Moderator: Peter Blank, Librarian, Art and Architecture Library, Stanford University Sponsor: Academic Library Division
"Keeping Pace" presented an introduction to the "new" art histories in an attempt to ensure that we, as art information professionals, maintain intellectual contact with our primary clienteles. Panelists were Patricia Burnham, Lecturer, American Studies Program/Dept. of Art and Art History, University of Texas, Austin; Lyn Korenic, Head, Arts Library, University of California, Santa Barbara; Victor Zamudio-Taylor, Lecturer, Dept. of Art and Art History, University of Texas, Austin; and Katharine Martinez, Members Services Officer for Art & Architecture, Research Libraries Group, Inc.
Patricia Burnham presented an overview of the new Americanist art histories based on the book, Redefining American History Painting (1995), which she co-edited with Lucretia Giese. Like many in the discipline, Ms. Burnham does not consider herself one of the new art historians. Rather, while she finds their examples stimulating, she tries to avoid the trap of "ornamentally" appropriating these approaches. She began her paper by relating her own work on John Trumbull and his "The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill" (1786), constructing a class and race reading linked to colonial theory. Citing the examples of Hayden White, Clifford Geertz, Ronald Horvath, and Edward Said, she was able to draw multiple meanings from the painting. She proceeded to present the work of three individuals as exemplars of the broad range of the new histories: Alan Wallach's work on Thomas Cole (citing Marxist theory, Foucault, "the connections between vision and power"), Alex Nemerov's on Charles Russell (semiotics, formalist observations, Foucault, the impact of the Western film on Russell and his audience), and Griselda Pollock's on Mary Cassatt (feminist theories, "gendered spatial orders").
As Head of the Arts Library at UCSB as well as a doctoral student in art history, Lyn Korenic commented on changes taking place in the discipline from opposing vantage points--from both sides of the circulation desk--and framed her remarks with this demarcation in mind. Changes in the discipline of art history are impacting curriculum, hiring practices, and library collections and services. The library is caught in the middle having to serve a multiplicity of needs. Boundaries are being disputed as the shift away from the object and traditional methodologies becomes more the "norm." Barriers between disciplines are falling apart while perhaps new barriers within the discipline are being built.
The standard iconographical, stylistic and contextual methods of analysis are supplemented or largely replaced by methodologies derived from disciplines outside the department, from literary studies, philosophy, psychology and anthropology (e.g., theories of representation, structuralist and deconstructionist theory, feminist and film theory, postcolonial theory and the theme of marginalization, Marxist and psychoanalytic theory, queer theory, etc.). The history of representation (rather than the history of art) better expresses the interdisciplinary nature of what revisionist art historians study.
Clearly the new art history takes users out of the Arts Library, either to the Main Library or to the Internet. In order to remain a vital partner to our users art librarians should keep pace with the new art history and with those who advocate its use. Knowing user needs, working more closely with other Humanities librarians on campus, and learning the terminology and key authors of the new art history are all ways of bridging the gap between the library and the user.
(Lyn distributed a bibliographic handout listing many numerous sources and identifying many of the writers of the new histories. It will be available on the ARLIS/NA web site at http://afalib.uflib.ufl.edu/arlis/newart.html)
Victor Zamudio-Taylor presented an "extemporaneous" narrative, illustrated by a series of "postcards," or slide comparisons, which set up number of sites of contradiction in art histories. Specifically, he examined Modernism as both a Eurocentric and a Global movement, contrasting Picasso and Rivera, Torres-Garcia and Mondrian, Bravo and Cartier Bresson, among others. Primitivism was similarly examined, with Rubin's "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art (1984) catalog presented as an originating moment devaluarizing the romance of the "primitive." Zamudio-Taylor's evaluation of colonial paradigms preceding the Rubin exhibition led to a call for an broader inclusion of visual materials in art libraries, many of which are held in area studies or ethnographic/anthropological collections. Following these two examinations of cultural identities, his final "postcard" session presented contemporary artists such as Sherman, Fusco, and Luna whose art fashions personal identities from cultural materials. From these examples he aptly demonstrated that the sites for examination of visual culture are widespread. The very materials we often exclude from our collections because they are not "artistic" may very well be the visual materials many scholars and artists find most germane to their work.
Instead of lamenting the dilution of art history, as many art historians have done, Katharine Martinez suggested art librarians should take stock of their abilities and skills and move forward within this new and exciting environment. Her presentation cited a variety of authors, demonstrating the range of disparate topics (as well as the LC class numbers in which they are found) that art librarians are expected to cover in building library collections. Authors included Michele Bogart, Sarah Burns, Martha Banta, Jackson Lears, Susan Stewart, Mieke Bal, and Grant McCracken among others, representing the fields of art history, business history, feminist study, cultural studies, communications, consumerism, and anthropology. Following this overview Katharine presented numerous images that are not "Art," but rather documentation of the visual environment (trade catalogs, domestic interiors), images that are more commonly found in historical societies than art museums, as a springboard to challenge the audience to find common ground with archivists and special collection librarians who collect pictorial material. Referring to her article, "Imaging the past: Historians, visual images and the contested definition of history" (Visual Resources, 11, 1 (1995): 21-45), she described and analyzed the profound distrust of historians towards visual, as opposed to textual, evidence. The response among historians to the book Wisconsin Death Trap was cited as evidence of this reaction. Art librarians should consider themselves managers of text AND image collections, and appreciate their special skills in relation to collecting, describing, and making accessible pictorial material of all kinds. In this regard we should explore commonalities with colleagues in the Visual Resources Association as well as colleagues in art school libraries who are accustomed to managing large visual collections. Both the management of image collections and our bibliographic instruction of scholars and students must take current trends into account and move beyond traditional boundaries and definitions based on past practice and thinking in art history.
Peter P. Blank