These days, the boundaries between forms of visual art are permeable. Artists produce work that resists being relegated to strict categories, cheerfully combining paint, photo-based imagery, computer manipulations, three-dimensional construction, found objects, video projections, and a host of processes I probably can’t even guess at, without concern for how the result might be classified. Once, however, distinctions between mediums were extremely important, for all sorts of reasons ranging from the aesthetic to the sociological. The paragone—the comparison of the worth of painting and drawing—had been a serious topic of discussion from classical times to the eighteenth century, with drawing usually deemed superior because, the reasoning went, an outline without color still could be a convincing image, while color that was not organized by drawing (pre-Abstract Expressionism, at least) would be meaningless. In the Renaissance, the...


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