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Writing (and) the History of Art

Writing Art History
PatJl Bnrolsky< is lile a cra<ked kenle on " hi<'b OCat ""'
aunes for bcars to danc:e to, "''hk :aH lhc time wc long 10
mO\'C t he to pity.
Flnubert, Mada11u Bovary
Art hiswriml writing is fOr che IHH$1 p;m doued with jargo
;uul l:u'<ied with clich. impene1rablc in its density, anatytic
111d COilltmious toa faull. and. worst or all, uuerly predict
able. Too o(\en lugubrious. thc prosc of
proressional art history is a sorry afl'air. TI1is fact is wdl
known to 10mc an>rians and eme editor of l.his
n::cc:ntJy if sornewhat petfunctoril)' . "'het'e had
.. the poetry .. gooe from such -...Tiring? TI1crc: aK'. or coursc.
e:xcepdon.J to this generalization of whkh wc all haYc our
favol'ite but th('.5(! do noc ptO\tde mud1 $Oiace.
To be 3ourc, writing art histoy is not the same thing as
crcming poctry or ficti on. but ooe Vt'Otlden why an h.istory
ClUH\HI sorne of the qualities or imaginative Llteraturc,
wh) such prose should not be bc;uuiful, playf\tl, witty, ami
ilupiring- in short, a plcasure 10 Why. unt: wonders.
c.1nnot art hi.story cc:ll :t gQ(H:I and te U il .... '<' u. tbat ls. with
drama. exr.itt.rnent. and. abo,,.e a ll, \\ith a indccd
vtbraru Matly an his.orians are. likc pocts and
n&vdisas.. pa:sskmate about an, about iu Lhc;ory and circum-
u:mcn. but thrir language. ofien 10 che poim or
not reveal che passton that their
t hat re:Aecu chetr-dare 1 s.ay it?-lovc of art. J
nrt historians who rcad Proust and J ames, masters of
langunge. but who thcmsdvcs \OI'fitc in lc:1dc proSt:, as ifd\e)'
h;\d nothing co leam fi'c)m 01u WI'ters. 1 an
histmians whosc e)'t:S spark.le with life when they talk abo\u
:u1 bul whose ptose 1S stillbom on 1 he pagc whcn e bey write
about it. Why cannot an historians lcarn co .... -ntc in a.rtful
rorms .... orthy o( thc- an thcy inlerprct?
1 think thc anS"er to these qu4tiom lS relati\"t"-1) sunple.
Most an hiscorian.s wbo \O(rire do noc think of thcmsdvcs u
.,;:riten. f'\en tbough. paradoxicaUy cnnugh. that i:s "hat they
are-by dcfinition. lf art hiscorians ahought of as
rnost ofthern would havc to f3CC che t'act that they are
inclet"d writcrs, unin.spircd and unin!pir-ing. E ven many
::tri hinori:mlt who are good writers by stan-
d:trds. to the extent thac chcc an.: st;md;rds in the field, are
:11 bcs1 ordinary by higher t:rileria (,( prose nyle. Professional
art historians do not concdvc of lht'r'h)(:lvc:s as wril.t:I'S
bcauuc lhC)' nc)ltrained to thiok. in such ternu. nt')' are
rigorously >Chooled in theory, me1hod. hi>t<lriognphy. and
scholarty tcchniques (srytistic an:al)SIS, iconography, par.ron-
age. and so on). but "'Tiling 4 something to whic"h on.Jy lip
servic:c is pttid in gradual e training. Jf anything. profcssional
an: historian.s a1-e encouraged ro dislmst writing tbat is
or r.ich in metaphor'. 1 have a friend. an an
hL\:toeian of imemationaJ distioction, who oftt>n says that if
iht reads a schobrl)' "'ort that is she is
wspiciou.s.. ar1 hastoriar" are fearul that.
a.spiring tO writc an cntcnaining will givc the
imprcssion of unserioosness. C'\'("n orrmolousnc.'$5, that. chcir
pose wiU be mistaken (or mere " .. or "apprccia-
tion"- a.s if graceful prosc and<'s.s of purposc wcrc
NcilhCI' 1.he "old" an history nor the 5elf-st)led "new" art
hisCOI)' has a monopoly on bad or t'\'t'H dull wring. Tradi
tic>nal 31't hinory has been wrinen iu che f01 m ofthe scholarty
monognph ot article. of \li'nting tbat often. but not
hav< tended to abstract an rrom life by reducing it to of fomu. symbol.s. and convcn.tiom.
lik.e so many llavorless linked .sausages, The more rt"cent an
hi,tory has beeo less concemed with art than with the
in whic:h it was made, tspeciall)' with patroo-
age nnd with the econornk. politicaJ. and inscitutional
fnctor:s 1 hat s hape art. Tbe wring nf1his ldnd of art histOl)' is
oftc:1,, hnwevc:.r. e<Jually lifeless. pedancic. a11d without gracc.
Thc $lory vfau :u1ist or ofa patJon. as ora work ofart. should
be a good swry. a swry (()Id wdl. Old 0 1 new. art history has
often nm bef-o s.tOI)' at all, certainty not a li\'ely. cxcitiog
story; r.nhcr. it has de.fu\ed itself a.s an accumulation of
argumc:nt.s. d()('Uments. auributioru, or theort:ti<:al specula
cions. No wondcr. therelore, that for all lhe conferences.
articlt'$, book..o, anthologics dedicated yt:at in ar\d
year out to hoth nad.ilional themes and rece m concerns with
itrlhiscorkal irucrpretatiOil- inde-ed wirh ''what's wrongwith
;u1 histQf)'?"-virtually no aueution is given to the simple
<rurstion of hO"' we write, ()( hQ\\ our style of writing is
intimatct) rdatcd 10 what we have tn say. Fc>1' all out
thcorc:1ical we are ulterly complacent abom
our own bd writing.
11lc situation 1 de5Cribe is not peculiar t.O an lustory. for it
is p3n of a brwdc:r Khol:arfy mabise rocxed in the profession
alinlionf>fKholarWipin 1henine1centh cxmw) 1owtuchwe
are 'T11e study of an and litt'ramrc. nfhi.story ;md othcr
relatcd dixiplines, carne 10 tx 3ccn a kind of .. Kience:
and although wc havc moved bt"yond a misguided
conption of historica.l wc l1ave uut slripped our
sclvc.:s of' iu bagg"dge-that of writing in pedantic, oftcm
iHi lringc:ut, vverty analyc. and 1echnical p1'0se. [ven histori
anl!. 10 whom art historians are I'C1:ucd. after all art
history i!i a fonn of history, ha''C ack.nowlc:dgccJ a problem
0\' C'tlooked by thdr cousins. thc art his.torians. that of
"nowr3l\'e," or ptot: of ha,ing a good .scor to tdL Hlstori-
ans bcgiln nOt so manr years co miss stOtJ in their
t.tchni<:al :malyses. and they pointed to the exceptonal,
exernplary. ahnost llovelstic book by Cario Ginzburg, 11ut
C.Mest rmd lhff. Worms. as a salurary sgn of the retum lO
narr:ui,t, 10 storyu;lling. Ano1her book thal. comes sil:nila.rly
' O miod hcrc is thc dceply imaginative, vi"vidty lo1d, and
PREV rofoundly biography Machim1<lli in Hell. by Scbas-
ian de 1 know :tlmost nothing likc thcsc books in art
hi:uory, g<x.-.d wcll wriuco, wcll toJd, nothing rcmotely
like Iris Origo's c;o.:traordinarity cmcrtaining and learncd The
Merchrm.t of
We aJ't so fi.t ll)' absorbed in our <>wn schola.rty
lost in our own habits of mind. t.h:H wc do not rdlcct much
upon thc simple fact thar. as professional art historians we
have cu1 oursdves off from che imaginativc traditlon of
writing about art that cxrends from Philostratus to Oame,
Vasari, Bellori, Oidero1, and \r\'ind:.clmann. Wc such
writers for historic:al reasons ro set: what we r:night lcam
about paSt thouglll, bur it docs n.o1 octllf to us to consider
what we migbt lcaro from thcsc:: exC'mpJary authors as
wri1ers. Thei.r not die. howC'ver; merely
remo\'ed ourselves liom it. fe reruaiocd alivc in the nine
t.eenrh cenwry in thc writings of Gocrhe. Gautier. Taine,
Hazliu, Ruskin. and Patcr. and itsmvives in ourown century.
for cxa.mplc. in thc work of Proust, Claudel. and Ortega. We
sometimes study thcse writcrs for what they tell us about
changing taste or anitudcs. Wc scek 10 distancc oursctvcs,
however. lhnn their .. poctry," from thcir .. impressionism,"
dong so al a price, f()rwc cut off from rKh ve.ns of
nana,e and metaphor. from thc tools of\'ivid writing. 'I1le
hnaginative tr<tdition of wriring alxmt an remains alive today
in the poe1ry and prose of numerous poets. 1 n our 0\'l'n
count.ry, Mark Stralld. Richard Howard. Gjertrod Schnackcn
berg, Rlcha1d Wilbur, and W. O. Snodgr.Jss aowng the
authos who have wriuen with gusto, power, and
abom art. even though tliC)' were not "trained" in the
rechniques of arthistorical a natysis. pocts, not wc art
historans. have best articulated vohat art has todo with life,
wh)' ir maners.
n1e succ.-ess of poetic:al writc:rs not onJy on their
literal')' craft but also on thtir acccssibility. \Vhcreas we write
dl)ly and spiritlessly for each other, ofte.n only f.Or thoS<' in
our panicular branch of arl hiuory. Lhcse poct.s. ofic::n deft
usayists, address tbemselves LO a broader :mdiencc of non
specialisrs. once called tite "'t::onunon rcadcr." aldl0\1gh
admiuedly such eaden lc::ss c::ommon than thcy once
wcrc. Wc have more thao a Jiule LO lca.m from such
imaginative writers about how to look and how 10 describe
what wc see, aboUl the exposition of ideas. abollt thc very
languagc of descriplion. about the ways of t'Xplaining the
elalions of art to life in a manner that is both inte:lligent and
inspiring, even to nonspecialisu-n short. thc \'CI)'
scnse ofan audience.
The drearincs.s of arthistorical wrring is so ar.ute th;n it i.s
not uncommon tOr re::.dcn of this presumably the
premier journal of art histol) in thc land, to glance through
an issue whcn it aTrivcs and toread onlr the reviews t>fbooks
in their panicular flelds before puuing it aside.
are not ns-pired 10 read becausc thc anides are often dense
and opaque, which is not. to say they are un.lcarncd or
f ... N I) ) I US1' lt\' C;W .\lt'T 399
unoriginal. Unappetiziog and indeed unirlvitillg. Lhey fre
quentl)' do not wekome the reader. Their tone s sometin1es
conrentious, and here we come 10 c:me ofrhe cemr<tl factors io
bad sc.holaTiy writing. For conlcnousncss. which runs dC'cp
in the discipline. bteeds bad wrtng. lt is uained into us ;-
thc caTiicst stagt's of our professional education when NEXT
young scholaTs wc- are taught lo analyze scholarly literatut _-
in order lo find fauh and error-an easy 1hing to do because
no WOI'k is be)'ond criticism in some respect. Trained assas-
sins, scholars sllled at shooting holes in the work of
ot.hcrs. This fact has r.onsequences for itself, be<:ause
it makes scholars aware that they are similarly \ulnerable w
attack. And so. as they themsel\'t:S they build bastions
and bunkers in words. forcitying tbeir arguments with end
less e.xamples. qualification:s, details. and footnotc:s in an
effort to forestall auad .. Such dtfensiveness bn:::cds prose
that is d.ry. fussy. nervous. ove:l'written: in shot . bad \'oTitiog.
' lllt> desperale auernpt 10 defe.nd oneself r.r:unps one's very
style. Knowing that all generalizations are vulnerable. scbol
a1'S wll often resst ruaking them. but al a pri<:e. for writing
void of generalization is void of general i11lt:rest.
As scholas. we tend w ovenvrit.e, 1ha1 is. 10 press ouT
e""oidence too hard, l.ltqutntly tO bury OUT rcadcrs in detail or
mnutiae. 1 have ncvcr read an art-historica1 article or book.
that could nm have been improved by cditing. by compl'eS
sion into a tighter fonn. 1 think wc <;an our writing,
reduce rhe buU:. ofevidenc;e'' we present withO\tt sacrificing
our ideas o argumenrs. in tl1is. way r:nak.i ng what wc say more
inving and Bn; .... ity is itsclf an an. the an of
clarifying ideas, even cornplex a.nd difficuJt ideas.
thcm more luckJ aud tt<;cessible. lt is born of thc prOCC'SS of
winnowing awa}' ones prose, of dislilling and refining one' s
ideas, and laying 1hem bare---the very ant.ithcsis of scholarly
accumulation or piling on of examplcs or of "aTguments
from authorty. ' '
Such bl'eVil)' is exemplified by that suprcme form of artful
prose. the essay. As an e.xperimcnt in spe.alng briefly, the
essay stands in a n ahnost polar rclation to the scholarl}'
ancle. Whe.reas tht: artid c aspires to bt' defmilive, the essay,
mo1e flexible, i:s t\nd heTc we cometo lhe heart of
thc problem. As scholar'S, we Lend 10 ovcrintcrprct. to offer
ovcr'l)' reducti\'e imerpretations. Our infcrcnccs, hypothe$4?S.
speculations, O(.) mauer how hard wc prcss them, are at best
hunches. We do beucr 10 prescnt ouT guesses as such
rather than disguisc thcm in lhe fiction of cont;lusi ... enes5.
.. (he essay is the perfec;.t ve hiele for suggcstiveness.
How one writes is a r:naucr of imitation and, 1 believe.
ha ve much LO learn f.fom our finest essayists. no n1auer wha1
1heir lt:do C.aJvino is an exemplary figure whose
Ltr.-ioni trdmlattd :l.s Six Memos for tht Ntxl Millnl
'li.u-ttt, a re rich and sc::holarty dcspite their bre\'ity. In these
essays. Calvino celcbTatcs qualitics that he flnds in imagina
dve literature and that we nd in his prosc: feggur..ut,
might be tr.mslatcd as "lightness of touch"; rapidita. which J
pefcr w call thc "pace" of one's prose; ewlteUJl, or precision
of detail (not incompatible with suggcsti\'enes.s); <"!isibilil, tite
powcr to make visible with language; an.d molteplicitd, or
,aricty. Cal\'ino's lightness of touc;h and pace, whk h allO\'o'S
him to wear his le-.noing lightly. is an example 10 ulall. 1 can
wdl imagine essays on lhe arts of Africa. Raphael, Berthe
Moris<>t, PreCt)lumbian sculplure, and any number of other
an-hislOkat subjecu written with the samc swiftness. sparklc.
and gossamcrlike prose that wc find in Calvino by contrast to
plodding argumems we ordinarily make in our u-adion-
PREV Uy grave scholarl)' dis<:ouse. 1 equally imagine essays on
;o1hc archtecture, Chinese landscapc painting. Bouicclli,
lhe arts of the f'rench Rc..,ohuion, and Rajput miniawres all
written wlth thc.- saroc deftncss. wit, omning, and scholarl)'
precision 1ba1 wc find in Nabok.ov's en Littralure-
cssays th:u open our eyes r-athe1 than close them as we nod
oA' under the weight ofscholarly gravity. Wc may not be bom
with the literal)' gfts of a Cahino or a NabokoY, but we C'dll
lcam from rhem :tbc>ut concision. vivacity, and metaphot,
:lbout celebrating lhe joys of art and its hstory in a poclic
prose that itself gvcs plcasurc.-. As Catvino says: "1 think
pleasure is a scrious roattcr."
