Medieval Modern: Art Out of Time

Hal Foster writes:

Typically, the first job of the art historian is to slot a work of art into its proper place in time, in the corpus of the artist who made it and in the context of the world that informed its making. Usually, we rely on the notion of ‘style’ to help with this task, to connect the work to the individual manner of its creator as well as to the collective Kunstwollen (or ‘artistic will’) of its culture. As the index of the artist and the period, ‘style’ is crucial to the chronological basis of the discipline, which in turn is why anachronism, or the assigning of a work to a temporal frame foreign to it, is anathema to art history, and why ‘pseudomorphism’, or the relating of different works that merely look alike, is also problematic. Rookie mistakes, we smile when students make them, two wrenches inadvertently dropped into the academic works. It comes as a surprise, then, that some scholars now aim to redeem both errors, and to question the verities of the discipline in doing so.

(LRB 8 November 2012)