Art history

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Image of a horse from the Lascaux caves.

Art history is the study of objects of art in their historical development and stylistic contexts, i.e. genre, design, format, and style. This includes the "major" arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture as well as the "minor" arts of ceramics, furniture, and other decorative objects.


  • Attempts to juggle domestic responsibilities with artistic production have often resulted in smaller bodies of work, and often works smaller in scale, than those produced by male contemporaries. Yet art history continues to privilege prodigious output and monumental scale or conception over the selective and the intimate.
  • Abstract art as it is conceived at present is a game bequeathed to painting and sculpture by art history. One who accepts its premises must consent to limit his imagination to a depressing casuistry regarding the formal requirements of modernism.
    • Harold Rosenberg Art on the Edge, (1975) p. 71, "Lester Johnson's Abstract Men"
  • One cannot, however, avoid saying a few words about individuals who lay down the law to art in the name of art history. Art criticism today is beset by art historians turned inside out to function as prophets of so-called inevitable trends. A determinism similar to that projected into the evolution of past styles is clamped upon art in the making. In this parody of art history, value judgments are deduced from a presumed logic of development, and an ultimatum is issued to artists either to accommodate themselves to these values or be banned from the art of the future.
  • The new attitude of the critic toward the artist has been rationalized for me by a leading European art historian who is also an influential critic of current art. It is based on a theory of division of labor in making art history. The historian, he contends, knows art history and, in fact, creates it; the artist knows only how to do things. Left to himself, the artist is almost certain to do the wrong thing — to deviate from the line of art history and thus to plunge into oblivion. The critic's role is to steer him in the proper direction and advise changes in his technique and subject matter that will coordinate his efforts with the forces of development. Better still, critics should formulate historically valid projects for artists to carry out. That not all critics have the same expectations of the future of art does not, I realize, weaken the cogency of my colleague's argument. The surviving artist would be one who has been lucky enough to pick the winning critic. My own view that art should be left to artists seemed to my mentor both out-of-date and irresponsible.
    • ** Harold Rosenberg Art on the Edge, (1975) p. 147, "Criticism and Its Premises" p. 249, "Thoughts in Off-Season"

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