Lines of Research

IS ART HISTORY GLOBAL?

Researcher in charge: James Elkins

In the last five or ten years the question of art history’s global reach—or the lack of it—has appeared as an inescapable topic for art history. As the discipline of art history wakens to the possibility of worldwide art historical writing, it also becomes more seriously engaged with postcolonial theory, critical theory, anthropology, visual studies, cultural studies, and subaltern studies, all of which have been intermittently or continuously interested in art practices outside of Europe and North America. This line of research addresses these issues, posing questions such as: what is the shape, or what are the shapes, of art history across the world? Is it becoming global –that is, does it have a recognizable form wherever it is practiced? Can the methods, concepts and purposes of Western art history be suitable for art outside of Europe and North America? And if not, are there alternatives that are compatible with existing modes of history? These questions oscillate between two potential axes. The first, that art history can be considered a single, fairly cohesive enterprise –not homogenous certainly, and not one that is distributed evenly around the world, but a field that shares some basic concepts and purposes. In this first case, art history would not be global. The second, that Western models of art history would be weakening and melting into many local practices. This would imply that art history would be global, or on its way to becoming so. Engaging with points from both side of the divide, this research puts into question what exactly constitutes art history’s common language, and what historical, political, linguistic, and economic consequences that commonality might have.

Key Concepts
Art History, Globalization, World Art, Western Art, Visual Studies