Does Realism Interfere with Periodization Schemas?

Event: Public talk

Location: NEC conference hall & Zoom

21 June 2022, 17.00-19.00 (Bucharest time)

Christopher WOOD, Professor and Chair, Department of German, New York University (Affiliated Faculty, Department of Comparative Literature and Institute of Fine Arts)

The public talk will take place at the NEC, but the audience is kindly asked to rather resort to the Zoom transmission since our conference hall cannot accommodate more people than the ones engaged in the seminar.

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Meeting ID: 826 4054 1798
Passcode: 414844


Scholars of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Western art have the most doubts about the significance of the historical period they study. Medievalists know that their object of study is remote; modernists know that their object of study is nearby. But how close to us is Renaissance and Baroque or so-called “early modern” art? This paper will suggest that there is a structural reason why Renaissance and Baroque art creates difficulties for periodization.

The reason is that Renaissance and Baroque art is essentially realist. Realism is a cultural project which modern philosophies of history have had trouble assimilating. This is because periodization schemas since the nineteenth century are all teleological, that is, they assess the past on the basis of its directedness towards the present. They ask: does an historical phenomenon point toward the world we know, or not?

I would argue that realism—the attempt to depict the way things are—is always a bad fit within philosophies of history which attempt to bestow meaning, especially redemptive meaning, on history. This is because realism as a project has its own internal, convergent momentum which transcends particular cultures, which cannot so easily be recruited to self-serving modernisms, and which finally has no meaning.

This event is organized within Periodization in the History of Art and its Conundrums. How to tackle them in East-Central Europe seminar series, a program supported by the Getty Foundation as part of its Connecting Art Histories initiative.