Rumors of the death of the Western canon have been greatly exaggerated, and no more so than in the field of art history. There Giotto and Michelangelo, Cézanne and Picasso soldier bravely on, holding the high ground, and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Paradoxically, the conservative character of art history is guaranteed by its very dispensability. The undergraduate who takes the introductory course expects, at a minimum, to get a rough inventory of the works he might one day see in Florence or in Paris. Tamper with that inventory too much, and the student is gone—no Michelangelo, no art history. As a consequence, the undergraduate has generally been spared the worst of the theoretical excesses of the new art history, at least until graduate school.

This fundamental conservatism is ratified by the principal textbooks of the discipline, above all H. W. Janson’s hefty History of Art, the...

 

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