at end of a distinguished career as an art historian and academic,
Norris Kelly Smith (1918-1998)
"Here I Stand : Perspective from another point of view"
"It has become a near-ubiquitous cliche among art historians to speak of the vanishing point of perspective that was perfected early in the 15th C. as "scientific perspective"... but there was hardly anyone (perhaps no one) alive who could have been called a scientist - no practitioner of scientific method, no one concerned with systematic measurement and testing of observable relationships among natural phenomena. Equally puzzling is the designation of Renaissance perspective as mathematical, even though neither the invention nor the application of the method involved any mathematical calculation whatever other than the division of a baseline into a number of equal segments....Might it be that the modern scholar's desire to characterize the construzione in terms commonly associated with the immensely successful intellectual achievements of our own day has been ill connceived, misguided ?"
"In order to find out where and why we took such a wrong turning, we need to consider developments that occurred int he academic study of the arts between the middle and the end of the nineteenth century. When John Ruskin was appointed Slade Professor of Art at Oxford in the 1860's, it was well known that he was an intensely moralistic critic of art and architecture - that his "seven lamps of of architecture, for instance, were sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, vitality, memory, and obedience, and that the title "professor" carried with it the expectation that the holder of that title would *profess* his ernest convictions...By the time of Ruskin's death in 1900, there had arisen in Germany a new and altogether different conception of scholarship to which the notion of "professing" was all but irrelevant. Instead, professors were (and still are) expected to set forth well authenticated factual data and to do their best to avoid expressions of personal opinion and conviction, under which dispensation it became increasingly difficult for them to deal with the ethical or religious convictions of the artists themselves
--- professors aimed a putting the study of the arts on as intellectually respectable basis as the natural sciences, of which the one that presented the most useful model was biologoy, with its preoccupation with classification and with patterns of evolutionary development and change. Equally important was the new conception of an objectively scientific historiography (with which we associate the names of such men as Leopold Von Ranke) - a conception that carried with it a new concern for documentation, for meticulously carefull attributions, for an increasingly precise definition of styes and style periods, and above all, for the centrality of research"
And so in his golden years, this retired "professor" of art history, turned
around to bite the hand that fed him.
As his introductory comments might suggest, he's not to be giving his topic an even-handed consideration, and moving beyond the discussion of specific texts and scholars, he's going to build something of a straw man as he generalizes about a "wrong turning"
So if you have no taste for passionate diatribe, this book will not be for you.
But, God help me, this is exactly the kind of thing that I like (especially since I tend to agree with him) -- so I'll proceed to lay out of his arguments over the next few weeks
Note: this was originally posted
on the Aesthetics-L listserv,
and responses to it can be found
by following that link