / Paul Wood
27. Collecting/Museums / Donald Preziosi
28. Value / Joseph Leo Koerner and Lisbet Rausing
29. Postmodernism/Postcolonialism / Homi K. Bhabha
30. Visual Culture/Visual Studies / James D. Herbert
31. Social History of Art / Craig Clunas
Afterword: Figuration / Richard Shiff
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