Exercise 3 – Reading about art

After downloading from OCA website the excerpt from Art History: The Basics by Grant Pooke and Diana Newall (2008, Abingdon: Routledge), I decided to buy myself a Kindle edition of this book. All references I make here are then taken from: Pooke, G. and Newall, D. (2008) Art History: The Basics. [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.it (Accessed on 04.08.16, pos. 452-489)

I wrote down the paragraphs of the first few pages that I find particularly useful to get an initial idea of the theme of the book and lay the basis for the issues to be treated in the following chapters.

In Chapter 1  ART THEORIES AND ART HISTORIES the  authors formulate the basic questions they are going to develop:

What are the origins of art history as an academic discipline and how has it evolved? What is the purpose of art?

And then they they go about establishing  ‘a general set of guidelines for understanding what art is thought to be’, making three main points:

Fine art has traditionally been used to distinguish arts promoted by the academy , including painting, drawing and sculpture, from craft based arts. The latter typically refers to those works created for a function –such as ceramics, jewellery, textiles, needlework and glass which are still termed decorative arts.

A broader definition of art encompasses those activities which produce works with aesthetic value, including film making, performance and architecture.

Contemporary definitions of art are not medium specific (as ideas around fine art tended to be) or particularly restrictive about the nature of aesthetic value (as Modernism was –see Chapter 2 ). These ideas are associated with the Institutional Theory of Art which is probably the most widely used definition. It recognises that art can be a term designated by the artist and by the institutions of the art world, rather than by any external process of validation. On the one hand it provides an expansive framework for understanding diverse art practices, but on the other, it is so broad as to be virtually meaningless.

The authors concentrate then on the concept of art in the ancient Greek and Roman world and in the Western classical tradition derived from antiquity:

In a Western context, art understood as a practical, craft-based activity has the longest history … the Greek word ‘techne’ denoted a skill or craft and ‘technites’ a craftsman who made objects for particular purposes and occasions (Sörbom 2002: 24). …. within the classical world, examples of craft, such as statues and mosaics, had practical, public and ceremonial roles.

Throughout Europe and North America for example, cultural assumptions about what art customarily was were closely linked to the origins and development of the academic subject of art history itself. Of central importance to this were the social institutions such as academies and museums which were established from the late sixteenth century onwards.

And they go on making another fundamental point:

Another point worth making is that to label something as art implies some kind of evaluative judgement about the image, object or process….it is important to understand that the meaning and attributions of art are particular to different contexts, societies and periods.

(Pooke and Newall, 2008: pos. 452-489)

I think I shall study more of this book with special attention to Chapter 2 Formalism, Modernism and modernity and Chapter 7 Exploring Postmodernities.

The concepts and subjects that I propose to research more in the next weeks are:

Formalism and Modernism, Postmodernism, Duchamp and the Institutional Theory of Art.


Definitions of words new to me:

jesmonite: composite material used in fine arts, crafts, and construction. It consists of a gypsum-based material in an acrylic resin

plinth: a heavy base supporting a statue or vase

(definitions from the Oxford Dictionary of English included in the Kindle edition of the book)


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