Skip to content

John Clark on Jaś Elsner (ed), Comparativism in Art History, London & New York: An Ashgate Book, Routledge, 2017

7 June 2017

Comparativism from Inside and Outside: Not only a matter of viewpoint

Review of:

Comparativism in Art History, edited by Jaś Elsner, London & New York: An Ashgate Book, Routledge, 2017, ISBN 978-1-472-41884-5 hardback, 234 pages with 84 B&W illustrations. £76

John Clark (University of Sydney) 17/JK1


The review criticizes the genuflection made to ‘world art history’ without specifying what this is, even as an antithesis to the methodology of some authors. Statements are made about the lack of art historical quality in certain non-Euramerican compilations of documents without accepting that in different ways these documents were both art historically motivated and frequently collated and collected. This attitude speaks of an indifference to the way texts we now speak of as ‘documents’ were actually generated and deployed in other cultures, even those with only an oral or ritual documentation.

13 writers say what comparativism might indicate as a methodological premise in art history or how it might interpretively operate in their different fields, but there is no overall analysis of what structure these concepts might form and how effective they might be in some contexts, and ineffective in others. Comparativsm is presented as a positive fundamental in art history but its negative deployment under conditions of ethnocentrism is barely mentioned. In their different ways all of the scholars are highly motivated and exercise great insight but understanding of comparativism is gained more from obliquely watching what they do than their directly telling us how or why they use this concept in art history.


Comparativism, art history, Euramerican [= ‘Western’], anthropological, archaeological, Asian, genealogical, world art history, post-colonial, aetiological, bi-cultural, textualization, location, classicism, rupture, relative speed, bivisibility, rhetoric, ‘power’ relations, art historical formalism, origin, lacunae, boundary, astrolabe, ‘literati’, essentializing, paradigm, godhead, transcultural, simulacrum, naturalism, narrative.



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: