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Unexpected Turns: The Aesthetic, the Pathetic and the Adversarial in the Long Durée of Art’s Histories

Author(s): Griselda Pollock

Journal: Journal of Art Historiography
ISSN 2042-4752

Volume: 7;
Start page: 7;
Date: 2012;
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Keywords: Feminism | Art History | Warburg | Rancière | Psychoanalytical Aesthetics | the aesthetic turn | the pathetic turn | fidelity

In a conference organized at the University of Birmingham in 2012, I was invited to reflect upon the current situation in Art History that is posited as being ‘After the New Art History’. What is this after-ness? Succession? Supersession? Replacement? Exhaustion? Erasure? Fashionability? Dare we ask what kind of ‘killing’ of the past or of Oedipal Feminist Mothers and Marxists Fathers is going on here? Or does this indicate simply that we need new directions in our discipline just to keep it alive? There is certainly a feeling around that we are in a period of transition. Former certainties about the tendencies within the discipline of art history have melted. Is this a sign of our condition as Liquid Modernity? There is a risk, however, of casting the recent past as being ‘over’, to be viewed nostalgically, or gratefully cast into the dustbin of has-been histories so that we can get back to business as normal or find new pastures exciting because they are different. Before I acquiesce to such a trend for newness per se, I want to reconsider what is being said to have come before and now is defined as being over. To do so, I shall argue for an understanding of the long-term nature of any one intervention seeking radically to change the ways we study art and the image, past and present. Equally, I suggest that such long-term projects are themselves subject to historical change, shifting in sensitive response to altered conditions and changed priorities, but also registering their own effects and opening new avenues of analysis. Finally this article performs a reading of the call for papers for the conference in order to tease out critical misrepresentations of the past that we are now supposed to come after. Displacing the model of old and new with notions of parallel trajectories and multiple settlements in the expanding, historically shifting but also deeply structured ‘landscape’ of the discipline, I propose as less phallic model of a field with many threads contributing to its complex engagements with art, with visuality, with subjectivity and with their forms of material and symbolic interaction.

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