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FAH102 Week 12.docx

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University of Toronto St. George

Week 12Aspects of CanoncityVernon Hyde Minor chapter 18 HudsonNoonanMorrissey chapter 5 CanonThe meanings of the word canon throws many of the issues touched upon so far into reliefThe literary critic John Guillory provides a useful overview of the origin of this term The idea of the canon he suggests has its roots in the ancient Greek word for reed or rod and implies a rule or a lawGuillory goes on to discuss the use of the term canon in Christian disputes in the fourth century He argues that in these debates the term canon signified a series of preferred textswhich we now associate with the Bible and certain early theologiansin opposition to rival Christian teachingsThis is significant as Guillory notes because it implies that the canonical tradition is based on a process of active selection and repression On the one hand some texts are canonized while on the other some fall outside the law o The different ways the supposed universal norms of canonical art history were built on reflect an implicit conception of both artist and viewer a conception that conforms to a very specific and very small section of the European public While these different perspectives frequently overlap with Marxistfeminists postcolonial feminists and so on it is important to recognize that different and rival versions of arts histories are offered o Contemporary art history is to a large extent made up of just these differencesThe standard way in which art history has organized and presented works of art is as part of a single narrative of an evolutionary progress structured around individual artiststheir oeuvres and movementsa structure arguably traceable to Giorgio Vasaris 15111574 Lives of the Artists written in the sixteenth century The underlying pattern of assumptions and values involved in these narratives constitutes what art historians refer to as the canon of Western art The canon is a term that covers the set of works of art that are thought at a particular moment to embody the peaks of Western civilization These artworks are seen to encapsulate the height of artistic excellence and aesthetic value The works in this category are the ones which art historians have traditionally seen as worthy of studyMuseums as much as books participate in this construction of a canon In fact it can be argued that the major museums of the West act as the repositories of the canon The works that are hung on the walls of these galleries are the results of art historians and curators deciding what they think is worthy of being seen In turn these prioritized works tend to be the ones that get illustrated in books because they are the best known and the most easily accessed for reproductions It can be argued that as long as we continue to find it valuable to look at and think about works of art some framework of comparison and evaluation is unavoidable Short
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