Partisan Canons

Partisan Canons

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 38 illustrations, 8 tables Published: October 2007

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies

Whether it is being studied or critiqued, the art canon is usually understood as an authoritative list of important works and artists. This collection breaks with the idea of a singular, transcendent canon. Through provocative case studies, it demonstrates that the content of any canon is both historically and culturally specific and dependent on who is responsible for the canon’s production and maintenance. The contributors explore how, where, why, and by whom canons are formed; how they function under particular circumstances; how they are maintained; and why they may undergo change.

Focusing on various moments from the seventeenth century to the present, the contributors cover a broad geographic terrain, encompassing the United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Taiwan, and South Africa. Among the essays are examinations of the working and reworking of a canon by an influential nineteenth-century French critic, the limitations placed on what was acceptable as canonical in American textbooks produced during the Cold War, the failed attempt to define a canon of Rembrandt’s works, and the difficulties of constructing an artistic canon in parts of the globe marked by colonialism and the imposition of Eurocentric ideas of artistic value. The essays highlight the diverse factors that affect the production of art canons: market forces, aesthetic and political positions, nationalism and ingrained ideas concerning the cultural superiority of particular groups, perceptions of gender and race, artists’ efforts to negotiate their status within particular professional environments, and the dynamics of art history as an academic discipline and discourse. This volume is a call to historicize canons, acknowledging both their partisanship and its implications for the writing of art history.

Contributors. Jenny Anger, Marcia Brennan, Anna Brzyski, James Cutting, Paul Duro, James Elkins, Barbara Jaffee, Robert Jensen, Jane C. Ju, Monica Kjellman-Chapin, Julie L. McGee, Terry Smith, Linda Stone-Ferrier, Despina Stratigakos


“[These essays] introduce a wide variety of complex and unsettled issues associated with the canon to the general reader at large. . . . Brzyski’s tenaciousness in revealing the mechanisms of canons is admirable. . . .” — Jennifer Ferng, Leonardo Reviews

“Anna Brzyski’s anthology Partisan Canons fills a long-recognized need in the literature on the history of art. The essays in this volume approach the canon of works of art on which the discipline is built from a variety of perspectives: how did it come about, on what principles is it built, does it have universal validity? These thoughtful and probing texts promise to afford art historians and others insight into one of the most deeply naturalized values of this profession.” — Keith Moxey, author of The Practice of Persuasion: Paradox and Power in Art History

“The subject of canons, a long-standing problem in literary studies, makes an impressive art historical debut in this authoritative collection of essays, which gathers together some of the most important critical voices in the contemporary study of the visual arts. Partisan Canons makes an important contribution to the discussion of values, power, and the social construction of artistic traditions.” — W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry and author of What Do Pictures Want?


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Anna Brzyski is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Kentucky.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction: Canons and Art History / Anna Brzyski 1

1. Measuring Canons: Reflections on Innovation and the Nineteenth-century Canon of European Art / Robert Jensen 27

2. Canon and Globalization in Art History / James Elkins 55

3. Mere Exposure, Reproduction, and the Impressionist Canon / James Cutting 79

4. Imitation and Authority: The Creation of the Academic Canon in French Art, 1648-1870 / Paul Duro 95

5. Chinese Art, the National Palace Museum, and Cold War Politics / Jane C. Ju 115

6. Masculine Reason or Feminine Spirit: Gender Battles in the Werkbund’s Canonization of National Style / Despina Stratigakos 135

7. Courbet, the Decorative, and the Canon: Rewriting and Rereading Meier-Graefe’s Modern Art / Jenny Anger 157

8. The Multiple Masculinities of Canonical Modernism: James Johnson Sweeney and Alfred H. Barr Jr. in the 1930s / Marcia Brennan 179

9. “Gardner” Variety Formalism: Helen Gardener and Art Through the Ages / Barbara Jaffee 203

10. The Rembrandt Research Project: Issues and Controversies Raised by a Canonical Oeuvre / Linda Stone-Ferrier 225

11. Making Art in the Age of Art History, or How to Become a Canonical Artist / Anna Brzyski 245

12. Kinkade and the Canon: Art History’s (Ir)Relevance / Monica Kjellman-Chapin 267

13. Canons Apart and Apartheid Canons: Interpellations beyond the Colonial in South African Art / Julie McGee 289

14. Coda: Canons and Contemporaneity / Terry Smith 309

Bibliography 327

About the Contributors 355

Index 359
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4106-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4085-0
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