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«Thesis presented to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Zurich for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Mark Staff Brandl of USA and ...»

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Before I review various conceptions of the timeline and reveal my own, let me be a bit coquettish with the attention of the readers. What are the apparent differences between the history of fine art and the history of comic (or sequential) art? First, almost the entire history of comics occurs in what is known in the culture at large as Modernism, the most recent part in Postmodernism. Modernism began approximately in the late 1840s; comics, as we know them, began in the 1830s. In the world of fans of comics there is an unfortunate abridgment of this history into the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, and the fully misnamed "Modern Age," meaning comics from the mid-1980s until the present day, as CGC (Certified Guaranty Company), the commercial comic grading company, and the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide maintain.8 This last designation is nonsensical and separates comics' terminology naïvely from the rest of culture. Even in stylistic terms alone, The Watchmen comic9, Maus10 and Andrei Molotiu's Abstract Comics: The Anthology11 are clearly "after Modernism," thus Postmodern. Second, comics has a comparatively clear beginning with Rodolphe Toepffer and his stories such as the Histoire de M. Jabot created and published between 1831 and

1846.12 The history of fine art, in comparison, begins somewhere in the mists of prehistory as A 37 second version of my PowerPoint images which accompany this performance/speech is on-line on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIP0a6HBAUs.

Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. York, Pennsylvania: Gemstone Publishing.

Alan Moore (author), Dave Gibbons (artist), Watchmen: Absolute Edition (New York: DC Comics, 2005).

Art Spiegelman, Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986).

Andre Molotiu, ed., Abstract Comics: The Anthology: 1967-2009 (Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2009).

Rodolphe Toepffer, Histoire de M. Jabot. (Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2010).

Wikipedia contributors," Rodolphe Toepffer," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, website:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodolphe_Toepffer. Please also note that in this sentence and many others, comics is treated as a singular collective noun. This is the standard practice in the field of the study of comics.

Timelines 222 art, religion and magic, perhaps as long ago as 100,000 B.C.13 Third, the history of comics is exceedingly "compressed." It passes through phases fairly analogous to the epochs of fine art, yet within only about 110 years: from simple, "primitive" beginnings; through foundational, illustrational handicraft; traditionalist sophistication; various experimental stages; unique Renaissances; avant-garde expansion; through to Postmodernism. Fourth, and most edifying, comics has always contained a considerable breadth. A wide variety of intertwined genres and approaches exist simultaneously, contrasting with, complementing, and influencing one another. One example would be the 1960s, with its mainstream superheroes, humorous cartoon animals, mystery comics, war stories, science fiction, horror comics, parodies, film adaptations, underground comix, pornography, religious tracts and much more. All of these characteristics have much to teach us about the true nature of art history, but chiefly the last named trait.


Let us now take a short look at the eight prominent visions of the timeline, that is, art history and the instruction of art history. I have drawn them and clarify them, each in turn.

This is followed by a parallel, corresponding series of comics history timelines. I also critique them, highlighting the problems with each. Finally I present my own heuristic diagram of the history of fine art (and comics).

Here is an image of all the timeline models I discuss before coming to my own.

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According to the customary presentation of art history, art fades into history, its origin uncertain, marches on, and does not end: the well-established notion of a general march of history. This is tolerable, simply not enough. It does not reflect the real complexity and multifariousness of actual history, in fact, it suggests exactly the opposite: a tidy, hierarchically clear, perhaps even evolutionary chain of events. I call this the standard time line.

fig. 93

Giorgio Vasari was the Mannerist painter whose book The Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times, started art history.14 The Vite, as it is nicknamed among art historians, is spotty, anecdotal, full of rumors, conjecture, folk etymology of names, incorrect "facts," — and is downright entertaining.

Vasari believes, as many people of his time did, that the arts began in the mists of history, steadily improved, reaching a pinnacle in ancient Greece, then declined, only to reach a new and higher peak in the Renaissance. What happens after that is not entirely clear in Vasari's theory. It appears that he believed art could, at best, stay at this level of achievement. This was to be accomplished by emulating the great geniuses of the Renaissance, especially Michelangelo. His writing concentrates on the individual lives of those artists he chooses to discuss; at points, it reads like a scattershot soap-opera. I thus see his timeline as a simple line, with two crests, the first Ancient Greece and Rome, the second, the Renaissance, the one he minutely describes.

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's conception of history is the quintessence of the teleological philosophy of history and began the tendency toward eschatology (discourse about last things) that has become so common. This philosopher argued that history is a constant process of dialectic clash and that it progresses. I agree with the first, and guardedly grant the idea of development, albeit not one that I would call progress. Hegel's teleology is passively, perhaps even innocently, accepted by many nowadays. It was recently actively taken up anew by Francis Fukuyama in his The End of History and the Last Man.15 According to Hegel, "Art is and remains for us, on the side of its highest possibilities, a thing of the past," Philosophy of Fine Art.16 He may be over-interpreted, and was himself rather vague about what exactly he felt about art from his own time, especially if you read his original texts in German, but he has long been seen as believing that true beauty and perfection in art ended in ancient Greece. Since these are his values in art, it is fair to say that

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for Hegel art ended in the Antique. Thus several of my students came up with the image of a famous Greek sculpture holding back any further advance in a straight timeline. Hegel's idea is primarily based in two teleological fallacies; first, he is attributing agency and a goal to the flow of time and, second, even if there were a goal, it would not necessarily be perfection or perfection according to a Greek understanding of it.

