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Art history is the study of aesthetic objects and visual expression in historical and stylistic context.[1] Traditionally, the discipline of art history emphasized painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, ceramics, and decorative arts, yet today, art history examines broader aspects of visual culture, including the various visual and conceptual outcomes related to an ever-evolving definition of art.[2][3] Art history encompasses the study of objects created by different cultures around the world and throughout history that convey meaning, importance, or serve usefulness primarily through visual means.

As a discipline, art history is distinguished from art criticism, which is concerned with establishing a relative artistic value upon individual works with respect to others of comparable style, or sanctioning an entire style or movement; and art theory or "philosophy of art", which is concerned with the fundamental nature of art. One branch of this area of study is aesthetics, which includes investigating the enigma of the sublime and determining the essence of beauty. Technically, art history is not these things, because the art historian uses historical method to answer the questions: How did the artist come to create the work?, Who were the patrons?, Who were their teachers?, Who was the audience?, Who were their disciples?, What historical forces shaped the artist's oeuvre, and how did he or she and the creation, in turn, affect the course of artistic, political, and social events? It is, however, questionable whether many questions of this kind can be answered satisfactorily without also considering basic questions about the nature of art. The current disciplinary gap between art history and the philosophy of art (aesthetics) often hinders this inquiry.[4]

Methodologies

Art history is an interdisciplinary practice that analyzes the various factors—cultural, political, religious, economic, or artistic—which contribute to visual appearance of a work of art.

Art historians employ a number of m

As a discipline, art history is distinguished from art criticism, which is concerned with establishing a relative artistic value upon individual works with respect to others of comparable style, or sanctioning an entire style or movement; and art theory or "philosophy of art", which is concerned with the fundamental nature of art. One branch of this area of study is aesthetics, which includes investigating the enigma of the sublime and determining the essence of beauty. Technically, art history is not these things, because the art historian uses historical method to answer the questions: How did the artist come to create the work?, Who were the patrons?, Who were their teachers?, Who was the audience?, Who were their disciples?, What historical forces shaped the artist's oeuvre, and how did he or she and the creation, in turn, affect the course of artistic, political, and social events? It is, however, questionable whether many questions of this kind can be answered satisfactorily without also considering basic questions about the nature of art. The current disciplinary gap between art history and the philosophy of art (aesthetics) often hinders this inquiry.[4]

Art history is an interdisciplinary practice that analyzes the various factors—cultural, political, religious, economic, or artistic—which contribute to visual appearance of a work of art.

Art historians employ a number of methods in their research into the ontology and history of objects.

Art historians often examine work in the context of its time. At best, this is done 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 with consideration of iconography and symbolism. In short, this approach examines the work of art in the context of the world within which it was created.

Art historians also often examine work through an analysis of 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 their art. The way these individual elements are employed results in representational or non-representational art. 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. Is the artist not imitating, but instead relying on symbolism, or in an important way striving to capture nature's essence, rather than copy it directly? If so the art is non-representational—also called abstract. Realism and abstraction exist on a continuum. Impressionism is an example of a representational style that was not directly imitative, but strove to create an "impression" of nature. If the work is not representational and is an expression of the artist's feelings, longings and aspirations, or is a search for ideals of beauty and form, the work is non-representational or a work of expressionism.

An iconographical analysis is one which focuses on particular design elements of an object. Through a close reading of such elements, it is possible to trace their lineage, and with it draw conclusions regarding the origins and trajectory of these motifs. In turn, it is possible to make any number of observations regarding the social, cultural, economic, and aesthetic values of those responsible for producing the object.

Many art historians use critical theory to frame their inquiries into objects. Theory is most often used when dealing with more recent objects, those from the late 19th century onward. Critical theory in art history is often borrowed from literary scholars, and it involves the application of a non-artistic analytical framework to the study of art objects. Feminist, Marxist, critical race, queer, and postcolonial theories are all well established in the discipline. As in literary studies, there is an interest among scholars in nature and the environment, but the direction that this will take in the discipline has yet to be determined.

