Talk Back: Letters to the Editor

We received some stirring, thoughtful letters in response to last issue’s Bully Pulpit, “Whither Connoisseurship?” Janet Berlo’s letter amounts to a defense of connoisseurship, which she embraces as a valuable tool for developing scholarship on extra-canonical artists and objects. Emerita faculty and graduates of CUNY’s Program in Art History met to discuss the controversy at …

Introduction: Is American Art History Conservative?

Catherine Holochwost, Guest Editor In a way, the question we have asked of our five respondents: “Is American art history conservative?” is an odd one. Despite the troublingly combative obduracy that the psychic and physical boundaries of American-ness have assumed in the larger political discourse this election season, the field of American art history has …

Jennifer Doyle, Professor of English, University of California, Riverside

  A colonial anxiety drives the question, “Is American art history conservative?” The question articulates a sense of dread—the suspicion that yes, it is—quite! But what do we mean by American art history? What makes us feel that it is conservative? Is it the American or the art history? This kind of question worries at …

Bruce Robertson, Professor, History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara

  The conservatism of American art history runs along many lines, most of them endemic to academia, where, unless a field is very large (such as American history), things generally run on a limited number of tracks; conservatism as a form of conventionality. In fact, historians of American art tend to be a good deal …

Emily Casey, Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Delaware

  I have noticed a trend in my recent conversations with graduate students whom I meet at American art conferences: “I’m not really an Americanist,” they confess sotto voce, with a furtive glance around that suggests they are simply waiting for the disciplinary-field police to discover their deception and frog march them off the premises. …

Michael Gaudio, Professor of Art History, University of Minnesota

  I find myself without much of a foothold in the question, “Is American art conservative?” How are we to understand the word “conservative” here? Is its meaning methodological? Political? Is there an implication that being “conservative” is a worse thing than not being conservative? And if so, why would that be the case? It …

Catherine Holochwost, Assistant Professor, La Salle University

  “Conservative” is a deeply fickle word. Which aspects of our discipline might be hidebound, and which truly useful? If only teasing these strands apart were so simple. I was reminded of this while reading The Argonauts, by poet and critic Maggie Nelson, published in 2015, which manages to combine memoir, polemic, poststructural and queer …