Histoire de l’art – n° 70 – Visual Studies. Contents and abstracts

HISTOIRE DE L’ART – n° 70 – mai 2012


Approches visuelles / Visual studies

Olivier Bonfait
, Editorial (p. 3-4)

Anne Lafont, ‘Ceci n’est pas l’histoire de l’art…’  Du sort des approches visuelles en France / ‘This is not history of art…’ About the Reception of Visual Studies in France (p. 5-12)



Daniel Dubuisson, Sophie Raux, Entre l’histoire de l’art et les visual studies : mythe, science et idéologie / Between Art History and Visual Studies: Myth, Science, and Ideology (p.13-22)

Art history is deeply rooted in our earliest learned culture: speculative thinking on Beauty, Art, mimesis, the image, the ut pictura poesis tradition, the artist’s role, and so forth, all predate the discipline’s emergence in academia by many centuries. Whereas this venerable field has for long claimed exclusivity on works of art, which get organized into hierarchies and often idealized, visual studies is instead concerned with visual processes and artifacts. Moreover, visual studies relies on notions, approaches, and theorists that have been largely ignored, if not rejected by art history. Visual studies, however, continues to perpetuate the same pragmatism, materialism, and agnosticism found in any contemporary discipline in the humanities. Therefore, the critical comparison of art history and visual studies, and of their respective intellectual projects, is both inevitable and essential.

Charlotte Bigg, Les études visuelles des sciences : regards croisés sur les images scientifiques / Visual Studies of Science: Scientific Images Between Art History and the History of Science (p. 23-30)

This paper analyzes some recent developments that have fostered new kinds of interactions between the history of science and the history of art. Specifically, it examines the emergence of the Visual Studies of Science in the English-speaking world, and its German counterpart, Bildwissenschaften, focusing on their disciplinary, institutional, and intellectual agendas. The development of the history of science can be traced to a shift away from the history of ideas and theories towards an interest in practices. At the same time, the history of science also sought to incorporate questions that pertained to cultural studies and to the history of representations. These intellectual developments prepared, and then shaped, the ways in which the history of science responded to the methods and subjects of art history, while art historians themselves began advancing methods for the study of scientific images. Although these different facets of Visual Studies of Science have been successfully institutionalized, they remain a heterogeneous collection of approaches and subjects that continue to lack coherent theoretical foundations.

Neil McWilliam, À la recherche de l’Amérique profonde : l’art patriotique contemporain et l’idée de communauté nationale / In Search for Small-Town America: Patriotic Contemporary Art and the Idea of National Community (p. 31-42)

Contemporary imagery produced in the United States by popular artists such as John McNaughton, Terry Redlin, and the late Thomas Kinkade, frequently appeals to conservative understandings of what defines the peculiar qualities of America – its history, landscape, way of life, and allegedly favored status in the eyes of divine providence. This article explores the ingredients that make up the image of national belonging in patriotic imagery disseminated by these artists, notably in the wake of the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001. It suggests that these works are haunted by an incapacity to project a convincing image of a cohesive contemporary national community, and relates this incapacity to the radical individualism promoted by radical right currents within the Republican party and Tea Party movement.



Audrey Gouy, Perception et compréhension de la gestuelle étrusque : nouvelle approche visuelle de la danse antique / Perception and Understanding of the Etruscan gestures: A New Visual Approach in the Study of Ancient Dance (p. 43-52)

The study of Etruscan dance based on iconographic sources presented in this article not only allows for the reexamination of the representation of gesture and movement, but also facilitates the identification of the limits imposed by the image’s visual dimension. Advances made in recent years have tended to promote the idea that the ancient image was not photographic in its reproduction of reality, but a « complex social product ».  For the imaging of dance, the need for visual and ideological efficiency led ancient artists to elaborate specific codes of representation for each type of dance, with the aim of suggesting  movement. Using digital tools, such as three-dimensional modeling, may further our understanding of the construction of these ancient visual representations. After a brief summary of current research for Etruscan dance, which permits a review of methodological limits and theoretical approaches, I will explore how the image’s visual dimension suggests a move towards interdisciplinarity.

