Art Critics, Art Historians and Art Teaching

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<ul><li><p>Art Critics, Art Historians and Art TeachingAuthor(s): Horst W. JansonSource: Art Journal, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Summer, 1973), pp. 424-425+428Published by: College Art AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 22:33</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>College Art Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Art Journal.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 22:33:50 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Art Critics, Art Historians and Art Teaching </p><p>Horst W. Janson </p><p>In looking over the program of this Conference, I was bemused by the fact that among the speakers there are no fewer than eight who are defined as "art critics and art historians" while there are only three "art historians" pure and sim- ple and not a single "art critic" pure and simple. The latter species, apparently, does not exist. We are all art historians, but if we write about contemporary art we are also critics, otherwise not. </p><p>Since I, according to the program, am a plain art historian, I hope I may be for- given if I cast a brief glance at the history of the concept of "criticism." The term was well established, and is amply ex- plained, in the Cyclopaedia of Ephraim Chambers, first issued in 1727, which de- fines it as "the art of judging concerning discourse and writings." We are further informed that the ordinary use of the word is restrained to literary criticism, which is of two kinds: factual criticism, which discerns "the real works of an au- thor, the real author of a work, the genu- ine reading of a text"; and qualitative criticism, "the art of judging of works of genius, their excellencies and defects." Ac- cording to Chambers, criticism, "the art of judging," can also be applied to philoso- phy, religion, and politics, as well as to antiques. This last subspecies, the only one listed that relates to the visual arts, "consists in distinguishing genuine med- als, and the different taste and spirit found among them, according to the dif- ferent people, the different country, and the different times wherein they were struck; the distinguishing between what is </p><p>HORST W. JANSON, well known art his- torian, is author of a widely used textbook on The History of Art, as well as of sev- eral scholarly volumes and articles. A scholar who is vitally interested in teach- ing, he is working toward the expansion of art history teaching in high schools through the Advanced Placement Pro- gram. This paper was read at a Confer- ence on Art Criticism and Art Education sponsored by New York University and the New York State Council on the Arts in cooperation with the American Section of the International Association of Art Critics and the Institute for the Study of Art Education. The Conference was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in May, 1970 and the findings were re- cently published. U </p><p>cast and what struck; what has been re- touched, and repaired or added, from what is really antique; the genuine from the spurious, etc., and to decypher and ex- plain them, etc." </p><p>In other words, art criticism, to the ex- tent that the concept existed in the early eighteenth century, applies exclusively to works of the past and corresponds to what we today would call "connoisseurship." And the connoisseur, if I may quote Er- win Panofsky's definition, is simply "a la- conic art historian" while the art histo- rian is "a loquacious connoisseur." It would seem, then, that with regard to the present-day definition of the art critic as an art historian dealing with contempo- rary art, the child has been father to the man: originally, the art critic was a con- noisseur of antiques, i.e. an art historian pure and simple, while nobody claiming intellectual respectability dealt with con- temporary art. How and when, we must ask, did the distinction between the art historian and the art critic come about? To what extent does it persist today? </p><p>I submit that the split began to appear one generation after Chambers, in the prototypical figures of Winckelmann and Diderot. Although he occasionally dealt with the art of his own day, hailing Mengs as the leader of a return to the "noble simplicity" of the Greeks, Winck- elmann is acknowledged as the founding father of art history as a humanistic disci- pline. Diderot, in contrast, exemplified the art critic who is not an art historian. He focuses entirely on the art of his own time, and the framework of his criticism is far wider than art: it is a critique of soci- ety and a desire to change it. Diderot thus stands at the beginning of a line that leads to Baudelaire, to Ruskin, and ulti- mately to Herbert Read. I cannot think of a living representative, but perhaps the breed is not yet extinct. None of these critics can claim any significance as art historians, nor did they contribute to the growth of the discipline, yet they are im- portant to art historians. If their ideas provide no historic insights, they are themselves historic facts to the extent that they helped to shape the art of their time. Needless to say, this was, and is, a legiti- mate role, but a role distinct from that of the art historian. Perhaps the influence of these critics as taste-makers of their time could be compared to that of important political commentators (e.g., Walter Lippmann) who may or may not have a certain historical perspective but whose impact is certainly not measured by the validity of their historic insights. In any event, for some one hundred and fifty years after Winckelmann the art historian relinquished the concern with contempo- </p><p>rary art to critics of the Diderot type; if he had any articulate opinions on the art of his own time, they were likely to be "academic" in every sense of the term. </p><p>Recently, however, this dichotomy has been bridged to an ever greater extent. Ever since the 1930's, art historians have acknowledged the scholarly study of the very recent past (of "modern art," broadly speaking) as a legitimate con- cern, so that today Ph D dissertations can be written on topics such as Pop art. This development is a distinctively American contribution, pioneered by Alfred Barr and The Museum of Modern Art and now widely followed in Europe. Behind it we can sense a realization that the art his- torian's traditional ideal of complete ob- jectivity does not operate in practice even if he confines himself to being a "connois- seur of antiques." No matter how remote from the present-day world his area of study, it demands the exercise of the criti- cal faculty, of "the art of judgment" as Chambers put it. Hence the difference be- tween the distant and the recent past as the art historian's subject of study (there is, of course, no such thing as "the pres- ent," strictly speaking) became one of de- gree rather than of principle. One of the consequences of this reorientation among art historians has been that college and university departments of art history have become training grounds of art critics. It seems to me entirely realistic, then, that