Many or the qualitics find in Nabokov and CaJ ... no and
in our finest. essayisrs abound in one of the most magical
books on art and its histol')' to appear in ycars. Charles
Simit's Dinu:..Stcrrt Alchtmy. a bricf proscpocm or series of
prosepoems that not only C"okes the :m and lift: ofj oseph
ComciJ but i.s also a m.editation on artisllc imagina
don. 1 have rcad slim "olume mar)y times. a1\d each t me
it has mctamorphosed its.elf into anothcr, quite diffcrcn1
bt)Ok. Rarely ha ve 1 encoumered a discussion so suggcstive of
what art is and does to us. Rc-ad slO'WIy. Simics book will yield
up many sccrct..s. Were 1 m teadt a course on art theory or 1 would smely assign Dinu.Stort Alchtmy to my
.ostudenrs. No matter that it does not pretcnd to oAer a kt:)' to
an based on phiJosophy, S<:ience. amh1opology,
ps)'chology. theology, or :tny othea form ofthe l'eductonism
tha l dips the wings of irnaginarion. Rather, Simic's akhemi-
cal prose mi mies the rhylhms or ar1 and stimulatesthe reader
to approach art on artful tcrms. In su<:h a <:ourse 1 would have
students rc:ad Borgcs's liu le book. Stwn Nighu, to show them
how a scbolar, as Borges surel)' was) can approach such
subjects as Dante, Buddhism. or nightmarcs with :t nimble-
ntss aud ease that serve as modcls for how we might write
about the arts of Persia or Pic;asso.
ln suc.h a scminar 1 would txplain to ffi}' studc.-ms that.
many of thc thorniest theoretical issues of interprclation of
our day are grappled with by such writcrs as Calvino.
Nalx:>kov, and Borges. evcn though they do not speak of
"theory" as such or use a tcchnic:al vocabulary. 1 would
1'emind thcm rh;u. after aH. "theo)'" (for all our academic
window d ressit)g} is. iu the root sensc of he word, how one
"sees." and 1 would encourage student.s to find a
precise 31)d evoca ti"e as possible 10 des,Tibt what the:y see. 1
wou1d rc.-mind thcm that thcy are writers. and 1 \\'<>uld
encouragc thc:m to devclop in t.hci.r prose their own sensibili-
tit'S, their Q\'o'n style, urging that there are potemaiJy far
more w;-tys ofwriring about art than they mighl reali2e. sorne
of which have yet to be envisioned or invented. 1 would
encourage them to rcsist the casy "truths' ' of c;:urrent ata NEXT
demic fashion and rcmind them that they belong lO : -
tradit.ioo of wriljng ab()ut arL far broadel' and deeper than
the par<>chialty professionallzed study of an hlstory suggests.
1 would have them realize that ahhough Jt le:ast on.c distin
guished :w::holar has writtcn what is calk-d "the'" story of art,
th<'rc are, of coursc, m:m) Mories of an. s.ome ofwhich havt-
)'Cl ro be told, and that all ofthese stories can be "'Titten with
passotl, clarity, and wit.
In a broad scnsc., all.:m. c"en abstrd.Ct cwdet.-orative art, is
in somc measure representationa l. and as such is an illusion
or a1 least allusi,e. eveu .,.hen its meaning is clushc.-. The
word "iltusion' ' is rooted in th<" word lruiere, "to play,"
1erninding us that aH an. no maucr how scrioos, is a fonn of
play- whethcr wc spcak ofthe carving of:t surprising an imal on a walking slid:., the improbable grotesques on thc.-
ft-dme of an aharpiece. the wiuy. plandik.C' arabesques of
Slucco on a bedroom wall, tht> rust.icatcd stonts th:tt play
upon tht> fal;adc of a palace, or the fabulous beasts that
slithc:r across thc page of an illumina ted manuscript. What
a:n.igb1 well be restored to the Sludy of ut is thc- shcc-r dclight
of obser.,.ing such pla> for its 0\'o'n sakc, j oy of seeing the
very play of thc imagin ouion, of finding suggesti"e but
informcd ways of deS<:aibing the play of the anist's fantaS)' 1
do tu)l advocate a programmatic approach to a rt or the
writing of art hstory, for systc.-a:nalic;: appn)adtes 10 scholal'-
ship only g<'ncralc dogmas. schools. fonnulas. epigonism.
and passing fa.oshion, attd we have all'eady had pJenty or that.
1 ad\oocatt instead a sensithity to th<" art hi.oswrian' s poteutial
as a wrtel' wth the capacity to tcll a good S-tory. lO describe
works of art '' ividly and suggestively, inde-ed beautifuUy. 1
drcam of an art. history that is Jearned, imaginativt', sensible,
t.heoreticall)' sc,phis.ticaled, wcll wrought, and thus worth)' of
the very at't it celebrates. 1 dream of an art history that, itself
artful, is a pleasurt' to rcad.
Commtmwe.alth Profes.sor of the Hstory of Art atlhe Uniter.ttly of
JlirginitJ, Paul is the a.uth()T of book.s. which
iluJudt Mkhclangclo's Nose, Why Mona Lisa Smilcs. Infioite
Jc:st. and The Faun i1l the Carden. He hQ.s ucctlly
rereading KeaJs {Mclnlire Dtpartme:nl of Arl, l/niver.'iity of VJr.
ginia, C:MdoUt!itlilk, Va. 2290,1).
Artcriticism-writing, Arthistory-
writing, and Artwriting
David Can'ier
PREV speak of anc.riticism-writlng and anhistory-writing to em
- ,.,hasize d ifferenccs b<: twccn two modes of writing about
are; and mcntjon wh:Jt 1 r,all arrwriling to allude to
sh.:ued conce rns of (:ritics and art historiouu. Compate and
comrast, for example. (\>.'0 samplcs ofartwriting:
1977: a c;ollcgc sophomore.,e. addi<:ted LO obfUsca-
tion. 1 visited the Jasper Johns retrospective ... with my
frlend. a ' 'iolinist with thc eyes of a Scllini Madonna .. . 1
wishcd to imprcss hcr . . . 1 wantcd to be straight . to be a
guy. Could thc must:um help?
The 1hat gatvani2.ed me wa$ , Memory oj M.Y
O'HMa, 1961 ... primarily because it
prompted me to l'<'ad O'Hara.
T hc fOrmat . . . a horiz<.mtal ret:tanglt: with a s mallt:r
rectangle markt:d out in the upper left. suggests the
design of the Atnerican nag: as if it s meant 10 be a
"memol'y'' of the original 19!'r1-55 Flag . . . .
Picasso is the only artist prior tojohns . .. "''ho actuall)'
focuscd attention on sitvcrv.:ue in sorne ofhis works.
The hinges joining the two panels are 10
previous stilllifes. , ..
T he s ilvcl'\\'arc and hinges are most likely intendcd to
be Duchampian references as well.
rhe differencei berween Wayne Kostenbaum' s ancritK:al
and Roberta Bcrnstcin's art-historical accounts are- so strik-
ing that it. may seem surprising U> find thc:y dcscribe thc
same arC\\ork.
"Experimenting with \'Oicc."' a critic has written. "s one of
this job 's grcatest plcasures."
Any ntmber of art historians
are excellent writers, but t cannot imagine an .-trt Bullthn
comributor s.ayi1lg that. One real. too lttle ad.nowledged
pleawre associated with artcrticiimwJiting ii perversel)'
cnjoying writcrs whose ' 'Oices are opposcd to onc's own. 1
etUoy the ' 'oiec::s of Bettiamin H. D. Buchloc::h, Hal
and Hilwn Kramer ln the way that Roland Ba rthes loved
reading Jgnatius L.oyola. Charles Fourier. and the Marquis
de Sadc. This is nol w urge th;n critidsm can be rc--Otd
apolitically, especially today when much art is explcitty
concerned with poli1ics. But it is to point to the literal)'
aspects of such tcxts. Likc a lyrical poc.-t, Kostenbaum crc.-ates
a comindng \'Oice. V.'ho wouldn' t rcad on to lcarn why he
found Mnnory ofM.T Fttlings-Fra.nJc ()'Uo.ra so .s pecial? By
contrast, Bernsten. who elsewhere mentlons her long friend-
ship with Johns. writcs as an art historian, distanced and
l.\' {. Ko.tu:nbaum. ''j:ctper J (lm.'\: ,. Mnuory <>/
1961," Artfo111"', xxx.u. n.,. 7, 1994, 75: R. 8cmw .
Ali nlillfJ (Jw{ &t.tlf14mc-J. 19H- 1914: '7/u: f'llrw. Ry.- Aun
.>\rb<w. 198-.'i. 80.
:.'.N. Mu$t;tump. "(:ritic:..l Refltio n$," ArtforttWI. xxxm. no. 9. 19%. 73.
S. L Nochli n, t' aycd Frtud," Artfon.. XXXII, uU. 7.199-f. 5$.
'i . L Nodtliu, Atle:gory: Re:rC".lH}ing 1M Ptu11UrJ .')tudil)," i.n
Wki TIN(: tAr-ol)) ' rtU: (H' .\lt'r' 4Q J
Writing as :m art cdtic. Linda Nochlin esponds subjec
vely to work ofLudan f1-eud, whose "reptdentalion of
1he m.ale ge.nitalia 1nakes one wonder wh) his grandfather
bcliC\ed so fencndy in penis envy: why would anyc1ne not
with (me Ulant that pathetic.
dnx,py excre5eence?".:l Since she has cha ntpioned Phili NEXT
Pearbrcin, how unexpe<:ted 5 her reaclion lO a les -
imaglnative re\'iewer 1Uight identify as relatively straightfor.
ward nudes. When, by OOnlrdSL, Nochlin writes about Cou.r
bet. she "' rites as an art. historian. Acknowledglng her
subjectivi ty- "1 ama woman quite- conscously reading a.s a
woman"-she identifi es Courbe-t's woman n Thtt Poimer's
Studio as a Baudelotirian cyp<:," seuing this painling in
rclation to variotts ninctcenthc:entury pttintings and photo-
Art critics will find it that in a colleclion of
writjngs on "thc new arl history" an es.say by thc fCminisl film
cilic Con.nance Pen1ey is praised bt:cauie "une of iu most
notable fe-.t lures [is] . . . enact the familiar kind
of distance between lnqureJ' and of nquiry 1hat i
normally expected of sc:holanhip in the humanities. Sur
prising because such a rcfusa] comes naturally to thc- crltic.
Whc.-n, for cxampk. he.- writcs about Courbct. Peter Schjcl
d.ahl .says: "Scx is thc key tO Courbct. Ukc Whitman . . .
Courl)t:L kept the busirless of life simple: possc;$5
1hat possesses )'OU. When he paimed 11te Origin. of thr. Wurld
. . . Somebody should probably have punched Courbel in 1he
j aw."fi 6y c;ontrast, when in her account. of thc Amolfini
Porttail, Linda Seidel adOplS a personal L< natural
procedure nowadays in discussing a painting about marriage
and propcrty- ht-r subjcc:tivc cngagemem with these issues
builds upon craditions of commcntttry: "Ha\'ing argued
thruughout ag-diftst the notion of deta<.:hed scholarshi p. J
admowledge in condusion .. . Lhat m)' concern wiLh the
gcncration of rcfugcc an historians who were my firs1
teachers was nOL sir.nply an :tcademic intcrest :;
For art c.ritics. there is often no distante between 1 hcm and
1he object of inquil')'. "'fhis is wh)' crilics. so many of them
pocts. seem unlike scholars. 1 cannot speak for you. nor you
fOr me; J need not wony whcthcr my present accoum s
c.onsistent with what 1 wr<.ltc c:arlicr. 1 can only spcak for
ffi)' Self rght be re and now. Notwithstanding thc aucrnpts of
so many theorists to undermine this autonom)' of visual
lhinking and any such a ppcal to the mmediate presence of
the artworl or this cooception of a "voicc.-," total trust in
direc1 expel'lence is a natural way ofthinking for us tritics.
Now and thc-n texts revealingty fall in becween this division
berween :nlcri,.idsmwriting and an.history\\riting. Bill Bel'k
sons essay on Piero del la Fran<:esca, dccailcd ln its ana)ysis of
1he literature. I'C\'eals his imerests as c:ritic when i1. identifi(!s
pcrspcctivc as "the crux of how his people keep their balance
staunchly in 1hc world we know, the world of contingences.
S. f:u..1rw:<' ;u)(! L. NoC'hlin. (.'QUttlrl Ruo"'idi-'"Nl. cxh. Cin . . Boollyn MuM:um.
NV .. 198-S. 27. 28.
&. S . M. A. ll<lly, :md K. M(lxey. c<b., "lmHiduc.tjun: in 1ruual
llfldgn oMd Ha.n<Wt1', N.H .. 1944. ,n,,i.
6. P. Sd, jdda.hl. TM Sn...,.. l>u.p: Art (:du"'"'' 1911/J- 1990, GrNt
U>n, .. l 990, 87.
7. L. E)v.tJ ;t.I"MMIlfini Pot1Y(Iit : S111rid o{ an lrmr, \.:.ubridgt-.
\o\ ' hik rt'laining .somcthing from
Writingon Mstorical wbjecu in thc tyl<= of an an critic. :a) c.Jo
Oove Hi<"key, Roben Hughes. and OuiSiopber Knight,
idt-ntific5 ch.r outsider to art history. As a Sartre W'f()lt>
"';eh aurhorhy on Giaoorneui but bis accowu o(Ttntoreuo 15
PREV vety am3teur artlu.story-wring.
No doubt. as lustorians ha'\'e told me. my of tht"3e
i.ssue.s i.s na'ive becm1sc. apart from auditing a fcw grandl)'
elottuent lectores by Mcycr Sch::tpiro. I n('Vcr f{.,nnall)' snul
ie-d art history. Sincc my of things comes fmrn reading.
1 und<'l'ltand :mwri1ing by anal)Zing Lext.S. For me 1hc
diffc t>ences between historia os and critics app<'llr
itl cmnparing Lhe Arl BuUelin with che an-critintl jounml
whosc prescnt prcs1igc ;:tnd historieal make i1 Lhe
ob"ious comparable Ameti can publicat.i on. Arlforom, Ukc
Lhis j<M.unal, Arl[ontm has book and anides with
footnor es abou1 major artiMs. OOt it a.lso publishcs accounts
of hlm: columns on calk politics.. and nrl a lburm.:
inttfVc.""'"S; cxhibition n=vicws: and, of oourse. a great dral of
Jxk. the editor. has defined his
progr.un: " 1 do not that w-c can a valid
relatioruhip to an "ithout aucnding 10 che largcr realm of
visual OJitUI'C, thc: ad\cnl of the mc.:wemefllS Of
proplc,., thc bro:tdcr fteld cl1a t has cometo be called cuhural
suulc$.'" llis oommisstoned anjcles can rcquint rxtcmivc
editorial wotk: and so. more than with an aarlcmic joum:tl,
the res.ult repi'C.Scnts the ind'\idual cditor's fl<>ir\1 of view.
Aftcr t'cadi1'1g Artfomm for almost twenty yeats, 1 ne\er
cea se to be ;un:ur.c.:d ;,, iclt w starde, a1\d Oasion:-.lly
10 bring ou1 1 l1c in me. lts capac.ity for constan e in
nmalion $hOWs Lhe editors' skiU a.s capimlist en1re
preneurs: by con trn.)l, thc: Ntrw Criteritm and Odober, l'l'U'IOVe-d
from commcrcial have become inbted. A.11 criti
cism s.till produce' on occa.sion ''know nothing" responses. a)
rcc.cnlf) in thc Ntfll Yo'* 1uus where quotation out of context
used to a good ckar b) '[)qnald Kuspu
sound siU)' .
Such philistinc rcaclions arise in part becauSC"
aitidsm ha.s .such :m obvtotd Cllllet':tion '-'tb commerct', in
somt' w;\JS. Artforw. wtuch pays contributon. must be more
lik.e Rond tmJ 1'racA or l fopt' than an a<.adc:micjourrut.l.
Reading Artfonmt, you fcd that its writers. a"'<are chat you
are ficklc :md rc:tdy lo break away. wiH do aO)' thing to kccp
your nucntion. "fli.s carn.i\'alesquc .s<cne, whcre cvcn thc
;u:ademic is detcnnincd to act as wildly as
feels VCI)' unlikc ti'K' gray-on-gr,y world of art his1ory. Wc :-tri
crilie:s rc.mind me ornty5elfcrying to engage an auditorium of
unn.tly on a sunny day wheo thcy would peftr 10
bt: (Would thcy pay more attcntion to my lecturell on
Oescartes's 1 somccimcs wonder, were 1 dr'
up in scvc.-uc:nth..cemury costume?) Critkism cxpt"(:ted to
be personal be<auS('. in thr limitingasc. a u.seful approxima
tion, thc cri1 ic to \\'Ork not prf'\'iously \o\'rincn
about ha_) only his O't\'ll response lO go oo. In this trarlirton of
Diderot, Baudelajrt', Apolfin.airc. and Frank O'HarA-
8 B Bl v., """'ha rMTo An......_,... .. t.XXXI.rto. 1!. 1001, 111
9.. J. lb..nL..,.iL). " tdi!IOr'' Artp.... ,_Xlr.tJ. nn. l.
