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Aesthetic Hypothesis

The Art Canon
An Analysis of H. H. Arnason’s Hisory of Modern Art
and Gardner’s Art Through the Ages.

A canon is an authoritative text. Usually when one thinks of a canon one thinks of religious traditions whose clout is based on a divine inspiration. Canon refers to no less sober tomes than the Bible and Qur’an.  When we speak of an art canon it is understood that, unlike in religion, there will be an implicit subjectivity. Yet the art canon has proven to be unwieldy.  Who gets in and who gets removed is no small decision. Rather than an actual holy book, imagined to be universal and unchanging, the art canon consists of an agreement among peers. With the dominance of analytic philosophy in English speaking countries in the twentieth century, the age-old discipline of aesthetics has lost its way. How does one define beauty? The traditional understanding of aesthetics has come to mean little more than the study of artists and their work. Beauty is no longer an issue. But if art is not defined by beauty then how is it defined? The institutional theory has arisen as a solution to the problems proposed by analytical philosophy. What is art? According to Arthur Danto and George Dickie, art is what the "artworld" decides it is. The artworld is made up of gallery owners, magazine and book publishers, and other recognized authorities involved in the production and exhibition of art. This is known as the institutional theory. Art becomes totally subjective in the light of analytic philosophy and the institutional theory. Unlike religion there is no higher “truth” in art.

Who are the artists that are deemed to deserve recognition by society as a whole and specifically the artworld? There are a number of survey texts that catalogue the history of art and its important practitioners. Do to the limited scope of this paper I will focus on Gardner’s Art Through the Ages and Arnason’s History of Modern Art. In 2001 Gardner’s won both the Textbook Excellence Award and the McGuffey Longevity Award from the Text and Academic Authors Association.[1] Though other publications may list slightly different artists, Gardner’s recognition by the Text and Academic Authors Association, along with its popularity among art history survey classes in America, makes it an ideal sampling of the art canon. Historically Gardner’s has been published by Harcourt Brace College Publishers, which produces hundreds of academic textbooks in a variety of subjects. Today it is published by Thomson Wadsworth, a large international textbook manufacturer with even more titles than Harcourt Brace. The fact that Gardner’s is a product of companies that have established credibility in other fields can give one confidence that this particular art canon will prove to be a conservative representative of the trends running throughout the entire field.

The original version of Gardner’s from 1926 is notable for recognizing non-European traditions. Chinese, Japanese, Indian and “primitive” art are all given extensive coverage. Though virtually all of the work included is painting, sculpture or architecture, there is a brief section at the end of the book called “The Minor and Industrial Arts.” The belief that pre-modernist artists were somehow lacking in aesthetic sensibility is clear in the text. The nineteenth century is described as having a “debacle in taste.”[2] Being published before World War II and the Cold War it is interesting to compare the works included in this first volume to later editions. Notably, the section on modern architecture features a concrete grain elevator in Fort William, Ontario. According to Gardner “[m]any  factories and powerhouses are as clean-cut in their ‘beautiful efficiency’ as the machinery that they house.”[3] This statement reads as surprisingly communistic with its enthusiastic appreciation of the aesthetics of the means of production. The author further states that “one no longer stands amazed at the thought of artists in overalls paid by the hour like day laborers or drawing a weekly wage.”[4] This socialistic attitude would prove to be short-lived after the devastation of Europe and rise of American-style capitalism. Ironically, these events would eventually produce an artworld where anything hinting at commercialism would be frowned upon.

Grant Wood, Georgia O’Keefe and Diego Rivera are included in the “Art of Today” chapter of Gardner’s 1st edition, as are the more established European artists at the time such as Picasso and Matisse. When the 4th edition was published in 1959 the world, and the canon, had changed considerably. The twentieth century section is much longer and now includes photography along with painting, sculpture and architecture. “Minor and Industrial Arts” are gone. This would be the last time photography would be included in Gardner’s for two decades. The author writes that “photographers in Europe and America were exploring the possibilities of establishing photography as a fine art.”[5] The latest European painting featured is Marc Chagall’s Crucifixion from 1943 (figure 1).

The latest sculptures are Theodore Roszak’s Whaler of Nantucket from 1952 (figure 2)

and Jacques Lipchitz’s Sacrifice II from 1948-1952 (figure 3).

