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A counter-history of art

Woznica, Mirek (1997) A counter-history of art. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The discipline of art history has constructed a transcendental, universal, and ahistorical conception of Western art which in turn has shaped the view of the history of art as a progressive, continuous, and accumulative evolution. This thesis is critical of the prevailing developmental art history which sees art as a universal category. It is an attempt to deuniversalise the category, and to demonstrate the finitude of art as a social construct of historically specific practices which are thus limited by time and place. It advocates, not a replacement of conventional notions of art history, but a problematisation, a genealogical counter-history. In such a history, the present is seen as a result of the accumulation of disparate factors and events with no inherent interrelatedness rather than as the discerning goaloriented quest for ultimate meaning and perfect coherence. It proposes to displace the originating role of the subject as the organising principle of art analysis, on which the universality of art is based, in favour of Foucault's ideas of the constitutive role of discourse in and through which both the observed and the observer are socially construed. In a proper genealogical way, the thesis provides an alternative: a wholly historicist view of the emergence of a new category of social object - art, and of a new category of social subject - the artist, within European pictorial culture. Art in this approach will be related not to the anthropological theory of an originating subject, nor to the positivist theory of an objective nature, but rather to a theory of discursive practice, since the discourse constructs the subject and reality inasmuch as the subject constructs the discourse and reality. Art, as a social category, I argue, emerged as the result of discursive constraints undertaken by the scrutinising program of the Academic Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in the seventeenth century, who as the generator of a differentiation of values allowed and supported the establishment of divisions and hierarchies, concepts and precepts, that came to be realised in the eighteenth century as the autonomous consciousness of art and artist.

This research is informed by Foucauldian archaeological and genealogical tools to displace the metaphysical premises on which the belief in the universality of art depends. It shows the concrete social practices of subjectivisation and objectivisation that lead to the emergence of art as a specific category from the indiscriminate practices of picture-making. It shows how painting became an object of artistic practice, an object of aesthetic concern, an object of the discourse of art experts, and an object of society's interest, how beauty became an object of artistic pursuit and artistic expertise, and how a new category of human being - the artist - emerged.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): O'Toole, Michael, Kalaga, Wojciech and McHoul, Alec
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