10. O. j .Sd't1nu, --rMJabknu:..;:Lyol Alt Crilioun,- N,. Y.ort l'ltrt
23.199-t,W'( .. 1,16.
1 1. f . ,l:.tnt:ton. Autiii.,..I'IIII.JIIf. M 141 CrJnmJ l.orc t( I.Ak
N (;., 19'JI, 0.
represente<! in our day by j an Avgikos, Cary l ndina. and
MaJJUrie Welish-criticism as reponagc.
Today's critics and historians are qu04inj( many uf lhc
1e-x.ts-1he lite:raturt- of fcminism, gay studit"S, cultural
studies. aod rejecting fonnalism.
btt to \'cry different dfect. f orme. the most striking rt'n NEXT
changc inArlforum has beeo its rurn from exter\SI'\'t' commcn
tary on early modemism to rocus on thc concenu ol' c.'\lllur;tl
The effect is to defint' a historical break. che: w;ty or
lhinking prcsented in Frcdric
texts. Postmodern.istn. or the Culturtd l.ngic of llf .\
as ctmfidcnll)' tar- r.Jngirlg as Tht Phrtwfilurtaology of Miml, but
whal impresses me when 1 stop 10 rc:.d criliC.tlll y is hQw
selective arejamesons cxamplcs. In 3oCulpmrt", Rohe1'l Gobcr.
not Catherinc.: or \ <\lilliam Tuc.ker, who more
C(l nrc:rn wilh lrddition: in painting, Andy Vv'31
hol. noc Cathcr
inr Murph)"s realism or Elizabeth Murri':ly'S abscractions.
there the-n a rt"al in his.tory, or is .. ponmode.ntbm ..
mcrc:ly tbc rrwh of a DQ\'d S:t)le Q{ narralt<>n? 1 fmd th:u
qucstion hard tO an.S\o\er.
,,,.,, defines a period st}k n might be .aid, is
d\al fit-,'Ure whose aT'C' b) cCf')ooc. l11c pcriod
style of our po5tmodenlis1" anwriting i.s deflned by rituaJis-
t ic: dcnunciatin.,, of Clement Creenberg. and in art hi.story
by Lhc figure who plays a si1nilar role. Emst Cornbrich. whosr.
rejection of semiotk theorit-s and fcminisrn
with liberalism makc him che enemy f>f "the ncw an
tory."IY Gombric::h'!\ book cln dC()()I'ation and his
pionccri ngwork on comics, his theorizing is seen as ccntcr<:d
un European high culture. What r:tdic .. lly
both Greenberg and Combrich from nitk'i rOO:ay thelr
sh:trcd opon,ric:al tc)nlinuil)' J ust :u. Gom
brk:h flnds c. 'Ontouicy from Giouo to <.:ons1ablc. ro Green
bc:rg tradition in Lhe hisC01')' of
Finding coonuit) requirc-s a maMCT n3rrativc underpbyng
difference3 in fwor of sorne deeper unity O\'er time. Jn al thc his.toric:al record. it is atways poss.iblc: to find
boch roruinuity aod discoonuity. h \\'Otakl be pouiblc to
dcscnbe lhe bestknown l980s ani$u in lc:nns of tradition:
Jlari>;tra Krugcr. it could be said, follo..-. John HO<U1field:
Oa"'id Salle s:urcly karned frorn Roy aud Cindy
photographs art- rdatcd to of
wome-n. But that wa)' of chinking not bten succt>ssruJ.
No doubt tbis f(:h ne<:d for a "'pt)stnwdemin" hjstorical
break w;ts ovc:rdetermined. We needed our own pcriod .,:t)' lt:;
and break is descrlbed by rcfcrcncc to 1 he c::cunomiclt or
"late-Capitalism": perhaps S\uh tcdmulogics che personal
computer. cmaiJ, the "ideo d isk. and che assO<:iated dmngcs
in uur (onc-r. plion of publk space requirc 1h:u an
tadkal novelty. And cconomic i.ssnes have S()nlc: importaoce.
Art history c;ould n:mtinue e\'e.ll ir no new arl wrrc being
made. so long as the1-e "'ere imcra:tingty nc:w Wii)'S or
de-saibing earlirr work. Btu an cricism. dependent u pon 01}' support system. rou1d not C(\ntinu<' in i1.s proet1t
1 t. w-"T or C<abtJrh il won.. )bei. ao.w ha$ rt--
nultd< me. don no1 tah account ol hk urty C'(ln(n'ft wtth
thWU:mor hr.t ltm...n; :n l'OM'M t On\ tn pictorinf
tlHICII'I. S f.. H . Combrich. on .. "'npK\J'oe.t un 1hc
M !. and r nh.l'll)loio:- M u. nn. 2. 1 9ti5, 1
form un_le.s.s lbCTc wcrc a fch Kl\.SC: th:&l majur ne1\" kind' of
am-.-orb wc:.rc:. bOng
Writing by crics is data lr hi.storia1u, who are expected to
surnmarizt: earlier oomrneruaJ)' bt.fl) l't pre.senng
For the historian, tradition cannot but
PREV eight; ew:n Lf ea rlier commenl.a tors be judged enrely
ronglc.aded. thc necd to prcsent dwir dans gi\rc-s Lhc
his1orian's argumenta slowcr rh)lhm thMI Ihc t:ritic' 5 ana ly-
.!lis. TI1ls prot.-edure tends to ere:. te an e.fl'c&: l w eclec;.
eism in painng. lf a paimi og a Iludes 10 Waucau. Cbardjn,
and Oavid. it hard for- tlle' to K't' that work as
ltan-SC'cnding ils refcrencc:s; $0, ifyour texl rnus1
grapple witlt the prior by An1ta Brookner-. T. J.
Clark. and C."row, then t1s difficult to your
own voicc. Much ArtfiYtUtn writing ha1 almo5t no footnotcs.
for :1 critic it .su.ffi ces 10 say, "1 likc (Qr di)like) such-aml-
lillt h; and lo give reasons whi<:h, upou criticaJ reAectjun,
may se-cm h1ghl)' subj tive; thc hislodan t)' picall}' aspires to
'Whcn a formcr cdi1or of lhis joum.-J rcjted my
subrniJ!ion, suggc:ning rhat tw.-cau-S<" 1 he s1yle was personal, it
bdongcd in a puhlication de,uted 10 his action w-..s
perfecd) jusL For a historian thf're i.s something odd abou1
wriring on Matisse as if he were a hitheno a.nist
--.-hom thc "Ti ter l\-..s thC" fint comm<'ntator to cncountcr.
Writmg .._, a 1 find that "'' hat ultimately
intel't!IU me most about an criticim1 s the problem of U'Uth
in interpretation. An an critic ainu to speo. k. only for him- or
hcrst"'f, :md .so it is unsurprili ing th:u Jcd Pc-rfs vicw of things
dilfer'$ so roulit:ally IT<)m Lynnc Cc)()kc's, tU' th:lt l ucy Upparrl
aud .)oh n Ashbery do not see eye w eyc. T hey a1e. 1 imagine.
prcuy dirrerent people. f or crilics, it sce ms, ' 'lhere is (m/) a
pcrspcctiYc sc-cing. onty a perspccthc ' knowing' : and the lfWrt
afTm< wc allow lo speak. aboul onc 1hc more CfC$,
different l\'e cal\ use to c>bs.ttYe one thing . the more
complete "lU our 'concept' o( this ching. our 'object.Mty;
be." " In an hi5tory. by comrn5t, 1 expro objen ivity in
inta-pretation. But ci1ing pc:npti\ mcrely
idenllfies o ne striling differe utt bchvceu artcriliun-
writng and anhistOJ)' \\'riting. To ndequately explain the
connccttons bct'-''ecn thc-5<' varictic5 of" artwriting would take
n much rnoc:- cxlendcd a nalysis.
Dm.Nd Carrin iJ a ph.ilosophtr uoho w1llfs ort cnritiJm .. Tlie author
P..Umings.1e At>Sihete in the City: n:.e Philoso-
phy and IT.acticc of ,\bs:tn.ct P;tinting in the 1980s,
and High An; a..artes Bauddaire ando he: Origin or Mod<nl
""' fu u "'""""t on a pbil""'f>/>iml Uud of 1/u c""'ic JlrifJ
/Dt(Mrt""'oJ of Phli<>S<>fJhJ, Camtp Mtllon U""""'fJ Plli
Pu. 1521 Jf.
V.II:ITip,lt. ( AWUI Htf. IU!t!UII.\ Of A lt1 403
Writing (and) Art History:
Against Writing
/van Crukt/1
Do wc nccd to writc or s pc-ak about a rt in order to expres
cohcrcnt id4;as a.bout it.? No. as wcll as critica)
and t11eorists, h:avc long di$cusscd thc
articulatiorl of,isual and <thcr "'-Pprchc.u-
.Jion.1 Ahhough l "-ould Wittgenstein and Heidegger
in adulC)M.Icdging chat lingt1istic as a modc o(
Qrdtring constituld the dtplh strucmre or e.xpcrierw;e. here
1 1hall :wggest d'Jat imerestng demonnr.11ioo need oot
n<-uarily OC prcdominamly linguiutc in the iu:rative or
textual scnsc. I .sha ll discuss a way of with art th:u
minimizei spcaking an d writing. Whilc ordc-ri ng is ncccssar)'
to this practice. speaking a nd wriling nut. r urther, 1 .shall
arg:uc that this practH:e is critical as distinct from art
hillloricol, ;md is propc-rly conductcd in art museums.
The of practic; criticism in <trt muscums is
pan o( a wider discuss:K)n of inte vrct:tlion. In an carlicr
tssay 1 distinguisbed berl\een hi.srory a.nd ;,.n h.isaory, eveu
whcn bot_h art" COOC('mcd "'ith nsuaJ matenal. 8oth histori-
aud at1 historian$ can vi1ual material for tlxir-
respecthe disc:.iplinary lhough those c::nds. and 1he
JU('am of achienng them, nuy differ.t Hee 1 inte-nd to
di:ttingtai$h bci:\Oocc-n an hi.story and a :tp:iflc form or criti-
dsm. 1 wish in particular w draw " di.srin ction between the
f>l'Opct c."<mcc:rns of ac:tdcmic; <U1 hiscorians (rnustly tc-ac;hcrs
m lt n iat')' education) and ar1-mmeum The lauc:r
are pr::ctic.aJ clitics who put cf'itical j udgments ituo predortl
nandy r.uhcr than wriueo, fonn (and are thel'eby to
be diMinguishcd from critica! enaylns and thcori.sts).
IS bouud lO Jx SOnlC:: 0\'C'fbp O t_hc practi Of
academic an. historiaos and arHlUI)(!Ullt Kholar$. sorne
considcmblc _haring of concems and procedures. Thq are
mc mbc:n of thc samc family. Univenit)' an history 1S the
f(rnndc::luld of"t(mr eighrc:cnlh ;:nd nincrccnthccnu.arv forc
bcan: amateur cc>mruercial licholarship.' Kant
ian and Hegelian aesthetics and hL<ih)ry, arad museuna schcll-
ar.ship.:\ Wc rnighl DO"' <T<'dibly imilginc nmseum scholarship,
hiiving cngc:.ndered univcr.11i1y h$101)' . Mandin g rcady 10
1 am gF.IIdUit Sal1m Kruul lm- hn <Ommf"nU on an \.<'I'Sion o(
l . llk &h reniUIJ a.c. ,eatC'd. .. .. aJid
poor '"ltnniO rot- mtn if lhtM sook do not thc
xn: H. IUhn, Jlw. ... , lfll.,..,.,.., . Hn-"'as. M F.Jitl!ft 11(
flw lttl4 II1Mi c._..,.,, Cambf'ldg'- 1979. :s.t-35.
1 06-7, fkno"ttn tM 4th c..tnlury A.C. arld che- d.ry m:my thm kc'n ha\-<':
hotd tnln-es.tmw to say on quncic'ltn ;\r'IMOikjOO.n LodL, Hi!ohop
8('rll.clcy, and l,ud.oltg WittgertMC'-tll., 10 n:unr- buc or a n'('r.nt
,_,)n, 'l'lu IAnplq 4 it'f Hi.(J.-,, c:d. Sallrn Kr'nl:ll and hau
CarnbtidjCc:. 1091. with mauy furthe-r refncn<'c!l. '
2. Se-e fv-Jtn 'Th<' History C\1' in PmfMtlit'ttJ oN
HiRtlritol WJithK ed. Peter Burl:(', f";a., 1991,
t 68-u2. Tbtl esw.y wa, irtltnt.led ror h tll011:tn,. f .:xa.min('d $('\'
and ... l Mxcu .-.f he of\'l)lUI Mit('ti al dJscusWug
f01rr topia . aulhor&hip, CMI()JCi'l), tnlnpt"f'tauon. and
:i. 1 we the ' "''" .!>fhubn.lup- and "muS>rUm
"'tiUbrt)" C cknote- thc: prafession and iu inan muwums.. J do
c.h'l rot: tbc- ol and w.chuc ..WUnJ to
hrlftllONC u..ward mwot'Umt- .a "' hok. Muxum h
oiMowtt a h:IJhh- bf)ond lhc K olth n.Q,.,
lholih a(lnoookdgll:' lhat rnudt matt'rW ot rn tht e:ur,nded
((WHClt.l of"art" ii t<) bt bJnd In IUUM'Uml 11\:w liU nat Ul ltMU>C'JOU.
401 .\In 81)LU:'ri S 1996 \'() Lt) Mf. LXXVII I N l) MBEk 3
detach iuoelf from its grandchild in order LO develop ftu'lher
as a quite d isLinct imellectua l an d schola.rly pactice: ThaL
practice is in essence critica] (in a more direct sen se than t.hat
in which a r1 histOI)' is c;;riti<.:a l) .:and irucdisdplina ry. Aca
dernic ::ut history i$ al so obviously a rn(: nable tt) interdisdplin
ary pracLi ce (as wimcss the d iscuS-siOil itl these pages by Gario
Ginzborg and othc:rs),
b\ll. thc ingrcdicnts diffcr from thc
intcrdisdplinc of mu.scum scholarship. Whcn <tddrcssing
visual material museurn scholarship rleed givc no more::
weight to art-historical concerns than to amhropological,
psychoa.nalytical. sociologicaJ, or philosophicaJ concerns (to
na me but fOur). lndccd, thcc ;trc occa.sions whcn an history,
however comtituted, is an irreleva ncc to muscum scholar-
ship, and its intrusion is actually obfuscatory or worse (a
claim 1 wit.h an cxamplc bdow). That is, muse-
mus t;an legitimatdy IJeat oltit:CLS o f \'isual inLcrcst as having
no pasts, andas occup)ing no field other than the immediate
circumsta nces of t.hose museums the mselves. (1 would nm
arguc, howcv<.'r. that todo so cxdusively would be respon-
siblc muscurn pracLic;c: 1 rncrcly scck w d crnonstratc that thc
<:onstJtuLiOn$ of arL history and rnuseurn as
imerdisciplines d iffer .)
AJthough many othc r rcsponsibilitics are cqually legiti
mate f()r rnuseum scholars (sue:h as thc .ac;quisition of objccts,
Lhc conse1\'ation of in consuh.ation with <at<ns
a nd sdentists, advising members ofthe public about
in the ir posscssion, a.nd d c-acccssioning. if permiued), 1
bclicvc that thc public prcscnr... u ion o f material itself
rnust be 1hcir Ci'C concenl. Furth(: r. 1 suggcst that thi$ is thc
case not for reasons of social responsibility or socia l expecm-
tions, but rathcr as an implicit condition of the nature of
S<: holarship itsclf: that i.s, it wot.ald be so cvc-n if
mus.eum scholars wcre the on1)' viewcrs of thc disp l:tys th<:y
oontl'ive. 1 know that there are those who view f'espollsibilily
for the public presentation of visual material as a distraction
from S<:holar.ship, j ust as thc rc are who
"i<. w teaching as a distraction from :ittivitic:: s Lhy b'TC::t ly
p refer for fair 1easons. indud ing rescarch and publication.