Neither Roszak nor Lipscitz are included in the 2010 edition of Gardner’s, even though at the time they were considered to be among the only twenty or so sculptors representing the entire twentieth century. Jackson Pollock and William Ronald are among the painters included in the 1959 edition.

If one is lucky enough to stumble upon a first edition of H. H. Arnason’s History of Modern Art one will find on interesting look back into the mind of the artworld in 1969. This was the last year that Arnason would hold the position of Vice President for Art Administration at the Solomon R. Guggenheim foundation. In the text one finds the opportunity to discover how modern art was understood in a time that today we associate with minimalism and conceptual art. Minimal art is listed in the index, but the reader is referred to something called “primary structures.” The section head is “Primary Structures, Minimal Art.” Donald Judd, Philip King, William Turner, Ronald Bladen, Robert Morris, and Tony Smith are all mentioned. By 2010 Philip King and William Turner are no longer included in Arnason’s canon. Only the most discriminating eye can tell the difference between the works of minimalist sculptors. Why was King dropped and Judd retained? One can only speculate as to the motives behind the editorial decisions of the late H. H. Arnason. Conceptual art is not in the index at all. Allan Kaprow is listed under happenings, which are associated with Dada. Yves Klien is given a color plate of one of his paintings and listed as a member of le nouveau réalisme, a term Klien used himself.

Most of the artwork featured in Arnason’s first edition is abstract painting and sculpture, and architecture. The architecture is mostly a celebration of the international style including many of its important works and history. A few women are included in the 1969 edition such as Louise Nevelson, Louise Bourgeois, and Georgia O’Keefe, but Lee Krasner, Alice Neel, and Frida Kahlo are absent. Later editions of History of Modern Art will begin to rectify the dearth of female artists.  The general sexism of society as a whole is the culprit here. If anything, it is clear from the examination of subsequent editions of Arnason and other art history survey books, that the art community has been particularly proactive in rectifying gender and racial injustices of the past.

One very striking feature of the first edition of Arnason is the lack of any image on the cover. Ethically this would appear to be the proper choice as it would seem to be playingfavorites, but the practice would not continue. The sixth edition, from 2009, features one of Gerhard Richter’s abstract paintings on the cover (figure 4).

Representational painting and sculpture are virtually absent from the 1969 volume. There are some nineteenth century artists, the surrealists, and some pop artists who work in a representational style, but the majority of the artists selected for the 1st edition of Arnason create work in various degrees of abstraction. Geometric abstraction seemed to be the dominant style at the time. Op art and “motion and light” art are given much more attention from Arnason in 1969 than they would eventually receive from history. One would expect that the last page of the volume would feature the most cutting-edge work at the time. In this case Erotic art and psychedelic art are listed. The editor writes that “eroticism has never been so explicit while at the same time so public.”[6] This naïve sentiment shows how each generation imagines itself to have discovered sex. The final section in the 1969 edition is “Psychedelic Art.” The author admits that creating art while on drugs is nothing new and was practiced during the nineteenth century and almost certainly before.  In retrospect, it is interesting that sexuality, which is universal throughout human history, would have been seen as something new at the time while the drug culture, with so much of its origins in the 1960s, would have been seen as inconsequential.

Gardner’s Art Through the Ages has tended to end with contemporary architecture. The last section from the 5th edition from 1970 is titled “The-Engineer-Architect” and uses Pier Luigi (figure 5) as an example.

Here is a clear example of Gardner’s making an accurate prediction. The next decades would see architecture move away from the international style and start utilizing new technologies that would allow for designs that would have been impossible in previous eras. The CAD programs and metal fabricating equipment that began to become available did change the role of the architect from a pure aesthetician to more of an engineer. Interestingly, Pier Luigi would eventually disappear from Gardner’s canon. Because Gardner’s includes all of art history, it is insightful to see how it represents sculpture and painting after World War II. The authors admit that “it is impossible to do historical justice to contemporary events.”[7] Jackson Pollock is described in Gardner’s 1970 edition as “a painter of great talent who will undoubtedly be remembered as representative of his times.”[8] Andrew Wyeth is one of the only seven post-war painters represented. The volume, almost apologetically, states that Wyeth’s art is “[i]n its own way…as personal an introspective as are the works of the Abstract expressionists.”[9] Besides Pollock and Wyeth, the other painters included are Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet, Franz Kline, Roy Lichtenstein, and Bridget Riley (figure 6).