Martin Szewczyk, Portraits de notables à Éphèse et Pergame (IIe siècle av. J.-C. – IIIe siècle ap. J.-C.) : perception visuelle et rôle social /Notable Citizens Portraits in Ephesus and Pergamon (2nd century B.C. – 3rd cenruty A.C.): Visual Perception and Social Role (p. 53-62)

This study deals with the portraits of local notable citizens in the cities of Ephesus and Pergamon (2nd c. B.C. – 3rd c. A.D.), dealing with both statues and their bases, which have survived in greater numbers. The goal is to identify the conditions (topographical, social, and psychological) of their perception in social spaces, exploring the role that these portraits had as images of a civically active social class. Additionally, these portraits were part of a series of practices that were specific to Greek cities during the Hellenistic and Imperial periods: the civic honors. The portrait, thus, becomes a vehicle for the ideology of the democratic city (although these democratic ideals were, in fact, abused by local leaders), and a strong means of social domination.

Catherine Girard, Massacre rococo. Les bois bizarres peints par Jean-Baptiste Oudry pour Louis XV entre 1741 et 1752 /Rococo Massacre: The Deformed Stag Antlers Painted by Jean-Baptiste Oudry for Louis XV Between 1741 and 1752 (p. 63-72)

The visual shock generated by the deformed stag antlers painted by Jean-Baptiste Oudry for King Louis XV, now kept in Fontainebleau, exposes the limitations of iconographic and monographic concerns for these works. The intricate and lost rituals of ancien régime venery, as well as the sexual and macabre content of these images complicate their interpretation. Integrating sensorial contact with carcasses, the king’s passion for hunting, the ideas of naturalists, and the aesthetic theories of Roger de Piles, ensures a better understanding of the state of sudden shock elicited by these images, as well as their violence, both on representational and structural levels.

Katie Hornstein, Le diagraphe de Charles Gavard et l’âge de la reproduction mécanique  visuelle en France /Charles Gavard’s Diagraph and the Age of Mecanical Visual Reproduction in France (p. 73-82)

This article concerns the diagraph, a perspectival drawing machine invented in 1831 by the former army captain and graduate of the École Polytéchnique, Charles Gavard.  My research examines the reception of the diagraph in the context of debates surrounding new technologies of visual reproduction such as lithography, wood engraving, steel engraving and photography, which were beginning to transform the circulation of images, making them less expensive and more widely available. Though initially seen as a useful drawing aide for skilled artists, the diagraph later provoked outrage when it gained a reputation as an industrial instrument of cheap and efficient image proliferation that was understood as a threat to the values and traditions of artistic practice.

Hélène Valance, Dans le silence de la nuit : obscurité et métaphore raciale dans Searchlight on Harbor Entrance de Winslow Homer / In the Silence of the Night: Darkness and Racial Metaphor in Searchlight on Harbor Entrance by Winslow Homer (p. 83-92)

This paper focuses on Winslow Homer’s Searchlight on Harbor Entrance: Santiago de Cuba (1901), a painting created in reference to a crucial episode in the Spanish-American war. It describes the blockade of the port of Santiago by the American fleet, which were equipped with electric searchlights strategically pointed at the Spanish ships. Whereas this nocturne landscape has been read by its critics as a meditative work, characterized by its detachment, this study tries to consider the painting within the context of its contemporary visual culture in an effort to make its political and historical contents apparent. It examines the metaphor of light and darkness as it was used in the rhetoric of U.S. imperialism, particularly its racial dimensions, in order to re-evaluate Searchlight beyond the limitations of its critical reception.