1 View of 1hc exhibitioo ' 'What, If Anything.
ls an Object?" orgaJlized by Cli ve Oilnm and
lvar1 Gaskell. Fogg An 1994
(photo: tvctyn Roscnthal)
We should bC.. "Vf'Oir<: of d rawing too close an analogy belween
teaching and p rcp:-tring displays whcn comparing the profcs.
sions, even t.hough sotn institulions, both and
univenitts. have legitimated such distirlction$ by promoting
org-.tni"tational hicrarchts whereby relief from teac:hing du
tic::s on Lhc onc hand and fiom cxhibit preparation on the
other- in favor ofthe opportunit)' to condu<:l unintt n'\tpted
rcscarch- is given a positjon of instituLiona l pri\'ilegc. ld<. :-
ally, tcotching is an cxcha.nge between equals in v.hich therc is
a d isparity of expc riencc but not of intciJigcnce (on the
Oxford and C.arnbridge modc::J ). In pra<:ti<.:c, this is frequentl)'
not the case and understandable impaLi encc with 1Ju; proccss
on the part of thc tca<:hcr rc-sults. for the museum
the ideals of exhibiL prc pa ratinn C.'l n also be frustrated by the
intrusion of questionable assumptions about thc character of
cxpcctcd or intended viewing consLitue ncies. butthc accom-
modu.ion of lcgitimate expectations is an integral
part o f Lhc prc paration of any display wher't" the museum
schoJar is as mucha viewe r with cxpcct.ations as anybody else.
That is. the process by which 1nuseurn $Cholars c.xmstJ'\lCl
c xhibits is thc unavoidable process of "isual scholarship
itself: it is ncccssarily ht lrristic and informs all el se they do. In
thjs it d iffers in pracLi ce from much tca<:hing.
in the execuon of this rei po11Sibility. !he mu-
scum .scholou's principal medium is not the Miuen word, but
ralhl' "isua l itstlf and its physic..1.l setting (tha t is.
exhibits). Thii means principaUy, though not cxclusivel)'.
public presentatjon b)' means of gallery dii;pla)'S, whcther
tcmpor:;ary or long-tcrm. The written word is. of course, an
itnpon a n1 attjun<:t Lo such cxhibits, incorporated botl1 within
them and in accornpau)ing publications. 'Thc documema
tion of ' 'isual material, which calls f<>r thc rnaintcnomcc of
J't.'(,'ords. thc purs\lit of a rt historical scholat'ship, a nd thc
p ublicalion of pe nnanc-nt collc:nion catalogues. is vital buL
secondat')'. secondary J'CSf>onsibilitic.s mjght be said LO
constitutc one area of o .. erlap with arLhi.storic;al practicc of
thc kind mcmjoncd above. However, if public pr<:sentation
by mcan.s of cxhibits is thc corc rc-sponsibility of thc museutn
2 Const.;mtin Br.mcusi, Haud ofMat'kmoiulle Pogany, 1920,
yeUow marble. Cambridge::, Mas.s., Fogg Art Museum, Harvcud
Universit)' Art Muse\.tms, Gift ofMr. and Mrs. Wassennan,
1964.1 JO (photo: 1-Iarvard University Art Museums)
scholar (both as a ftmcliooal, social responsibility and as a
way of furLhering scholarship for d iff1.1sion by othcr means),
and such pl'esentation can lcgitim:nely be infonned by
non-al'thistorical conccrns-even by concerns amipathetic
to art history-those concenu wi.ll legitimately also inform
thc cxeculion of J'esponsibililies that havc an art-hi:storical
c<nnponem. such as documcntation and calaloguing. As
museum scholarship changcs we sha ll see prc)gre.ssive changes
in the excncion of these txl-based tasks.
As prornilJed, 1 .shall pt-ovide one brief examplc of m\ISClHn
display as rl on-an -historlcal. practica! s<:holtn'Ship.
Betweenjanuary andjuly 1994 thc FoggArt Museum held a
small cxhibition entilled ' ' What, Jf Anything. Js an Object?"
(Fig. 1 ). lL was the result of a collaboration bctwccn myself Clive Dilnot, then associate profcs.sor of visual and
environmental studics at Harvan.t Univer'Sily. We took one
object of visual Brancusi's Ha11d of
Mademoisel Pogany (Fig. 2)-and placed it in a gallery a t thc
cer)ter of a conceptual field govemcd by two cerwally
irnersecling axes denoting '' rcpresetltali<)n-fi.tnction, .. and
cognitiondecoration .. , Other objects were diSII'ibuted v.'ithin
the field with respect to their share of one or more of thcsc
qu;tli ties and their corollaries. These objec1s of inter-
est, drt!WJ) flotn Ol3llY CUJtUf CS and tTnC peri(}d_s, \Vl'C:
selected to exhibit formal similari1ies when j uxtaposed, as
well as conceptual relationships. The objts included an-
cient Rom:m terra-cvtt.a vorjve body pan.s. a Marshall lslands
navig-.ttion chan made of palm-leaf midribs, two lnuit iv(nJ
snow knives, and a group of Phillipe Starck "biomorphic"
toothbrushes. T hc sdection and anangement of these ob-
jects tr.tnsgressed all art-historical considerations. Although
quotaons from texts concerning thc rclationship between
people and objects "'e re placcd high on the galler) ' walls and
the axes were inscribed. no label$ wete included beside the
individual oltieCLS on d isplay in order to banish
intm:sion liom the sensual .. isu;tl) fl eld. {AII 1he
could be identificd by consulting a handlisL) llle
relationships that viewen; were invited to perceive were
wholly non -art-historical: indeed. they were of a kind usuaUy
<1. h:m "fbe A rrQm the of
and Sculpture. FQgg Art in Hanwrtf'$ A1t MWtkNd: Ont
IJundrd t.blltchng. C:unbt'idge. M Ncw \' Qrk. 1996, 156-61.
Wtt n 'ING ( MW) THE H I STOJt\' Of Altl' 405
inhibited by art-historical critcria. lnstcad. vJcwcrs wcre
prcscntcd with an opportunity to cxpl<.lre thc complcx
of relationships between objects and the people
who vse thc::m. Furthermore, Brancusi's sculptu re was given
the oppol'tunit)' 10 wok in quite another wa)' from tha
normally encountered in ruuscums or dcS<ribed in art NEXT
historical texts. 'Thc cxhibit w;ts a wholly sensual (visual, -
cxcrdsc in c.:ognition.
AlLhough e mhusiaSLically eceived (by the press and visi-
tOJ'S, according to an evaluat.i ve survey). public access to
"What, lf Anything, Is an Objcct?" was. in facc. incidental to
our collabonuive research, which could only be carried out
b)' che very process of creating and subsequemly ex:unining
Lhat display itself. This is not to say, hov.ever, that either
Clive Oilnot or 1 considered public access to be anything
other than AJt.hough 1 would be thc first 10
acknowledge t.hal the exhibit wa.s slirnulated by ideas c:x-
pressed in wriuen fot'1n, ar1d that the project was subse-
quemly published as a scholarly article.
my point here is that
museum scholarship as p ractic..'tl criticism took a fOrm both
non-art-hi:storic;al and atextual. T his. and rt(ll the writing of
art histo1y, seerns to me to be Lhe unique business of the
museum scholar.
We may well ask. in this case, why in the Unitcd State.s at
lcast do wc expect art.nmseurn s(:holars to have doc;toral
degrees in art hi$LOI)' conferred by universilies? If we regard
such an attainmem as something more than a gelleral
educalion- that is. as the functional acquisition of knowl
cdgc ;;.nd proc.:cdure$ c:ssential to the proper of a
museurn scholar's responsibilities-we may be j ustified in
asking whether such an education is indeed anything other
than partialJy relevam. In supponing such assumptions by
recogniz:ing as legitima te scholars only thosc muscum schol-
ars who hold a doc::toral dcgree, are not universities arrogat-
illg 10 themselves a functioll not pl'operly theifs? Are aJ't
museums neglecting their responsibilities to educate future
scholars for their staffs by abdicating that formal role in favor
of thc univer.sit ies? MighL wc ll<)L profi1abl)' look to 1he
French e xample where universif)' a1' t hjstory and an-
museum education aJ'e emilely separa te. and 1he fast track to
a national museum career is achieved by education at the
Ec.olc Nacional e du Patrimoine?
J pose these questiOJ\$ in the hope vf a
discus.sion. one t.hat takes nothing for granted, ofthe proper
professional education of museum staff. Each que.stion obvi
ously raises many complex issuc::s to which, to my knQ\'olcdgc,
thcre i$ m) simple answer. A comparii;c)J\ with Frdt:e, for
example. may be of only limited use. fol' social and educa-
tional circumstances are obviou.sly culturally specific. and no
simple transfcr of forcign institutional mOOds wou1d be
ci1her or de$irable. Govenunent in France 1ake$ a far
greater responsibilit)' for civil sodety and its insthutions 1han
is the case in the United States. where the business of
suppo11ing a nd sustolining civil society has in many ways bccn
up by the ur)iver$iLi e$. NoneLheless, we ma)' wish 1.0
!o .. A Rauge u( C.i tic:.l Jntt>r/diM"iplin:ui ty."' Al"t Brdlt6n.
LXl\VIt, no. 4. 1!195. M4-52.
6. C!he Oill(lt. "il.e Euigtn ofThi.ugs." HfV(Jrtl Ullwn'JiiJ A;t
81!CUttil. 11. no. 2,
eme11an the possibllty of a future in. which professional
legitimaton in Lhe UniLcd StaLcs is conferred by a plurality of
inslitutions. as is thc case clscwherc. r.u her than almost
exclu.sioe:l)' by uni..,ersilies.
In pank ula1. we: may h'l\t w
1ecognize more formaJiy than a t presem thm the ideal
PREV reparation for a carc-er as a musc-um scholar may indude,
lH ought not lO be confincd ro, lcarning to writc an hi:swry
i.n lhe f()n:n ofa Ph. O. di.ssen at.i on (Or a ny c>ther f()nn fi)r thal
1 invted a comparlson between uni,ersilie.s and art muse
ums as institutions and as si tes of scholarship at thc outset.
bm 1 submit that this is not 10 cor.nparc likc with like
when we <:ome tO consider the lr<tn.smi.ssion of necessary
knO\dedge. In this l'especl {and in others) the art muscum
approaches more d os.ely the hospital than it doe.s lhe
univcrsity. Pierrc Bourdieu thc diffcrentes in
cducari oo c<.mfcrred by medica] f;; cuhie.s and by fac:ulties of
art.s :ind sc;ience.I:J He Uenwnslrates that whereas in thE- lauer
the: produc::on and reproduction of knowledge i.s formalized
and transmitted rationally, medica) education is acquisi
1ion of an internalized set of sk.i lls c;onsti uuing :m In
c<.mscqucn<:c, the;: rdatinship.s be1ween the teacherpau-ons
and the pupil-dients diiTer markedl)' wi1hin the rv..o nsriLU
tions. Conditions n an museums more clos.ely approximate
Lhe medica! model than thcy d o 1hose or thc ans and sd cnc;e
faculties. Bot1rdicu writcs:
h is indced enotgh 10 think of 1he <"Julilies required of
thc .. greal surgeon" or the "supremo'' of a hospital
depanmem who must cxen:.isc. often with urgcnq .
an att which. like th;n of a military leader. implies a llal
of thc condil jons of it.s practica!
that is lO .say a cornbillatiol of selfcontrol and confidence
able LO inspir-e confidence and dedic..1.rion in others. \ Vhat.
Lhe cooptadon tec.hnique must discovcr and whar. rhe
tc."tc.hing must transmit (Ir reinfbrce in this case is not
knO"Iedge, not a package of sciemifi:c kll<Mledge, but skill
or. more exacdy. the an of applying kOO\\'Icdgc, a.n.d
applying t apt1y in prnctk e. which i:s fTom an
overall manner of acting. or li.., ing. inseparable fiom a
For Bourdie:u's "'grem surgeon or the 'supremo' of a
hospital departmem" we need only "muscum
director" or "he-ad of a r;uratorial dep;; rtment." n .e
d icnts io 1his i.nstaoce are nr Ph.D. candidates mayor
may n<)t have received this degree), buL rather interns or
junior curawrial staff. Their process of lcaming is one of
d ientage, of accompanying a on or her
7. In Briuin. e.g .. w prof('r.Yom !oUCh u th(' la,., ar<,hitc:c:tur.-,
and a>unumcy t> n(,. tht- nmc:ent of although a-spitanu may
ha,e r.wdied rd:ued -5ll bjt5 a1 a un.ivc:nty, m:t)' h:sw studi-J qult" dilftrem
$c.ll:t-.P:Ls at a ucciv"r!>Jly, ( lt m ay not havc auendi a lll'l.i ' ' ('l$it)" al .li!L
rounds: a1ld "' l'illng an histOI)' {or Jearning to do so) s the
least oftheir mutual concems.
If accept. this analysis, it. follows that the mos1 effcclivc
edu('.alion for 1he fu tu re praclical cri1ic in the museum is the
internship. Many museums, whh the support of both thE'
Nari onal Endo-,mcnt for the Arts (though for how mue! NEXT
kmgcr?) and privatc ;;md foundackm soun;es, <.ffer inrem -
ship.s {by which 1 mean affiliation.s of a t leasL <me acade:mic
)'ear. not short-tenn v-is.ilS Lhat often go by the same name). If
art museums are to bC' viable sites of scholarship and
thercforc have che sccure foundations from whic::h lO sene
C\'er-broadening public <.'(ms.l.ituencies dfeclivt:l). mOr't:: in-
teru hps. grouped in cohe1'elll program.s (such as that at the
Harvard University An Muscums), are:- essential. Univcrsity
art museums. such as H;uvard's (1 makc:- oo apolog) for
part.isan:sh.ip). a nd major r.nuse1.n:ns 1ha1 have fi)stered excel-
lenl working rd a1ion.ships wlh universit)' such
as the Museum of Art, New York, would seem
to be the oprimum sites for sur;h initiativcs.
Intcrnships, ideally of ;-11 le.asr IWO, should be
aimed at candidates, not (()!' the sake of any
specifi( skills tht::'}' ma)' have acqured in the writing of art
his:tot)', but because a Ph.D. is 1he only way in whk h
can acquire a gencr:d educari<.m i.n s.orue depth
wit.hin ao aotdcmi<: d iscipline. Onl) when we admowledge
tltt the edu<.-acion of a m.useum scholar is more akin LO that
of a ph)sidan OJ' surgeon than to that of a univcrsity teac;hcr
will w(;' bt' ablc to foste r vistal prope r t<.l prac1ical
critic;ism. a-ilicism is wha1 rnus1 propel art
museums, with al11heir scholatly and publc responsibilitics.
well beyond the fulfillmenl of merely arc-historital
'lcrc are many whe n th e writing <.lf an history is
appropria tc:: to the museum .scholar' .s task..ti, hut 11 can only
e\'(::'r be a ncill::u}' to the man event. ,,hkh is ineducibly
\isually {and otherwise se-nsually) defined. and coostitute;:s a
form of criticism th:lt 1 havc cal.led here pr.tctical. Whel\ "'e
acknt.""ledge thcs.e condition..s. 1he -!'COpe for fru .itful interdis
clplnary e:xchange bet"-een museum scholars, art histori;ns.
and others will grow enormously. Pcrhaps. thcn, e;:vcr more
intcre.sting wi.ll resuh.
Ca.s.ktll is Margartf S, Wlnthrop CuraJof" of Paint.ings Mtd
htad of tht Depa.rtmenl of PC1i11ti11gs tmtl Sculpture tU th,. Fogg Art* His mo5t ucent botJld, tdiud urith Salim arl'
Explanation and Value in the Ans (199.1), a.tul landscape.
