11 December 2006

Art History: Problematic Situation #7

This is another installment in an ongoing series.

Back when I first came across Art History as a discipline—a major study option at the university—I imagined it would be something like history from the perspective of art. I thought of the world civilization courses that I’d had in the past and envisioned a place where art would play a bigger role in essentially the same discussions of the past.

Oh, no. No, no, no.

Art History is the history of art. Certainly, one could use art to tell the history of a group, people, culture, or slice of time. I think it would work quite well, too. But after all the studying, reading, learning, researching, etc. that I have engaged in over the last decade-and-then-some, I find that I still could tell you very little about the historic events that surrounded and in some cases created the art and theory about which I (immodestly) know buckets.

This, I suppose should be the first of Art History’s Problematic Situations. It causes a foundation-level tension between historiography and the far more limited task of charting art’s history. And though Art History is at times undermined and crippled by its own issues, history proper is nothing if not worse.

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