Re-Writing the Canon: New directions in art writing

Sophie Hatchwell, University of Birmingham,

Sam Rose, University of St Andrews,

Whether it’s called art writing, criticism and theory, text–image studies, art-historiography or ekphrasis, the exploration of writing on the visual has become a standard sub-set of art-historical research. Giants of the genre, from Nelson Goodman to WJT Mitchell and Mieke Bal, have demarcated a field of study orientated around a particular set of methodological norms – semiotic, post-structuralist, psychoanalytic, socio-historical. Less obvious, and less acceptable, however, are the field’s increasingly unquestioned set of assumptions: art writing’s narrow (and largely Anglo-American) ‘Krauss-Fried’, etc. canon of famous critics and historians; the total autonomy afforded to ‘creative’ or ‘experimental’ art writing by artists and historians alike; even the very equivalence of ‘art writing’ and ‘text–image’.

This panel commences with the proposition that despite (or perhaps because of) the success of the field, we need to consider new approaches to the analysis of text–image relationships, as well as expanding the range of texts that might be covered by such analysis. How might we historicise ‘art writing’ to recontextualise canonical art writers, or introduce new candidates for canonisation beyond the Anglo-American norms? How might we historicise or critique the rise of the creative ‘fine art’ art writer, including the alliance of literary art writing with a narrow Western canon of artists? How might we renew our understandings of terms like ‘art writing’ and ‘word and image’? And which new theories and thinkers – including those within critical race studies and pragmatic sociology that have already closely engaged with the subject of art writing – can help us address any or all of these issues?

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