The Shaping of Art History: Meditations on a Discipline

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In this provocative book, Patricia Emison invites the reader to consider and reconsider how past thinkers—from Pliny and Alberti to Freud and Fried—have conceptualized the history of Western art. What a book review attempts to be for a book, this extended essay attempts to be for several hundred years’ worth of books in a field: an indicator of problems with the old attempts and hopes for the new ones. It is a defense of art history for those outside the field who question its reliability or even its importance; it is a critique of art history for those in the field who may have been preoccupied with looking at trees but who might be interested in trying to see the forest.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“At a moment when the discipline of art history is in flux, beset by new methodologies and conflicting theories of what matters in a work of art, it is refreshing to find a seasoned scholar stepping back and calmly appraising the strengths and weaknesses of the profession.

Wittily, lightly, endearingly, the author convinces readers that room still exists for passion and generosity in dealing with the universe of wonders that is the world of art.”
—D. Pincus, Choice

“This book brings profound issues into new and vivid focus.”
—Angus Trumble, Yale Center for British Art

“This wise and thoughtful book would make an excellent text for a methodology course and should be read by all who are interested in the field. Emison’s reorientation of art history will seem confrontational to some, but for an old veteran like me, it was a very consoling read.”
—David Wilkins, Renaissance Quarterly

“This book brings profound issues into new and vivid focus.”

—Angus Trumble, Yale Center for British Art

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271033068
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 120
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Emison is Professor of the History of Art at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of The Simple Art: Printed Works on Paper in the Age of Magnificence (2006), Creating the 'Divine' Artist from Dante to Michelangelo (2004), and The Art of Teaching: Sixteenth-Century Allegorical Prints and Drawings (1986).

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Table of Contents




1. Why Not Just Write Biography?

2. Toward a More Chaotic Definition of Style

3. Venturing Somewhat Beyond Freud

4. Rated XX

5. The Bottom Line

6. Back to Idolatry?

Brief Bibliographies

List of Illustrations


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