fig. 96

Heinrich Wölfflin in 1915 in Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe ("Principles of Art History") formulated five pairs of opposed or contrary precepts in the form and style of art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which demonstrated a shift in the nature of artistic vision between the two periods.17 This has been expanded on occasion by other historians into a permanent state of shifting swings of the pendulum, or waves of ebb and flow — something like a dialectical version of the idea of cyclical history so very popular in Eastern religions. 18 The most famous of these, and for many years the dominant philosophy of art history's timeline, was Clement Greenberg's teleological vision of the progress of art through backand-forth discoveries of "significant form." Greenberg's theory is Hegelian in that he believes in evolution and improvement in art, yet it is also a very Oedipal version of Wölfflin's pendulum: linear one period, painterly the next, etc.19 This model is clearly too limited. Such agonistic, dialectical struggle does occur, as I have discussed in this dissertation, but it is neither the only option nor the only struggle. Art sometimes advances through homage or through wholly new pressures and skirmishes, as I explored in Chapter Seven. Moreover, history appears to have stronger and weaker periods, "peaks and valleys," and has far more than one set of alternating waves, at the very least.

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Ernst Gombrich offers a timeline highly similar to Hegel's, but ending with Realism.

For him, a motivation toward illusionism is the explanation of all of art history. Following Danto's criticism, we can see that Gombrich fails to account for the evolution of Modernist Heinrich Wölfflin Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Das Problem der Stilentwicklung in der neueren Kunst. (Basel: Schwabe, 2004).

Wölfflin's idea has been highly influential on all formal and formalist analyses of art and has inspired other historians who believe in cyclical changes of art styles, including Clement Greenberg. There have been other such cyclical or pendular theories of art history as well including that of Johann Joachim Winckelmann.

Clement Greenberg, "Cézanne and the Unity of Modern Art," The Partisan Review, vol. 18, no. 3 (1951); reprinted in Affirmations and Refusals, 1950-1956, vol. 3 of Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, ed. John O'Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), pp. 82-91.

Timelines 227 and contemporary art away from standard representational naturalism.20 Accordingly, Gombrich's theory is unable to encompass Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, in fact almost all artists after about 1845. In his wonderfully written, but thus inadequate book The Story of Art, Gombrich does seem to founder after Courbet.21 fig. 98 Gustave Courbet, Bonjour Monsieur Courbet, oil on canvas, 1854, 129 x 149 cm / 50 ¾ in x 58 5/8 in Therefore I have drawn Gombrich's timeline quite like the illustration of Hegel's, but being called to a stop by Courbet from his painting shown above. Criticisms can be made of Gombrich's eschatological and teleological timeline comparable to those I discussed concerning Hegel's, thus I will not reiterate them.

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Arthur C. Danto's theory of art history is probably the most widely accepted at this moment, although I believe Danto has been misinterpreted and simplistically mouthed by much of the artworld. In the chapter titled "The End of Art" in his book The Philosophical

Disenfranchisement of Art, Danto clearly describes the end of history, rather than of art itself:

"When one direction is as good as another...."22 According to this model, linear progress existed in art history up until the found object, or found-object-like art.

–  –  –

Danto thanks Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes for his insight: an art object that is indiscernible from a real non-art object. After the end of this linear progress, anything goes.

Art has become its own philosophy and progress has disappeared. Pluralism reigns. There is much to discuss here, but I will limit myself to my own re-historization of pluralism and indeed progress itself as concepts, which again, I derive from the brief yet multifaceted history of comics.

There might be a dynamic version of pluralism, were we to follow Diana L. Eck of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University, who suggests that pluralism is or could be "not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity."23 Unfortunately, I do not find this to be true of the current use of the idea in the artworld. Moreover, pluralism is not unique.

It has been used to describe many art periods in the past. Let me quickly historicize it. Here is a modification of one of my charts above. Each arrow points to a time which has been claimed to be pluralistic.

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Prehistoric 30-20000 BCE--------------------------------------------------------Egypt (Ancient) c.2500 BCE------------------------------------------ --Other Early Civilizations Mesopotamia c.2000 BCE ----------------------------------------- --------------------Babylon/Sumeria Africa c.1000 BCE ---------------------------------------------------- Benin, Zimbabwe, Mali, Ife) China c.1000 BCE ---------------------------------------------------- ---------Pre-Columbian South America ------------------------------ ---------------Toltec, Olmec, Aztec, Mayan, Navaho) c.500 BCE India c.1500 BCE ----------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------Greece (Ancient) c.400 BCE ----------------------------------------- -Rome (Ancient)--- (1) -------------------------- --------------------------------Byzantine c.500 CE ------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------Middle Ages/Medieval c.1000 CE ---------------------------------- --incl. Romanesque, Gothic, Islamic) Japan c.1100 CE --------------------------------------------------------- -----------------Renaissance 1400s CE ------------------------------------------------ ----Mannerism late 1500s CE ----------------------------------------- -------------------Baroque 1650 CE ------------------------------------------------------- ---Rococo 1750 CE ----------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------Neo-Classicism/ 1800 CE -------------------------------------------- -Romanticism/ --------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------Historicism - both) Academicists late 1800s CE --------------------------------------- ---------------------------Modernism 1850 CE --------------------------------------------------- -----------Postmodernism 1980 CE--------------------------------------------- NOW

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