Cover image for Critical terms for art history
Critical terms for art history
Nelson, Robert S., 1947-
Second edition.
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xvi, 519 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N34 .C75 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



"Art" has always been contested terrain, whether the object in question is a medieval tapestry or Duchamp's Fountain . But questions about the categories of "art" and "art history" acquired increased urgency during the 1970s, when new developments in critical theory and other intellectual projects dramatically transformed the discipline. The first edition of Critical Terms for Art History both mapped and contributed to those transformations, offering a spirited reassessment of the field's methods and terminology.

Art history as a field has kept pace with debates over globalization and other social and political issues in recent years, making a second edition of this book not just timely, but crucial. Like its predecessor, this new edition consists of essays that cover a wide variety of "loaded" terms in the history of art, from sign to meaning , ritual to commodity . Each essay explains and comments on a single term, discussing the issues the term raises and putting the term into practice as an interpretive framework for a specific work of art. For example, Richard Shiff discusses "Originality" in Vija Celmins's To Fix the Image in Memory , a work made of eleven pairs of stones, each consisting of one "original" stone and one painted bronze replica.

In addition to the twenty-two original essays, this edition includes nine new ones-- performance , style , memory/monument , body , beauty , ugliness , identity , visual culture/visual studies , and social history of art --as well as new introductory material. All help expand the book's scope while retaining its central goal of stimulating discussion of theoretical issues in art history and making that discussion accessible to both beginning students and senior scholars.

Contributors: Mark Antliff, Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, Stephen Bann, Homi K. Bhabha, Suzanne Preston Blier, Michael Camille, David Carrier, Craig Clunas, Whitney Davis, Jas Elsner, Ivan Gaskell, Ann Gibson, Charles Harrison, James D. Herbert, Amelia Jones, Wolfgang Kemp, Joseph Leo Koerner, Patricia Leighten, Paul Mattick Jr., Richard Meyer, W. J. T. Mitchell, Robert S. Nelson, Margaret Olin, William Pietz, Alex Potts, Donald Preziosi, Lisbet Rausing, Richard Shiff, Terry Smith, Kristine Stiles, David Summers, Paul Wood, James E. Young

Author Notes

Robert S. Nelson is Distinguished Service Professor of Art History and History of Culture at the University of Chicago
Richard Shiff is the Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Art and director of the Center for the Study of Modernism at the University of Texas at Austin

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Originally published in 1996, Critical Terms now appears in its second, expanded edition and includes nine new essays on subjects that have reached prominence in the field of art history over the interceding five years (e.g., "Performance," "Body," and "Visual Culture/Visual Studies"). The book thoroughly examines the variable meanings and historic usage of each term or concept selected for inclusion. "Memory/Monument," for example, considers how memorials have informed collective memory and ultimately affect the course of human affairs. All 31 essays, written by notable figures in the fields of art history and cultural studies, among them Ivan Gaskell, Paul Wood, and Richard Meyer, are carefully conceived and thoroughly accessible. Editors Shiff (Czanne and the End of Impressionism) and Nelson (Visuality Before and Beyond the Renaissance) have given careful consideration to the groupings of their chosen terms and have categorized each under five key rubrics: operations, communications, histories, social relations, and societies. The book is a lighthouse in a field often overshadowed by a miasma of ambiguously articulated theories and multivalent terminology and will prove a vital resource for all comprehensive art libraries.-Savannah Schroll, formerly with Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Editors Nelson (Univ. of Chicago) and Shiff (Univ. of Texas, Austin) provides a survey in short essay format of nearly two dozen critical issues faced by art history and art historiography. The issues, demarcated by terms (such as "simulacrum," "modernism," "gender," and the like), are addressed in essays written by authorities in the specific field of interest. Divided into the major categories of operations, communications, histories, social relations, and societies, the book, to its credit, does not espouse a specific historiographic model. Different authors obviously express their different beliefs about the purpose and state of art history; those expressions are as varied as the authors' beliefs. Several essays, such as "Ritual" by Suzanne Preston Blier and "Appropriation" by Robert S. Nelson (others could have been selected to appear on a short list), are remarkably well written, offering both clarity and a thorough understanding of the subject matter. Other essayists are less likely to avoid the jargon that invades much of our contemporary discussion of art history. Overall, the book is an interesting introduction to criticism and the current historical vocabulary. It will be most useful for those with little knowledge of the subject areas, and could be in demand on those campuses where art criticism courses are popular. Recommended for those libraries serving graduate students and undergraduate majors in art history. R. M. Labuz Mohawk Valley Community College

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
MediationRobert S. Nelson
At the Place of a Foreword: Someone Looking, Reading, and WritingRobert S. Nelson
1 RepresentationDavid Summers
2 SignAlex Potts
3 SimulacrumMichael Camille
4 Word and ImageW. J. T. Mitchell
5 NarrativeWolfgang Kemp
6 PerformanceKristine Stiles
7 StyleJas Elsner
8 ContextPaul Mattick, Jr.
9 Meaning/InterpretationStephen Bann
10 OriginalityRichard Shiff
11 AppropriationRobert S. Nelson
12 Art HistoryDavid Carrier
13 ModernismCharles Harrison
14 Avant-GardeAnn Gibson
15 PrimitiveMark Antliff and Patricia Leighten
16 Memory/MonumentJames E. Young
Social Relations
17 BodyAmelia Jones
18 BeautyIvan Gaskell
19 UglinessNina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer
20 RitualSuzanne Preston Blier
21 FetishWilliam Pietz
22 GazeMargaret Olin
23 GenderWhitney Davis
24 IdentityRichard Meyer
25 ProductionTerry Smith
26 CommodityPaul Wood
27 Collecting/MuseumsDonald Preziosi
28 ValueJoseph Leo Koerner and Lisbet Rausing
29 Postmodernism/PostcolonialismHomi K. Bhabha
30 Visual Culture/Visual StudiesJames D. Herbert
31 Social History of ArtCraig Clunas
Afterword: FigurationRichard Shiff