Riley’s presence shows a rare inclusion of a female artist in Gardner’s 5th edition. Her recognition also demonstrates how op art was considered particularly important at the time. The post-war sculptors included are David Smith, John Battenberg, Jean Tingeuly and Jack Zajac. With room for so few artists from the period it is evident that the editors are trying to choose broad representatives for the various schools of thought at the time. Tinguely’s kinetic sculpture is the closest representation of things to come. Gardner’s 5th edition rightly traces the origins of practically all modern art currents back to Duchamp and Dadaism.

With the exception of Allan Kaprow and happenings, every artist in both Arnason’s 1969 edition and Gardner’s 1970 edition is either a painter, sculptor or architect. Happenings are explained as “a development of action out of collage”[10] and used as an introduction to pop art. When Gardner’s published its 6th edition in 1975 photography was still not included. There is a section about psychedelic art under the subhead “Pop Art and Other Trends.” Here is reproduced the work of Isaac Abrams (link), whose painting, Untitled from 1968, was painted while the artist was under the influence of LSD. The same work is reprinted in Gardner’s 7th edition from 1980. The entry is the same, word-for-word, in both the 1975 and 1980 editions, but Abrams is conspicuously absent from the 8th edition published in 1986. It is not difficult to see why psychedelic art and its representative would have been removed from the canon. The war on drugs would have been going on in earnest by this time and any art that was imagined to celebrate the hallucinatory and “spiritual" qualities of LSD would have been unacceptable to the textbook industry in America. To be fair, Gardner also has avoided openly pornographic work even though it has always been a mainstay in art, contemporary and otherwise. In the textbook industry there will always be a threshold of public sentiment that the publisher cannot cross.

The 6th edition of Gardner’s, from 1975, includes a graph of the various art movements of the twentieth century. Everything before impressionism is categorized as “realism.” The art movements after World War II are abstract formalism, abstract expressionism/action painting, pop, op, minimal, kinetic, psychedelic, happenings, process, conceptual, and new realism. Conceptual art is seen as an offshoot of happenings, which are associated with psychedelic art. Psychedelic art, itself, is shown as, oddly, in the tradition of art nouveau and, not so oddly, symbolism. New realism, represented by Richard Estes, is linked with pop art and social realism. Robert Smithson is included in the section titled “Abstract Formalism.” It appears Gardner’s is still having trouble fitting art as different as Smithson’s into the canon. The editors write that “[e]arth art differs only in method and matter from the Structuralist search for formal truth and purity.”[11] The latest edition Gardner’s puts Smithson, Christo and Jean-Claude, and Richard Serra under “Environmental and Site-Specific Art.” There is no longer any mention of structuralism or formalism when explaining Smithson’s art. It is noteworthy that Smithson, who wrote so much about his work and philosophy, would have initially been so misunderstood by a conservative and thorough survey text like Gardner’s. The contemporary section from the 1975 edition is followed by a chapter on the “non-European world,” which shows the unavoidable influence of post-colonialism.

The 2nd edition of Arnason, revised and enlarged in 1977, is no longer imageless on the cover. A cropped photo of a George Segal sculture and an interior shot of the Guggenheim Museum are used in the graphic elements. Victor Vasarely, Richard Anuszkiewick, and Bridget Riley are still in Arnason's canon, while Yaacov Agam, Richard Pousette-Dart, Jimmy Ernst, and Piero Dorazio are gone. Op art is not mentioned at all in the latest edition of Gardner’s. One can assume this represents the fading of op art as an important movement. It is unlikely that Issac Abrams and psychedelic art are mentioned at all in any new art survey textbooks. “New Realism and Photo Realism” are given four pages in Arnason’s 2nd edition. These artists include Richard Estes, Ralph Goings, Alex Katz, Duane Hanson, Philip Pearlstein, Alfred Leslie, Chuck Close, Balcomb Greene, Jack Levine, and John de Andrea. John de Andrea is given one sentence and a photo of one of his lifelike nude sculptures. The sentence reads, “the sculptor John de Andrea, using polychromed polyester and fiberglass, models and casts figures with a sensuous, and even erotic feeling for beauty of the body.”[12] De Andrea is missing from the 2010 edition of Arnason, as is Alfred Leslie, Green, and Going. The remaining artists are categorized as  “Body of Evidence: Figurative Art,” in 1977 they were labeled under “New Realism and Photo Realism.”

