Thry: Uses of Art History

« Back to course listings

FINAR-602

On the Uses and Disadvantages of Art History for Life. Borrowing its title from Nietzsche's 1873 thesis that "an excess of history is harmful to man," this seminar will consider important recent writing in the history of art. Yet where the philosopher decried a pervasive historicism in his moment, art history is by comparison beset by crises: whether it ought to organize itself historically at all, for example, or instead according to geography, identity or another criterion; the introduction of the contradictory practice of "contemporary art history" and ongoing debates around contemporaneity as a period or framework for discussing art; the sapping of institutional support for the humanities in the university; and the relocation of critical conversations about art to the sphere of exhibitions and biennials, where history is pervasive in artworks, yet absent from critical discourse. New writing in art history therefore has much to contend with. Forgetting the Art World, to quote the title of Pamela Lee?s new book, seems an ever more alluring prospect. Nevertheless, the course will focus attention on the writing of art historians - which is to say, on artists and artworks, in and as history. Readings may include selections from Lee's book; Anne Wagner, A House Divided; T.J. Demos, The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp; Juliane Rebentisch, The Aesthetics of Installation Art; Hal Foster, The First Pop Age; Darby English, How To See a Work of Art In Total Darkness; Hannah Feldman, From a Nation Torn; Matthew Jesse Jackson, The Experimental Group; Bridget Alsdorf, Fellow Men; and Isabelle Graw, High Price. Each will be considered as providing answers (directly and indirectly) to questions that haunt the discipline: "What is the history of art now? What can it do?"