Art history  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Art history is the study of the history of the visual arts.

Art history is a relatively new academic enterprise, beginning in the nineteenth century. Whereas the analysis of historical trends in, for example, politics, literature, and the sciences, benefits from the clarity and portability of the written word, art historians rely on formal analysis, iconology, semiotics (structuralism, post-structuralism, and deconstruction), psychoanalysis and iconography; as well as primary sources and reproductions of artworks as a springboard of discussion and study. Advances in photographic reproduction and printing techniques after World War II increased the ability of reproductions of artworks accurately. Nevertheless the appreciation and study of the visual arts has been an area of research for many over the millennia. The definition of art history reflects the dichotomy within art; i.e., art as history and in anthropological context; and art as a study in forms.

The study of visual art can be approached through the broad categories of contextualism and formalism.

They are described as:

  • Contextualism
    The approach whereby a work of art is examined in the context of its time; in a manner which respects its creator's motivations and imperatives; with consideration of the desires and prejudices of its patrons and sponsors; with a comparative analysis of themes and approaches of the creator's colleagues and teachers; and consideration of religious iconography and temporal symbolism. In short, this approach examines the work of art in the context of the world within which it was created.
  • Formalism
    The approach whereby the artwork is examined through an analysis of its form; that is, the creator's use of line, shape, color, texture, and composition. This approach examines how the artist uses a two-dimensional picture plane (or the three dimensions of sculptural or architectural space) to create his or her art. A formal analysis can further describe art as representational or non-representational; which answers the question, is the artist imitating an object or image found in nature? If so, it is representational. The closer the art hews to perfect imitation, the more the art is realistic. If the art is less imitation and more symbolism, or in an important way strives to capture nature's essence, rather than imitate it directly, the art is abstract. Impressionism is an example of a representational style that was not directly imitative, but strove to create an "impression" of nature. Of course, realism and abstraction exist on a continuum. If the work is not representational of nature, but an expression of the artist's feelings, longings and aspirations, or his or her search for ideals of beauty and form, the work is non-representational or a work of expressionism.

Divisions by period

The field of Art History is traditionally divided into specializations or concentrations based on eras and regions, with further sub-division based on media. Thus, someone might specialize in "19th century German architecture" or in "16th century Tuscan sculpture." Sub-fields are often included under a specialization. For example, the Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, and Egypt are all typically considered special concentrations of Ancient art. In some cases, these specializations may be closely allied (as Greece and Rome, for example), while in others such alliances are far less natural (Indian art versus Korean art, for example).

Non-Western art is a relative newcomer to the Art Historical canon. Recent revisions of the semantic division between art and artifact have recast objects created in non-Western cultures in more aesthetic terms. Relative to those studying Ancient Rome or the Italian Renaissance, scholars specializing in Africa, the Ancient Americas and Asia are a growing minority.

See also

General
Art by region
Main articles




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Art history" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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