One artist who has always been embraced by Americans but has had trouble entering the artworld is Andrew Wyeth. In the 2nd edition of Arnason the artist gets a brief mention that appears to be an offhanded insult. The volume states, “(o)ne of the most continuously popular and successful American painters, who has outlived all vicissitudes of style, is Andrew Wyeth…In a curious way, he combines the worlds of Edward Hopper and Grant Wood with the more overt form of the magic contained in Joseph Cornell’s boxes.”[13] How one can find the “magic contained in Joseph Cornell’s boxes” in an Andrew Wyeth painting must remain a mystery. In the 3rd edition of Arnason, Wyeth is only mentioned as someone working outside of, and before, the triumph of modernism in America. By the 4th edition, from 1998, the artist is categorized under “Figurative Art” along with a few photorealists such as Chuck Close and Audrey Flack. Refraining from anything like approval, the volume states that throughout the modernest period “the most widely recognized of all living American painters was probably Andrew Wyeth whose impeccably observed Christina’s World long remained, during an era dominated by abstraction, the most popular painting in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.”[14] In 2010 the artist’s work is labeled “Traditional Realism” along with very untraditional “realists” like Fairfield Porter and Alice Neel. Though now there is a color image of Christina’s World (figure 7), the one sentence from the previous volumes has remained unchanged.

Conceptual art is only mentioned briefly by Gardner’s 6th edition from 1975. It is labeled, along with process art, as one of “two terms that have come into currency recently…(they) seem to be the product of a search for an unifying agent among the widely diverging trends of post-Pop art.”[15] No artist is mentioned by name. In Arnason from two years later, conceptualism is given a healthy three and a half pages. The first sentence in the section credits conceptual art to the continuing influence of Marcel Duchamp. Artists identified as conceptual are Hanne Darboven, Daniel Buren, Joseph Kosuth, Hans Haacke and Les Levine. Of these five artists only Les Levine has fallen from Arnason’s canon. Here conceptualism is combined in a full chapter with activist art. It is odd that such recognizable names such as Bruce Nauman and Joseph Beuys appear to have been off Arnason’s radar in 1977. A decade later in the 3rd edition both artists would be included. Arnason’s writes of Beuys in 1986 that “[n]o artist active in the 1970s realized the heroic potential of Performance more movingly than the controversial German sculptor Joseph Beuys.”[16] In its 3rd edition Arnason explains that “Beuys was referred to as a ‘cultural stormtrooper,’ [while] others considered him a clown…[the artist wore a] trilby hat, ammunition jacket, waistcoat, jeans and hunter’s boots without which he virtually never appeared in public, even at state diners.”[17] Nauman is given a photo, but only a single line of text. In the 2010 edition Nauman is granted his own subhead and two photos. The first of these photos is a color version of the one used earlier, Self-Portrait with Fountain, while the second is Violins, Violence Silence from 1981-2. Here the reason for the artist’s accent in the canon is probably because he has remained active and relevant. Nauman is listed as only two conceptual artists in the 2009 edition of Gardner’s along with Joseph Kosuth. Here Beuys is listed as a performance artist. The subhead they are both under is “Performance and Conceptual art and New Media.”

The branding of Beuys at different times as a performance artist, sculptor, or a conceptual artist is an example of how these classifications are, to a large degree, arbitrary. Certainly Beuys can be called any of these. All classifications are a result of language and ultimately subjective, in art, arguably, more so than in most other disciplines. It is the triumph of analytic philosophy that has these categories conforming to some sort of standards of uniformity. Comprehensive canonical works like Arnason and Gardner’s are the product of a large group of experts, respected among their peers. While Helen Gardner may have researched and executed her first volume pretty much alone, her creation has become an institution. Determinations as to who will be included in later editions have been decided by committee. No one in a large textbook publishing operation will find his or herself in the position to make editorial decisions that are anything but very conservative. The credibility of the canon would be compromised by an inclusion of any non-mainstream artists. In these sorts of art enterprises the methods of analytical philosophy work in a similar fashion to how they work in large science organizations. There may be individuals working at NASA who believe the moon landings were faked or members of the National Academies of Science who don’t believe in evolution, but their opinions will never be found in official statements from these institutions. Unlike evolution and moon landings, contemporary art is ultimately subjective. The role of the canon is to list artists that the artworld believes are relevant and representative. In this sense the art canon is more like a dictionary than a science textbook. Individual words are added and remove from dictionaries as they come into and fall out of favor. Art history is history. When history textbooks are rewritten there is usually an obvious political motive. The same can be assumed about art history though, fortunately, the consequences are less dire.

