Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Art history

core definition

Art history is a term that usually refers to the study of the history of art, which traditionally has included architecture, painting, sculpture and the applied arts.

explanatory context

As an academic discipline, art history originated in Berlin, Germany in 1844 when G. F. Waagen took the first chair in what was called Kunstgeschichte. A chair in art history was first established in Britain at Edinburgh in 1879 and as late as 1932 in London (Coutauld Institute of Art).


Usually, art history is concerned with the development of artistic styles in post-classical Western art. Ion the late 20th Century there was a widening of the scope of art history in the light of a discovery and reassessment of the extensive heritage of world art.


In the 16th century such an approach was concerned with causes and roots of various styles with a view to charting the improvement or decline in art. In German-speaking Europe in the 18th century art history, influenced by Hegelian idealism, was concerned with art as the manifestation of a nationís soul (as in the work of Winckelmann). In the 19th century there were some moves (notably Wolfflin) to direct art history purely to the exploration and analysis of form. In opposition to this rather aestheticist approach, there was a move to studying art in its wider historical context (as in the work of Panofsky).


Considerable debate has taken place in the last forty years about the nature and approach of art history. Marxist commentators, in particular, have been critical of the over-concern with style, form, the psychology of the artist, and the general lack of concern of art historians with the social milieu (see for example, the work of Hadjinicolau, Berger, Baxandall).

analytical review

Eno (1997) said:

Nearly all of art history is about trying to identify the source of value in cultural objects. Color theories and dimension theories, golden means, all those sort of ideas, assume that some objects are intrinsically more beautify and meaningful than others. New cultural thinking isn’t like that. It says that we confer value on things. We create the value in things. It’s the act of conferring that makes things valuable. Now this is very important, because so many, in fact all fundamentalist ideas, rest on the assumption that some things have intrinsic value and resonance and meaning. All pragmatists work from another assumption: No, it’s us. It’s us who make those meanings.


Karen Lang (2006) observed:

Art history is a curious discipline. Consisting of a domain of aesthetic objects, art history requires the close observation and study of images that by their very nature can never be "known" in the objective sense toward which science strives, as well as the classification of these objects into categories and contexts that—structurally speaking—resemble those of the natural sciences.... If the goal of the sciences is knowledge, then, as Panofsky rightly states, that of the humanities must be wisdom....Conceding knowledge to science does not leave art history in the lurch of relativism, however. The methods employed by the art historian guide research toward reasonable ends. In this way, art history can be built up "as a respectable scholarly discipline" though "its very objects come into being by an irrational, subjective process."


associated issues


related areas

See also


art criticism


Reserching the Real World Section


Eno, B., 1997, Comments in 'A Big Theory Of Culture: A Talk With Brian Eno, 31 March 1997', available at, accessed 21 November 2019.

Lang, K., 2006, Chaos and Cosmos: On the Image in Aesthetics and Art History, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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