Natural Beauty and the .'\rts (199)) {Horvard Unit,.,ity Arl
M!<seums, J2 Quincy S;mt, Combridge, MIW. Q2 1 J8/.
S. J'iem.- 8c)c.udku. Hm!!(i .i aMtomi<-..,_, tran$. Pet('r C(llliC'r.
S1<1.nford, 198ij, i)j .. fl9.
9. lbid .. 57.
j oseph Kosulh
PREV ntntion (Artists)
lntcnti(.ln is the f()rw:ird- Jeaning )C)C)k Of Lhings. h is ll()l 3
econstiruted hhtcwical state of mnd. then. but a relation
ber\leen the object and its circumstances.- Michael Bax-
When an historians, even the best of them, write about
intemion there seems to be a presumption that you have two
things: thc work of an and the artisl's intcntions. As ;m anis1
1 find, perhaps more than any otJu;:r single thing, the
di..ision nt)w between how al'lists understand thelr
work and how art historians see them. While the primacy of
the obj ect has long been quc.stioned by anists, it remains the
basi_s for muc::h of the a.rt-his10rkal entcrprisc. This differ-
ente in t he t:wo di!S<:i plines, 1 feel, ha!S been brought into f()CUs
by the issues raised by the comext of an with In)'
work has bcen long as.sociatcd: Conceptual art. Paradoxi-
cal.l y, it is $Omc rcccnt v.Titing on t.his movcmcnt whic.h has
br<mght a rt-hiswrical writing in lO a of meaning of
Conceptual an. simply put. had as its basic tenet an
tmderst:imding th;u artists work wicb mcaning, not with
shapes. colorS, t)r materals. Anything c:an be empl<)yed by
the artst to set the work into play- includng shapes. colors.
or matcrials-but the form of pre.sentation itselfhas no \'alue
inde pendent of its role:\$ a ve hiele fOr che idea of tbc

Thus, when you approach the wc)rk you are app roaching the
idea (and therefore the imention) ofthe anist diteclly. The
'idea: of course. can be a force that is as contingentas it is
(.Omplcx, and when 1 havc said thou a-tl)'fhing (an be u sed by
(or as) a work of art, 1 mean j ust that: a play within tbc
sign.ifying process conceptuall)' cannot be limited by the
traditional constraints of morphology. media, or objecthood.
J. MM:h;td PatUrnJ uf Jntrnlion: tht lli.d{)rirl1f of
Pirn.r,$. N("lt. Havt-nfLondon, 1985. 42.
2.1 W<JUid d te my ""ork from 1965-66, tht;
Qfl( and "fhr would be a <-xamplc. Tbi:s .. -ork, usirtg
\lcadpan "")'loe photogtaplu, whic:h were lll\w:syll uk.(-n by QlhM"":S,
:lw t;ll)pi<.rycc.f c.:ommon ;.nd ecnlarged tcxts rrom dktionary- dcni
tions. Thc c!cttCt\U wcrc si.gncd, with tbe ( OU(.'t:pt ctl' the .. ork bcing
th:u this 'form of .,.wld !)( m<ldt: and rcmade. The rcason fOr
an parto( mr intenon: elin1inatt thoe: aunt of trad.itilmt:d
an and f(lc-cr. :mother bollli$ for thi:s a(ciYity to be an,
con<('f)tuall)". O..ner:ship of tht work is by tbe ptYKiua.iou
hlStrnttiOnll ... hieh double :u " "Thi$ I.J bvt a dttd of
ownc:nhip. not a1 a work Thus, l'vc madc it dur d'lat \J1ese lertificuc:)
at-e '"''e tll be exhaitl"(l, omd thty ibc ;n-t it$1:"11: whidl is ncith('l"
thc: props ... hKh thc idea is rommun.i(atcd, no thc c.crtiflcatc. i)
uuly the iJm in :md of the wori.. M it w-;n fcr othcr arti\1$ thac time. thc'
of modc:rnhm werc: rapidly bccon1ing opaque. One cffe.:t of this ""Ot'k
"'':t$ to 'wm up' fo mt. and ooct- tb:u was '"isiblc 1 wa.' ab!e to use
th:ou vicw 10 get t, :u 1b.; work whkh fc>l}l:!wt"d ' ru.s. fOI" me-. 1.h'"'
work "'':tll both a '$tmm<lOn of mO<kmism and th<' Wtf\1 out ofi1.
3. Th<' use o( taucoklgy in t.he J,;., genera1cd a v<11ri.:ty
of l.'t)nfus.ed fellpt>mrJ.. One :upl"Ct of chi:l wori: wall the au<'mpt tO <1t1uali1.c a
in.sight: b) drawing out che rdation of al to languagc.
one b<:gi.n the pfoduction ora l U!tural language wholoC very function ic v.'a!\ co
rather 1han $tN;h lllrl\o'"rklo migh1 Fum.:tion in a .,...,, . .,.hi(h
t.ircum,entll .signifk.1ntly mu(h ol' ""h;u limi.u languagc. An. som.t
dt.$CribN But, unlikc l.<lnguase. it al.w lw- :lrguoed,
..... RJTI S (. (ANO\ nn: H IS'I' ( Ht\" ()f At(l' 407
Art can manifcst itsclf in aU of thc ways in which human
imemion can manifest itself. The task for anists is to put inw
play works of a ra unfettered by the lim.iled kinds ofmeanjngs
which objccts permit, ::md s,ucceed in having them hecome
not the autonomou.s rcxts of struct\lralism. bm the produc
tion of an.ists as authors wthin a discourse, one concreti7.e NEXT
tbmugh com1nitme nt and compristd of the mal
ing pr(K:ess. h is the hi:storically definecl agen<:y of Lhe
working within a<:e that se-e-s itse.lf a$ such a prcx:css, in
whkh an,t's work becomcs bclicvablc as art within
soc.icty. Todo thac. work must s.1t.i:sfy d ccpcr stn1c:turcs of our
ult.urc than that surfatc wh.ich reads in the markct as
tradition and continuity. The more emichcd our undcrstand-
ing of that. 'text' of art bec.omes, so docs our understa.nding
of culturc. A focus on mc.aning, by neces.sity. has foc.used our
conccrns on a varicty ofissues around languagc and contcxt.
Thcsc iss1.1CS pertain to the rcception and production of
work..s of art thcmset\'es. Thc aspcct of the questionin.g
process that some now call'instimtimlal critique began he re.
too, and it originated with Conceptual art's earlie-s.t works.'
Thc relcvancc of this to thc question ofintemjon is in what
it mples: the disappearance, pe1haps with fi1lality. of Lhe
threshold bety,ee.n what had been the an. objer.t (that which is
now simply an) and the intemions of iu maker.
there no longer really be a separ.ttion between tbc work
and the imenon of the artiit: the work of arl. n c:asc, is
mo..triftsttd ntemion. Uhimately, we might to, of
course. ifimemio1\ is the text ilself. or Lhe production of thc
screen upon which the greater S4." t t.xl if
the fr.:.gme.nts and (lverlaps are of many projcctions: racc.
creed, gender.
Recently 1 have con-e.sponded wth an an historian who
wrote he.r master' s thsis on lfl)' Pn..ut'f''-"Werk., a largc
insrallation 1 did for Documenta JX, in Kassel:' ln one lcttcr,
di.scussing artist ic inacntion. shc writcs . .. the relativizing
position of the art historian says evcn ifwc can knG\'1' what
the artist intended, it isn't tbat import;tnt. What is important
is the w(1rk. of :u1 and ht)w it gcncr:.ucs mcaning,"' 1 don't
$imuhancou:Siy d.-scribc thcy descJibe it. Cn.ntcd, :art ran tN: :w:cn ht-rr. :1.1
:.elfrcfc:rcnti:al, but n<l4 Wlut art
in !!'U(h a ftlCIJUfestation is, iOOcoed, ltow it fuu.:ti(nb. 1 1ti. , r("'lc:al.:d in
wod.s ...-hk h feign to but do M.> <o$ ;.n ;111 propO!l'ition and I'C"\'eal thc
diffctt:I'KC (""hile tbcir si.milarity) v.;ith language.1'bj, ""3l>, of t"(IUl"'!K",
cht role ot LanjVlage tu '")" ...-orl. beginning in 1965. h lo<'Cmed tome that if
l:mguagr CQ\IId be l>-\Cd to 1\.an(on an an-....ork, chcn that diiTe. en(.'C
would barC LhC dc-\ict- f art') language rmr. An :t""'"()ft th('n_, tl1 $U(h <l
JmdiJr. tn:.llk, prm)(lcxi the of not a rdk(cion on iuelf. but an
t-eflcction on the naturc of l:mgu:agt', through an, to c:u.lwrc:
il*lf. "llo noc I"C>rg<'," ... n tes Wiugc:n$tcin, poc-m. though it is
(Onl pc< in the latlg_u;tgt Ofi"nfurln:ILOu is n<lt tut-d 1)(
giving in l(wm<ttio n . Wh<ltcvcr thhcarty wort of mine had t O it
did. and it within practicc an qut'Mi()tling proc.:t"nwhi.;:h
i:i 10 i1. 1! be th:ttthe "bang of thc dcvke' of the
of art woold boeR:in H tbc mOSl oe:krurnbl thc point (IJ'
pr<Kiuc:t.lon the arn..'(lrk: Sc<'ing thc U I:WOft . in such a .:ontcxt. li:lned a
M;nuiny of ill and hhtori(al ba..g.g33c. sudt a) the paimingf
!i><.'Uipturc dkhowmy. First iu5tl:k the frame ami then ouuidr. Onc goal ol" a
work sudr :rs Jhr. 1968. w;u co quc:stion thc institut.iOJ\al
f(lnm o(" art. lf th<' ""'ork that pre<eded thi) t.'Ou fto.ued tht in!>linuionali"t<
formo( authorily of u-;cJ itional art, ...-ork prC$lo<'d thc- point 0111 of the
gal kry 21nd muJ<Jm nto thc: w(rld. using public
1. S IX:bOfah Zafman, :JO$Cph K<uth's Pa."'"t:m IYnk ( /)u"lft(t.a-
f'Jd)trrir); AA lnstaltatlou < M.A. Univcn.ity of Califomia.
Bcrkdey, 1994.
408 Ak"l' ti Ut Lt: n N SI!.P"ftMIH:.I 1996 VOLUME LXXVI II NUMbtl :)
doubt her assessmem. btu reading her lener 1 feh again the
distance bctwccn tbc an histori:;m's approach ;md mine.
What this suggcsts is that thc art-hist.oric:al pm<:cs.s $ a kind
of conspiracy. even if unwiu.ingly so, to politk ally disenfran-
chise my act.ivi ty as an artist. lf my imemion is denied at its
inception, then my rcsponsibiljty for thc mcaning 1 genera te
in thc world :-ts an artisL is all nullified. The rtiSL bc:-tomcs
j ust another producer of goods fo1 the market. where Lhe
work finds its meaning.
This. it seems to me. was cxacdy whcrc wc carne imo thc
picturc in thc: sixtics, whc:n c:L al. would
neve nt:<.'d to leave their studios;jusL paim 'e m and ship 'ern
out. and let Clement Creenberg and his m.inions provide the
meaning. For thcm, art and politics wen:: scpar::uc, and thcir
pra<:lkc rcAc.'t:tc.'d that. What is sddom discussc.-d is how onc
Jot)k.-d at those paitu.ings and sow Lhe theory. 1 Lhink this
greatl)' explains why. for so man)' now, such work is held in
the low esteem it is. Pcrhaps J should makc dcar that J am
not suggcsting that <trtists are.' thc only oncs c;;:apablc of
discu.ssing wurks of l't. Orl the comrary, art hislOrians and
critics play an importam role in the struggle of the work 's
'coming to mcaning' in thc world. Bt.H that is thc point: thcy
rcpn.:s.cnt thc world. Timt i.s wh)' a dcfining part of thc
e:reati\'t process depends on the atLlsts to ssert their
imcmions in that struggle.
One of the greatest lcssons dcfcnding thc primacy of thc
intcntion nf tlH.' artisr. and thc im.:rcasing importanc;t.' of
w1iling by artists on their wot"k, is provided by this period of
thc sixLies . .s Our mote recem expcrience of the return to
painng in thc cight.ics rcrninds us ag:;ai n of thc bankntptq'
nf a fonn of arl tht rclic-s on its theaning to be provided by
other than its makers. lf Conceptual arL means more t.han a
St)' le. its defining difference is establ.ished here in Lhe
rethinking of artistic rcsponsibili ty in tbc production of
mcaning.6 Without this. thc politics which infonn work
1 Joseph Kosuth. Ont Thut Chilirs
remain homeless. on1y a wpic among others tht dislin-
guishcs stylc.
Artist.s working within sttch a practicc have a par'tku1ar
responsibilicy not to permiL thcir work aL its inc;;c:ption to be
defined ' by the world: What thc work is (Lhat. is, wh;u
distinguishes it from what preceded it) must be c-stblishcd
by thc.' artist b<:ffn.' ' thc wodd' includcs it within all that is
gi\' Cn. '11)e world. as protcss of in.stitutionalization.
and the an -historical and criLi cal establi$1nncnt is its first
momcnt: withom it there would be no ' professionar rtists.
IJcrc is whcrc onc finds thc acsthctics of administra-
tion; and it is a sttuttur.:al, and apparcntly inescapable.
feaLure of thc process of a work coming into thc world.
Only a statc of deep denial could keep an anist from
avoiding 1hc that sccing isn't as simple as the
text the vicwc:: r brings w work org:mizcs what is seen. Tbe
producLion of that 'text' has beoome a priml)' pan of tbc
anist.ic mcaning-making process. The productive result of
this with Conceptual an. has been
precisely the emergence uf an 'art ofintcntion' as 1 discussed
above. 1f the actual people standing behind \vorks of art-
who providc thc bclief, in a sense. as they take sut'!jectivc
rcspnnsibilit)' for thc mcaning of what is produced-think
that tl ' spcals for itsdf,.' thcy an: sordy mistakcn. The
(maldng) process of putLing a proposition (ll tl signif)'ing
action which may or may not employ the obj et, pcl'f(lr-
rmmcc. vidc.'f>, tcxt, ct al. ) ' into pla)'' is onl)' o,..e of the
responsibilities of Lhe artisr. att of putting it into the
world i.s cmpty unless an anist also fights fc)r its mcaning.
This infonnational framing of the proposition itself inc::reas-
ingl) bc."C<.lmcs part ofthc anistic proccss. Thus, a key to Lhe
changed role uf intcntion :md che an ist's sdf-pcrccption of
his or her practice, is the role of wriling by artisls. On thjs
Stlbjcct, in thc introduction to '"'111e l)lay ofthe Unsayablc," a
c::urnlcd installation l madc for tbc Wiugenstein cemenniaJ it1
1989 m Vienna and Brussels. 1 made the foUowing st.ale-
Onc qucition remains unsaid: what is 1ext? ' fis text
uwcs i1s exisH:nc:e to the parcnlhcscs ot' my practice asan
aJ'I:.t. 111is text frum tlmt and last. \\'hile
philosoph)' would want to spcak of the wodd, it would
nccd to spc:-. k of art a.s part of thm, ir onl)' 10 deny il. That
whic:h pc:rmits :ut 1() be r>an of thc world also
nominales tt as an e, em ln social and spacc. No
maucr "' hat anual fonn the acl\'it)' of art j(.j history
gi\'C'! ita concrete pr('S('ncc. Framed by suc:h a prese:ntt
Lhen. heory i.s eng-.. ged ;u ora pnctKc. Such
lhcory 1'11 call primary. SondaJ)' thcory (by ohis 1 refcr o o
art-hi5totical and critica] writingJ may be no u.sefid (in
many crt scs, more u.scful) but thc poin1 l'm strtlsing is tha
il lms a d iff<:tCJU ntolUJ..'}' l't-imary thtor)' is no more
imcr<:stiflg tha1\ the p l'actice. in tOlO, is. llnwcvcr. thcory
nrl not linkcd toan art practice is uncollcrclit ed (o
unl'crlilh:cd) c;onvc rsation aftcr (o bc forc) the fact. lt is
the frtcl ora ... artajc protC'!.S which. having a location asan
cvcnt, permits the social and ruJtur2J - eight of a prc:5encc
indcpcndcnc of a pragmat.ic languagc. 11 LS. in fact. the
nonun;tted prescn<X of 1hc prOCC"ol "-' hic h aUO\ors se<ond
3')' 1hCOr)' i1.s aternal object to be Bchind
C''ery text about an l'eiLS the of an anwork, if
n011hc prescncc of one.
