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Here are a few citations of scholars who have described the pluralism of these periods of art history. Franklin Einspruch explained late Antique Greek art, Hellenism, in terms of pluralism: "The artistic achievements of Greece simultaneously peak and founder in Hellenism." 24 This is so pervasive a description of this period that it has been used the other way round. Tim Muldoon claims that "we are living amidst a kind of postmodern Hellenism" now.
In place of Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, etc., — and most of all Michelangelo, we have the School of Paris, the Action Painters, Pop Art, the Conceptualists, Minimalists, etc., — and most of all Duchamp; or, in comics, the shadow of Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, and Osamu Tezuka. Pluralism is a standard condition of transitional periods and is Franklin Einspruch, "Sliding Gracefully Down the Slippery Slope of Hope," Artblog.net: Franklin
Einspruch on making art, looking at art, and other requisites of life, blog website, direct page link: http:
//artblog.net/?name=2004-06-16-09-02-hope (2004), last accessed 1 September, 2010.
Tim Muldoon, "Shepherding the Postmodern Flock," Chicago Studies 42/1, (spring, 2003), pp. 81-92.
Sinclair Bell and Francesca Tronchin, "Between Canon and Kitsch: Eclecticism in Roman Homes," Session Description for the 8th Roman Archaeology Conference, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Getty Research Institute, (April, 2009).
Susan von Daum Tholl, s.v. "Carolingian Art and Architecture, Painting," Medieval Germany: An Encyclopedia, ed. John M Jeep (New York, Garland, 2001).
Judith Steinhoff, Sienese Painting After the Black Death: Artistic Pluralism, Politics, and the New Art Market (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Franklin Toker, Course Description, "Department of the History of Art and Architecture, Fall Term 2001;" University of Pittsburgh, website direct page link:
http://vrcoll.fa.pitt.edu/ftoker/tokerfile/0010sb01-10.html, last accessed 14 August 2010.
Hans Sedlmayr, Art in Crisis: The Lost Center (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2006).
Corinne Robins, The Pluralist Era: American Art, 1968-1981 (New York: Harper and Row, 1984).
Jim Auer, exhibition review "Seductive and Sensational: Art Museum Exhibit Embraces Pluralism," in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (September 10, 1995), pp. 1 and 15.
Timelines 232 most often taken to be an end point, yet it never was one. As New York painter David Reed said to me, "We must get over trying to be the first or thinking we are the last. We are in the midst of a long line or artists. There are those before us and there will be many after us." 33 I have heard it contended that this time there has been a "sea change," as the saying goes. This new period of Pluralism, or whatever else it may be, has changed everything. This is both true and false. Every change in art history has made this claim, and in fact has changed everything afterwards, that itself is, thus, not uniquely true. This claim of a "sea change" has been made, and I believe is indeed true, just not uniquely so, of the Renaissance, Modernism, Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Conceptualism, Neo-Expressionism, and others. Most importantly, there will be other such "sea changes" in the future.
Post-Modernist was originally a hyphenated term when it appeared in wide use in the 1980s. The trendier it became, the less frequently the hyphen appeared, in emulation of French usage. The 80s conception of art history, particularly embraced by the Neo-Expressionists, but some Neo-Conceptualists and others as well, is one I refer to as the "shopping mall" theory of history, or simply Postmodern. The idea that all styles of the past were equal, equally dead, and free for reuse as one wished: just pick and choose, as at a shopping center, or from a huge cabinet of curiosities. Spontaneous emotion and/or supposed irony were seen as enough to cover for rootless plagiarism. A student of mine helped concretize my notion in this image of a timeline which is not a line at all, but rather a chest of drawers with dusty old artifacts in no particular order, which are free to be sorted through and selected with no thought of history or content.
The last of the art history timelines and timeline substitutes I analyze is one I call the Non-Hegemonic or when less magnanimous, the Symptomatic timeline. This might also be called an anti- or non-model, anti-canon: "I give up." I have already objected to this approach
above. In the name of "decentering the discourse" or the like, some art historians do nothing innovative, allowing their fear of incorrectness to lead them into a far worse scenario, a descent into a consensus-correct yet unproductive morass of avoidance. They teach only potential systems of interpretation, nothing about the primary subject — art — itself. This is often coupled with a deconstructive, quasi-Freudian perception of art as no more than a symptom of some social sickness, one in need of some all-knowing theorist's interpretative cure. Yes, thank God, the wide acceptance of the Western canon as self-evidently universal (even in non-Western regions) is over; yet it is not being significantly enlarged in such a model, but instead becomes a shrunken paucity of visual-aids to criticism. Heuristically, this vision of art history is clearly useless.
Let us now take a short look, analogous to the discussion above, at nine prominent timeline models for comics history. I have also sketched, explain and criticized them, each in turn. As a start, here is a table displaying how the timeline models for fine art and for comics parallel one another quite closely.
