Documents of Human Culture as a Whole:
Art History and World Art Studies

Writing in the pages of The English Journal in November 1930, the poet and critic Ezra Pound set out to evaluate, contextualize and historicize the slew of Anglo-American magazines with which modernism – both literary and artistic – can in part be so readily associated. Toward the end of his fifteen-page review he arrived at the topic of publications in their infancy:

Other periodicals in incubation can only be judged on their programs. I have, personally, a very strong belief in the clear announcement of a program – any program. A review that can’t announce a program probably doesn’t know what it thinks or where it is going.1

Moreover, it is perhaps hardly worth adding to this that a review that cannot announce a program probably also consigns itself to some relative historiographical obscurity. One might go a little further and even add that the periodicals which guarantee themselves a critical posterity are indeed those which in addition to setting out a clear program do so by flagging up their difference, their alternative or contrary agenda.
 Art History, happily, is a case in point, as John Onians’s opening Editorial of 1978 makes manifest:

At present art historians tend to concentrate on the internal analysis of an object and its relation to a specific historical frame. Art History will maintain and reinforce this tradition which it owes to the vitality of the great journals of today, but it will also encourage the application of techniques established in areas with which we are familiar, to art according to a wider definition, and to areas more remote in place and time.2

That this foundational priority has remained central to the journal’s raison d’être is surely testament to the strength of belief, to borrow from Pound, which underpinned it from the fore.
 Indeed, this very same agenda was recognized by the present editors in their first issue. Evoking the wider definitions of their predecessor, Genevieve Warwick and Natalie Adamson looked forward from 1978 toward 2013 when they wrote, and for that matter beyond:

The subsequent history of the journal was to effect such disciplinary transformation, challenging both the methods and the means through which we worked. In its emphasis on thematic enquiry through the inauguration of dedicated special issues, its openness to experimental writing and research and to the expanded field of visual culture, its pages have debated the nature and reach of art history as a discipline.3

Accordingly, their current program of special issues sets out to address a related group of topics which together can be seen to further some of those original aims laid out in 1978.4 Paul Duro’s collection, ‘Theorizing Imitation in a Global Context’, published in September 2014, Joan Kee and Emanuele Lugli’s ‘To Scale’, which appeared in April 2015, and most recently Daniela Bleichmar and Meredith Martin’s ‘Objects in Motion in the Early Modern World’, issued in September 2015, each approach the nature and reach of our subject through addressing categories that might be thought to transcend traditional art-historical hierarchies such as place or time, and specifically by scrutinizing them across a multiplicity of geographical and chronological contexts: the practices of imitation; issues of size and its relation to scale; and ideas of mobility and circulation, respectively. All three point to the vibrant diversity of our field and its methods, and gesture to future directions of fruitful research.
 To complement these projects, the current collection of already-published essays has similarly been brought together. On one level, technological development underlies the advent of this new endeavour, the virtual special issue. Our publisher’s online platform readily facilitates the possibility of post hoc anthologizing all the more effectively given today’s predominant modes of readership in contexts that are increasingly online. But too, as we have recently announced, the complete digitization of our early issues has furnished us with the opportunity to examine afresh and with new-found ease not only the ambitions with which this journal was first endowed, but likewise the legacies upon which we have subsequently been able to build.5 And it is precisely because of its nature as a foundational concern that the theme of the journal’s participation in discourses of what we might in 2015 term World Art Studies was decided upon for this the inaugural collection of its kind.
 Art History appeared on the stage at a moment in the discipline’s development when the grip of a modernism brought about by figures such as Pound, say, was systematically being undone and countered. In particular, a dismantling of the hegemony of an above-all Anglo-American cultural dominance, and one that specifically included methodological concerns, was amongst the increasing priorities of the field, as indeed it still continues to be today in an intellectual climate where ideas of the global, for example, are never far from sight or mind. The recent rethinking of the display of the permanent collection of Paris’s Centre Pompidou, entitled Multiple Modernities, to give just one example, has encouraged us again to reconsider parameters of artistic production, distribution and consumption during the period from 1905 to 1970, pertinently foregrounding alongside their expanded or realigned canon the plethora of periodicals in which modern art and the ideas informing it were disseminated at the time. So too then ought we re-evaluate the means by which not only their particular collection has variously been subjected to the set of principles of inquiry broadly understood to constitute the subject of art history, with an aim analogous to that of the Pompidou’s display, intent as it is on disrupting ‘the usual linear viewpoint focused on European movements’.6 Indeed, a dissatisfaction with the predominance of Eurocentric models of history and their application to cultures, and the objects which originate from them, extending beyond the geographical, and for that matter chronological, boundaries that they imply, has long been a central characteristic of World Art Studies. With the benefit of the accumulation of published material over time, we have an obligation, I would like to suggest, to pay attention to how things have been done before, not only to understand how and why we currently think as we do, but also – to nuance Pound’s position – in order to inform how we will go on to do so. If a forward-thinking modernism urged abandoning obsolete cultures of the past, a methodologically-progressive art history should certainly think otherwise.
 In selecting the eight articles which comprise this virtual special issue of Art History, I have not sought to present some kind of holistic historiography of World Art Studies over the period of the journal’s existence. As one scholar has recently observed,

[the] history of intercultural art studies in Europe, at any rate, seems far too discontinuous or at least intermittent to suggest any steady accumulation of knowledge and insight that could somehow be construed as leading inevitably to the present.7

