In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

REVIEW ARTICLE THE ART OF THE PHILISTINES Dianne Satchko Macleod. Art and the Victorian Middle Class: Money and the Making ofCultural Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 19%. xx + 530. Alison Smith. The Victorian Nude: Sexuality, Morality, and Art. Manchester: Manchester UP; New York: St. Martin's P, 19%. xiii + 256. $59.95 US (cloth); $19.95 US (paper). Pamela Gerrish Nunn. Problem Pictures: Women and Men in Victorian Painting. Aldershot: Scolar P, 1995. xii + 172. $49.95 US (cloth). Writing in 1982, Janet Wolff argued that it was time to "combine an understanding of art as ideology with a view of art as production" (63). Wolff urged an interdisciplinary art history which was neither idealist (that is, anti-materialist) nor simplistically reflectionist, neither prone to the historical generalizations of theory nor crudely mechanistic in seeing "systems of ideas" as "the direct product of social relations of inequality" (Woolf 1993, 148-9). While the advent of the new historicism went some way towards addressing these issues, it brought about a certain depoliticization of cultural studies. Wolffs version of the sociology of the arts, on the other hand, may be described as a kind of new empiricism, which paid close attention to "the type of work artists were doing; whether they took potential buyers into account in their work; whether it follows that the work expressed 'bourgeois' ideology (and what that might mean); whether or not aesthetic considerations were relevant in buying policy, as well as investment motives, and so on" (1982, 69). In pursuit of such questions, art history may be empirical without being positivistic — that is, without using empirical evidence to narrate "a story of change, growth, development, progress — all aspects of a perceived continuity" (Shiff 1988, 27). This methodology developed as a challenge to formalist theory (as it was in the early Review Article269 1980s) which centered on the history of styles, and as an alternative to pseudo-historical approaches based on the primacy of the artistic career: those dominated by "the oeuvre catalogue, the biography, the fixing of an artist's place in the grand scheme ofperiod development" (Shiff, 28). It comes as no surprise that Wolff refined this materialist approach in the study of Victorian art. In the first place, Victorian art seems so completely at odds with the emergence of painterly modernism in Europe (that is, the history of painting-as-surface from Goya to van Gogh and beyond). Moreover, while certain Victorian painters and schools dominate the period, there was no avant-garde as such, no productive tension between academic compliance and counter-cultural experimentation (although see below). Victorian art mostly happened as a mass academicism. "Cultural production" therefore has particular economic and social overtones in the Victorian context for this is an art which emerged from and was ideologically bound up with the supremacy of the industrial bourgeoisie. Thus, the title of Ford Madox Brown's great exemplar of this relationship, Work (1852-63), might almost be a pun, for the Victorian work of art was produced in the workshop of the world, and now looks very much like a mass-produced commodity. To later generations these pictures express not the industriousness and ideological dominance of the bourgeoisie but the flooding of the market with bad art. To our late-capitalist sensibilities these pictures, sold by the yard, virtually devalued themselves. This is the popular caricature of the art of the philistines: kitsch culture as the great triumph of middle-class intellectual mediocrity. As Arnold Häuser claimed in 1951, the Victorian bourgeoisie was "obsessed with ideas of 'high art', and the bad taste which dominates its architecture, painting, arts and crafts is partly the result of its selfdeception — of the ambitions and pretensions which muffle the spontaneous expression of its nature" (1962, 104). In this narrative, Victorian art is vulgar and unauthentic because the middle classes themselves didn't quite know who they were. Their vaguely aristocratic yearnings for connoisseurship came sharply into conflict with their rigid Nonconformism, utilitarian vulgarity, and Liberal politics: the received image is of vast neoclassical paintings or urban panoramas crammed on the walls of suburban villas. And Victorian art still overwhelms us: more and more is dug out of...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 268-277
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.