Flora Joubert, « L’insaisissable : archéologie de la photographie de paparazzi dans le magazine Cinémonde (1928-1940) / « L’insaisissable »: the Archaeology of Paparazzi Photography in the Magazine Cinémonde (1928-1940) (p. 93-102)

Paparazzi photography is a subject that has yet to be dealt with by academics in the history of art. Eye-catching images, these photographs are immediately identified as merchandise, as nothing more than ‘material’ for those in the trade. As a historical and cultural object, it has been consistently undervalued. However, it is precisely paparazzi photography’s “marginal” status and its exclusion from the larger history of documentary photography that offers the art historian a new perceptive on the visual culture of mass society. This paper proposes archaeology of the practice through the analysis of the first reportages published by the “image thieves” in the magazine Cinémonde between 1928 and 1939. It examines the birth of a new celebrity iconography in the era of the star-system, and traces the genealogy of this unprecedented photographic act, which seeks to capture the elusive, taking the rapid-fire rhythm of cinema for its model.

Joséphine Jibokji Frizon, La noosphère conçue pour Je t’aime je t’aime d’Alain Resnais : étude d’un objet cinématographique /Je t’aime je t’aime’s « noosphère »: A Study of a Cinematographic Object (p. 103-112)

In his science-fiction movie Je t’aime je t’aime of 1968, Alain Resnais included a time machine, renamed ‘noosphere’ by Gilles Deleuze  . Agostino Pace, the set designer, was commissioned to build this machine, which was linked to contemporary artistic research, anthropomorphic design, biomorphic and inflatable architecture, and experimental art. This machinenot only allowed for journeys through time, but also through the arts. It can thus be studied as a fusion of cinematographic and artistic fictions, which projects onto the object a voyage though embodied memory. I propose to establish a link between the position of the movie’s main character and the spectator in art of the 1960’s, when the idea of the participatory audiences was questioned.  The cinematographic object is not only studied in its fictional context, but also how it projected its own movie on art history.

Sophie Cras, Les isotypes de Keith Haring : du graffiti au graphisme communicationnel / Keith Haring’s Isotypes: From Graffiti to Communication Graphics (p.113-122)

The summer of 1980 witnessed the first appearance of the small figures that would become iconic in the work of American artist Keith Haring. With their simple and monochrome outline, their absence of faces, details or perspective, these figures evoke the standardized vocabulary of international official signage. Haring’s figures are thus thought of as instruments of an immediately efficient universal visual communication. This article explores the surprising links between Haring’s signature figures and Isotypes, a series of icons which were created in the 1930s by German economist and philosopher Otto Neurath. While both share the ambition of being a universal picture language, they are not without contradictions: universal in their reception, they were reserved in their articulation for their creators.

Vanina Géré, Comprendre la démarche de Kara Walker : pluridisciplinarité et histoire de l’art / Understanding the démarche of Kara Walker: Pluridisciplinarity and Art History (p. 123-132)

Despite the fact that Kara Walker’s career is barely two decades old, her work has been the object of prolific exegesis. Her work presents a problem: the traumatic subject of racial violence is approached through ambiguous modalities. Reducing human interaction to abominable deeds, Walker represents them ironically, using dark humor in an aesthetically seductive form. This article demonstrates how the study of Walker’s work reveals the significance of an art historical approach, one that contextualizes works of art politically and historically, situating them in relationship to contemporary artistic practices, as well as a historical corpus of works belonging to the same genre or medium.



Werner Busch, La conception de l’image chez Caspar David Friedrich / The Concept of the Image in the Work of Caspar David Friedrich (p. 133-146)

This article presents an interpretation of the oeuvre of Caspar David Friedrich founded on the fact that his work cannot be surveyed through a traditional iconographic approach that attempts to identify links between images and texts. Friedrich did not base his compositions on specific written sources, but evoked a spiritual, political, and historical universe that was materialized through natural and cultural fragments recorded with precision. These fragments were assembled independently from their original contexts in order to create new formal ensembles. The meanings of Freidrich oeuvres are reevaluated through the detailed analysis of plastic elements and the ways in which many of his paintings function as pendants, without producing a definitive interpretation. Friedrich privileged aesthetic experiences as a form of mediation, which allows for reflection on the rapport between what is shown and the experience of salvation.

Résumés / Abstracts (p. 149-158)


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