the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

The Art World Olympics

Posted by gninja on January 13, 2008

At the Australian:

They used to call it the art world Olympics.

But that was something of a misnomer because, unlike the real Olympics, the Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art focused on Europe. The UNESCO-sponsored congress used to be very much about Western art, with the history of other places simply ignored as irrelevant.

As far back as 1975, however, the committee, known as CIHA, realised it was too Eurocentric. It took until the early 1990s, however, for an expansion to take effect. It was decided that the conference, held every four years like the Olympics, should shift out of Europe and into centres that had previously been left out of art history. Centres such as Australia.

Next week, the 32nd congress of CIHA will be held at the University of Melbourne. It will bring together more than 600 participants from a record 47 countries, a number convener Jaynie Anderson, professor of art history at the university, is proud of. It signals, even before the talking begins, that her theme – Crossing Cultures – has been recognised as the hot topic for art history at the beginning of the 21st century.

Good for CIHA.

My only addition to posting this article is a reaction to a–I think–throwaway quote at the end of it:

[Jaynie] Anderson, an art historian steeped in the Italian Renaissance, is no less adamant about the need for a radically new approach.

“This conference is edgy,” she says, “I’ve been surprised that the political edginess of art history has not been exploited more.

“People think art history is not political, so there’s been very little political analysis.”

Really?  What people?  The history of art is inherently political.  From its institutional inception in the 1870s, art history has determined what is and what is not worthy of the label ‘art,’ or at the very least, worthy of a vocal position within Western culture.  If artist X or monument X doesn’t get dissertations, articles, and books written about him/her/it, then she/he/it becomes a cultural tree-falling-in-the-woods.  When art history textbooks neglected to mention women artists, there was no art by women.  Obviously, there was, but in not including it in the canon, female artists were rendered virtually invisible.

These are some damned banal statements to be making here.  Which is why I’m all the more surprised by the comment that “people think art history is not political.”

7 Responses to “The Art World Olympics”

  1. zooeygoethe said

    “People” meaning, I don’t doubt, “people who don’t do entire degrees in this stuff.”

    There’s a big bulk of the planet with no exposure at all to Art History – why would they know or think that it’s political?

  2. gninja said

    I’m not so sure that’s what Anderson meant, though. I think her comment was directed at people who participate in the conference. Her quote could have been taken out of context, but–contextless-that’s what her comment reflects.

  3. […] Tag Cloud anime apocalypse architecture art art history barthes cathedrals charity economics exhibitions exhibits film galleries graffiti illuminated manuscripts manuscripts medieval art 101 museums new media newspapers new york Paris in the Middle Ages patronage photography politics portrait semiotics street art Uncategorized urban space « The Art World Olympics […]

  4. anna said

    do you not think she’s correct in terms of the issues that concern many art historians who don’t study modern/contemp art? i agree that’s what people “think,” doesn’t mean it’s correct. the questions of period politics may come into play, but there is frequently a disconnect with contemporary reality, if that makes sense.

  5. gninja said

    I have a hard time believing that professional (art) historians don’t see the political nature of the work they do. These are the people telling everybody else what’s–culturally–worth their time. Maybe they don’t see it that way, but I’ve been doing this for less than ten years now, and it’s occurred to me. If men and women who have been dedicating their lives to art history don’t see the larger ramifications of their work, then they’re–at the least–doing themselves a disservice.

  6. anna said

    i’m not sure “everybody else” isn’t putting it a bit too strongly, and i’m not sure that at this moment there isn’t a very big difference b/w art historians and art critics. i also don’t necessarily think the ramifications are political, although they may very much reflect the social and hence political atmosphere of contemporary culture.

  7. gninja said

    Yes, but they not only reflect; they affect. Let’s take the example I gave above a bit further. How far do you think women can achieve equality with men if adolescent girls aren’t seeing women artists being represented in art history books? While the movement of the ’60s and ’70s and later to get women into these books grew out of a larger movement to achieve gender equality, securing the continued development of that goal depends on the continued presence of women in “high” culture. So, if an editorial board gets together and decides that the next volume of Gardner or Jansen or Hartt or whichever art history survey book you choose should not include Angelika Kauffman or Vigee-Lebrun or Cindy Sherman, etc etc, then these women cease to speak from the podium that art allows. Their works don’t stop existing, but the impact they have certainly decreases.

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