The possibility of a Global Art History

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

17 Pages, Grade: A


Is A Global Art History Possible?


Contemporary art is now judged as a historical experience commencing from the end of world war II, in 1945. The current crop of artists is contributing their mite to the highly multifaceted and globalized economy of cultural packages. The year 1945 was turning point, because after the war, and the establishment of American superiority, the cultural political and economic power shifted partially from Europe to the US. It was not surprising because the erstwhile European colonialism also waned considerably. A new generation of artists has evolved around this time, who consistently overturned the existing modernist practices and established new tools for dealing with contemporary art in Europe and North America, leading to what Guy Debord described as “society of the spectacle”, which gives prominence to the visual arts, which in turn dictate the various cultural practices, and in general, specify the way people interpret, contest or maneuver contemporary life (Amelia, J., 2006).

Assuming that, post world war II, contemporary arts is now 60 years old, it is indeed a surprise that so much of history has come to pass with such speed and density of events during this short period in world history. This has necessitated the need for developing the capabilities of understanding and appreciating the visual arts since 1945. These facts serve as a vital addition to the existing texts on social, aesthetic and chronological development of contemporary art. Most of these surveys concentrated on the Euro-American art since 1945, with just a little attention to non-European American art developments and history (Amelia, J., 2006).

As art continues to bargain on its affiliation to globalization it wonders what consequences globalization will have on it. We also wonder whether art history could go global, and if so, what it will look like and who would be running the show. This subject will need to cover every aspect of space, travel, national identity and intra-cultural impacts of the day (Amelia, J., 2006).

Globalization of art history is an arduous task that can be accomplished only with meticulous control, in three parts. 1) Institutional problems viz a viz academic discipline, 2) Geographical boundaries and space-time frameworks are to be rigorously analyzed, 3) The conceptualizations of critical terms with reference to the political power relationship between center and periphery (Shigemi, I., 2007).

An in depth study of globalization, its nature and influence on modern day culture shows an emergence of diverse theories and critiques which try to define the term and also provides an overview of the broad changes it has impacted on the production and distribution of culture (Shigemi, I., 2007).

In the 21st century, a situation of overbearing market dominance over matters of art is seen manifested. Surprisingly, this effect pervades also the museum and the other art institutions, and at the same time has impacted publicity, distribution and production in diverse ways.Fragmentation has been another side product of this globalization effort, and the Internet has played no small part in the dissemination and distribution of information and has also contributed to proliferation of critical writing including blogs, giving anyone with access to the Internet, an opportunity to become a critic and thus spread the message of globalization. Additionally, you now have multiple publics and potential publics, distributed in several ways including geographically to enable you to propagate your issues within an urban or nation space. Due to the fast paced system of communication, an artist’s show may be organized at a short notice and the audience constituted quickly over a short period of time. Considering also the different art forms like painting, sculpture, photographs etc., in addition to direct social intervention and collaboration with diverse non-artist participants, the role of art criticism becomes a question mark again (Shigemi, I., 2007).

The globalization of art history has been made extremely difficult by the fact that the international association for art history (CIHA) is an institution which is not worth its salt as it has been mainly aligned towards western art history only. It is by no means attuned to the other branches of world history like the oriental or the Asian modules which have a wealth of ancient art forms from it’s age old civilizations. Unfortunately, oriental / Asian art has been relegated as a fiefdom of certain closed circuit of western scholars who call themselves “orientalists”. These people put on an air of modesty and devotion, but at best they can be called as marginalized, in spite of their knowledge of the Eastern languages and the difficult eastern social customs, and remain at a peripheral level of the world of scholars. They are rarely known to transgress their boundaries and risk facing a public audience, with the exception of just a few like Rene Grousset in France. Ensconced in their ivory tower and vain with their own academic specialization, they abhor criticism and isolate themselves. Unfortunately, the ethnic oriental/Asian experts, when they return from the west, try to pretend to have a universal approach but they ape the western standards and even stoop to belittle their own grand culture and valuable art, probably, due to an inferiority complex (Shigemi, I., 2007).

A case in history is that of the Japanese whose fine arts including pottery were not accepted by the Euro-American art cliché and the Japanese came to understand that they would have to excavate something equivalent to the Greek classic excavations, if their antique products were to gain recognition. Sample from the excavations from the 7th century, Buddhist temples in Nara and Kyoto were showcased in a Paris show to try to discredit the in-consumption on Japanese arts and crafts, with special emphasis on their greatest painter Hokousai, about whom 13 lines were written in the book “L’Histoire de l’art du Japon” in 1900. At the same time an attempt at consolidating Indian nationality was put in motion under the Swadeshi National Movement, which asked people to renounce and boycott goods made in England. E.B. Havell, A.K. Coomaraswamy, and Sister Nivedita, Simultaneously launched an “essential Indian-ness” movement to propagate a new national Indian history of art. However, in search of their own goals, they were constrained to discredit the Gandhara Buddhist sculptures which were highly appreciated in Western Circle for their similarity to Greco-Roman Sculptures (Shigemi, I., 2007).

Talking about art history, serious questions are raised whether all history only pertains to Western art history or whether one can go beyond these boundaries. The debate rages on, with authors like David Summers insisting that the Western concepts are wide enough to accommodate art discussions of a world order. Arguments against this position point out the limitations of the Western languages and the constrains that their institutions face to take on this onerous responsibility of spearheading the entire gamut of artistic affairs, on a universal scale (James, et al., 2008).


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The possibility of a Global Art History
University of Cambridge
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Dr Kelly Clarkson (Author), 2012, The possibility of a Global Art History, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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