Week 4: Art and Connoisseurship

This week’s readings continued the theme of last week by looking at the nature of objects and method but with a focus on art and connoisseurship. The first reading by Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” examined authenticity of an object in terms of its ability to be reproduced, especially in regards to film. Benjamin claimed that a reproduction lacks the presence in time and space that an original has through its history of its existence, which was important because an objects authority rests on its authenticity which comes from historical testimony (220-221). The one distinction that Benjamin draws between film and other types of art was that film loses the aura since the actor is removed and not connected to the audience. Another interesting theme through Benjamin’s essay was an attack against Fascism since he believed that Fascism tries to add aesthetics to politics which always culminates in war.

The next reading was “Connoisseurship of Artifacts” by Charles Montgomery, which created fourteen steps for the exanimation of an object. The steps began with the overall appearance of the object which included questions of “do I enjoy it” and “does it have unity” and then moved into steps of form, ornament and color which looked at different physical elements such as weight and aesthetics (145-146). Other important steps included function and style and the history of the object, all of which helped identity the authenticity of the object and aid in the final step of appraisal, in which the connoisseur weigh his “judgment against the marketplace” ( 153). While this method can be very useful in examining an object, its main weakness is its focus on monetary evaluation of the object as opposed to its cultural and historical value.

Jennifer Roberts’ essay “Copley’s Cargo” examined the painting Boy with a Squirrel by Copley and attempted to demonstrate that it cannot be understood “without taking the protraction and difficulty of its long-distance transit into account” (22). Indeed, Roberts examined the painting execution as being designed with the transatlantic transportation as a major theme, as seen with the placement of the water glass and the chain (23). Another theme that Roberts tried to demonstrate was that of Lockean philosophy in which “all knowledge to be based in sense experience rather than innate ideasnext article bynt the markeplace. hus ” the final step of appriasal at different phssicall ellemts such as weight amd aesthics. “ (35). This method of approaching art history by reading into the possible themes and motifs as expressed in the details of the art is important because it can reveal deeper both conscious and unconscious ideas that artist had of the world at the time.

The final article, “Toward a Fusion of Art History and Material Culture Studies” by Michael Yonan, looked to find a way to allow material culture to be used more in the study of art history. Yonan believed that material culture is a meta-methodology meaning that it transcendence fields of study and can affect many different techniques use to study the past (233). Furthermore, the article showed that objects have a two part logic, the material, which focuses on “how the raw materials were amassed,” and semantic, which looks at “the ways in which materials are combined or modified into things allocate to them meanings that are culturally determined” (244). This is important because it reveals the benefits of using material cultural in art history since it can help understand the time in which the art was made.

This ideas can be useful in the study of the Becuna because it can aid in understanding the time period when the torpedo tubes were made, in that it reveals the high level of conflict during WWII and the tensions of the Cold War. However, the major limit of applying these ideas is that they are concerned with high art; which the torpedo tubes is clearly not. Thus the methods focusing on the ornament and the style will have limited use when studying an object whose function is to destroy other objects.

 

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