the program of this conference acknowl- edges only "art historians" and "art crit- ics, art historians" (I hesitate proposing to call them "hyphenated art critics") and no "art critics" pure and simple. At long last, it seems, Diderot is dead, along with God and the Avant-Garde. </p><p>I hope you won't think this lengthy in- troduction to the main body of my re- marks a mere academic exercise. It per- mits us, I think, to draw several useful conclusions. If it is true that today the distinction between the art historian and the art critic is only one of emphasis, rather than of goal or principle, then the prospects of art criticism in higher educa- tion do not depend on our establishing the art critic on college and university faculties as an animal distinct from the art historian, nor on our establishing courses in art criticism as distinct from courses in art history. A course in art his- tory which submerges the teacher's critical faculty in a welter of factual detail is a poorly taught course from any point of view: the student has a right to be shown the critical reasoning behind the choice of factual detail. Similarly, a course in "art analysis," "art appreciation," or "princi- ples of criticism" that is devoid of histori- cal perspective is a poorly taught course </p><p>424 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 22:33:50 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>from any point of view: it either indoctri- nates the student or leaves him with the impression that all responses to works of art are equally subjective and equally valid (or invalid). </p><p>I am implying here that we cannot make any statements about artistic values that are valid for all times and places. But I am also implying that we are under ob- ligation to search for "a truth for our time and place," and that while men may legitimately differ as to what that truth is, their claim to be listened to seriously rests on how much of their intellectual and emotional resources they have invested in the search. And I believe this to be true with respect to the art of the past as much as the art of our own day. The past, if it is to remain "alive," needs constant rein- terpretation; and let us remember that the past began an instant ago. On the other hand, I do not believe that historic sequence is the only desirable pattern for art courses. Other patterns are not only possible but under certain circumstances may be preferable. This is a matter of "teaching strategy," which in turn de- pends upon our goals. </p><p>Let me address myself to this question of goals. I shall leave aside the training of the professional art historians of the fu- ture-an important subject but rather too narrow for our present purpose-and ask what our goals should be with respect to the general college population: the stu- dent who may take only one course in art, or who may major in that field, but who will not be involved with art profession- ally after graduation. This student, I think we will all agree, is our primary re- sponsibility. At the time he enters college as a freshman, he is more than likely to have no relationship to the visual arts; he may have a few received opinions but no capacity for independent experience nor any awareness that his visual environment is important to him; nor, for that matter, that in some measure he shares responsi- bility for his visual environment. First- year college students who are asked what field they intend to major in, hardly ever pick art; they have to discover the subject in the course of their college career, and a good many discover it too late to do them much good. This situation may change to some extent in the future if and as pres- ent efforts to give art a more important place in the high school curriculum begin to bear fruit. If it does, we may have a better starting point but our goals are not likely to be very different from what they are today. </p><p>What, then, should these goals be? I am using the plural, for I believe there are several. Some of them we are fulfilling reasonably well today while others are be- </p><p>ing realized poorly if at all. One goal which on the whole we are fulfilling well is to take advantage of the fact that the history of art, unlike political and social history and to a far greater degree than the history of literature or music, deals with material that is directly accessible to a modern audience. Political and social history presents the student with reports of events, rather than with the events themselves, and the literature and music of the past are obstructed by language barriers of various kinds; while the visual arts, no matter how remote or unfamiliar their origin, speak to us directly (though often ambiguously). The much-maligned yet still prevalent introductory art history course that takes the student from "the Caves of Altamira to the Ecole de Paris" is unique among college courses for its historic sweep. Usually, it is the only course that gives the student at least a fleeting glimpse of the Stone Age (Old and New), of Egypt and the Ancient Near East. And even in more familiar cul- tural territory such as Greece, Rome, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, the monuments serve as vivid, direct witnesses of human achievement and thus bring the past alive to the student. In commenting on these monuments, the instructor inevi- tably has to deal with their cultural ma- trix as well, so that they become carriers of information on religion, politics, tech- nology, and a host of other data. One might object that such use of the history of art as a "conveyor belt" for cultural history is no more than an ancillary func- tion. True enough, from the professional scholar's point of view, but an ancillary function that can be of eminent educa- tional value. It must be admitted, how- ever, that where this approach is the dom- inant one the student is likely to come away thinking of works of art as testi- mony of other things rather than as works of art. The temptation to present works of art as "typical of a given civilization," as "specimens" or "examples" of a class, is usually too great to be resisted. Who can take time out, when dealing with, say, Egypt in a survey course, to demonstrate to his students that even in what may at first glance seem to be a highly uniform class of objects every work of art has its own unique qualities, and that Egyptian art, like that of any other time, includes works of genius as well as of mediocrity? One way to gain the necessary leisure would be to insist that students read and absorb the chapters on Egypt in their textbook beforehand, so that the instruc- tor does not have to duplicate the con- tents of the text and can devote his time in class to a discussion of quality and in- dividuality in Egyptian art. To do this </p><p>effectively, he will of course have to know a good deal more about Egyptian art than he probably does, and few instructors, I suspect, are willing to go to the necessary trouble. A critical understanding of Egyp- tian art on its own terms is not easy to achieve; it demands an intimacy with the material and its cultural background such as is rarely fou...</p></li></ul>