Indeed, our archive presents many gaps, things slip in and then out of view, and it might no doubt be acknowledged as demonstrating failings in what is, after all, a highly-contested – and contestable – field. Whilst the individual contributions are (intentionally) roughly evenly spaced across the thirty eight years of the journal’s history, their respective focuses, encompassing, for example, nineteenth-century Kalabari Ijo sculpture, and Hasanlu seals from Iron-Age Iran, diverse as they may be, are thus not brought together in order to present any universality of either temporality or chronology, materiality or mediality, or for that matter any other given tenet that might be said to underpin a generalist periodical such as Art History. Rather, I wish to encourage focus on some of the ways in which those parameters first set out by John Onians have variously been addressed within the pages of the journal during the time that has intervened, with a view to highlighting Art History as an intellectual space intended to provide a forum for on-going and evolving debate regarding such questions, alongside, or as part of, our concern for methodological awareness and development.
 A brief look at the terminology and vocabulary employed in the selected essays can serve to demonstrate the different ways in which questions concerning the movement of ideas and objects around, through and over the spaces, societies and cultures of the world have variously been framed. In ‘Pop Art in Africa?’, for example, Nigel Barley seeks to nuance models of ‘European influence’ and ‘Western inspiration’ (370). Michelle I. Marcus, by comparison, draws on world-system models ‘to explain the processes of cultural diffusion’ (129) in her essay ‘Centre, Province and Periphery’. Focusing on Japan, John Clark scrutinizes ‘cultural transfer’ in order to see modern art in Asia as re-contextualizing Euramerican modern art through, for example, ‘the interpenetration and cross-assimilation of cultural forms’ (254). In ‘Pathways of Portability’ meanwhile, Eva R. Hoffmann seeks to re-map ‘geographical and cultural boundaries, opening up vistas of intra- and cross-cultural encounters and interactions’ (17). ‘The Buddha Goes Global’, by Clare Harris, adopts the model of transnationalism to examine ‘the cumulative impact of contact with multiple locations’ (699). And challenging existing constructions of the exotic, Greg M. Thomas considers the appropriational strategies employed in China and Europe in terms of the ‘reversibility of intercultural translation’ (115). As these contributions to Art History suggest, questions asked by World Art Studies, however they may have been posed, have remained a vital part of the journal’s agenda over the span of its existence.
 Art History, of course, has not been the exclusive domain for such activity, but simply one venue amongst many in which this strand of intellectual enterprise has found a home, and the purpose of this collection, as I have already stated, is certainly not to present an encyclopaedic historiography of the topic. However, as a journal it has always sought to be engaged with the plurality of inquiry toward common goals. With this in mind, the selected contributions highlighted above are framed by reviews of two books, Hugh Honour and John Fleming’s A World History of Art of 1982 by Peter Burke, and Kitty Zijlmans and Wilfried van Damme’s World Art Studies: Exploring Concepts and Approaches of 2008 by Whitney Davis, both reminding us of the broader landscape of which we have always been just one part. That the focus of this virtual special issue in particular warrants an awareness of concurrent scholarship is surely all the more pressing if we consider that recent efforts to chart the evolution of our subject have left the place within it of World Art Studies unattended. ‘What’, asks The Books that Shaped Art History, ‘are the fundamental themes that hold together a subject wide enough to take in proto-geometric Greek art and poststructuralist film?’ These bookends, to be sure, imply expansive frameworks of chronology, geography and medium, yet the subject of its question – method, with all of its alleged variety – is proposed without the inclusion of, let alone reference to, such ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting works as Franz Kugler’s Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte of 1842, or David Summers’s Real Spaces: World Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism of 2003, to cite but two examples from opposite ends of the span of time over which art history has developed as a scientific discipline. Nonetheless, the book’s supposed priority is ‘even more pressing’, it opines, ‘in a global age, and one, moreover, in which the texts of art history are so readily available in a digital format.’8 If the internet’s potential to open up scholarship to the widest possible audience, regardless of where it may be, is to be truly achieved, do we not have an obligation not merely to utter the word ‘global’, but rather at very least actually to participate in art-historical discourses intent on theorizing its importance for the nature of such a desired reach? In such a spirit, access to this virtual special issue is given free-of-charge with the hope of inviting the broadest exchange of ideas which must unquestionably lie at the heart of any attempt to further our discipline globally.
 As the current editors’ program of special issues should make clear, the questions highlighted by this virtual special issue of previously-published material continue to be our concern, and when taken together form part of a project that it is hoped will remain at the forefront of our subject’s ambition. In calling to attention these eight articles, our aim is for readers not only to connect with this existing literature, nor only to discern the shape of World Art Studies as it is currently being practised, but also to encourage their future participation in such a project; Art History remains, and will continue to be, committed to showing, as our program clearly announced, ‘how art can be studied in a wider context and so gain importance as a document of human culture as a whole’.9


1 Ezra Pound, ‘Small Magazines’, The English Journal, 19:9, November 1930, 702-703.
2 John Onians, ‘Editorial’, Art History, 1:1, March 1978, v.
3 Genevieve Warwick and Natalie Adamson, ‘Editorial’, Art History, 36:1, February 2013, 10.
4 See Genevieve Warwick, ‘Editorial’, Art History, 38:1, February 2015, 9.
5 See Samuel Bibby, ‘Patterns of Attention’, AAH Bulletin, 115, February 2014, 15.
6 ‘Modernités Plurielles 1905-1970’, press release, 12 September 2013, at
7 Wilfried van Damme, ‘‘Good to think’: The Historiography of Intercultural Art Studies’, World Art, 1:1, March 2011, 52.
8 Richard Shone and John-Paul Stonard, The Books that Shaped Art History: From Gombrich and Greenberg to Alpers and Krauss, London and New York, 2013, 19.
9 Onians, ‘Editorial’, v.