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Writing Art History

Disciplinary Departures

Faced with an increasingly media-saturated, globalized culture, art historians have begun to ask themselves challenging and provocative questions about the nature of their discipline. Why did the history of art come into being? Is it now in danger of slipping into obsolescence? And, if so, should we care?

In Writing Art History, Margaret Iversen and Stephen Melville address these questions by exploring some assumptions at the discipline’s foundation. Their project is to excavate the lost continuities between philosophical aesthetics, contemporary theory, and art history through close readings of figures as various as Michael Baxandall, Martin Heidegger, Jacques Lacan, and Alois Riegl. Ultimately, the authors propose that we might reframe the questions concerning art history by asking what kind of writing might help the discipline to better imagine its actual practices—and its potential futures.

256 pages | 30 halftones, 15 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Art: Art Criticism, Art--General Studies

Philosophy: Aesthetics


“Iversen and Melville offer a sophisticated and well-written introduction to the central twentieth-century themes, theories, and methods of art history, and to how this history has been written. Filled with rich and probing accounts of many of art history’s most noted writers, this book shows how, through the writing of art history, deep changes have been encouraged and effected in our modes of contemplation and judgment.”

Lydia Goehr, Columbia University

“Writing about the writing about writing the history and theory of visual art—this book, coauthored by two speculative and critical art historians, constructs an intriguing hall of mirrors that lures its reader into being inescapably reflective about our too often workaday discipline. Because of the richness, variety, and history of thinkers whom it addresses—from Hegel to Heidegger, to Riegl to Wölfflin, to Warburg to Panofsky, to Merleau-Ponty to Barthes, to Steinberg to Baxandall, to many contemporary theorists as well as practicing artists (and that’s to name only some)—this is a deep and thick study, often phenomenological in inclination, for all who are interested in the intellectual history of the history of art. ‘Theory,’ its authors convincingly assert, should never be a substitute for ‘methodology,’ and in that conviction they conclude with its curricular potential. Directed especially to those who are philosophically-inclined (and why would one not be?), this is a most thoughtful book that many will read and relish.”

Michael Ann Holly, Sterling and Francine Clark Institute

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 What’s the Matter with Methodology?
Chapter 2 Historical Distance (Bridging and Spanning)
Chapter 3 On the Limits of Interpretation: Dürer’s Melencolia I
Chapter 4 What the Formalist Knows
Chapter 5 The Spectator: Riegl, Steinberg, and Morris
Chapter 6 The Gaze in Perspective: Merleau-Ponty, Lacan, Damisch
Chapter 7 Seeing and Reading: Lyotard, Barthes, Schapiro
Chapter 8 Plasticity: The Hegelian Writing of Art
Chapter 9 Curriculum

Works Cited

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