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Fictions of Art History

Fictions of Art History

Edited by Mark Ledbury
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Fictions of Art History
    Book Description:

    Fictions of Art History, the most recent addition to the Clark Studies in the Visual Arts series, addresses art history's complex relationships with fiction, poetry, and creative writing. Inspired by a 2010 conference, the volume examines art historians' viewing practices and modes of writing. How, the contributors ask, are we to unravel the supposed facts of history from the fictions constructed in works of art? How do art historians employ or resist devices of fiction, and what are the effects of those choices on the reader? In styles by turns witty, elliptical, and plain-speaking, the essays inFictions of Art Historyare fascinating and provocative critical interventions in art history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19214-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction: Compelling Fictions
    (pp. vii-xvi)
    Michael Hatt and Mark Ledbury

    This volume has its origins in the 2010 Clark Conference, “Fictions of Art History,” which brought together artists, art historians, and creative writers over a period of two days. We set out to explore the extent to which the discipline of art history, the writing of fiction, and the making and viewing of art might be commingled. This collection of texts by leading art historians, critics, poets, and novelists reflects the complexity of the entanglements and the excitement of the encounter. That questions of art history and fiction are current is clear not only from the engagements reflected in these...

  2. Part One: Entanglements

    • Weightless History: Faulkner, Bourke-White, and Eisenstaedt
      (pp. 3-20)
      Alexander Nemerov

      Gravity is the scholar’s element—the weight of the past, the weight of bibliographic sources, the weight of an academic discipline. But I will explore another metaphor for what the scholar does while researching and writing: the scholar floats, even flies, free and somehow above it all. Rather, I should say that the scholar should or might be so free, or that there might be at leastmomentswhen such floating or flying happens (you see how quickly I qualify), and that these moments of ungrounded abandon—these moments of inspiration—create powerful, believable insights into the past, unattainable in...

    • A Novelist among Artists: Gordon Burn and “Young British Art”
      (pp. 21-33)
      Thomas Crow

      All art criticism and art scholarship consist in some form of paraphrase, that is, the creation of some more or less useful substitute in words for the object or the phenomenon under scrutiny; what the paraphrase sacrifices in nuance goes toward the instrumental value of the verbal surrogate in contexts other than immediate perceptual encounter. A general corollary to this proposition would be that critics tend to perform this function in the first instance, the filtered results of which then become the received verbal object on which art historians base their efforts at explanation.

      A problem arises when the same...

    • Philip Marlowe Meets the Art Historian
      (pp. 34-44)
      Paul Barolsky

      I will put my cards on the table at the outset. I am an unabashed “hedonist.” It matters to me not a whit that Bishop Butler dealt a deathblow to hedonism as a viable philosophy over seven hundred years into the last millennium. Not only a hedonist, I am also an amateur and a dilettante, an aesthete and an impressionist. What matters to me when it comes to art is aesthetic pleasure or delight. Art is a manifestation of play, which is not to say it is lacking in seriousness. What is more serious than a child at play?


    • The Case of the Errant Art Historian
      (pp. 45-68)
      Gloria Kury

      Noon. Upstate New York. A darkened theater. Can you see the grimacing faces on the walls? Probably not. The phantasmagoria on the giant screen has you mesmerized. Naked women, naked men. People cradled in brocades, velvets, and furs. Gods and goddesses raping human beings. A dead man in a bathtub. Mutilated men tied to trees. A voice with the diction of another era speaks in tongues strange and incomprehensible.Ut pictura poesis, di sotto in sù, rococo, metamorphosis. A red dot traces patterns over the translucent pictures. A long shadow cuts across a beam of dazzling light. Jupiter’s shower of...

  3. Part Two: Not Who You Think I Am

    • Face to Face with Fiction: Portraiture and the Biographical Tradition
      (pp. 71-86)
      Caroline Vout

      What kind of life does a portrait give? I begin my answer with a portrait of Nero (fig. 1; Roman Emperor, 54 to 68 CE)¹ and the words of the classical art historian Diana Kleiner:

      Although Nero never reached the age where he could be depicted as old, however, the aging process is incorporated in his portraiture. He is portrayed as the bland Julio-Claudian prince in 51, as a more mature youth in 54 and 55, and as a corpulent and debauched megalomaniac between 59 and 68. The vicissitudes of Nero’s life are, therefore, mirrored in his portraits…. In fact,...

