November 2010

My Week in Assorted Thoughts

This week I’ve been thinking about several random art historical facts and ideas. Several of you might have seen some of these links on my Twitter feed, but I wanted to flesh out a few ideas here:
  • Norman Rockwell included a portrait of Grandma Moses in his painting Christmas Homecoming (1948, see right). You can see Moses on the left side of a painting, wearing an old-fashioned dress. The two artists were friends who lived relatively close to each other at one time. (In fact, you can read parts of a story about Norman Rockwell at Grandma Moses’ surprise 88th birthday party here.)
  • I really don’t know that much about Grandma Moses. She never was discussed in any of my art history classes, but I didn’t focus on American art from the 20th century. But could she have been excluded from courses and textbooks because she is a folk artist? Out of curiosity, have any Americanists studied Grandma Moses’ work in an academic setting?
  • I was surprised to learn that Johann Winckelmann, one of the early scholars of art history, was murdered in 1768. He was fifty years old. What if Winckelmann had lived a full life? I wonder if he would have retracted any of his ideas about unpainted classical sculpture, “good taste,” or how Greek art has “noble simplicity.”1 (For example, scholars in the early 19th century were able to document the traces of paint on certain Greek statues after their excavation. If Winckelmann had lived longer, would he have learned this news and changed his ideas about white marble and beauty?) Maybe it’s a stretch, but I like to think about how the Western canon might have been different if Winckelmann had not been murdered.
  • I’ve been reading about the Laocoön statue lately, partially because I want to know more about the theory that Michelangelo created the Laocoön (which is a rather far-fetched idea, in my opinion). I’ve also enjoyed looking at this annotated chronology of the statue: this piece has a pretty rich history!
  • A comment from a student also led to me to look at a pre-20th century restoration of the Laocoön statue. This restoration depicts the arm of the priest as being fully-extended. (The restored arm (now lost) was the work of Renaissance artist Bandio Baccinelli. For those interested, Vasari wrote a little bit about Bandio Baccinelli’s work on the Laocoön here.) It appears that has been a lot of debate regarding how Laocoön originally appeared. As recently as 1989, one scholar argued that the whole composition needs to be more compact and pyramidal in order to be historically accurate.2

How was your week? Were your art historical thoughts as assorted as mine?

1 Johann Joachim Winckelmann, “Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture,” in The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology by Donald Preziosi, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 31-39. For an interesting critique on Winckelmann’s theories, see also Kenneth Lapatin, “The Fate of Plate and Other Precious Materials: Toward a Historiography of Greek Minor (?) Arts,” from Ancient Art and its Historiography by A. A. Donohue, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 69-91.

2 Seymor Howard, “Laocoon Rerestored,” in American Journal of Archaeology 93, no. 3 (July 1989): 417-422.


Art History Bloggers as "Les Indépendents"

I’ve been thinking about art history blogging lately, partially because I got to read so many art history posts for this month’s issue of the Art History Carnival. Really, though, I’ve been thinking about blogging ever since reading Alexandra Korey’s interview on Three Pipe Problem. Alex discusses how blogging can be seen as a waste of time and a “not serious” endeavor in the eyes of other academics. I can see how one could have this perspective, especially for those who are in tenure-track positions who feel the pressure to “publish [in print] or perish.” (Although one begs the question: isn’t print perishing?)

As I’ve been mulling over these thoughts, I’ve begun to see some parallels between art history bloggers and the French avant-garde artists of the 19th century. Art history bloggers have decided to showcase their work in a forum different from the traditional publishing method in academia (i.e. print journals or academic textbooks). Really, one could argue that we have set up our own “Salon des Indépendents” online, similar to what 19th century artists did to break away from the artistic salon established by the Academy.

We could even make further parallels between blogging and 19th century art (particularly Impressionism). Since (most) blog posts are very short and succinct in nature, they differ from the fleshed-out topics that are examined in academic print. The physical size of blogging posts can be compared with the canvases that some Impressionists used. For example, Monet was interested in non-standard canvas shapes (such as the square), which were rarely used outside of avant-garde circles.1

The informal writing style of blogs can parallel the choppy, short brushstrokes of Impressionist painters like Monet (see Impression: Sunrise, 1872 above). Maybe that’s why our work seems less appealing to those in academia: blogs seem unfinished and unrefined (perhaps just a mere impression of scholarship?). I also think that an informal writing style could compare with the color schemes found in some Impressionist paintings: lighter, pastel colors could be interpreted as less formal (or weighty) than rich, saturated colors.

We can even draw parallels between plein air painting and blogging in a virtual world. In both instances, the artist/writer needs to be immersed in a specific type of environment.

So, what am I saying? Am I predicting that blogging is going to rise up as an avant-garde movement to overthrow the academic publishing convention? Hardly. I don’t feel like I can be that prophetic. But it is interesting to think about how art history often values the “underdog” movements in retrospect. Even though the Indépendents/Impressionists were mocked at the time, they ended up being an extremely influential and important art movement over the course of history. And I think it’s safe to say that we, as bloggers, are also involved in a really great thing.

1 Anthea Callen, The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique & The Making of Modernity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 21. Available online here.


November Issue of the Art History Carnival

Welcome to the November issue of the Art History Carnival! Thanks to everyone who submitted and nominated entries for this issue. I enjoyed reviewing the wide variety of the posts; I would encourage people to keep submitting material, even if their post/nomination was not selected for this issue. Thanks again for letting me host this month, Margaret!

Helen Webberly from Art and Architecture, Mainly has done a very interesting post on the Vasari Corridor in Florence: “The Real Ponte Vecchio in Florence.”

Zsombor Jékely from Medieval Hungary writes about “Hungarians in the Crusader Castle of Margat.” This post also would have been appropriate under the “Art” category, since Jékely discusses the Western 12th century frescoes discovered at the castle chapel.

Heather Carroll from The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century discusses the story of a stolen Gainsborough portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire: “The Obsession Causing Portrait.”

H Niyazi from Three Pipe Problem suggests a new interpretation for an early Caravaggio painting: “Caravaggio’s ‘Boy Bitten By a Lizard'” 

Susan Benford from Famous Paintings Reviewed: An Art History Blog discusses what she finds appealing in the portrait of Juan de Pareja by Velazquez: “Famous Paintings – Juan de Pareja”

Frank DeStefano from Giorgione et al… gives an interesting discussion on the pentimenti (underpainting) in Giorgione’s Tempest: “Tempesta Pentimenti”

Hermes from Pre Raphaelite Art discusses the subject and mythology of the figure Flora in Waterhouse’s art: “John William Waterhouse: Flora”

Theory and Criticism
David Byron from Baroque Potion explores themes of viewer experience and physical immersion in art and architecture, using Western and non-Western examples: “Immersion”

Danielle Hurd from The Canon asks questions regarding the reception and role of criticism in the art world: “Dishing it out (art criticism, that is)…” 

Museums and Exhibitions
David Packwood from Art History Today explores the role of connoisseurship in the creation of public exhibitions and museum spaces: “Connoisseurship and the Public Eye”

Paul Doolan at Think Shop writes a fun review of a current exhibition at the Beyeler Foundation Museum: “The Beyeler Exhibition: Vienna 1900 – Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Their Time”

Congratulations to all who were selected for this issue. For next month’s carnival, look for forthcoming information on The Earthly Paradise.


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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.