More recently, media and digital technology introduced possibilities of visual, spatial and experiential analyses. The relevant forms vary from movies, to interactive forms, including virtual environments, augmented environments, situated media, networked media, etc. The methods enabled by such techniques are in active development and promise to include qualitative approaches that can emphasize narrative, dramatic, emotional and ludic characteristics of history and art.[5]

Timeline of prominent methods

Pliny the Elder and ancient precedents

The earliest surviving writing on art that can be classified as art history are the passages in Pliny the Elder's Natural History (c. AD 77-79), concerning the development of Greek sculpture and painting.[6] From them it is possible to trace the ideas of Xenokrates of Sicyon (c. 280 BC), a Greek sculptor who was perhaps the first art historian.[7] Pliny's work, while mainly an encyclopaedia of the sciences, has thus been influential from the Renaissance onwards. (Passages about techniques used by the painter Apelles c. (332-329 BC), have been especially well-known.) Similar, though independent, developments occurred in the 6th century China, where a canon of worthy artists was established by writers in the scholar-official class. These writers, being necessarily proficient in calligraphy, were artists themselves. The artists are described in the Six Principles of Painting formulated by Xie He.[8]

Vasari and artists' biographies

Giorgio Vasari, Self-portrait c

Art historians employ a number of methods in their research into the ontology and history of objects.

Art historians often examine work in the context of its time. At best, this is done 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 with consideration of iconography and symbolism. In short, this approach examines the work of art in the context of the world within which it was created.

Art historians also often examine work through an analysis of 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 their art. The way these individual elements are employed results in representational or non-representational art. 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. Is the artist not imitating, but instead relying on symbolism, or in an important way striving to capture nature's essence, rather than copy it directly? If so the art is non-representational—also called abstract. Realism and abstraction exist on a continuum. Impressionism is an example of a representational style that was not directly imitative, but strove to create an "impression" of nature. If the work is not representational and is an expression of the artist's feelings, longings and aspirations, or is a search for ideals of beauty and form, the work is non-representational or a work of expressionism.

An iconographical analysis is one which focuses on particular design elements of an object. Through a close reading of such elements, it is possible to trace their lineage, and with it draw conclusions regarding the origins and trajectory of these motifs. In turn, it is possible to make any number of observations regarding the social, cultural, economic, and aesthetic values of those responsible for producing the object.

Many art historians use critical theory to frame their inquiries into objects. Theory is most often used when dealing with more recent objects, those from the late 19th century onward. Critical theory in art history is often borrowed from literary scholars, and it involves the application of a non-artistic analytical framework to the study of art objects. Feminist, Marxist, critical race, queer, and postcolonial theories are all well established in the discipline. As in literary studies, there is an interest among scholars in nature and the environment, but the direction that this will take in the discipline has yet to be determined.

More recently, media and digital technology introduced possibilities of visual, spatial and experiential analyses. The relevant forms vary from movies, to interactive forms, including virtual environments, augmented environments, situated media, networked media, etc. The methods enabled by such techniques are in active development and promise to include qualitative approaches that can emphasize narrative, dramatic, emotional and ludic characteristics of history and art.[5]

The earliest surviving writing on art that can be classified as art history are the passages in Pliny the Elder's Natural History (c. AD 77-79), concerning the development of Greek sculpture and painting.[6] From them it is possible to trace the ideas of Xenokrates of Sicyon (c. 280 BC), a Greek sculptor who was perhaps the first art historian.[7] Pliny's work, while mainly an encyclopaedia of the sciences, has thus been influential from the Renaissance onwards. (Passages about techniques used by the painter Apelles c. (332-329 BC), have been especially well-known.) Similar, though independent, developments occurred in the 6th century China, where a canon of worthy artists was established by writers in the scholar-official class. These writers, being necessarily proficient in calligraphy, were artists themselves. The artists are described in the Six Principles of Painting formulated by Xie He.[8]

Vasari and artists' biographies

While personal reminiscences of art and artists have long been written and read (see Lorenzo Ghiberti Commentarii, for the best early example),[9] it was Giorgio Vasari, the Tuscan painter, sculptor and author of the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, who wrote the first true history of art.[10] He emphasized art's progression and development, which was a milestone in this field. His was a personal and a historical account, featuring biographies of individual Italian artists, many of whom were his contemporaries and personal acquaintances. The most renowned of these was Michelangelo, and Vasari's account is enlightening, though biased[citation needed] in places.