In the latest edition of Gardner’s, photography is listed along with painting, sculpture, and  architecture as one of now four recognized major art forms before 1945. The only exceptions to this are the inclusion of non-European crafts, a few prints, and ancient mosaics and pottery. After 1945, photography is absent until Cindy Sherman in the late 70s (figure 8).

Sherman is not listed as a photographer but rather as a feminist artist. This is also true of Hanna Wilke and Lorna Simpson. These artists are not considered photographers though their art is ultimately that of the photograph. In the case of Wilke and Simpson, they are actually creating installations that involve photographs. Sherman is for all practical purposes a straight photographer. All three of these artists are listed under the subhead “Painting and Sculpture since 1970” in Gardner’s 2010 edition. But none of them are painters or sculptures in any sense that justifies the continuing use of the terms. One can see that the editors at Gardner’s are having trouble categorizing contemporary artists in the manner with which they have treated artists up until this time.  Arnason is much more obscure with subheads. Simpson is listed under “The Art of Bioigraphy,” Wilke under “When Art Becomes Artist: Body Art,” and Sherman under “Postmodern Practices: Breaking Art History.”  The flux of categories and indecision as to how to label contemporary artists appears to be a problem the various art textbooks will eventually have to reconcile if the project of establishing an art canon is going to continue coherently.

Is Cindy Sherman really doing something so radically different from past photographers that she is not really a photographer?  The confusion has only arisen since the word “art” ceased to only mean painting, sculpture, and architecture and began to include anything deemed as art by the artworld. This situation can be linked to the definitions of two other words “modernism” and “postmodernism.” In Gardner’s 1st edition the author traces modernism to an “application of the scientific viewpoint…[that] shook the traditional religious faith.” She continues that the “impact of this ideal upon intrenched  [sic] ‘authorities’ of style was not strong enough to produce noticeable results until the present age.”[18] In the current edition, modernism is described as involving “the artist’s critical examination of or reflection on the premise of art itself.”[19] Eventually modernism began to be understood as art about art. Today we tend to associate modernism in art with formalism. Gardner’s original understanding can be looked back on with irony as modernist “authorities of style” have come to control most American art institutions for the last half-century. The second definition of modernism being art about art is a good shorthand explanation of a very complicated school of thought. As modernism was a reaction against the academic art traditions of the nineteenth century, postmodernism is a reaction against modernism. Gardner’s defined postmodernism in its 2003 edition as “accommodating a wide range of styles, subjects and formats.”[20] This non-defintion is expanded in the latest edition to include the sentence: “Postmodern art often includes irony or reveals a self-conscious awareness on the part of artists or art-making processes or the workings of the art world.”[21] This clarification only confuses the issue. It would not be difficult to find examples of modern artists who use irony, are aware of the art-making process, or question the workings of the artworld. To even define postmodernism as different from modernism by its rejecting of formalist issues is debatable. The neo-expressionists, neo-geo artists, and others make art that can be seen as very much about art. Sherrie Levine’s work is nothing if not a statement about art, the art process and the idea of the “original.” Yet Levine is categorized under “Postmodern Practices: Breaking Art History” in the latest edition of Arnason.

The definition of postmodernism will arguably remain ambiguously knocked about in the marketplace of ideas. Postmodernism might be seen as coincideding with the death of the canon. The sheer number of “authoritative” lists of notable artist available today, and the subjective nature of the process, seems to hint at this. Though Gardner’s and Arnason, along with other popular volumes like Janson’s, are currently regarded as standard in the American academic system, it is impossible to say if this trend will continue. Any art created since the mid-1980s, and some before, can be considered postmodern. Yet there are many who contend that postmodernism is over. Certain ideas are universally considered postmodern. Feminism and postcolonialism for instance have dramatically changed the art canon.