    • “I Am Not Who You Think I Am”: Attributing the Humanist Portrait, Identifying the Art-Historical Subject
      (pp. 87-103)
      Maria H. Loh

      The attentive visitor to the Louvre will find the anonymousFive Florentine Renaissance Mastersjust to the left of the door that leads out of the Salon Carré and into the melodramatic pull of the Grande Galerie. Five painted portrait busts are assembled upon the thin pictorial space of an old wooden board (fig. 1). The composition is framed at either end by a man facing in, appearing pensive on the left and in abrupt profile on the right. In the center, the steely gaze of a bearded figure glares out at the viewer, the confrontational nature of his expression...

    • Fictional Deceptions: A True Story
      (pp. 104-117)
      Joanna Scott

      In his introduction to the memoirs of the Italian playwright Carlo Gozzi, the nineteenth-century English writer John Addington Symonds invites his reader to imagine a procession of masked commedia dell’arte performers crossing a stage.¹ First comes a fop wearing a woolen cap, short trousers, red slippers, with half his face concealed by a black domino. This is Pantalone, the Venetian merchant, who, Symonds tells us, is “good-hearted, shrewd, canny, yet preserving a certain childlike simplicity.” He is followed by the Doctor, a “walking caricature of learning,” who wears “a hideous black mask smudged with red patches, like skindisease or wine-stains”...

    • The Art-Historical Photograph as Fiction: The Pretense of Objectivity
      (pp. 118-138)
      Ralph Lieberman

      By the phrase “photograph as fiction,” I do not mean playful images put together in Photoshop but something produced by the camera alone, something more credible and therefore much more dangerous. The title of this essay is not intended to suggest that what follows is an exposé; I do not claim that art history is inherently bogus because at times it is about misleading images more than about the works those images purport to show. The points I raise are part of a larger study of how photography, the enabling medium of the new discipline, shaped art history and limited...

  4. Part Three: Artists, Stories, Objects

    • “The Reality Bodily before Us”: Picturing the Arabian Nights
      (pp. 141-161)
      Marina Warner

      In the book known in English as theArabian Nights or Tales of a Thousand and One Nights,¹ things are made to talk in ways that disturb distinctions between animate and inanimate; they become, to use Lorraine Daston’s categories, botheidolaand evidence.² Things are also made visible in the numerous illustrated editions of the book that followed its first appearance in print in Antoine Galland’s translation into French in 1704. Among the many classes of things that appear in the stories, jars and vessels dominate; they include Aladdin’s wonderful lamp (the most familiar and best-loved example) and the copper...

    • The Ekphrastic O
      (pp. 162-172)
      Cole Swensen

      Ekphrasis is a subset of art writing distinguished by a particular deployment of the poetic. Like much art writing, it is engaged with the line between representation and experience; it is also often engaged with reinforcing that line and the framing that keeps art separate from the world in order to allow it usefully to comment on it. There’s been an explosion of ekphrastic poetry in the past twenty years. Much of it, surprisingly, takes an opposite tack, determined instead to disturb and erode that line. In looking at how that disturbance operates, it seems that moving the location of...

    • Anecdotes and the Life of Art History
      (pp. 173-186)
      Mark Ledbury

      In a book that explores the complexity of art history’s relationship with a wide variety of sophisticated literary forms, genres, and tones of voice, it might seem churlish or bathetic to spend time with the anecdote. As Paul Fleming recently put it:

      The reliance on anecdotes in the midst of making a point or, worse still, as argumentation itself seems to mark a certain helplessness, a sign of not knowing what to say next; or of wanting to avoid the heavy lifting required for fine argumentation; or of hoping to reach a wider audience by employing a more accessible, popular...

    • The Text is Present
      (pp. 187-202)
      Marianna Torgovnick

      A landmark display of performance art; a triumph of marketing; an extended parable, or, perhaps better, a cautionary tale about the interpenetration of art history, fiction, and celebrity: ultimately, the 2010Marina Abramovićretrospective at the Museum of Modern Art was all three. While deploying multiple fictions by and about the artist, it ended up suggesting the potent difference between the ways artists and art historians use storytelling. In literary studies, debates between poststructuralism and traditional fact-based knowledge flamed up in the twentieth century and burned out by the twenty-first, leaving behind new ways of thinking about “facts” that have...