What is the History of Art?
'Art for art's sake' – but not for many historians. The fine and decorative arts, their styles and iconography, have been mined for insight into the politics, religion and social obsessions of the past. Placing key images alongside the views of six contributors we continue the search.
A history of the visual arts, defined simply as a chronological description of the various objects we now classify as art, would be a pretty marginal affair, probably of less general interest than a history of machinery, or a history of clothing. It would certainly be a history that remained on the fringes of what most people recognise as the central concerns of life. A history of art begins to look a little more interesting where it claims that art has a symbolic value, and that visual artefacts reflect important attitudes and 'realities' of the society in which they were produced.