Postmodern art is easiest to recognize in architecture. The word “postmodernism” did not enter the vernacular in earnest until the mid 1980s. The term is not in the index of Arnamon’s 2nd edition from 1977. In the 3rd edition, from 1986, the final chapter is entitled “Post-Modernism in Architecture." Here postmodernism is spelled with a hyphen. It seems more grammatically consistent to spell it like post-impressionism. Unfortunately, the English language appears to be as subjective as art. The architecture featured in the chapter is a somewhat radical change from the clean, geometric modernist buildings that came before it. Basically, some form of ornamentation was added. This ornamentation usually some classical or other preestablished form. “Charles Jencks, probably the most articulate of Post-Modernism’s apologists, [cites] the date and hour of its occurrence – July 15, 1972, at 3:32 P.M. – as the actual moment when architectural modernism died.”[22] Jencks was referring to the destruction of the modernist Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. In Gardner’s latest edition the final chapter is architecture and sight specific art. It is worth noting that Robert Smithson is grouped here with the architects, which seems much more appropriate than with structuralists and formalists as he was categorized with previously. The three late-twentieth century architectural styles mentioned are modernism, postmodernism, and deconstructivism. Deconstructivisim is designed to “disorient the observer.”[23] Though this style seems to be popular with museums it is hard to imagine it will transfer well to retail and office buildings.

One person who has entered the canon and can be seen as an example of the effects of postmodernism is Eva Hesse (figure 9).

Hesse was not included in the 2nd edition of Arnason from 1977 even though she died in 1970, and thus would have made all of her artistic contributions years before its publication. Hesse’s art was widely recognized at the time having already been exhibited numerous times including a posthumous retrospective at the Guggenheim. She was, however, included in the 3rd Edition of Arnason a decade later. Since the 1980s there has been an obvious attempt to add women and minorities to all of the various canons of western civilization. New textbooks are also being exclusively created for these historically marginalized groups. Eva Hesse is listed as a postmodernist in Carol Kort and Liz Sonneborn’s A to Z of American Women in the Visual Arts published in 2002. It is hard to imagine that Hesse would have referred to herself as a postmodernist. But through her example one can see the effects of postmodernism. A to Z of American Women in the Visual Arts is published byFacts on File, a textbook publisher with a number of titles in various fields. Facts on File now owns The World Almanac, which has continuously been published since 1868. This only demonstrates the shakeups going on in the publishing industry. Whether or not Eva Hesse gets permanently labeled a postmodern artist may depend on how well Facts on File can manage to move into Gardner’s and Arnason’s market share. The fact that A to Z of American Women in the Visual Arts exists at all is the results of multiculturalism, a critical aspect of postmodernism.

The very last artist mentioned in Gardner’s 2010 edition is Matthew Barney (figure 10).

The text states that “many artists today are creating vast and complex multimedia installations combining new and traditional media.”[24] The final section featuring Barney is called “Performance and Conceptual Art and New Media.” Barney is part of the new media entry. The fact that the artist performed his Cremaster cycle at the Guggenheim at age 27 hints at a strong sense of familiarity with the “authorities of style” Helen Gardner wrote about back in 1926. This is a similar situation to the one that the modernists were rebelling against. Should the Guggenheim, and other powerful institutions, be in the business of establishing artists by their endorsement? Cremaster could not have been made without the support of the Guggenheim.  Barney’s talent is, if anything, subjective. Is he a particularly talented filmmaker, actor, or new media artist? Is his work particularly profound? Few could accuse the original authorities of style, like Bouguereau and Meissonier, of lacking talent. But it is useless to talk of something as illusive as talent unless one is working within an established tradition. There must be similar works to compare it to if any value judgment is to be made about a work of art. Barney’s inventing of his own, individual, art form represents many of the established aspects of modernism. Barney is avant-garde. Postmodernism rejects the avant-garde. This could either be evidence of Barney being a post-postmodern artist or a product of the modernist art establishment. Performance and conceptual art have been around for decades. The fact that Barney is understood to be a representative example of a new media artist has been established, for the time being, by Gardner’s declaration of him as such.

