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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 11:44 pm 
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. . . from NYT (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/07/arts/design/07jans.html):

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Revising Art History's Big Book: Who's In and Who Comes Out?

By RANDY KENNEDY
Published: March 7, 2006

In some ways, art history is like an episode of "The Sopranos." A relatively small number of artists are welcomed into the family of the famous, their works immortalized in museums and on postcard racks — in other words, they are made. But hit men, otherwise known as critics and scholars, are lurking around every corner, waiting to whack even the most sterling reputation.

Almost no one is safe. Not even, as it turns out, Whistler's mother.

This month, the publisher Pearson Prentice Hall is introducing the first thoroughly revised version of "Janson's History of Art," a doorstopper first published in 1962 that has been a classroom hit ever since Horst Woldemar Janson wrote it while working at New York University. For a generation of baby boomers, it defined what was what and who was who in art, from Angelico (Fra) to Zurbarán (Francisco de).

But in recent years it has lost its perch as the best-selling art survey and has been criticized for becoming a scholarly chestnut. So its publisher recruited six scholars from around the country and told them to rewrite as much as they wanted, to cast a critical eye on every reproduction, chapter heading and sacred cow.

The result, at more than 1,100 pages and 1,450 illustrations, will undoubtedly surprise many Janson loyalists, especially instructors who have taught from the book so long they can almost do so without cracking it open. The new edition drops not only Whistler's portrait of his mother but also evicts several other longtime residents, like Domenichino, the Baroque master, and Louis Le Nain, whose work is in the Louvre.

The sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac, for example, has been erased with a vengeance; even a portrait by another artist of Roubiliac posing with his work has been dropped. And some full-page reproductions that had become permanent fixtures — like the Metropolitan Museum of Art's van Eyck diptych, "The Crucifixion, the Last Judgment" — have been replaced with others seen to be more representative of an artist's work.

Although the publisher has now incorporated the name "Janson" into the title, the new edition, the seventh, is the first to have no Janson associated with it. H. W. Janson died in 1982, and his son, Anthony F. Janson, who took over and revised it several times, retired as the book's guiding light in 2002.

Sarah Touborg, the current editor, said about a quarter of the contents had been changed. "To have done less than that would have been tough, given our vision of renovating Janson," she said. "And doing more than that would have risked losing our very loyal base of customers."

"There's a strong affection for this book among teachers," she added. "It's their book."

But in many colleges, the book, while as familiar as furniture, had become something to teach against, its clear narrative of art's development, focused mostly on Europe, muddied considerably since the early 1960's by changes in scholarship that began to place art more solidly in a social and political context.

The first editions included no women artists; even through versions published into the mid-1970's, Mary Cassatt, for example, went unmentioned. Oddly, Jackson Pollock was in the first edition, only six years after his death, but photography was not included until relatively recently.

The new book adds many more women, and for the first time, decorative arts are included. And it uses art much more as a way to discuss race, class and gender. In the introduction, on pages that once used Dürer and Mantegna to examine the concept of originality, Chris Ofili's "Holy Virgin Mary" — a painting that rested on clumps of elephant dung and created a furor when it was shown in Brooklyn in 1999 — is used to talk about differences between Western and African ways of seeing. "Art is never an empty container," the introduction states. "Rather, it is a vessel loaded with meaning."

The book's new authors warn that because their approach diverges from the model H. W. Janson pioneered — the showcasing of individual geniuses and masterpieces — the exclusion of works should not necessarily be looked at as beloved artists being unceremoniously escorted out of the canon. But because Janson, as it is called, was so influential in undergraduate courses for so long, some teachers say they cannot help but view the revision that way.

"I can see the reasons, artistically, for dropping Whistler's mother," said Mickey McConnell, an instructor who until recently taught a survey course at the University of New Mexico and has used Janson for years. "But it's become so well known, such a part of the culture. What if there's a cartoon in The New Yorker that uses it as a reference? Younger students aren't going to know what it's talking about."

Joseph Jacobs, a curator and scholar who wrote the modern chapters of the new edition, said he often struggled with the question of what he could dare to take out. But when he decided to replace Whistler's portrait of his mother with his "Symphony in White No. 2," Mr. Jacobs said, he didn't think twice about it, "which is terrible, I guess, isn't it?"

"Yes, it's a famous piece and everyone teaches it," he said, "but the 'Symphony in White' — you can just do so much more with it, talking about the Japanese influences on Whistler's work and a lot of things that allow you to see how fantastic a painter he really was."

He also added some works that have long been cultural superstars, like Grant Wood's "American Gothic," which surprisingly had never appeared in Janson. (This might have been because Wood and H. W. Janson once taught together in Iowa and were said to have disliked each other.)

As with all renderings of history, deciding who made the cut and who did not often came down to the mundane realities of publishing: page counts and deadlines. "There had to be tradeoffs," said Frima Fox Hofrichter, chairwoman of the history of art and design department at Pratt Institute, who wrote the chapters on the Baroque and Rococo. She enlarged sections on Judith Leyster, a Dutch Baroque painter, and added women like Clara Peeters, a 17th-century Flemish still-life painter, who had never been included.

