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The problem of the artefact: subject limits of the art library

  • Trevor Fawcett (a1)

Abstract

The traditional subject category ‘visual arts’ is based on a value judgment, but aesthetic criteria no longer suffice to define this category. Art is increasingly permissive in its range. The subjects of art history, archaeology, social anthropology, and history of technology tend more and more to overlap. Almost any material artefact can now be viewed aesthetically, and any work of visual art may be considered as an artefact. Libraries should aim to bring together all the material culture of human societies, whether tools or works of art, in their bibliographic classifications instead of scattering it as at present.

(Slightly revised version of a paper given at the Art Libraries Round Table, 45th IFLA Congress, Copenhagen, 1979.)

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(1) In what follows the term ‘art history’ should not be taken too narrowly as referring only to an academic discipline, but rather as the study and explication of all forms and periods of art, including contemporary art. It will be evident that there are more areas of overlap than discussed here: urban studies and planning, theatre and other performance art, aesthetics, etc.
(2) As examples of the growing ethnological interest in art see the proceedings of the conference held in 1967 by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, published as Primitive art and society, ed. Forge, Anthony (London, 1973), and the collection Art in society: studies in style, culture and aesthetics, ed. Greenhalgh, Michael and Megaw, Vincent (London, 1978).
(3) Benjamin, Walter. The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In Illuminations, ed. Arendt, Hannah, trans. Zahn, H. (London, 1970). pp. 21953.
(4) Barthes, Roland. The photographic message (1961). In Image, music, text, ed. and trans. Heath, S. (London, 1977).
(5) Hennessy, Richard. What’s all this about photography? Artforum, May 1979, pp. 2225.
(6) Kubler, George. The shape of time. (New Haven, Conn., 1962).
(7) Gombrich, E.H. Art history and the social sciences. (Oxford, 1975).
(8) Perhaps the most comprehensive discussion of aesthetics and classification is found in Thomas Munro The arts and their interrelations, 2nd ed. (Cleveland, Ohio, 1967). Chapter 13 of this edition has the title ‘Four hundred arts and types of art: a systematic classification’.

The problem of the artefact: subject limits of the art library

  • Trevor Fawcett (a1)

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