Friday, December 16, 2011

World Art History and Social Relations

Welcome to the World Art History Guide website.  It is intended to assist undergraduate students in negotiating their way through comparative world art history, and in particular, non-Western as well as Western art.

A mainstream text for a World Art survey course is Marilyn Stokstad and Michael Cothran, Art History, Prentice Hall, 4th ed. 2010.  This text offers an encyclopedic approach to world art history that serves as an introductory survey.  The publisher has made available online visual archives and resources through its MyArtsLab that accompanies the text.  While these resources are helpful at an introductory level, we ultimately want to define as students and teachers our own engagement with the subject of visual culture.  To move beyond the textbook approach with its essentialized presentation of knowledge and history, we must contextualize the production of art and culture as a social relation. This website aims to help provide that guidance.

In European art history, the work of Colin Platt, Marks of Opulence:  The Why, When and Where of Western Art 1000-1914, (Harper, 2004) provides an economic and social context to the production of Western art.  Others who adopt a materialist history of art for analyzing continental or British Isles arts in the modern period include John Barrell, The Darkside of the Landscape:  The Rural Poor in English Painting 1730-1840, (Cambridge, 1980);  Ann Bermingham, Landscape and Ideology:  The English Rustic Tradition, 1740-1860 (University of California Press, 1986); W.J.T. Mitchell, Landscape and Power (Chicago, 2002).  A provocative critique of the rise of American postwar modernism and abstraction in the 1940s and 1950s is Serge Guilbault of the University of British Columbia, in his How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art:  Abstract Expressionism, Freedom and the Cold War (Chicago, 1983). Also helpful are Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art:  A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings (University of California Press, 1996); Zoya Kocur and Simon Leung, Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985 (Oxford, 2005);  Richard Brettell, Modern Art 1851-1929: Capitalism and Representation. (Oxford, 1999)

Because of the limited amount of writing on aesthetics found in Marx, art historians and theorists of the arts need a broader range of texts to develop a historical materialism for the arts.  Although Marx had developed a historical materialist conception of history, his writings on aesthetics and culture were incomplete in many aspects.  In art theory, the contributions of Adolfo Sánchez Vázquez, (1915-2011) the Spanish born,  Mexican philosopher and art critic and historian who taught at the UNAM (Universidad Autónoma de México.  Among the collections of his essays are Art and Society:  Essays in Marxist Aesthetics, (1973), and a later collection,  A tiempo y destiempo. Antología de ensayos (2003).  A useful web guide to his work in Spanish is found hereSánchez Vázquez offered a conception of praxis in art that emphasized the human agency or power that is manifested in art and he maintained that capitalism was inherently hostile to art.