Mr. Jacobs said he would have liked to include Audubon and was disappointed that he had to leave out the photographer August Sander and the performance artist Ana Mendieta, among many others. But he was able to beef up both Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg, moves he said were long overdue.

Stephen F. Eisenman, a professor of art history at Northwestern University who described himself as a longtime critic of Janson, welcomed many of the changes. "It's clearly a liberal version of a cold-war classic that will pass muster in most of the U.S.," he said.

But he added that it would probably never regain the dominance it once had, simply because the whole idea of a book like it, or other supposedly all-inclusive surveys like "Gardner's Art Through the Ages," first published in 1926, had become outdated.

"The main problem, I think, is that there's no longer a general belief that there exists a single canon for art that should be taught to all students," he said.

Dr. Hofrichter, who has taught from Janson for many years, counters that teachers and students need a book to use as a starting point and basic guide to what should be considered important. But she said she had also often "taught against" Janson during her career, which leaves her in a strange predicament.

"Now," she said, "I'll have only myself to teach against."


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 11:49 pm 
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Awaits the comments of Whistler. :D

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 11:59 pm 
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Personally, I like Symphony in White better then the portrait of Whistler's mother, so ... .

(Is there any reason why this shouldn't be moved to the Library of Rivendell?)

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 12:01 am 
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I like the White Lady better anyway. :)

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 12:33 am 
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Dang. And here I thought the old coot had....
errr...I mean phew!!! Thankfully the real fake Whistler is still with us. That is if he survived Fat Tuesday. Or Fat Wednesday.

Yeah so lets write a book that goes against the mainstream academic machine and see how many people we can make irate.
Whatever. Everyone has an opinion and something as subjective as art is far from right or wrong.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 12:55 am 
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In that kind of book people have to ask whether they want it to be a compendium of the best known art or whether they want it to be a book to introduce certain themes in art.

From the article I take it that so far the book has tried to be the first, in which case I think "Whistler's Mother" needs to be in there!
But maybe they are now making a switch to the latter, trying more to talk about general themes, in which case you'll need whatever picture exemplifies the theme you are talking about.

This is problem in all such dealings with different art forms.
For example, when I was at school it was quite "out" to teach poetry by introducing the students to the best known poems, so that they should be able to continue a tradition of general knowledge about things one is supposed to know about. What happened instead was an attempt to familiarise students with a number of concepts of poetry, for which purpose you'd just take whichever poem was the clearest representative.

Also, such an approach makes the teacher/publisher feel that they are finally doing something new rather than going over the same old stuff all the time (irrespective of the fact that "the same old stuff" might just be the stuff one needs to know!).

(And I agree this should be in the art forum. ;) )

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 1:07 am 
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Okay, I got all imperial and went ahead and moved it (leaving a shadow). If there is some reason why it shouldn't have been moved that I haven't thought of, please let me know.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 2:02 am 
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not something I would recommend
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Always hated that painting. Ugly and boring, IMO.

Quote:
"The main problem, I think, is that there's no longer a general belief that there exists a single canon for art that should be taught to all students," he said.


Oh, good. I've never liked the idea of "canon". There's a certain joylessness that the notion encourages, imo.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 2:42 am 
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yovargas wrote:
Always hated that painting. Ugly and boring, IMO.


I shall refrain from answering you as you deserve, sir!

Well, now! What does it all mean to me? Not much. What they write today they will unwrite tomorrow. Art that speaks to people will outlast the opinions of experts and so-called experts. For many years, Rembrandt was absent from the artistic radar screen entirely. The public put him back. These people are fools if they think they can actually dictate such things.


Last edited by Whistler on Wed Mar 08, 2006 5:31 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 3:19 am 
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I had the eyeballs burned right out of my head years ago. My then-doctor had a whole series of incredibly ghastly images of dogs playing various games, etc., put out by a drug company.

Well, I guess that explains it all, come to think of it. :D

I like the Woman in White because she looks like our LalaithUrwen.

I also like Whistler's mother's portrait, too. In a year or so, that will be me.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 3:26 am 
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Vison, I can't imagine you ever looking that prim! I can't imagine Prim looking that prim either, at any stage of life. You have too much vivacity to be contained in so balanced a composition.

Not that you're unbalanced. :shock:

I'd better stop before I dig this hole any deeper.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 12:45 pm 
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I don't think she looks prim at all! :shock:

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 2:22 pm 
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not something I would recommend
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Whistler wrote:
yovargas wrote:
Always hated that painting. Ugly and boring, IMO.


I shall refrain from answering you as you deserve, sir!


Well, what's the fun in that!

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 4:56 pm 
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I had hoped for a duel, it would suit the character of the maligned painting, doncha think?

Pistols at dawn?

Shooters at 2:00 a. m.?

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