Quote / Art History

“What Are World Art History Books For? 

Does it really matter if you can drop an intelligent line or two about the David at a party? 

Is your life really better for knowing about the Renaissance? 

The goal of general cultural literacy itself is a German one, first developed in the nineteenth century under the name Bildung - a kind of aesthetic education that polishes a person by making him into a picture (that’s the literal meaning of the German word). These days a similar kind of cultivation is called aesthetic education, and it is associated more with conservative intellectuals than with any broad consensus. 

One-volume art history survey texts are still mainly about European culture, and in that respect, they are the overgrown descendants of the ciceroni, the nineteenth-century guidebooks for tourists making their pilgrimages to Italy. 

My own sense is that art history is interesting only when it can be seen as many stories made by many people, often for contentious and partisan purposes. Art history has always been inseparable from nationalism and from anxieties about the kind of life people want to live and the values they hold most closely. I am deeply unconvinced about the notion that art can be taught fairly and dispassionately, and I’m deeply unsure about which individual artworks are worth mentioning”

- Stroies of Art by James Elkins