Vasari's ideas about art were enormously influential, and served as a model for many, including in the north of Europe Karel van Mander's Schilder-boeck and Joachim von Sandrart's Teutsche Akademie.[citation needed] Vasari's approach held sway until the 18th century, when criticism was leveled at his biographical account of history.[citation needed]

Winckelmann and art criticism

Scholars such as Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), criticized Vasari's "cult" of artistic personality, and they argued that the real emphasis in the study of art should be the views of the learned beholder and not the unique viewpoint of the charismatic artist. Winckelmann's writings thus were the beginnings of art criticism. His two most notable works that introduced the concept of art criticism were Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst, published in 1755, shortly before he left for Rome (Fuseli published an English translation in 1765 under the title Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks), and Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (History of Art in Antiquity), published in 1764 (this is the first occurrence of the phrase ‘history of art’ in the title of a book)".[11] Winckelmann critiqued the artistic excesses of Baroque and Karel van Mander's Schilder-boeck and Joachim von Sandrart's Teutsche Akademie.[citation needed] Vasari's approach held sway until the 18th century, when criticism was leveled at his biographical account of history.[citation needed]

Scholars such as Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), criticized Vasari's "cult" of artistic personality, and they argued that the real emphasis in the study of art should be the views of the learned beholder and not the unique viewpoint of the charismatic artist. Winckelmann's writings thus were the beginnings of art criticism. His two most notable works that introduced the concept of art criticism were Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerei und Bildhauerkunst, published in 1755, shortly before he left for Rome (Fuseli published an English translation in 1765 under the title Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks), and Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (History of Art in Antiquity), published in 1764 (this is the first occurrence of the phrase ‘history of art’ in the title of a book)".[11] Winckelmann critiqued the artistic excesses of Baroque and Rococo forms, and was instrumental in reforming taste in favor of the more sober Neoclassicism. Jacob Burckhardt (1818–1897), one of the founders of art history, noted that Winckelmann was 'the first to distinguish between the periods of ancient art and to link the history of style with world history'. From Winckelmann until the mid-20th century, the field of art history was dominated by German-speaking academics. Winckelmann's work thus marked the entry of art history into the high-philosophical discourse of German culture.

Winckelmann was read avidly by Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, both of whom began to write on the history of art, and his account of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, both of whom began to write on the history of art, and his account of the Laocoön group occasioned a response by Lessing. The emergence of art as a major subject of philosophical speculation was solidified by the appearance of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment in 1790, and was furthered by Hegel's Lectures on Aesthetics. Hegel's philosophy served as the direct inspiration for Karl Schnaase's work. Schnaase's Niederländische Briefe established the theoretical foundations for art history as an autonomous discipline, and his Geschichte der bildenden Künste, one of the first historical surveys of the history of art from antiquity to the Renaissance, facilitated the teaching of art history in German-speaking universities. Schnaase's survey was published contemporaneously with a similar work by Franz Theodor Kugler.

Heinrich Wölfflin (1864–1945), who studied under Burckhardt in Basel, is the "father" of modern art history. Wölfflin taught at the universities of Berlin, Basel, Munich, and Zurich. A number of students went on to distinguished careers in art history, including Jakob Rosenberg and Frida Schottmuller. He introduced a scientific approach to the history of art, focusing on three concepts. Firstly, he attempted to study art using psychology, particularly by applying the work of Wilhelm Wundt. He argued, among other things, that art and architecture are good if they resemble the human body. For example, houses were good if their façades looked like faces. Secondly, he introduced the idea of studying art through comparison. By comparing individual paintings to each other, he was able to make distinctions of style. His book Renaissance and Baroque developed this idea, and was the first to show how these stylistic periods differed from one another. In contrast to Giorgio Vasari, Wölfflin was uninterested in the biographies of artists. In fact he proposed the creation of an "art history without names." Finally, he studied art based on ideas of nationhood. He was particularly interested in whether there was an inherently "Italian" and an inherently "German" style. This last interest was most fully articulated in his monograph on the German artist Albrecht Dürer.

Riegl, Wickhoff, and the Vienna School