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The Melancholy Art:

The Melancholy Art:

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Melancholy Art:
    Book Description:

    Melancholy is not only about sadness, despair, and loss. As Renaissance artists and philosophers acknowledged long ago, it can engender a certain kind of creativity born from a deep awareness of the mutability of life and the inevitable cycle of birth and death. Drawing on psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the intellectual history of the history of art,The Melancholy Artexplores the unique connections between melancholy and the art historian's craft.

    Though the objects art historians study are materially present in our world, the worlds from which they come are forever lost to time. In this eloquent and inspiring book, Michael Ann Holly traces how this disjunction courses through the history of art and shows how it can give rise to melancholic sentiments in historians who write about art. She confronts pivotal and vexing questions in her discipline: Why do art historians write in the first place? What kinds of psychic exchanges occur between art objects and those who write about them? What institutional and personal needs does art history serve? What is lost in historical writing about art?

    The Melancholy Artlooks at how melancholy suffuses the work of some of the twentieth century's most powerful and poetic writers on the history of art, including Alois Riegl, Franz Wickhoff, Adrian Stokes, Michael Baxandall, Meyer Schapiro, and Jacques Derrida. A disarmingly personal meditation by one of our most distinguished art historians, this book explains why to write about art is to share in a kind of intertwined pleasure and loss that is the very essence of melancholy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4495-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xxii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-xxviii)
  5. 1 The Melancholy Art
    (pp. 1-24)

    Writing about visual art, like looking at it, can on occasion console, captivate, and enrapture. The act of trying to put into words, spoken or written, something that never promised the possibility of a translation can sometimes, but not very often, blur the boundaries between author and work, enveloping the writer in a greater world of mutual understanding.¹ Usually language gets in the way. The enchantment that transpires between beholder and work of art has no name because it resists linguistic appropriation. Try as philosophers might, we resignedly call the “feeling” the “aesthetic” and trust that this lone word covers...

  6. 2 Viennese Ghosts
    (pp. 25-52)

    Vienna 1900. At the turn into the new century, something happened there that had a lasting impact in philosophy, in psychology, in music, in visual art, in literature, in architecture, in political thought. If melancholy is the modernist “malady,” and psychoanalysis a bright torch with which to explore a few of its dark and hidden recesses, we may have found ourselves an especially resonant home in the fin de siècle Viennese school of art history. Vienna, as someone once said, was not only the capital of the Hapsburg Empire, it was also a state of mind; the place where, Peter...

  7. 3 Stones of Solace
    (pp. 53-72)

    In 1925 the young Adrian Stokes—the British aesthete who eventually would become an essayist, psychoanalyst, and painter—visited the rather “triste” seacoast town of Rimini and knew at once on that bright morning why he would be forever captivated by that Adriatic landscape and that history of which the Tempio Malatestiano is the emblem. Asking himself what it means to translate into words the impression that that Renaissance vision makes upon him, his excuse is that its “poetry pure and simple” must be leavened by “a good deal of explanation as well.”¹ As must forever be the case with...

  8. 4 Patterns in the Shadows
    (pp. 73-94)

    At the beginning of the fourth quarter of the twentieth century, I enrolled as a graduate student in the history of art, fairly certain about what I should study. I wanted to read canonical Renaissance monuments as documents, as visual embodiments of certain cultural and social attitudes. That first semester brought several shocks to the secure investigative course of action I had set for myself: encountering a text by Jacques Derrida in a late-medieval literature course, being assigned the task of writing all that I could possibly “see” in the details of a seventeenth-century allegorical painting, and hearing Michael Baxandall...

  9. 5 Mourning and Method
    (pp. 95-116)

    Why do we write about works of visual art in the first place? What kind of a dialogue, even game, is taking place between subjects and objects? In the past, I have tried to make a case for the variety of ways that works of art both literally and metaphorically prefigure their subsequent historical and interpretive understandings.¹ In the last decades of the twentieth century it was a commonplace of the philosophy of art history that all the energy for interpretation emanates from those who do the looking, and I wanted to restore a certain vital agency to the works...

  10. Postscript
    (pp. 117-132)

    The past chapters have dealt with many different kinds of melancholy lacing through the history of the history of art, not all of them appearing in shades of black and grey. The fetishization of objects whose vitality is almost, but not quite, lost is nowhere more apparent than in museum displays. Compelling works of art, estranged from all that once gave them sustenance, silently tug at a world of memories and meaning.

    Melancholy art can take up residence, then, in a museum collection as well as in an art historian’s psyche and scholarship. I need range no farther afield than...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 133-164)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 165-182)
  13. Index
    (pp. 183-196)