Category Archives: Art and Visual Studies

Guest Blog from Barbara Larson, editor of our new Series: Science and the Arts since 1750

It could be argued (and has been) that in the modern period science and “art,” whether this be dance, painting, or theater, have been culturally understood within the context of the many binaries that form a western perspective (as in active/passive, objective/subjective, etc.). In recent decades, whether we refer to C.P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures” (science and the humanities) or The Science Wars of the 1990s (scientists and the value of objectivity versus science as a social construction, with its reach into the arts) or the validity of the support of STEM versus STEAM (science, technology, engineering, ART, and math) in academe today we are engaging in a discussion regarding separation and difference.

Have science and the arts always been considered as opposing realms? Historians of science and art have pointed out that in the west well into the Victorian period science and art were, more or less, one intellectual culture and not until the natural sciences became specialized into specific fields at the end of the nineteenth century was there a division into two spheres. It has also been argued that in the early modern period art, then categorized as craft (whose practitioners were thought of as artisans), was itself responsible for the shift in bringing science into focus as practical, empirical observation by the seventeenth century. Recent publications have raised the possibility of some sort of resolution between “the two cultures” (E. O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge; Jay Labinger and Harry Collins, eds., The One Culture? A Conversation about Science, and Gillian Beer, Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter). And knowledge production from varying geographical areas beyond the west promises to add further complexity to the relationship between science and the arts.

Just what science has been understood to be has shifted the discussion of how we talk about science and the arts. For example, historians of art in past decades tended to think of science as it related to art in terms of perspective, color, and mathematics. But invaluable early work such as that of literary historian Sander Gilman on medicine and representation in the arts, both grounded in cultural and political history, has done much to transform what we need to be aware of in terms of science and visual culture. What one finds in greater number today are historians of the arts and science pursuing questions of meaning and representation specific to place, politics, and moments in time or transformations in knowledge that feed directions in the arts (as in wave theories of energy and early abstraction).

Occasional collaborative projects between science and humanities historians, such as Caroline Jones and Peter Galison’s Picturing Science and Producing Art (on broad systems of representation linking science and art) have borne fruit, and even the hard science of neurology suggests promising directions either through brain imaging (as in musical performance) or the historical perspective on the mind in light of brain work today (neurologist Eric Kandel’s The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present). There have also been periods in which the connections between technology, science, and the arts are less oblique as in the contemporary period in which many artists are pursuing work that clearly integrates technology and science such as in the digital arts. More speculative yet compelling, are discussions regarding the proposed epoch of the Anthropocene (by definition an interaction between humans and global natural systems) and ecoart.

The series Science and the Arts since 1750 wades into the many intersections between science and the arts. These include the cultural conditioning of visual perception and aesthetics where artists and scientists are concerned, sites of representation that effect visual culture as in images of the body, how objects may function in society as art or science, changing scientific perspectives that inform the arts, among others. Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam and Jacob Wamberg’s recently published edited volume Art, Technology, and Nature: Renaissance to Postmodernity initiates the series and argues that science, technology, and art are drawing more closely together in the post-modern period and the relationship of observer and object is disintegrating. This they contend is akin to ancient and medieval periods in which art and technology both produced cultural products dependent on the triad of their title; and makers of these objects were often engaged in imitating nature’s creative forces. The editors discuss the history of the project as follows:

9781472411723Art, Technology and Nature arose out of activities in the research group “Art, Nature and Technology”, which was established at Aarhus University in 2005 with Jacob Wamberg as coordinator. The group, gathering historians of literature, art and medicine, was triggered by a frustration that C.P. Snow’s “two cultures”, although diagnosed half a century ago, still govern most academic practice: the humanistic and techno-scientific domains thrive in their segregated worlds.

Our observation, however, was that in our postmodern age barriers between natural and cultural agencies have long been porous. Where should we insert the boundary between natural and technological agency in a ‘cultural’ domain like biotechnology? Or in a ‘natural’ one like climate change? Likewise, art has long broken with the distant contemplation of nature in picturesque form, founded on a simultaneous displacement of technology to the fringes of artworks. In avant-garde art practices nature and technology alike are activated and integrated to the point where they lose their status as foreign and segregate domains. If art and technology are still a long way from the fusion into the re-actualized neo-ancient techné that Heidegger hoped for, at least their boundaries have become much more negotiable.

In order to illuminate these and other related themes in the triad art/technology/nature, the research group arranged two public events, from which much, although not all, of the book’s material derives: a session at the Association of Art Historians’ annual meeting in Manchester in 2009, and, especially, an international conference at the National Gallery in Copenhagen in 2010 (The Artwork between Technology and Nature).

