Interdisciplinarity

A model of Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International” at the Royal Academy, London
© Richard Carpenter

When I started this blog I promised myself I would keep it up to date, and in line with my progress on the MA course. I thought I was doing ok, until last week’s lecture, snappily titled “Interdisciplinarity, Intermediality, Non-disciplinarity”, which quite honestly floored me. I really don’t know what to say about it. It’s not that I found it especially difficult, quite the reverse (says I, modestly). It rather felt to me like an exercise in stating the bleedin’ obvious. It seems to me (and perhaps I am being simplistic) that art history practice is now necessarily interdisciplinary to some extent. Even if art history is reduced to discussion of materials and techniques, this would involve questions of history and economics – for example, the relative prices of different colours in medieval and Renaissance paintings, and the prestige attached to particular materials. When subject matter is considered, the need to bring in knowledge gained through other disciplines becomes imperative. When Vasari wrote his Lives of the Painters, he barely mentioned the subjects of the paintings, for the simple reason that they were all much the same – scenes from the Bible or classical mythology. In our increasingly pluralist world, the subject of an artwork becomes more and more important, and understanding it requires knowledge of all sorts of things which are properly outside the scope of art history. Even where the art has no ostensible subject, such as an abstract sculpture, it cannot be explained solely by art-historical methodologies. For example, I am working on my first essay, about Rodchenko and the Russian Constructivists (of which more later) – to get it right I have to know more about the Russian revolution before I can write anything sensible about Tatlin’s tower, or Rodchenko’s all-black canvasses. Art simply does not exist in a vacuum.

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