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Distinguished art historian Michael Baxandall here discusses the historical understanding of works of art – how we can discover the intentions of an artist living in. Patterns of Intention has ratings and 11 reviews. where I took a Graduate Seminar from the venerable art theoretician Michael Kighly Baxandall. The style. Krystal R. South Art History Methods Dr. Anne McClanan Winter, Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures It seems impossible to.

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This entry continues a series of posts on the art historian Michael Baxandall The first post commented on his book, Giotto and the Orators: I now take on the mighty Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictureswhich is now inexplicably out of print.

But the operative word here is inferential. Baxandall draws a crucial distinction between art writing that tries pattetns recount the stroke-by-stroke stages by which a painter creates a picture and art writing that uncovers the salient circumstances that shape the concrete intentions that produce artworks.

Art criticism cannot simply chronicle the creation of a work: The problems that arise for the inferential critic are precisely those that define the procedure of making inferences. Moreover, this critical impulse is driven by the notion that in the making of pictures, lntention Picasso in Chapter 2, Piero in Chapter 3, and, in the case of Chapter 1, bridge-builder Benjamin Baker are problem-solvers.

Let us consider what Baxandall means by this before enumerating the difficulties he sees in making this assumption. By considering artists as problem-solvers, Baxandall follows in the footsteps of E.

There are also connotations of difficulty. But there is a difference between the sense of problem in the actor and in the observer.

Michael Baxandall, Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures – PhilPapers

The critic or historian cannot actually know the content of the moment-by-moment thought process or the intricacies involved in the application of daubs of paint that result in a work. The critic must insert in her explanation of what she sees a mediating process stage: But of what does this process consist? Basandall first applies this approach to the building of the Queensfery Bridge ca.

He records two pattrns in trying to apply the triangle of re-enactment to Picasso: But of what use is the idea of a Charge when trying to explain the paintings of Picasso, or, for that matter, the films of a Godard?

Baxandall acknowledges the baxanxall in allotting visual artists a common charge. When beginning to describe and infer causes for a Picasso painting, we must consider at a minimum three elements to the problem-complex or Brief he confronted: But this freedom was not absolute, as Baxandall shows in Chapter 2, section 4; Picasso was, after all, a social being in cultural circumstances.

Like pre-capitalist societies, art markets operate as barter systems. Crucially, however, the barter the painter is involved with consists of mental goods like artistic forms.

And 2 what is the relationship between our explanations and truth? The blond angel on the far left and the landscape are attributed to a young Leonardo Da Vinci; and some critics attribute the second angel to a young Botticelli.

Broad Briefs appear to have less explanatory force if one is studying not a Picasso versus a Piero but two contemporaries. Consider this example from the last century, the classical Hollywood era ca. If we allow for a commutation of Anthony Mann for Ford, could the exact same thing not be said of The Man from Laramie ? Perhaps Baxandall would reply that ingention is not a problem, patferns then the explanation of the differences between two contemporary works would fo with more precise contextual considerations who, for instance, were the patrons, and did they have special demands?


This does show, however, that the broad Brief one posits cannot in itself inrention taken a comprehensive inventory of the terms of the problem situations artists find themselves in.

If it did, then a Baptism by Piero and a Baptism by another contemporary artist would be if not identical, certainly comparable and overlapping in significant ways that render most of the elements of the Brief banal. We need to go beyond the Brief, or refine it, to explain the works of two contemporaries working within the same general conditions.

The Art History of Michael Baxandall, Part 2: What is Inferential Criticism of Art?

ot He will not consider cultures as having a uniform impact on individuals that participate in them. What, for instance, does an occupation like medicine have to do with art? Pattrrns nothing at all, for medical science works to give parts of a populace skills that have very little bearing on how works of art are made or visually perceived.

He therefore wants to consider only those cultural factors that train a society in skills relevant to the experience of beholding a picture. In 15 th century Italy, a pwtterns kind of commercial mathematics was taught in schools baxandall. Again, we are in a position here to raise an intenyion Would he still cite mathematical skills as an explanation of pictures in this era if there were no direct connection between the artist in question and mathematics?

After all, historians of visual art do not always have connections that are this clear to ground the inferential work they do. Such skills should not be invoked unless the connections are relatively direct.

But are inferential critics or historians bound to considering only those cultural trends that impinge directly on visual experience?

What this suggests is that the art historian must consider two sets of beholder skills in inferring the causes of pictures: In the case of Piero, 2 refers to the different way people in the 15 th century explained pictures, i. And the intellectual commitments of those non-artistic agents involved in the production of the picture are therefore supremely relevant.

How far, Baxandall then asks, can we go in positing baxandal, active role for culture in historical explanations of the visual features of art works? As paradoxical as this question sounds, to what extent can cultural mechanisms not known about by the artist factor into his or her intentions? Baxanda,l is refreshing about his analysis of the limits of studying another culture pp.

In other words, Baxandall posits a responsibility, here. The inferential critic who, once again, is interested in using precise descriptions of visual features of works to pose questions baaxndall causation should reject two assumptions: Rather, Baxandall sees the knowledge of the observer and the participant as existing along baxandal spectrum of advantages and disadvantages as far as knowledge is concerned which has implications for how the observer-critic explains a given art-historical phenomenon.


There are, to put it differently, things that both the observer and the participant can and cannot see given their respective vantage points on the making of a specific art work.

But pahterns limits of culture cannot be decided a priori —i. The validity of explanatory claims preoccupies Baxandall in Chapter 4, section 5. He reminds us that when studying the past a correspondence theory of truth will not do—we simply cannot go out and check our claims against reality, for that relality no longer exists. He also jettisons the notion that historical explanations should have a predictive capacity.

Instead, he considers the tools of verification developed by the philosophy of historical explanation p. Three criteria seem most pertinent to the work of inferential criticism: Otherwise, the process of discovery would not find its stride.

But what about when one is analyzing the compositional strategies and patterns of intention over the course of a series of works? In this case, seeing the work as lacking complete coherence might facilitate a better explanation than positing a unity in a single work which may not have it.

The internal coherence rests in a consistent effort or attempt across a body of work. But while we might have to modify his reasoning slightly to explain a series of pictures, his reasoning already provides clues as to the answers. For all the ways this book is methodologically self-aware, this premise is never exposed to scrutiny. It seems non-controversial to claim that works of art are of interest for a variety of non-visual reasons or for reasons that prioritize other experiences of art: Different cultures and different communities within different cultures often take works of art as mythological, philosophical or political experiences.

And this is pattsrns because these non-visual assumptions about the significance—the meaning—of art also impinge on the marketplace, on taste culture and, by extension, on the problems artists pose and the solutions they develop.

Non-visual as much as visual interests shape artworks, particularly their narrative and thematic features. Baxandall therefore fails to consider the implications of a basic fact of art history: And for many years there has been a tension within inferential criticism—within art history and those fields of intellectual pursuit and academic study that derive approaches from it—between those who would fold visual interest into non-visual interest in art that is, into ideological or philosophical interests and those like Baxandall who attempt to show that there are legitimately visual cultures to which art responds and which art promotes—cultures that would be lost if art history were interpreted as an ideological or philosophical history.

To rephrase and slightly shift the emphasis of this point: Portrait of Kahnweiler Picasso, Baptism of Christ Verrocchio, The Schoolboy Gleizes, This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this baxanfall, you agree to their use.

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