Texts about :ut:works are cxpcl"icnccd difTcrentJy from th:n are artwods. lt is al;mnd:uuly clcar by now that
wc do not nced to have an objectlO h:we an ::utwork, but
wc mm1 havc a p lay manifcsted in orde l' LO havc it sccn.
Th:n diffcrcnccwhich scparn.tcs an atwok from a comer
sation nlw U!parates, funda rncnt:.lly, primal')' thCOI)' from
K'Condat) theory.
work of an is essendall) a pla) - 'ilhin the meaning
o( art; it i.s formcd as thal pla)' and be
separatt.'(J from it--chis al50 mcans, 1\0't\"C\'er, that a
... hauge an iu is meaningful only
imof:1r :ts it cffects hs pla)' M y pom1 is th:u primary
is pilrl of chat play, thc t\'.'0 are' linked. 11\is is
not a clnim that the commentary of s.ccondat')' theory can
turtke. Tr-t lkirlg aboul al'l is a \ity 10 making an,
but wi1holll fect- it is pl'oviding tncnning wilhout an
cvcnt contcxt that socially commits subjtctive e:sponsibil-
ity for cOo'W;ious ness pnxlnccd (rn;king a world). Stand
mg guard.JuSt out of sigbL tS thc dctachcd priority of an
irnplied objecthe science.'
TI1crc is anochcr considcration of an.stte uuention, also
O 1\d black. paintinst whn ham,
k.11C'I\' (1("" 114! d11111&ht :a(>!)UI :.lrl , ld l rou t lllll "''SI' lllOI"t' than juSI a
Qf >:h11il1g3; was: a produc<'r ot h j tfllal :.ctility :u
:u1 :u-tist -..Mc:h uhim:uely pnw;ded paiutlng. ,..lth :1 othuralliJ(o 4S it
precn't'fl rr.1som [o)l thcm. which )Vu
at tlwm hti "3idHS p:uticiXilt.On lu p:u1411 (ho<uMIOIIt.. tlis lturC'$, hi:s
tul. OU(h :u foca New .>\(<tckmy; ha tu<hlna:. and his Clllttoons. he
nuc.k k'<'') dlffiCUk ror omns w coopt. ht, ,.l)t'k .. th<tr 01o,
lndd, h"" worl h:ad to .;1 (Tllico-_1 "' whith wOJt Wt -as
oumck ola <nui.n onbodoxy ,.-.-s odkr- n;wk 10 r..._ ""'miQII'CL 'fbt'
......., of Urmrnt Gr-nhn':. 'is.on prob;lbl) tiltnnwd ith no p-ear
d;mtf thJ.n In hit otnnml on R.rinhMdl. thM lw ""h.h a lftllt.ll!w if glft
for<ulor. b-11 nmw .aJI forde,gn or-pbnns- (quotcd m 11k rqrctublt'tb't
% Kosuth. 1Tt< SiiNII..-gatN>o. 1963-69. rrom oh<-
C:\!hlblt.on ""\\1tt!n Altitudes lkcome fonn." Kuns:thalle Bern
unpomwt. lt is. Jmrl of the intcnLi on or 1 his pa11icu1ar anisl
for Lhc works 1.0 t l)gage thc vie;:wcr/rc:tdcr's pan icipaoo in
thc mc:mingm::tking proccss. B)' bringing with thcm what
ti'IC)' do in 1hcir approach to the WOI'k. thC)' the1c: hy complele
h. Thcy C'\'C:f)' work'5 ' local' sitc. his role would be
rcndcred pauive. and would pro,,idc onl)' a momem or
"'' ithout "''Ork. whic-h i anchor('(( to a larger
proce'!.S or .signiflcation. nlU:s i.s dcsignated.
embeddcd in 1he human mc:-aning "'h.c:h arttslic imentioo
con)Uiutcs. No s-peaker, no list.cncr .
lntc:ndon (Arl Historians)
In t.'Onsidcring lhis cxchangc of thc \'Oicc for the
onc. T. of cou.-se, contcmphucd gc:nrc of
confcssional writing. BuL that sccmcd 100 obvious. too
ca'ly. lmlcad 1 decided oo venuil<><tuitnn. 1 would write as
though through tbc first peson acc:ount of many ot.her
charactcn. actual historical characttr.s, narratives 1
"-"OUid, by 1he mere ract ofbringing thcm niO the orbit of
mr n \Oicc. suspcnd
bc."fwt.-cn and 6ct:ion.-Ro;alind Kraus:s8
ol \' \'<'AIO\ IIl ' 11u ti.m.i t of In Ad Hrmhardl, cxh, cat, Mweum
rt4 Mdena An, N<'w\'ork. 1991. 18).
6. In 1he contc-xt of such a praclitt, 1 s-ce :ua lmurmuum;,l)le (()nltadM:ti.on
fvr cul ki'IR'd of mjne ,.ho pt111llll t'll :.n ht"lod :tns arad to
provklt' th(' thc-orctical b3Si$ f.:w d.e1r work. i1 thus brought i.nto
, 1hC' \ 'n) grouOOs ofiu authtntidty.
7 j<Wtph 1\Dtuth. .. A Pl--et'.w..'t' ;md ' l'll'n Rcmlll'l' on Alt and \\'ugen
" /Aa.i Sjlwl tld J....mng U' N'IJn\JMA -' tk KllU da 20.
e1h. OL, \ "' 1C'fln4 1969. n.p In Engld.h
8 R.o..-:l.luld Knuu.. "'Wc 1..- 1t .,., lh<' \lO" In.- Att lt111lma. Ln-,'t. no. .f,
1994. )19.
410 )\MT fi V LI.f:T I N St:rn:Mtii:M 1990 VOI.LI Mf. LXX.,.' IIt 3

3 KOS\lth. Tlu PlJ of Jiu Brookl)'ll Museum, 1990
4 Kosuth, Pnss(lgen-Werk (DQCumnda Flnerie), 1992. frorn Documenla IX. Kssel: black. roomllefl white room/ righl side
fr's a da.ngerous rhoment for a1tists. Th<t modds of art
writing on contemporal)' art give t"\'C'I)' indkation
of being i.n rran:!iition. The in her red model of art histor)"s
selfconception, part of its professional as it
... ere. is one n whjch an old apparatus has nor yet been
PREV )mpletely dismantlcd. h implicd that art. historians s-peak
.. ith an authotity which is 'objc-ctive and M;icmlific.'
arthistoricaJ <.'ntcrprisc's linlc.s lo ;u:ademia do not comraclict
such authoril)'. whkh originatcd with the internalized values
of a rcgnant scicno::: upon whK:h imellecrual lfe in the
unh.-crsiry was f()unded. The soclal sciences must mimk t.he
ha.rd scic::nc;c::s, rhe assenion wem, as this is the economy of
academic standards and disciplin<t. Thus, thc que5tion rc
mains., does Lhe art4 hisrorical enterprisc spc.ak with the vokc
of objectviry, e"en when its miss ion is contradictory to it?
That contradiction bccomcs incrcasingly pr(mounced as
the works of artists are approachcd i.n a disrinctivdy new way:
as inspiration for thc producon of essenlially subjecti,e.
creative texts by tudeur "'Titen c)n ar1. A rather ironc
dcvclopmcnt, that the 'death of the author'
discussed by Barthes and Foucauh decades ago hasn' t
pr<.'vcntcd the use of French theory otherwise. Such
theory, although making claims as art-historcal tcxt, bctrays
a hope thar their pn:Kiuction will gan status itself as a
cultural object. post-Si l . (Keep the powcr. havc thc fim?)
h's one thing to comminglc discourses, but, within rhis
transformcd discipline, fin;, is thc inrention of the
an histori;m th;u emerges? Thar seems a fair question. since
thc re5uh of such on individual works (or, for that
mauer, an activit)' spanning a lifedme) selectcd for ths
treatment can be both deeply 1.mfair and inacCtmuc. 9
Pel'llaps what has initiated this transmigration of modcls.
or. should 1 just say it. thc source of this licf.n.St', has beeu
critica] thcory. lt is onc thing, to :m(;}u)r tme's
writing within :-. discmn-se sut:h a.s Cl'ilcal theory. wth its
postion theoretically compelled to something like consir
tenC)' vis-a
vis, for example, t.he orignal)' and the historical
nan-arhe. Al least their texts have- a perceivablc principlcd
basis and there s no confusion about the writing ofhistOI)' in
t.s more- 'objective' conventonal fonn. Onc can thcn pcr
ceive thc (cthical) space within whic;.h thc "-Tirer is <>I_ MT.tting:
readcr/ buycr bev.are. Herc, ;tll 'tcxrs' are equal, t.he work
and rhe u;xt it generated all being a parr ofthe same surface,
and any daims of are suspended as they are made
n1e hybrd of which 1 speak combine.s such a licensc with a
corhenlonal form of authority. ''fis practice occupics a vcry
dfferent and ambiguous ethical sp.acc. H;wiog
a mixed parentage- has given us an intcrcstiog parrimony:
rathcr likc l.itdc Fr;mkensteins of Art
l.anguage (a license at
least partially sired by Charles Harrison' s histories of
9 . M)' (IWn activiti<:!i l'l:(:f!nll)' hr.C'n to wh:u 1 (';m
olul}' call an fim <>f abuse by " 'ith {)(,t(.o/)(r wh()
m> want 10 d toe uf :uui<Nit-y pre.tuii'U:d by th(" f()HI\Cl' while
h;wing 1he '<:r<'ati\'C 'fkxit.Miry of ttl<' I;Jottcr. S. ('.g., Q.:wl;t'r, ni). S.), \.,.niC!r
1900; no. 5?. Summcr 1901: oo. 69, Stln1n1 1994: and oo. ?O. Fall 1994,
'fhU h:u c:oruinued. :u "-'t:U, in va(lw publk kt_.,urel', di)o(ussloru. and
exhibfti()n b)' th<! $ame .. .,;,..-r.'l.
tO.jostph KolSuth. "lnmxhK'tOI') N<>tt by the Amcrtcan Edit(ll," Art
IA1lguagl', 1, J97(). 1-1, 2- 3. ft'JII'. n idem .. .-h1 uj1u PJ. ihwpbJ und
tbe Art. & Language gn)up), we have another. and murant.
fon:n of ;ut theory as a11. except ths lime it is not the
prodtlction of artists but ()f arr hisrorians. Ma)'be J'm 10
blame. writing as 1 did in ArtlJmguoge in 1970 ""lis art
borh annexes the function ofthe cric. and makes a middlc-
rnan unnecessary:."
I didn't rcalizc at thc time. ho"''e"\'er NEXT
rhar rhe ar't hstorians mght join our nmh u:ruler Thi. -
emerging profc:ssional dass of writcrs seems to wa.t1t cel-
ebrated careers like thosc- of artists while thc:y keep their
protc:c"c pcrch. aod il's deta<;hed view, with the perquistes
;1nd p<)\\'CI' of re<:(lrders <,f histOI')'. lt appears that there s a
palpable, if admirtedly vague. dimension of something like a
' c:<>nAicr of interest' if those gi"en the responsibilty to
ioS<:ribe history are under a powerful and conflicting need to.
insLead. 7tUJitt: l.
'lllis leaves us with a brand of art
hisroric;d 'intentious'
which begin to produce an ambiguous cthical rchuionship
with thc artist. in curating as wdl as wriling. llte histmy of
re<:ent art hisrory lcads on<t w condudc chac thc:re is a
consCJ'\'Ott ism whkh pcrvades thc art
hisl'oric;al and criti<:al
establishment, in which ctmvenrion necessitates a \' iew of
artisrs as b(.-wildcrtd t hiJdren playing with lumps of wet clay.
in dire n.eed of rhe paternal an
historkal and critica! pres
cncc to sv.oop down and make sense ofit all. lf)'Ou one of
the ;u1ists who risk. srandng up to ths conception, prepare
ro be vilfied.l
As t"ve asked myself and others bcforc: is our
produt::tion. as anists, really onJy 1ldtu.rt, from which critics. as
historians. make thcir own 'culture'? And docsn't it vi<.lhttc
society's sense of fair play that tht; arr pcrmittt'd to do so
bchind a mask ofi.mplied 'objec;tivil)' ' without having 10 rake
thc kind of subju.#ve responsibilil)' for the pmduction of
consciousnes.s whidt a1tists have hist.OI'ically had 10, an.d
which has previoosl)' distinguished the rwo activities?
Who now seriouslf believes that the decsions made by
such art historians in lhe performance of their craft are rc-ally
any less subjcctivc than thosc made by an artist, givcn thc
career needs and the social re.lationships of an historians
such writing rcRccts? Prcviously thcrc secmcd to be sorne
kind of moral impc-rati\c for art historians to be abovc- such
considerations ()Ut of sense of pmfessionalism. Having it
bt>lh ways seen1s, at t.his receivng end. Jike an extremely
unjusr. and e'Ven cori'Upl, de\'elopruem. 1 always 1.hought that
critics, as journalsts. could dscuss the meaning of an artist' s
present production with the public in wa)'S that indcaLed
thatthc critics cithcr got it or didn' t (and anists could eithcr
dcal with t.hat or n01 .) The assu.roption was t.hat, in thc long
n.m and aftcr th<t smok<t dcarcd. at lcast thc historians could
be counted <m 10 be basically fi"ti.r and a<;c;ur<ttc in who
did whar and when, ""'h)'. whom , inRuenc::ed, and the li.kc. 1
assumed rhat lhe tral of evidence one lea\'eS as a pr:it<:ti<.;ng
aJ'{St with a public life woutd. in some sen se. serure arl honest
Wrilingl. 1966-1990, ed. Gabride M:u.' "'
19!H. 37- 70.
ll. S "COtlCeptu31 An and thc Rt:ption ofOucbamp." Rouod Table. in
n(l. iO. f'all i 99'*. ou. an Wc lu)QW tbat pl:t(t! f()r
)Xlkmk!l. \IJ'hac 1 1 OO;;t lQ my work and
h isto>rkaJ ><jtion il.Je intt"'nioually mU, ted as .a conwque:nt.'t: of lite
poir., mifon uf wrilr.n; who t!UJ())' ;m a11 in$1ituli(m:ttly affi liaf('(l
h it n04: an rthkal i.ssuc whc:n <\ca<iemk ,-...Jidation, wh.ich at kast
has thc implication o)( $Ch<>larly di1tntt:rt'it. is wed for such pur><es?
2 rttord i.s., howC\cr. nothing m<m: lhan a
hisrory of the imemions or prciodar individuals living ln a
ginn momc nt. The reconJ uf thOS lnttntaom ts the anchor.
perhap.s. which puts weight on thc ec_hk;al rc:tpoosibllity of
the art hiscorical enaerprisc. Withoul thc meanings whic;h
PREV tch a record suggcsts. onr (ulnmal produc."lion as is
;ducc:d lO bcing a playpen, a free.for.:_\11 or interprctation,
imlitutivnallz.i r\g his-tory as a crcativc nct- but only fOr iu
FinaHy. thc rca.son \\' e don't re.a11y t'Utnider the paintings
by monkqs aod d li_ ldrtn lO be a.11 S b-ause of imention;
without attistic ituention u no art. Thc subjcctiw:-
presencr whd Slands behind a work of an a_nd whic:h ta_ke$
respomabtlity for its mcaning .somcthing. wh.k:h 1
di.5Clu1('(1 hcrc-, l.$ "bat it authemk M a 'fi.'OI't. 1lus is
thc hum:an infornu , in a sen u! g .i\'CS lifc. to what
would be emply for111s and objects. J ust as thc
gnmu and groan.s of languagc would be g1bbc rish as ont)'
phyical propcrtics of souod in lhcmsd .. cs, wilhin a system of
reluions thcy bccome mcaningfltl, The re is a tenacious
lurking in the a n arbrument whic.h
wanh. are as a language dead-archaic and unreadable. its
mc:aning the province of whoC\cr mlfU it- for Lhey are free
10 m2.kt a decorativc troph)' of it and that ""outd be iu final
mcan1ng. 1n this vicw it is thc role ofthe aJIhiJtoncal process
, 10 loca te thc v::due of art it) the adavcn o( passing anisci<
forms and mace:rials. an instituonalh _ing proce55 which
5e"\'Ct'S the language from its spe-aker, so it c:an gi .. e up iu
mcaning to thc markct .