Isabelle Wünsche, whose volume The Organic School of the Russian Avant-Garde: Nature’s Creative Principles is the second book in the series, examines ways in which certain Russian modernists on the eve of the Russian Revolution modeled their approach on the creative forces of nature in order to produce biocentric work. Below she details how she came to write her book:

9781472432698It was a spring day in Berlin in 1989 – the momentous opening of the border was still six months in the future – I was browsing the stacks of the State Art Collections library on Museum Island and came across a small, but dense exhibition catalog from the West Berlin Academy of Fine Arts: Sieg über die Sonne. Victory over the Sun was a Cubo-futurist opera written by Aleksei Kruchenykh with music by Mikhail Matiushin and stage designs by Kazimir Malevich. The last name meant something to me, but I was unfamiliar with Matiushin. The catalog included his reminiscences on Cubo-futurist events in St. Petersburg, an essay on sound and color, and another one on quartertone music. My curiosity about Matiushin’s work led to a thesis, and then a dissertation, and finally, The Organic School.

The book is important to me because for too long the avant-garde in St. Petersburg has been overshadowed by the better-known Moscow avant-garde. Moscow always somehow seemed more Russian, more exotic, and then after the Revolution, of course, it became the capital and the center of Constructivism. The “Organic School” refers to a group of artists within the Russian avant-garde, largely based in St. Petersburg, whose approaches to artistic creation were more nature-centric and less technologically driven. Artists such as Nikolai Kulbin, Elena Guro, and Matiushin found inspiration as well as a model for artistic growth in the creative principles of nature. In the book, I focus on the artists’ holistic worldviews and organic approaches to art and analyze the artistic influences, intellectual foundations, and scientific publications that shaped the formation of their art works. (Isabelle Wünsche)

The series Science and the Arts since 1750 will include both edited volumes and monographs that explore the arts—painting and sculpture, drama, dance, architecture, design, photography, and popular culture materials–as they intersect with emergent scientific theories, agendas, and technologies, from any geographical area after 1750.

Barbara Larson Professor on Modern Art History, University of West Florida


The Museums of Contemporary Art

Author of Ashgate classic title The Museums of Contemporary Art, J Pedro Lorente, spoke at the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University on Wednesday 17th June, giving a seminar on Open-air museums: a designation in vogue for public art in urban districts.

Art collections permanently exhibited in public spaces are sometimes called ‘open air museums”. This notion has been constructed over time, building on historical precedents and in dialectic interaction with other related concepts like ‘sculpture gardens’. The result is not a clear-cut definition, but a changing perception, carrying diverse connotations according to different languages and cultural contexts. The modern paradigm was set by Middelheim Open Lucht Museum created in 1950 by the municipality of Antwerp in a suburban park, emulated in the French-speaking University of Liège, since the creation in 1977 of a Musée en Plein Air in the campus of Sart Tilman; some features were slighly different in another famous instance, the Musée de sculpture à plein air de la Ville de Paris, inaugurated in 1980 on a riverbank between Île Saint-Louis and the Gare d’Austerlitz. But the triumph of a post-modern return to the city centre was heralded by the founding in 1972-79 of the polemical Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre in Madrid. Its influence has been enormous in Spain and other Latin countries, where many collections of public art gathered as part of urban regeneration processes have been proudly labeled as museums. Are they?

The Museums of contemporary artThe Museums of Contemporary Art

Where, how, by whom and for what were the first museums of contemporary art created? These are the key questions addressed by Pedro Lorente in this new and expanded edition of his groundbreaking 1998 study, Cathedrals of Urban Modernity. In it he explores the concept and history of museums of contemporary art, and the shifting ways in which they have been imagined and presented. The first part of the book examines the paradigm of the Musée des Artistes Vivants in Paris and its equivalents in the rest of Europe during the nineteenth century. The second part, consisting of entirely new material, takes the story from 1930 to the present. An epilogue reviews recent museum developments in the last decades.

The Photography for Being a Pilgrim- A Guest Post by Marilyn Deegan

Posted by Corey Boudreau, Sales and Marketing Coordinator

To mark the book’s selection as an Editor’s Choice, Marylin Deegan describes the events which led to the publication of Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to Santiago


Being a pilgrimThe photography for Being a Pilgrim actually started many years before the project was ever suggested by Lund Humphries.  In 1992 I travelled to Conques, one of the towns on the pilgrimage route and itself a pilgrimage destination to the abbey church dedicated to St Foy, at the invitation of Kathy Ashley and her collaborator Pamela Sheingorn. Kathy and Pam were working on major studies of the cult of St Foy and asked me to take the photographs to accompany their texts. I was very happy to do so.

