I’m working on my book, again. Its hard to write amidst the churn that is the Anthropocene. Its emotionally hard, but also I’m thinking about how slow writing is and how fast it needs to be to ever be able to tell the story of art history when the traditional genealogies seem inadequate. I wrote myself a manifesto (it needs work):
Planetary art history. A manifesto.
Planetary art history is an examination of the material and cultural artefacts and activities of artists of the present understood alongside and through critical and social histories. It is not separate to art, nor to history, it is never without theory, and always present with others.
Art history is an activity. It is something we do.
Planetary art history is counterfactual. It belongs in the space of it/ then.
Art history is formed in the encounters with artworks. Sometimes it is the result of a first encounter that lingers, other times it is a surprise return to something previously seen.
Art history keeps art company. It connects artworks with other artworks, with other imaginings, and with other thoughts. Art history argues for art as an interconnected space of conversation.
Art history cannot imagine a future without art, and in thinking alongside art objects imagines the future the objects propose. However, it does not predict or determine the future of art, or art of the future. That is for the artists. It does generate spaces for the imagining to occur.
Art history is a process of bringing ideas into being alongside art. It travels away from and returns to the activities of artists. As an activity it is an act of looking, reading and thinking.
Critical theory, cultural studies and environmental humanities all help us do art history. They contribute figures, models, and stories. They offer words to talk about art. They keep us company. But none are complete.
Art history can be wrong. And missteps and wrong turns proliferate in the histories of art history. I can change my mind, or come afresh to the work and realise something obvious that was there all along.
Art history is about stating the obvious.
A planetary art history is not global. It thinks about art, nature and machines and suggests that somewhere in amidst these things there might be a new way of thinking the future. We are already within the Anthropocene, art can already see where we need to go, and the job of a planetary art history is to tell a story of a few artworks in a small way.
Art history is about telling the story of that encounter.