THE ARTWORK AS THE GIVEN OF ART HISTORY
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Regardless of the co-existence and interchange of several methodological approaches during the 20th century (formalism, 'art history as a spiritual history', sociological method, iconology, psychological methods, the dominant orientation right up to the last third of it was towards art history as a self-sufficient discipline focused on the artwork. It was conceived as a quite autonomous entity, especially when explained as a result of purely formal creation, but also when its messages were interpreted as depending on the context of cultural history. During approximately the last three decades a different methodology and subsequent research subjects have emerged, shifting our attention to the context of an artwork: the conditions in which it had been created and consumed. In addition, the very subject of general art history has been rendered problematical; doubts have been applied the universal term of 'art' to both ancient artefacts and most recent developments. All this is reasonable and welcome as factors promoting development with the proviso that they avoid turning into self-sufficient, speculative thinking, into new dogmas that research results have to comply with. One has to admit that interpretative enthusiasm according to the 'New Art History' principles could also generate dubious conclusions on this or that issue. It could give rise to methodological excesses that, of course, are not uncommon in the history of art history. In this respect 'New Art History' is not completely new. With respect to choices of subject for art-historical research, it depends on the philosophical idea of what art and, subsequently, an artwork is. An artwork acquires sense within an 'ideological-methodological' model, and this sense is not only found but also constructed. And this could happen in a case where some of the elements of an artwork have been endowed with a different meaning (according to methodological dogma) but also conceived as 'meaningful' where none was intended or it is accidental, insignificant or a result of artistic failure. A seemingly exhaustive, unified and sometimes impressive interpretation is created, which may fit the author's ideological bias but is insufficient for the artwork as the given of art history.
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