In 1992, and on our next trip in 1993, the technology I used was all analogue: a Canon EOS 1000fn film camera with a range of lenses and a tripod. The images were to be captured on both black and white film and on colour slides, which meant going around and photographing everything twice. Being only a keen amateur, I didn’t have dedicated cameras for each type of film. And then of course there was the uncertainty of not knowing if everything had been captured properly: was anything blurred?  Was the light right? The external scenes were fine, but inside, where there was little light, long exposures (a minute or more) had to be used, which introduced a great deal of uncertainty.

In the film world, we had to wait until we got home to see what we had produced. Mostly we worked with black and white film, and so I would get the negatives developed, with 3 sets of contact sheets, one for each of us.  Kathy and Pam worked in two different locations in the US, and I was based in Oxford.  Although we had email, we mostly worked on the images by telephone (‘sheet three, image 32a, middle cropped out and darkened a bit’). Then I got them printed and sent them off by post. The colour slides were less of a problem, and we worked from some of these for the images in Being a Pilgrim.

By the time we were commissioned to produce Being a Pilgrim in 2005/6, technology had moved on and we were using exclusively digital photography for new photography. This had many advantages, the main one being instant review of the pictures: it was transformative knowing straight away if we had or had not got a good shot. However, the digital brought problems as well. The ability to take as many shots as we wanted, from all sorts of angles and at different settings, meant that at the end of 3 years of photography trips we had 4000 images and had to choose just 250. And the 4000 was actually a selection of what we had taken, given that each evening when we were travelling, Kathy and I would review the day’s work and reject any images that were obviously flawed. But working together between the US and Europe was much easier—I would email batches of low resolution images and we would chat about them online or by phone. Knowing that we were looking at the same image at the same time made all the difference. The older images that were on slides were scanned in and edited alongside the newer born digital ones.

There were other problems with the photography—a big one was the weather! We had to travel to a fairly tight schedule to visit all the places we needed to see, and sometimes arrived in fog, mist or rain. Certain scenes were enhanced by a bit of atmosphere, most weren’t. So we did the best we could. Sometimes a shot was impossible and we had to get an important image from elsewhere; the famous chapel of Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe perched on top of a steep rock at Le Puy en Velay is a good example. We had to buy an image from Corbis images as the chapel wasn’t even visible the day we were there. Other images that were less than the best they could be because of adverse weather were much improved with Photoshop. Another problem was time of day: sometimes we arrived at a site with only a half day in which to complete that day’s photography and the light wasn’t at the right angle. This necessitated return visits or more Photoshop.

Would I do anything differently now? Well, we finished the photography in 2008, and digital imaging has moved on rapidly. The lens quality and sensitivity of digital cameras are now so good that I can get excellent, publishable images using a handheld semi-professional compact camera like the Canon G15. This would mean for many shots no flash, no tripods, no long exposures, and therefore fewer problems with getting permission to take photographs: there are many churches and museums where cameras are allowed but no flash or tripods. This wouldn’t work everywhere: some very dark interiors needed exposures of a minute or more, with a good deal of post-processing. It would also mean that we might not have to carry so much equipment around: large camera, lenses, tripods, etc.  I’m not sure that the pictures would necessarily be better, but they would be easier to get.


About the Author: Marilyn Deegan is Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College, London. She is a medievalist, and a freelance writer and photographer.

Ravilious in Print

This blog post is from Modern British Artists – the blog of our sister imprint Lund Humphries

Modern British Artists

Alan Powers, author of Eric Ravilious: Artist and Designer, discusses the current display of the artist’s works at Dulwich Picture Gallery and the challenges of accurately reproducing his unique watercolours in print.

It would have been convenient if Dulwich Picture Gallery had put on their current exhibition of Eric Ravilious watercolours two years ago. In June 2013, my book on him for Lund Humphries was written, edited and designed, and all that remained was to check the colour in the illustrations before it went off to print. I had last seen most of the paintings in 2003, when I was guest curator for the Ravilious retrospective at the Imperial War Museum, and although necessary in theory, it would have been impractical to go round all the locations, public and private, where they are held in the short time available for colour correction.

