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Art History

Art History: Its Use and Abuse

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 373
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  • Book Info
    Art History
    Book Description:

    In a discipline forever subject to ad hoc or opportunistic research, where the differences between descriptive, comparative, and intellectual analyses are increasingly blurred, W. McAllister Johnson offers these provocative, 'issues-oriented' essays, an effort to address the intellectual bases of art history in relation to everyday work. The essays attempt to bridge the gap between theory and practice through common sense and a measure of realism that is sometimes humorous, sometimes brutal. Conversational in tone, the book is intended to stimulate reflection rather than serve as a reference book or manual.

    Through the constant interweaving of intellectual and art history with practical instructions that address concretely and in detail the realistic needs of students and writers, Johnson speaks to the field itself rather than to its externals. He deals with such different matters as the nature and evolution of the research process, university and public life, bibliography, and cataloguing. These essays discuss major questions that should arise in courses in bibliography, methodology, and historiography, once the survey courses are left behind.

    Art librarians have previously had little to offer between introductory works or manuals and specialized literature. Yet, beyond what interests one or what can be judged in the light of personal or professional experience, everyone needs a foil that goes beyond immediate needs and forces him or her to reassess method and attitudes. In this book Johnson offers just such an instrument.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7103-4
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-1)

    Art historians fall into ʹoccasionalʹ and ʹregularʹ categories. These correspond to people who know what research is about and how to do it well, but have no time, and those who have all the time in the world and no idea of whattheyare really about. In either case, they all are supposed to have grasped the essence of their topic and to have come to know its ʹinsʹ and ʹouts.ʹ They must ʹwork through the detailʹ in order to get back to the larger issues.

    Something often dies along the way, mainly spontaneity. The larger the problem addressed...

    (pp. 2-2)
  6. 1 Research
    (pp. 3-76)

    The only sane way to approach research is to know that you will do more work, and a rather different type of work, than you anticipated. All this is rather like a puzzle where one strives to establish the outlines, now following up particular lines of thought, then clusters waiting to be filled out. When a piece doesnotwork, one manipulates it until it does in the fulness of time, even though its place and function are a far cry from oneʹs initial design. As one progresses, one ʹseesʹ what is missing rather than ʹsensingʹ it, and the process...

  7. 2 Bibliography
    (pp. 77-108)

    The main purpose of bibliography is thelocationandretrievalof information. Not only should notation be consistent, but references should be complete enough so that readers may with some ease locate a source or follow the exposition.

    Bibliographical notation is not an abstract and purposeless exercise but rather a very concrete method of transmitting your thoughts and those of your predecessors to a ʹfacelessʹ audience who, as your contemporaries or an intellectual posterity, will judge you solely on the basis of thewrittenword. Thus your writing style and your notation are inseparable. The history of art, properly approached,...

  8. 3 Writing
    (pp. 109-171)

    Quality in writing is recognized by its absence. Its relative absence is usually a result of people not having written enough at an early stage of life or not having their work undergo proper scrutiny at critical moments.

    In academic context, indifferent writing is almost invariably the result of inflated enrolments and unchallenging topics where emphasis is placed upon the correctness of information rather than any elegance in statement. The danger is that one unconsciously comes to accept this turn of events; worse yet, it insidiously and effortlessly transforms the modes of thought and expression that should be employed in...

  9. 4 University and Public Life
    (pp. 172-226)

    Seminars are rightly presumed to be at a higher level than mere course work. Their principle is not the conveyance of knowledge that students could normally hope to pick up, write down, and commit to memory; it is to provoke questions and investigate the ʹblack holesʹ of knowledge and to re-examine selectively the accepted galaxies of the history of art.

    Seminars represent the ultimate scholarly exercise in coming to grips with historical perspectives and problems too large – or too small – to grasp in any immediate way. They are intended to effect a transfer of rigorous method when facing...

  10. 5 Cataloguing Theory
    (pp. 227-276)

    To catalogue is a historical act. Whatever the disparities of sentiment or interest leading to its realization, the art catalogue remains a historical curiosity: uniquely situated by circumstance, often referred to, and scarcely if ever rewritten, it becomes a document of art and history. This chapter but imperfectly attempts to situate and characterize one of the most fundamental of art-historical acts – the classification of objects by criteria pertinent to them, involving known and unknown elements in varying proportion, and likely proceeding from the most factual information into the realm of interpretation.¹

    Appearances to the contrary, a catalogue concerns more...

  11. 6 Cataloguing Practice
    (pp. 277-326)

    The more complex a work of art or monument is, the more a descriptive act is required. This act, which is an integral part of perception, begins with an interested and concerned encounter, whetherin pettofor oneʹs own benefit or with the stated intention to ʹwork on something.ʹ It is Taking Note – a process of analysis and assessment that can pass through verbalization and even into print. Even were it never put to use, it remains a type ofverification.

    Description makes the work of art (and ideas concerning it) physically present so that the image ʹspeaks outʹ...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 327-350)
  13. Index
    (pp. 351-374)