Here is an image of all the comic art timeline models followed by a short analysis of each of them. As can be seen in the chart above, they are quite analogous to the major models of art history. Dissecting them was the activity that helped guide me to attempting to form a new model for art history as a whole, one informed by cognitive metaphor theory, Bloomian agon and my idea of metaphor(m).
The standard timeline of comics is — none. In the world at large, particularly the popular press, comics is seen not as an art form (the 9th art as the comics-friendly French have it), but rather an undifferentiated mass, a pop fad, like bellbottoms, Tamagotchi digital pets or baseball caps on backwards. The form is seen as having only a rather mute presence, little to no development. Thus I have envisioned it as a picture of a homogeneous lump (with a suitably crowd-pleasing cartoon-starburst background).
R. Z. Sheppard's approving review of Michael Chabon's Pulitzer prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay34 describes it, among other things, as a "serious but never solemn novel about the American comic book's Golden Age," yet an editor nailed a typical title above Sheppard's text: "Books: Biff! Boom!"35 Derik Badman sums up such a view of comics in his review of Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Douglas Wolk,36 writing "think of all those 'Biff Bam Boom: Comics have grown up' articles that still appear."37 What can we learn from this? That art history, fine or comic, can indeed appear to be one large glob when the standard timeline is presented over-reverently and flatly, or when not taught at all as in the case of the symptomatic art history approach, or due to the lack of survey courses about history, whether comics or fine art.
Erratic is my term for the kind of spotty, limited sense of history autodidactic artists (or those who studied under the Symptomatic approach) often reveal. They have knowledge of their one or two private influences and not much more. This generally limits them to being Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (New York: Random House, 2000).
R. Z. Sheppard, "Books: Biff! Boom!"in Time Magazine, (Monday, Sep. 25, 2000), on-line at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,998023,00.html#ixzz0bH8rEnBv.
Douglas Wolk, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (Cambridge, MA:
Da Capo, 2007).
Derik Badman, review of Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by
Douglas Wolk, MadInkBeard, blog website direct page link:
http://madinkbeard.com/blog/archives/reading-comics-by-douglas-wolk/ (28 January, 2008).
Timelines 236 hacks in comics or followers of fashion in fine art.38 For instance, in many interviews with comic artists, one hears the same few names: Noel Sickles, Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, among the older generations, later Jack Kirby, now "manga" (often without the speaker even having heard of Osamu Tezuka's Mighty Atom / Astro Boy begun in 1951or Machiko Hasegawa's Sazae-san begun in 1946, the two bases for the manga style). Most of these are great artists, but there are many more, and a familiarity with them and the contexts from which they arose can result in far more individual art. Choosing your own influences is a large part of independence. What is the lesson to be considered for a timeline model? Art history instruction must not be too prescriptively reverential, but also should not be left to the vagaries of what one accidentally stumbles over. A solid skeleton of history, even if limited, offers developing artists something upon which to hang their independently gained knowledge, something upon which to build, something to critique and wider opportunities for discovering their own choice of precursors. This is especially true when the timeline is presented with supplementary criticism and attempts at expansion. An adequate model must somehow offer clear structure, yet also already in itself visually suggest its own inadequacies.
The model I term the Originless Steady State is in fact a combination of several erroneous beliefs: that comics history has no beginning, that it has no development and that it is therefore some sort of simple presence, not therefore much different than the media notion of comics as a lump. Generally, people who follow this view do not believe there is a teleological end to comics history, as their counterparts in fine art do, yet they believe there is no real beginning to it. In an endless regression based on the continuum fallacy (also called the fallacy of the beard in logic), they find comics stretching back to prehistoric cave paintings or the like. The continuum fallacy is when someone believes that two conditions, or in our case periods or artforms, cannot be considered distinct, or to even exist at all, because between them there exists a continuum of states, or because their "edges" are fuzzy. This may be true of painting to an extent, but think how ludicrous it would sound applied to film or photography, two modern artforms historically analogous in many ways to comics. In short, beware of "fishing expeditions." If one searches hard enough, there is almost always something earlier that is somewhat similar but that fact may simply be a coincidence, not truly, essentially linked to the object of study, or if linked, perhaps only a distant ancestor.
That is why we have the prefix proto- in our languages and the idea of precursors in our cultures. For instance, ancestors of comics include Japanese scrolls, Trajan's Column and the work of William Hogarth; none of these are comics in the sense it is used today. Scott McCloud, in his justifiably praised book Understanding Comics, incorrectly tries to push the
origin of comics back to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. This is indeed a fishing expedition in which he mistakenly collapses pictographs with visual sequentiality.39 As example of what the "Steady State" model advocates need to know is the origin of their beloved artform. The medium as we know it today began to take form in the 19th century, among European and American artists after the consolidation and creation of foundationally essential characteristics by the man entitled to be lauded as the creator of comics, Rodolphe Toepffer.