World Series

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Many practitioners of ‘world art studies’ are sceptical of systematic global models of world art history and of material and visual culture developed by such recent writers as John Onians and David Summers, though such models were common in art history in the past. The article distinguishes two theories of history in ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ world art history respectively, identified with the historiography of George Kubler and Michel Foucault respectively. Kubler's ‘rule of series’ stresses determined and developmental serial order whereas Foucault's model of ‘conjunction’ stresses contingent occurrence and unintended consequences. Though seemingly opposed, both models can be useful in describing the worldwide topography and chronology of visual and material culture and both have certain limits. The article suggests that they can be combined to yield a model of ‘devolution’ in the global or worldwide transcultural replication of series of visual and material culture – of causally ordered series that are nonetheless not governed by any ‘rule’. This model may be more palatable to sceptics of systematic models of art history than the existing evolutionary models.

Keywords: Foucault; Kubler; Onians; Summers; Whitney Davis; art history; conjunction; replication; seriation; world art studies

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2011

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