Pages from Ravilious Book pp1-216 Q8 v5

The accuracy of colour reproduction in…

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Being a Pilgrim – A Guest Post by Kathleen Ashley

Posted by Corey Boudreau, Sales and Marketing Coordinator

Kathleen AshleyTo mark the book’s selection as an Editor’s Choice, Kathleen Ashley describes the events which led to the publication of Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to Santiago


Published books almost always result from years of thought, research and writing; however, when I was asked in 2005 to write a book on the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, I can honestly say that the idea had never crossed my mind. Luckily, I had visited Santiago just the year before – a “holy year,” when the saint’s day July 25 falls on a Sunday. During July of holy years, ceremonies in the cathedral are more frequent than usual and the whole town reverberates with performances of music, dance, drama, and processions. Increased numbers of pilgrims and tourists arrive for the festivities, and the excitement continues night and day. With that Santiago experience still fresh in my memory, I was intrigued by the book request.

Being a pilgrimAlthough the subject of pilgrimage had never been my primary research focus, it did intersect with many of the topics I had written about during my scholarly career. A saint’s shrine was the destination of medieval pilgrimage, and I had written two books and many articles about saints and their cults. Pilgrimages typically attract fervent devotees whose personal goals may be at odds with the structures put in place by church authorities; I had always been fascinated by religious phenomena that depended upon an unstable conjunction of popular energy and official control. In particular, the pilgrimage journey — which included traditional stops at other saints’ shrines and local landmarks – demonstrated ritual practices and popular beliefs; exploring the Santiago pilgrimage between the 9th and the 18th centuries would allow me to test my theories about ritual and learn about the folklore alive on the routes. The promise of following my interests with a new focus on pilgrimage was certainly enough to persuade me to take on the project.

I further realized that the Santiago pilgrimage raised larger issues about how we understand history. Who has not wondered when reading about another time and place what it was like to live then? What did pilgrims experience as they traveled across unfamiliar territories and arrived at the shrine in westernmost Spain? I decided to make the pilgrim experience my unifying theme in Being a Pilgrim. I would organize the book by examining the legends of the saint that attracted pilgrims, the individual preparations (both material and ritual) for such an arduous trip, as well as the social infrastructures across Europe that enabled thousands of pilgrims to travel far from home. Imagining them en route, I tried to include the kinds of sights they would have seen – from religious buildings and art to new cities and challenging landscapes – and stories both new and familiar they would have heard. Finally, their arrival in Santiago was surely an exciting culmination of the pilgrimage, with dazzling rituals and festivity in and around the cathedral. To bring the experiences of individuals alive, I could use the many pilgrim narratives produced throughout Europe between the 12th and the 18th centuries.

Once my central concept for the book and a general outline of the nine chapters was accepted by the publishers, the next stage was research and planning for the photography trips along the main pilgrimage routes through France and Spain. I took the trips with my photographer-friend Marilyn Deegan, whose 250 color photos are no doubt the most memorable part of the book. Our travel adventures and the challenges of matching text and image will be the subjects of another blog.


About the Author: Professor Kathleen Ashley teaches at the University of Southern Maine and has published widely on medieval popular culture, hagiography and cultural history.

CFP: Allusion, Indirection, Enigma: Flirting with Early Modern Uncertainty

Posted by Bret Rothstein

Call for papers: Allusion, Indirection, Enigma: Flirting with Early Modern Uncertainty

Renaissance Society of America (Boston, March 31–April 2, 2016) #RSA16

Session organized by Bret Rothstein, Indiana University – Bloomington

Please send an abstract (up to 150 words) and a 300-word vita by May 31, 2015 to

Augustine may have believed in validity in interpretation, but the history of early modern Europe is thick with texts, objects, and ideas that seem to move in a very different direction. A striking number of images, texts, behaviors, musical scores, buildings, and even naturally-occurring objects seem designed, in a sense, to send the mind in any direction but the supposedly “right” one. (The matter becomes especially interesting with respect to “jokes of nature,” which might speak to a kind of divine mischief.) But why might this be the case? What was the value of getting things – very loosely conceived – wrong? In an attempt to begin answering such questions, this session is dedicated to the study of interpretive challenges, from theatrical productions to mathematical treatises, and from art works to naturally occurring objects. Its purpose is to promote conversation among scholars from across a range of disciplines about the social and cultural value of interpretation’s ugly stepchildren (confusion, misperception, ambivalence, and incomprehension, among others).


Bret Rothstein teaches in the Department of the History of Art at Indiana University, Bloomington, and is the editor for Ashgate’s Cultures of Play series.