Past Looking

Critical Inquiry 16 (2):371-396 (1990)

Abstract
The rest of this essay will contribute to the subversion of that distinction in the history of art, with the awareness that this would no longer be a timely issue in any other historical discipline. I engage in this task because of my sense that critical attention to the formal or rhetorical resonances between objects and the histories of art that inscribe them might provide an answer for the kind of historiographic experimentation that Burke and White have obliquely urged upon the historical profession in general.To be fair, the history of art is not exclusively what it once was: the conservator of elite objects and the preserver of a certain canon of values. A variety of critical challenges to this traditional role have animated the discipline during the last two decades, from the revisionism of feminist and Marxist readings to the interpretive paradigms of semiotics and psychoanalysis, and yet one certainly needs to acknowledge that, for the most part, these challenges have originated outside the confines of art history proper.The metahistorical task of discovering some theme or issue shared by this plurality of re-visions need not necessarily prove unilluminating. The concentration on the gaze as an interpretive principle cuts across a wide sampling of recent theoretical perspectives. Paintings are, after all, meant to be looked at, so it should come as no surprise that the investigation of who or what is presumed to be doing the looking is now viewed as a critically unsettling issue in post-structuralist writings on art. Michael Ann Holly is associate professor and chair of the department of art and art history at the University of Rochester. She is the author of Panofsky and the Foundations of Art History and co-editor, with Norman Bryson and Keith Moxey, of Visual Theory
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DOI 10.1086/448538
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