} Duj1l1 Kosulh a foundtr of tltt Ctmrt'JUual arl movttnt"fl-t.
wor '""' rwmlly su in "RN.o.uikring 111< Objta o[ Art" aJ th<
M""'"'" o[ ConlntJK!rary Art. lAs A"Krl"- , ahibition in
1990 lll tlt. Broolrln Mws..,.. hri/J'd rrv<ru NF.A f>Oiity. H< u a
profruor at lh< Stuttgan KttntJtll.,dnur 1'91 Broodo<aJ. New
!'orA. N. Y. 10012/.
12. AAC'r nc-arl) thirty :u :.npniCt',, of' 1hc cnterpt i"le
1 h: .. ,.e I('Cel)tly b:n .,r !ludt
10 lf'al'll th; thi:o IIQY ll llt be t tuC, iiW( (ll_nd peuy Jlnd p<!t
in tltt run. if <C'I1;in ifldi-wm:.l h;ut:.litt,) may fadc frbm
''d tlllol!i, (ur huffienl IJ)(lYe! but Chl'lt hu t(JOI; lnll)'
atri,a <kdde othr rll(lt. 1\!thap' iwlte\ er altnn!)ln ff!
WC' l'lt!C'd to kft'p in mind 1 ma_m m1"'h' f'or ce OOHttOJ'ISi<kntion
>4Wh writillJt botrt. \ht k\cl f(or 11 cht dubic"'" ' ';aiuor uf wbt lii2Ly h., e
'"' C'On('ftn u. that d partbft "'nuc:n u., rnub o( sudl inten
da r<rd, OM' -birh a n':fUl-l"d lndd. "'C: netd lO <11sk..
rotawd .n. u.l:ing ondww 11 Of
thr qiQIIIf) Q/ a ' t.u) ti dw.f
History, Writing, and Image
in Maya Art
. .,.o rcAc<:t u pon the c;hoict:s :-md values thnt inform }'Our owr: N EXT
31'1 his, orica.J writing." rcad thc lcucr in vil ing me 1<) contrib-
uee 10 this issue of " Per.spccdvcs." Th:tt i.s what 1 h.a vc
dc:cidc:d w du, but J do no1 inte1)d my l"encctions to be
pi'('S('rplions for how othcr an hiscoriouu. l!.bould wotk or
the discipline- shoold be. t oun on
lr.t.nsfoonatioau 1 have observe-d. bec:ause rny fiekl has
tm<krgune a m-olution or perception and intcrprctation
during thc twcnt}'fue )c:an. The dri .. ing force behind
that ft\Oiution has beeo che ongolng dcciphcrment of the
Maya hie:roglyphic wring syilem and its contribution lO he
undcntad ing of Maya cultural hiswry.
Although art histori.ans h;wc playt:d lll<vr ules il this
the arena of discoursc has nc.H bc;cn primari ly in
31"1 h1su.wy, but rather in thc: fleld.s of amhropoiOg)' and
::trchacology. This fat.1 ha.\ meant thatthe response has been
couched in tcrms of arch01rologi_,;t.5 and anlhropologisu
1110t e- than in those of an hinorians. Onc critK:ism, for
ha., bet:n that epigr.tphy and the Mudy of imagcry
i5 "un-KC'ntific ... aod anQthc:r has a.sserttd that sioce t'\'et')'
thing tht anciem.s wrotc and dcpictc:d W'-'S the
ofinfunnation ls unreliablc and should be discardcd .
W11ilc a rt hlstOrians and anthropologi.sts study the
srunc thing-s-that is, t.he as arcifnct. aeSLhetic product.
a nd carricr of symbolis1 a nd sucinl imemion- thc two
ask ques:tions in d iO'crcm ways and vfi.en work
toward dilfcrcnt goals. A historian of t:hinese art once ptll
thc comraM to me in this w.ty: A.rt stud)' Mtists
and che:ar society in ordcr 10 undcmand an objt. w-bile
anthropolog1sts srudy objts in ordcr to undcnta.nd the
SQCcty that the:m:lbis il3 way or ch.a.rncter-
izing thC' contr.ut, but it is vne 1 have found cogcnt.
Ant hrorwlogic:al thought on p1'Casse-s and
state formation. economic and power 31n &t tult:s, lr.inship
systems, histoncal linguistics_ , ethnography, ;md sitnilar areas
of inquil)' ha..-c bcen t;entr.llto imcrprctative work on Maya
ar1, :;uochitecture. and archacology. l:'or me. the critica!
t1ues1ions hil\'e coocerned h<YW human bcirlg5 org,;mixe soci-
C'tic-1. ideologies. enrode their undcntandings of dl(:
""orld, a.nd materialil.e these in
1 tt<t\'c (ound myself in the situation of rc:constructing a
history and tc\le:ring a lost '\Ot'Orld V1C'W rrom thc 1
study. rather using history and a world vicw to inf'bnn
thc \'\o1ren I began my cncou ntcr with the Maya in
1970. 1 emeed a fie ld ln which thc dcciphen nent process
had cac.h cd a critkal mass. 'T11c g1'c l1t Tatiana
r, had publi.shcd thrt"c .aJ'ticles on the
insc::ri pliOns of P1edras Negras ;md r>rt)\ing tha L
t.he coutents of thc writing sys1em "'-'en! historica1.
Sbe tdentrficd men and "omen boch b) their glyphk namcs
and thcir portraits. and she pbced their actKms in a
chronology ac.xurate to the da y. Othcr Mayani.\ls. induding
Ol.fSeLf. followcd hcr lcad a nd began to recover the dynastic
histories ofindividoal sitcs.
Ouring the early years, 1 wor\ with a gr<mp that rnet at
Dumbarwn Oak.s in a series of miniconfcrcnccs that <)<.:-
trrc::d regulad) between 1973 and l979. Thc.- tea m incltdcd
PREV lo)d Lounsbuty. a renowned linguist and k.inship specialist:
- .vavid Kcllcy, an and ethnohistorian; Merle
Robercson. an artist; Peu:.r Matht."\\s. an archaeologist and
epigraphcr in training; and myself, who was an artist at the
time. Our collabora1ion not only brought. difft!.rent speciali-
lics a.nd seo$iti\' ities 10 bear on eounnon prohlems, hut the
synergy de,clopcd also took all of us bcyond our indi-
vidual limitations. Ouring those mcctings our tcam workcd
out the symactical and discoursc structurc of thc hiero
glyphic wriling, and we used distribULional and stmctural
studies of iconography and archaeologcal come-xt as parallel
field.s of data to tease meaning <>ut of t11e archaeological
rect>rd. 2 The rcsuh offf::red a n ex1remety prod uclive opel)ing
i.nto thc intcrprctation of imagcry, archilccU.m::, and a.rtiHtcL
Thc ancicnt Map c<,ordinatcd diflt-rcnt system$ of infor
mation in thcir obj ccts so tha1. poncry pail)(ing, oarrativc
sculpt.ure, antl an:hitectural decoretlion ll( )l only picLured
acLion, person, and <:<">ntexl. but als.o included par.tllel and
often complementary i.nfonnation in writtcn lcxts.. In a smal.l
perc;cntage of Maya rd ied on (mly pictorial
or only ''Titten infimna<m, bu1 the r:najority of art objecu
fu sed the C\\'0 S)'Stems into one image.
T he texls usually give us \'eJ)' pre<:i$e inl(.)rmatin about
who Lht acwr-s '"ere. the acli<ms in which lhc:')' were cng-etged,
and the days (m whit:;h t.he actions O<:curred. Evcn this
simplesL level of iof()mtaliOn often c;ontains va.luablc data ,
induding tilles revealing status, ldnk.. oc:c:u pati<m. parem-
age, and politi<:a l affiliations. More comple x Lexls tan link
tOgether acti\'it.i es within the lifelime of one ruler. a<.TOSS
ercll generations. and for emire dynasties that span
hund reds of )'ears. Moreover, .scribcs uscd lcgenda.ry cvcms
from the remole past to gi\e contex.t w hiswrical evenu, and
they framed both in mythological tme. Cn::ation tn)' thology.
especiaU)' pr'twided the frarnework fi)r political chaner and
his1ol"ical causality.
The chronologkal placement of these ac-tio1lS MIS quite
precis.e be-cause the Maya used an era-based talendar w
anchor evems in the time stream.-' By caoss-.referendng all of
the dates of actions recorded in the inscf"iptiMlS of a single
site with other factors such as life spal\s, reproduction age.
and so on, we have been able to recoalstruct sequences of
evems with great certitude. Much of my "ork has been
l . T;,tiana lmpti01tton$ or Dates a1
Picd.-..s Ncgt'as. Guatemala." A ... .U.-m AlltituJty. lt)(l,'. 1960. -\54-7!): :md
c3dcm, - Hi:ltt...U';"II in the c)t' \'axchiUn, 1 and 11."
f.dtH.(I$1 CWtttra m. 1964. 149-67 and 1"\', 1964, 1'17-201. (Pr<l!S.. Ourb
ltoff's e.arlier work a )-tudy of lltylt>, ,( Stwly 11j'
(:Lcu.rir. Stul/'(uu, Cltrru:gk lnc.cjtuioo nc), !'t93, Washin_g
t<>n. 0 .(:., 1950. that is still uw:d toda\'). Atldther ci1M:al comrlbutic>n camt- in
1952 the Ru.sliOiau schobr Yuri 'KnttrDl>C)V. wh( di.ic("l'"c;red thc $P<'lling
Othc:r lo(h<1:tl"$ who iroJKII1Mt .,.-en thc
Mexkan Heinrich Berlin and the Da,id aud MKt13d
Sce Mic:had Cae. Brffllil!t! th<' Mli"Jd CtJth, lomlon. 1992,' lhr a full h i$1(1J)' c>r
thc dc(iphc:nnenl.
:t. Other peoplt "-'Cfe IOUowing thc same pr<durt$ in tbe ami
abo achit-;ing resuhs . P."lnicul.:uly ootable early iududcd
1:\ NI)I 'fll l! IIIS'l"OitY <)l' Ml'l'
cngaged in prec;isdy this: reconsuucting the dynasric history
of indh,idual sitcs. idcmif) l.he of specific
k.ings and lords. and itwcstigating inronnation abotu pt">l ili-
cal exigen<:ies, religious comext. ritual, pageam, and other
domains of expc ricnce t.hat were encoded in suc.h texts a nc'
mages. NEXT
Even though the histories of these dynasties ae
cotllinual J'e"\oew and by the growing number of
epigrapheas working in the field. the reconstruction of
histoy gone to the nexllevel ofregional imeraCLions and
pan-Maya history. Epigraphe1s are lindng Cn.)SSrefel'ences
to thc saroe sets of events as vicwcd at difiCreo1 sitcs, S(l
wc are gcnjng both loscrs' a.nd win.ncrs' pcn.pooivcs. Al-
though widcr sv.ceps or history are still under debate,
they allow us to .see how imagery worked on the larger scale
of site interanions and how these reveal politkal and social
Moreover, archae<,lo.,..j<:al pn)jects are test-
ing the ,eracity ofLhese hislories in the field by documeoting
thc or lad:: of resp<msc 10 cvents re<<.lrded i.n thc
i.nscriptional ret::ord in tcnns of changes in thc material
The interaction between ohjcct., image, and writing has
given U$ more in.fhrmation time, anion. aod actor,
lx:c-4-lusc thc texts often sought to place the a(tion in larger
historical and contcxts. Thc- background for
politka.l bistory could be 1.he lcgcndary past whcn the first
ci\'ilizations of Mesoamerica tltrived. (.lr thc time of creation
when the ordcr of thc was establi.shcd. Sc.holars such
a.s Michael Coc havc:: that m)ths rccordcd dttring thc.-
sixtccoth ccntury an; sur\'ivals of c.ritic..1.l mythology from
Pre--Columbian times."' Thc Popol l'uh, for ex.ample, played
much the samc:: role f(,r the Maya as thc /liad and thc Odys-sey
in Creck cuhur.d history. Texts havc providcd thc namc-s of
and (lther supcm:uurdl and havc.- thrown light
( m the way io which they are manifc-.stcd in imagcry. 'f'exts
havc clucidated the relatonship befWeen objee:t and super-
nau trdl fbr<:e, definitions of tr;lnsrormation and encountcrs
wirh the 5upematural, and che Maya pcrccption of a dvine
context. konographk studics have not onl)' idemified what
thi.ngs are. but thcir contcxt and distribution pauerns ha\'e
a lso prcwidcd infhrmation about strategy and social intcn
For thc a ncicnt Maya, an objec.ts constituted two general
clas5es: objcx1s mcant to be \ISCd in practicc and ritual, or to
crcatc t.hc cootext. of spectacle, pageant, and ritual; and
narrati .. e i.m:lgery of pcople in historical action. Objects of
thc first 1ypc gec to be rcprc.-seoted in narTatives ofthe second
Matcus.'lllt St4l<' in Clmn( Moyt I.JJU-Inru, O.C.,
1976: .;md a <f the aOO art of Thl in
Clemen.:.y -vaintin(!; aud Or-..... i ng aJ Tlk:d: An Hi$t<lriall and
((c..-w>gr;phit Ph.O diss., Har\'ard Unio\e.-sity. 1976.
,:S. 'Th<- d:uc Maya (alendat Aug. 13, 3114 fi .C. The M
uSt'd a ec>mpkx. that c:cmnced fr>m thi$ cbte int< th<.'
presC'n C by using yc.:;n
aggre.gated imo groups ()f2() 400 )'!;!'.U" ).. S,OOO ;.nd
CciUid ((h"t' the ex:.ct uumber of dap $inQ' ' '1.c-n>'' date, or thq
ccM..Id :.nch(lr cvem$ t(> cnd1. Thts .s)'Stem crea1ed a hist>l}' in .... hk h the
majorit)' )f tw: da1ed tt> a prt:ci)C Lwt":nty-four-11<,.rr :.nd
sumetiti"ICS .... -.: even knw whether thC')' during thc day (lf night ,
4. C.x fir.M demc>n$tr;ued thc- prC;Sen(e ofPop<ll Vuh in
art in 1'tl( M a](! cmd HU W'ufld. Ncw Y oc k, 1973.
1ypc: and wm<1imC$ in lhe: gtyphic sys1c:m. Wha11hc tc:xl$ 5<1)'
abotat thcsc: objccts. their a.rchacological COtHrxl. a_nd the
"-11)' in whiC"h thc- Maya depicted 11\t:m iu use fun1ish dues to
1hcir mc:amng. fiually, ethnohisrorif.:al t't. ">rds ar1d modem
elhnogtaphies can also inform andcnt mcanings, if thc
PREV Otlnection.s are carefully madc.
- As thc Maya produccd objecl5, cspt"C<IIIy 1hosc thot t dis
playcd historkal n.arrati..,cs, the thcmllelvell hecarne a
pan of Lhc material rcn,rd 1hat c:onditionetl future produc
tion. Whcn lht" Maya made public histOI')' through t.heir
objts. thcy made it in full awareness ofche artiMic history of
thdr 0'1'11 k.ingdoms. Individual and regio os c:k\cl
opW \l)'ies tha1 fwKt.ioned as identity. j _1.5 .stylc di$tin
gmshc:d Maya art from Olher Mesoamcrican
Tl.e Maya probably under dircc:tion of their
patron.s. uscd stylc as an instnnnenc of idt-'Uiogy and politics
on local. regional. and Anaong such uses
"''er<. thc: cmulation of carlic:r wotk_, appropmuon of
Slylcs from c::onquc.rcd or more prcsliA:ioull si te!., and the use
of St)lc as ;1 51alcment of c:nigln anrl political affilltuion.
