John Onians: Strengthening the Foundations of Art History. The Discipline’s Changing Assumptions and the Relevance of Neuroscience: Case Studies from the Twentieth Century

Date: 

Monday, October 16, 2017, 5:30pm

Location: 

Harvard Art Museums: Deknatel Hall, 32 Quincy Street

John Onians-

Strengthening the Foundations of Art History. The Discipline’s Changing Assumptions and the Relevance of Neuroscience: Case Studies from the Twentieth Century

Each of the new assumptions adopted by successive generations of art historians, whether Positivist, Marxist, Structuralist, Post-Structuralist, Freudian, Feminist or Post-Colonialist, has illuminated some previously under-appreciated aspect of the production and consumption of art. Often those assumptions have included an explicit acknowledgement of the relevance of the principles governing the operation of the brain, as in the case of Winckelmann, Taine, Wölfflin, Warburg, Gombrich and Baxandall.  Sometimes acknowledgement of such principles has only been implicit, as in earlier Positivist analyses of ‘influence’ or the more recent identification of recurrent patterns of mental behaviour by Freudians, Structuralists and Post-Structuralists.  However, now that the structure of the brain and the principles governing its operation have been revealed with a new clarity by the latest technologies, all those earlier assumptions are in need of reassessment.

This lecture explores the relevance of the new neuroscientific knowledge to an understanding of the whole history of art, beginning with its origins and culminating in a consideration of the work of some major twentieth century artists, the Europeans, Kazimir Malevich, Le Corbusier, Gerard Caris and Francis Bacon, and the Americans, Robert Rauchenberg and Jasper Johns.

Presented by the HAA Graduate Student Lecture Series
John Onians