If one were to speculate as to who will be the next contemporary artist to enter the canon a good guess would be Banksy. It is fun to imagine that the artist is some sort outlaw, but he is actually deeply and entrenched in the artworld establishment and sells his work through no less a distinguished source than Sotheby’s. Like Barney, Banksy is far from original.  The 3rd edition of Arnason has a section called “Graffitists and Cartoonists.” In the latest edition it is called “Wall of Fame: Graffiti and Cartoon Artists.” Would Banksy fit in this section? Possibly his pranks make him some new type of graffiti artist. The last artist in the canon, like Barney, should be expected to be a well-established and very contemporary artist. What about Thomas Kinkade? He’s the most collected living artist.[25] The thought of Thomas Kinkade entering the art canon is unimaginable. It would be interesting to hear someone argue against his inclusion without resorting to the institutional theory and the subjectivity of the artworld. Kinkade is certainly engaging, even challenging, the presuppositions of contemporary art. It is not difficult to imagine Walt Disney or Norman Rockwell entering the canon. Like Matthew Barney and Eva Hesse, Rockwell has had a major exhibition at the Guggenheim. Disney’s contributions to art are undeniable. With the inclusion of such a wide variety of objects and activities into a canon that originally consisted of painting, sculpture and architecture, it is amazing that animation has been marginalized. Possibly Disney could be categorized with Barney under new media. The computer game designer Roberta Williams would also make a strong contender.

One of the beauties of the print canon, as represented by Arnason and Gardner’s, is that past decisions are final. No one can go back and take the hyphen out of post-modernism, or preferably put it back in. The majority of the artists and artworks selected by Helen Gardner and H. Harvard Arnason have remained in the canon to this day. Having had such a profound influence on a generation of art history survey students one can only speculate as to whether or not these two textbooks will continue unchallenged into the future. Newer artists will always be added, but what about ignored twentieth century traditions? Will Picasso be removed to make room for Frank Frazetta?  The demise of print might prove to be the establishment of a more comprehensive canon online, but the limited space of the printed book forces some exclusions. If the institutional theory is accepted and art is understood to be fundamentally subjective, it would seem impossible for an authoritative canon to exist on the internet where no standards apply and there is no minimum requirement for admission.  The nature of a canon’s authority is that it is unchanging. Corrections are serious business. Is Robert Smithson a formalist? That is just semantics, but what is undeniable is that is that many, well informed, scholars believed him to be in 1975. That is the nature of the printed art canon.

Text and Academic Authors Associaton, “Textbook Excellence Awards and McGuffey Longevity Awards,” Text and Academic Authors Associaton,

Helen Gardner, Art Through the Ages, 1st Edition (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1926, revised 1936), 736.

Ibid., 696.

Ibid., 746

Sumner McK. Crosby, ed., HelenGardner’s Art Through the Ages 4th Edition (New York and Burlingam: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 1959), 747.

H. H. Arnason, History of Modern Art, 1st Edition (New York: Harry N, Abrams, Inc., 1969), 628.

Ibid., 726.

Ibid., 727.

Ibid., 728.

Arnason 1st Edition, op. cit. 618.

Sumner McK. Crosby, ed., HelenGardner’s Art Through the Ages 6th Edition (New York and Burlingam: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 1975), 780.

H. H. Arnason, History of Modern Art, 2nd Edition (New York: Harry N, Abrams, Inc., 1977), 700.

Ibid., 423-4.

H. H. Arnason, History of Modern Art, 4th Edition (New York: Harry N, Abrams, Inc., 1998), 661.

Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, 6th Edition (New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1975), 787.

Anne Yarowsky, ed. History of Modern Art, 3rd Edition (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, 1986), 566.

Ibid. 567.

Gardner, 1st Edition, op. cit. 654-6.

Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages 13th Edition (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States: Thomson Wadsworth, 2009), 822.

Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages 11th Edition  (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States: Thomson Wadsworth, 2009), 938.

Kleiner, 13th Edition, op. cit. 1041.

Daniel Wheeler, ed. History of Modern Art, 3rd Edition, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1986), 691.

Kleiner, 13th Edition, op cit., 1011.

Kleiner, 13th Edition, op cit., 1024.



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