U)' building t:omp<trative frameworts wiLh O&Tt objcc.:ts from
diffcrC'nl sicc:s <tnd regions aod across Ma)a hhtory,
have to reconstruct poliltal oonlcxt. Detecting
of variouion and dlsoibmion allowc:d Mayauisu to
idencify the e\olutionary histories of and propose
meanings. Ovcr thc ,cars. more :md more peop&e with
ditfennl expe:r;enca and biases ha\'C joined the debate O\'er
these iute rprct.alions. As a resuh. the race of diSC:O\'Cl)' ha.s
gtO'o\' ll txponeruiall)' and clebo\te created a rapid
('VOiution of intt:rpretaon. Most p1'aC1itioncrs rcgularly
thc: emire interprtL1tion:ll fkld, indudiug t.he ha sic- prc:-mises. i.n liglu ofnew dis.covcrics. This conLinu
oos :l(ljU.)unem has Jed LO discomron among nany arch.aeokr
gins, "''ho ycam for a single imerprt't:ttion thl will never be
to C'h.ange.
The relatioushjp writing and an has yieklcd
anorher d ass of information p:u1icularly unponam to an
h'"on-aru. Tbc young cpigrapher David Stuan idcntificd
anins" signaturcs in 1986. i11is led to the dcciphcrmcnt of
dedication phrases Lhat inc-Juded 1hc pi'Oper ft:.r many
of 1he m:tiur monuments and buildings, thc: M:Lya temls for
typcs cf t he narnes of the of che objet:ts, and
1hc rmmcs of al'tists. Nthough c?Cploitntiml of this domain
has .sumetl in exhibition.s such as .. Painting the Maya
Uni\c:se,'') the:re is much to kam -.bout hO'<\' Mara anist.ic
pat-onage and production w()tt.ed.
\\lhen J fint began '-Titing abc>tu this new history and my
inaerpretatioru oftbc imagery associated "'ith it, J cmulatcd
the- -.ritiog of thc pc:<>ple J admired. 1 wrotc: primaril) for
othtr irl the field. SCC'king tu U!le the kind of
j:,ugon and dscoursc stnlc.:turt: tlmt "-'Ould gain 1hcir ap-
prov:.l and 1 was s1eered int o a ntv .. path when the
Kimbdl A1't Museum cont.1ctcd me about Ol'ganizing an
exhibition on Mo:l)':t "The 6JC)()(j of in whit:h Mal)'
Ellcn Milltt' ol' Y ale Univcrsity beca me rny p:u tner. 6oth of
us viewed Ma)a ara objefio; as windov.s into thc world view
) , S Oonr Ati.t:.t tlw Me,. (l.,.,....,v, lltwfum. N.C...
and hhCOF)Oflhc people wbo rnade thcm. By 1985, "''hen Yo'C
bcgan dcsigniug thc exhlhilion, the proccs5 ofd:spbermem
and itj r-ewltJ '-'t"t'f' rwenryfi\e yea.r1 old. Wc about
prtseming 50 me of tbc new history ancl undcr"$landing ofth('
Maya world vicw to thc publk.
Kimbdl us ';'rite a woold stanc NEX
t)ll uwu aller the exhtb1uon had e nded. 1 hat was my f1rs
exfltlicncc ofwring for a general audicncc. 1t was not easy.
1 remcmber the momcnt whcn Emil)' Sano. who was thc
cur.uor i_n charge of tbc cxhibia ion tmd cdiwr of tbe
catalogue, thn:w of llr$t dr.tRj, dOY.n on ffi)' dining-
room tablc and .said that it would not do, Enuly's speciahy
w-.ts Japanc:se a.n.. so sbe had no \'tsted i.ntcrnt in our
her only ooncem was that they shoukl be co.
gently and dearly presentcd for a norupcciali;t;cd audicocc.
Shc aaftcd oor writing and w ordin:uy peoplc
could Lhem. lleamcd a lot from thaa t;ltperiente,
including che r;tct tbac spcciali7.ed l:mguase and jagon often
act to obKUrc mcaning rathc a han enh:uu:c h.
'/'he Blood of was an exhibition andas a JI l."3Used a change or paradigm in tJu. pobli("s
mind. TI1e peareful. pastoral Ma)a gavc way to a historial
Ma)'a who practked war. bloodkuing. polirk$. aud religioo
in a "'ay lhat was ;1nd Ptoskouria.
kolf had bcgun abe re>oluaion an<l many had kqn ia
going, bua a he &xJd '!{ Kinp brougha 11 homc to thc pubtic
and the media. Thc ramiflcuions of that c.hange are still
playing ahc:m.scl\c5 out in ut\expected ways.
In 1986. thc smcc:ss of the BJtJorf of Kin1,rs lcd an editor to
irwitt tnt: to )\lbmit a proposal 10 Williilm Morr'Qw for a book
on che M:i)' a. 1 acceptcd thc invimlion :1ruJ asked Oavid
FrtJdcl. an amh1'0pologist and archacologi-51 1 respect. to
joir) me co-author. 1 prcrc:r work.iug in collaborauve
situations becausc.- of thc S)'ncrgy tha1 develops \)e-("'ee-n
au1hon of diffcrcnttraining and per5pccli\'e". We: decided lO
ofthe to illusuace how "' .C' coukl ("Xtraa
in1cmional bf!}Q\-ior'. political Mflte:<t, and hislori<al pro-
cc55es from the archaeological a nd arai.stic rerord. Many
M::ay:lnsts had been talking or hiswry in this Wy. bUl the
re.suhmg intcrprctations hotel noc yet been pre-semed in a
publi<: fon.un.
For A ForeSI of Kinf$. we chose a seics of crucial episodes
about which wc: had considerable data from imagct)' in-SCrip-
1ons, and an;hacolqo. \'\'e with an episodC' in thc
Prblbir (ca. 100 s.c., and cndcd ln che Terminal
Cl:u:sk (A. D. 950). Each episodc concemcd a difftreru kind of
political or dynas.c problem. Wt- a"umc-d tht thc: itnagery
and texb had bcen commis.siont"d b) toi ho 100 per50naJ
and poliuc:al ;J..SC:nda.s. Tbq were not: "objthe .. ohhc
hi.OI) . bot oncs lht preseoted a 1ak.t on t11c C'\cnts thtn
che wim1e:rs best. Wc wcrc critifh.ed for usiug he
ndigenous a$ hi.s1orital ,sCMuces bt:cauM" lhC)' werc
bul for us lhetr value carne pl't'Ci:s.e-ly fr<ml thei1
buih in bias.
Wc Hk:d and crossrefcr<'nt"CS frorn within the
sjae :tnd 31 Othe:r si tes CO CCSl thc \'CI":lcil)' Of' any particu)ar
assertion in the ancient records. Freidel' s knowledgc ofsocial
suucture. statc fonn;ujon, and ethnographic analogy pL"')'ed
a crucial role in devcloping our i.uerptetations. Wc ;u-
tetnpted to detect social intention a nd the strategies of the
arious particpants in grappling with the problems faced by
PREV 1e Maya in each inddcnt. In h.indsight, we were wrong in
- .....,me of the detail, but gencral.f) cc:urect in the main trajee
tory of history as wc rcxonstructcd iL
Other scholars havc cont1ued w build orl this first
auempt at hs1ory. changing and adapling itto new dedpher
mcnts a.nd continuing excdvations. In fact, 1his has bcen onc
of the great lcss.<ms I have lc::amed. AJI any of us can do is
publish thc bcst interpretation of the fields of data that wc
perceivct a t an) one momeru, but the common stream of
understanding and thc pauerns wi1hin the underlying dala
continue w chaogt:-and so mus1 the imerprctation. lf
intcrprctation is data-driven, it is necessarily ephemeral and
in a continuous state of evolulion.
lf 1 bdicvcd thi: Blood had taught me how to wrtc
for the public., 1 was wrong. A Fore.#. of ( 1990) to
prove far more difficuh to write than my first cffon. Onr
editor at William Morrow, Maria CuanascheW. requred us 10
use:: an experienced wriler to convert our first manuscrpt
into something that the public could absorb. We had a bad
of '\academese," but she did not ask us to eliminate thc
evidence we needed to support our argumen1s. This wc pw
in extensive notes. We could keep all the dctail wc wantcd,
bul she required a good s1ory that would hold thc rcader's
auention. Learning w craft ao argument in language that an
cdll(;:ated, int.erested public carl absorb requires suategies
vety difl'ereru from those needed to writ(' for a professional
audience. To combine both in one work was difficult indctt'd.
In our next book. Maya (..o.smos ( 1993), freidcl and J
tonlinued t<> write for a diverse audience, induding the
gencr;ll puhlic. atlciorlados of Ma)'a civilizalion, stud('ntS at
all le ... ds, professional academcs in our own and rd a tcd
flelds, and the modern Maya, The general theme ofthis book
was the assenion that the aucient Maya framed their knowl-
edge of the world and society within a coherent theory of
cause and cotlsequence. We argued that they encapsulated
theil' understanding in a story of cre.ation that was encoded
in myth. metaphor. and symbol. h opctratcd as a proccss th:it
unfolded historkally, as a social praclice through ritu;tl
performance and the material contcxt in which thc perfor-
mance occurred, and as a religious paradigm. \lo/e proposed
that this and unifying view of crearion en-
durcd as a proccss and dcvclopcd over thc:: cntire span of
Maya histor)'. and that wc could trace it io thc malcrial
record kfi by lh< Maya.
In our view. therc wc:: re prdctictl implitatiom to be drd""n
from our t.hctsis and 1hc way in wh.ic:h sought 10 pres.cnt ir.
As an archaeologist, Frctidd asscncd that thc dcp<>sition of
an arch::t cological record in thc first. pla<:e was g(wemed by
1his univetsalizing undel'Siandng ofthe wol'ld. For exa mple,
we argued that the Maya believed that they brought soul
force imo rhc places thcy buih and rbe objects they pr<>dm:ed
throug:h dedicat(n')' rituals, and tha1 places so COI\secrated
required deacrivation when they were to be buried. de
st.roycd, or aba.ndon<.-d. Both d<.-dicalion :Uid u::rminarion lcft
WII; I TIN"<; (ANO) 'l Hf. Ht:; 'I' ( Hl \ ' Of ,o\KT 4 )
ime1ltional deposi1ions tbat can be reco,oered by archaeolo
gists sensiti\e to their presencc. For an art histOrian, the
artifacts that t.'Ome ou1 of thcse con1exts are art 1hat
cany encoded nforruaton about mcaning and thc:: riLuals
that lcd to thctir dcposition. Archaeologists have recordcd
grcat dcal about these con1exts in the past that can now b NEXT
in light of what the Maya themsclvcs vm:>t . -
hieroglyphically and showed pktoriall)' about tht-ir cwm
aaltura.l production. Al the same time. achae:ological con
tcxt givcs inrt)nnation to the art historian and
cpigrapher thal can eluddate what the Maya said and
showed in their art.
Tite opponunity to write books for multipk audienccs has
chang<.-d my ;nlitude ahout writing art histoy and the role it
can pla)' Ten )' ago 1 began gi,ing \\orkshops on Maya
hierogl)phicwriling to Maya people in Guatemala, and latcr
in Yuc.atan. For five hundred years, the Maya hav(' had thcir
history ripped ITom them atld refashioned to suit the necds
of thcir conquerors. In more rrtent Lirnes, informaton liom
archarological and rese;lrch is only rarely available
to thtm, becaus.e rn<Jst of the publications on Maya history
are in English, and be<:ause 1he Ma)a do not ha,e access to
thct kind of education thal would allow them to become pan
of the nation;tl institutions that <wesee ardlaeology, espe-
cialty in Guatemala.
1 have led t.hese workshops with Nikolai Grube of th('
Univel"$ity of Bonn and Federico fahs.en of Guatemala, We
have learned as much front the Maya as we have taught them.
The cxc.hange has bt'Cn <>n many levis, induding the
diffcrent kinds of knowledge and experience that
both we and the Maya bring to 1he nleelings. "'H!' Maya have
opcned wind<>\\'S of undtrstanding into thtir symbolism.
ritual, and l;u:aguages of a kind that is known <Jnl) to rlatve
spcakcrs who havc bcen raised within cultur;otl tradition. We
ha .. c brought the Ma)'a t.he rocans of dcciphering their
andent histOries and the tools to debate and adapt the
histories we are attc::mpting to <:reate. Our bope is t.har. there
will be Maya e pigrapbcrs. archaeologists, and a.rt hi:5toriam
in Lhe fmurct who spc:ak dif(..-ctly LO thc:ir 0"''" peoplc.
Working wirb thc May;t has roade me sens-itivc to the
power of words and h<)\\' l.hey can hann or help, oflen
unintentionall)' The par:itdigm shil) 1hat Mal)' Miller and 1
r.riggered io the 8/()(i(/, of Kings has cre;tted a perception of
Map violcncc thar has not becn pl:u;cd in t.he <:onte xt of
world history. By spcaking of Maya violencc so nakcdly,
while neglecting the violence in the history of the Europe;tn
pc:oples :1.nd their colonies, writcrs. and rclcvision
producers pri .. ilcgc our own ;md pcn:ili7.e thc Maya.
l.n the light of rhc gcnocide suffcrcd b) Maya pcoplc in thc
eighties and ninelies, some M;tp have <;hallenged not thc
vcracily of wh;tt. we publish<.-d, but its potcotial impact on
()n the other hand, many more Maya see the hist.<>l)'
locked in the inscriptiotlS as one of the keys to taldng bad.
ther intellectual sovereignty. Our work has politcal implca
tions as powcrfid and lar-rcaching as archactol<>g> in Israel.
People o n all sides of1he political debates in Cen1ral America
use percep1ions of the Pre-Colurnbian past to supp<>rt their
In the summerof 1995. an incident oca1rrcd in GuatcruaJa
t hal brought homc 10 me thc importante of 1he-s(: h.istoric::s to
the Maya community. My fricnd Nikolai Grube had ananged
fi)r a grc:mp of Cemtan politid a ns and businessmen to meet
wirh Ma)'3 leaders in order 10 discuss how fxs1 to hdp 1he
PREV l aya communitics. Onc of those leader;s, an academic
.JCciali zing in mass t:ommunication and education, told rhe
visiting Gerntans that <>ne of the biggesl problems for the
Maya is how to mo,e into rhe t\"'Cnt)'first century as panjd-
pants in rhe world cuhur<: withollt losing t heir iden1i1y as
Maya. He dcclarcd that th<: M:i)'a would do it in the sarne wa)'
as we do---lhrough knowledge oftheir histOI')'-and that the
gre.atest part of that hstOI')' is prescrved in thc inscriptions
and images left b)' thcir anccs10rs.
1 find myself contcmpl; a tonAict be tvoeen academic
frc(..-dom on the one ha nd. and responsiblit)' for my words on
the orher. 1 would like to pursue the abstrac.t goal of
following the daLa wherever i1 leads me without regard to
anything but the "'truth.'' Yet the Maya have Jhade me
acurel)' aware of the responsibility that comes wilh writing
hisrory and of thc powcr of word$. lt. is notjust wh:-u J say, bur
ho"" 1 say it thar is ituport:un . For rhOSt people in the wol'ld,
the wl'inen histOI)' of the Maya and the andent descriptions
of their world vi<"'' and ritual performance an: mauers of
e xotic cmi osit). For thc Maya, tbey a re mauers of ide1Uif)'
a nd rhe valid:u ion oftheir herirage as human belngs.
l ... u/Q. .... W.htlr. ji'T'lt jou.rtU?JY.d to Mt!:t.'ito a.s a parUng uacher i11
1970. Sht a number of articles 0>1 Maya epigraphy ami
itMography befort recviug a Ph.O. frotn the ofTtxaJ
1980. Sht is w(J rJcl11g rm her fiftlt b(}(;k. on MaJ'll. art. tmd history
[Dtparlm:nt of.-trl a:nd Art History, UrJiv.rfsity ofTexas al AtutitJ,
Au.slha, 78712/.

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