Always Words for Pictures

Michael Baxandall draws our attention to the paradoxical situation of art history always translating the experience of art into words. He’s not saying it’s wrong, he’s just pointing it out. This brings us into the realm of language speaking about another (visual) language.

“We do not explain pictures: we explain remarks about pictures – or rather, we explain pictures only so far as we have considered them under some verbal description or specification.” 

(From: Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures, Yale University Press, 1985)

And this is my current world of words, words for pictures is what I am doing as an art history doctoral student. I’ve come full circle from the Liverpool Polytechnic Fine Art world of my more youthful student sojourns to the former Polytechnic of Manchester, or Manchester Metropolitan University as it is now known.

There have been some stopping off points along the way, namely, Screen Studies at Warrington Collegiate (M.A. awarded from the University of Manchester), The Open University (Modern Art and Modernism), The University of Wales, (Graduate cert. Religions and Theology) and back to the University of Manchester for the M.A. in Religions and Theology. And I think it’s all contributing to my current explorations and consideration for how we understand “art”.

I can’t stay in the world of words in every moment however…. Although I’m not doing a practice based Ph.D., I cannot resist some studying via drawing. Here is a sketchbook page with drawings from details of the Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt’s painting, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (1860).

It’s quite telling what you can see when you draw something. I really would recommend it.

CK_Drawing_The Finding


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