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Hey guys...

 

Can you help me compile a list of books one MUST have read before starting a PhD in Art History?

 

1. I am curious to find out how many of those I have already read;

2. I am making a list of books to read this year... I usually read somewhere between 30-50 books/year,  so hopefully you can help me compile a very nice and long list.

 

P.S.: My main areas of interests are theory & criticism, modernism/post-modernism and photo history.  There may be some other, apparently unrelated, books that you found instrumental in your development as an art historian.  Aaaahhhhh... articles and reviews are welcomed too!

 

cheers!!!

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What a great topic!  I study Renaissance art, so I can think of a ton on that topic, but I think a good general one is Panofsky's Meaning in the Visual Arts  as well as his Studies in Iconology.  Gombrich's The Story of Art is pretty great.  I could also think of a lot of fiction that's relevant to what I do too, such as The Iliad and The Divine COmedy, though maybe not so much for you.

 

Would love to hear what others have to say!  

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I'm Colonial Latin American. I'd love suggestions as well!

 

I'll consider this a "take a penny, leave a penny" type thread, so in exchange for suggestions, I'll leave you with one of mine: Women and Art in Early Modern Latin America, edited by Kellen Kee McIntyre. It's literally the only book on the subject, and it was only written in 2007.

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Hey guys...

 

Can you help me compile a list of books one MUST have read before starting a PhD in Art History?

 

1. I am curious to find out how many of those I have already read;

2. I am making a list of books to read this year... I usually read somewhere between 30-50 books/year,  so hopefully you can help me compile a very nice and long list.

 

P.S.: My main areas of interests are theory & criticism, modernism/post-modernism and photo history.  There may be some other, apparently unrelated, books that you found instrumental in your development as an art historian.  Aaaahhhhh... articles and reviews are welcomed too!

 

cheers!!!

 

Also, go buy yourself some Freud, stat.

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I really like Idols of Perversity by Bram Djikstra, if just because trying to read it on public transit at rush hour without anyone seeing all the insane paintings and commentary on masturbation and hysteria is a challenge. It's a bit extreme and dated but a good read. Bonus points for incredibly indignant man-rage about the patriarchy in the 19th century. It's a bit early for you, I think, but it's a kick.

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Also, go buy yourself some Freud, stat.

 

 

I do need to read Freud, Lacan, more Locke, Saussure, etc... Any specific books from these you find particularly better or "mandatory."  I will be posting my list later today when I get home...

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Claire Fox's Making Art Panamerican: Cultural Policy and the Cold War (UMinn Press, 2013)

It is admittedly very new, so not a canonical must read, but on the must read list of any progressive 20th c. Americanist.

Edited by apotheosis
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Alexander Nagel, particularly because he is really settling in to a very interesting career in art history.

 

Medieval Modern is his latest. Anachronic Renaissance is a revolution. 

 

Great for innovative theory, particularly on the connections between ancient, premodern, and modern art, memory, time, etc. Also, his writing style is refreshingly different and makes his ideas all the more fascinating. I read him as much for the content as I do for the structure. 

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I don't think there are any "must read" books.  Given your interests are "theory & criticism, modernism/post-modernism and photo history," I would suggest the following selection might put you at an advantage in the discursively overcharged domain of modern and contemporary art history...

 

* Kant's Third Critique

* Hegel, Phenomenology of the Spirit and Aesthetics

* All of Marx, especially the German Ideology, Critique of Feuerbach, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1848, First chapter of Capital vol I, and The Communist Manifesto; Engels, Principles of Communism. 

* Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Untimely meditations; perhaps also The Gay Science

* All Freud

* Bergson, Creative Evolution 

* Sartre, Being and Nothingness

* All major theorists and writers of the Frankfurt School, but especially:

--Walter Benjamin, Das Kunswerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (in German preferably)

--Adorno, if nothing else, - and Horkeimer, Dialektik der Aufklärung

--Siegfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament

All of Brecht, including essays

* Meyer Schapiro's major essays on modern art

* Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art" and anything else you can read, especially Being and Time and the 1950s essays 

* J.L. Austin, How To Do Things WIth Words

* Saussure

* Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author"; MythologiesCamera Lucida

* Jacques Lacan, Écrits

* Clement Greenberg's major essays (esp. "avant-gard and kitsch," "toward a newer laocoon," etc.) and Michael Fried's, "Art and Objecthood"

* Harold Rosenberg, The Tradition of the New

* Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible* Major texts of structuralism, especially the work of Jacques Lacan

* All of Foucault, but especially The Order of ThingsDiscipline and Punish, and writings on governmentality, biopolitics, etc. 

* Major theorists in cultural anthropology: Mauss, Levi-Strauss, Geertz, Appadurai, et. al.

* Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities

* Major texts of post-structuralism - I'll leave that to you, with the random suggestions of:

Jacques Derrida,  all essays in Margins of Philosophy, The Truth in Painting, and Specters of Marx 

Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology

Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer

Kaja Silverman, Flesh of my Flesh

As much as you can stomach of the criticism of the October school: Krauss, Buchloh, Foster, Bois

* Look at new publications from MIT Press, Duke, California, Chicago - Look at the Dokumenta pubs - Look at journals such as October, Grey Room, Critical Inquiry, Art Journal, Res, Representations, Third Text, Qui Parle, TDR, PAJ, Discourse, Signs, Camera Obscura, Screen and magazines like Artforum, Parkett, Frieze, FlashArt, etc.

 

Also, read in French and German!  

 

This is just what comes to mind immediately - a tiny sampling of what you should probably be reading if you dream of being successful and publishing widely in these fields.  You might have to read these works over again in grad school, but having already read them would give you a lot of very good knowledge.  Understanding them would make you formidable!

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I second a lot of what cleisthenes said; Barthes, Said, Foucault, Saussure and Derrida.  I would also throw in Jacques Rancière's The Emancipated Spectator and, based on your interests, Ariella Azoullay'sThe Civil Contract of Photography.

 

I havent really studied Latin America in depth, but I have studied Mesoamerican Art with Dr. Mark Van Stone.  His main published works predate your interests (actually he stops at the Colonial Era, and is mainly a Mayanist but has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Mesoamerica through current events and history), but a lot of his works give a good back story and explination of myths and symbols that are still relevant today.  Im a huge fan of Reading the Maya Glyphs by Mark Van Stone and Michael Coe.  It has quite a bit of history and explination of symbols in it as well as the glyphs themselves.  Dr. Coe has written more books/papers/articles than I can list and all are quite interesting.  This is well outside of my field and I cant put his books down.

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This is a great thread with some excellent reading suggestions, but I'm getting exhausted just reading it. brazilianbuddy, there is no magic list of books that MUST be read. but if you're feeling like there are gaps in your knowledge, I'd do the following:

 

1. do a google search for methods syllabi from reputable universities.

2. read what grabs you. Of the books mentioned here, I think Sontag, Barthes, and Benjamin (in translation is fine, really) are the most essential. If you've never read Freud's Uncanny and at least some Foucault, cover that too. Am I right that you're interested in WWI? In that case I second Anderson's Imagined Communities.

3. For everything you don't have time to read, skim if you have a copy. If applicable, skim the footnotes/endnotes to get an idea of how this work relates to those that preceded it. Then google the author and look for the following:

     - Year and institution from which they earned their PhD;

     - Where they are now (if applicable);
     - What else they've written, who they've published with, etc. 

     - Who's responded to them, dis/agreed with them, etc. 

Basically, the same thing you'd do to find POI. If you're missing an idea of who knew and influenced whom, you'll quickly start to fill in the gaps.

 

NB: Almost all of these really canonical texts are easy to find in PDF form on google. Save your money for the obscure stuff.

 

Apologies if this all seems pretty basic (because it is) but I hope that it might be helpful for anyone reading this who didn't have a chance to take a methods course in undergrad.

 

Remember, half of grad school is being able to fake it through reading material that you simply don't have time to read. That's where skimming and simply knowing important names and the concepts associated with them can make a huge difference.

 

I was successful this cycle and I've read 1/3-1/2 of the texts mentioned here. I've also read some really essential stuff that's important to my work but probably irrelevant to the majority of people here. One size doesn't fit all, but I think the above method is a useful form of self-study for filling in any gaps you can identify in your own knowledge.

 

Also, one thing nobody's mentioned yet: it's not just about reading, but also about looking! Utilize whatever museum resources you have at your fingertips to gain a more encyclopedic knowledge of art outside your period. And/or go to the library and skim through some exhibition catalogs from exhibitions outside your subfield. There's a lot of information you can glean this way, and more quickly/efficiently than reading a monograph. This thread is pretty theory heavy, and I think it's important not to ignore other facets of our work as art historians, too.

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George Kubler's The Shape of Time !!!

Yes on this!

 

I would also add -

 

Otto Pacht's The Practice of Art History: Reflections on Method

Gombrich's Art and Illusion

 

If you read these two books critically you will be well positioned to study theory and methodological approaches to art history.

 

Also, just read any undergrad text books you can get you hands on! It doesn't even matter what subject, of if they are aren't "post-modern" or critical of the canon, etc - just read them critically. You want to be exposed to as much art as possible. 

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Also, just read any undergrad text books you can get you hands on! It doesn't even matter what subject, of if they are aren't "post-modern" or critical of the canon, etc - just read them critically.You want to be exposed to as much art as possible. 

 

Agreed, but undergraduate text books aren't art - they are books. Go to museums as often as you are able, and engage with actual art objects. You'll have 5+ years to be weighed down by the canon, the counter-canon and the counter-counter-canon. Beef up on the basics, like runaway suggested, if you feel so compelled, but insufficient familiarity with Saussure will not be a deal breaker.

 

Read what interests you, and read what has been published by the scholars and potential mentors/advisors that interest you. Don't be swayed or guilted by anonymes who might describe a list like that one posted above as "coming to mind immediately." Look at art, think about objects, practice your languages, and read what interests you. Žižek? That's like recommending Neil deGrasse Tyson to an aspiring astrophysicist... except the book recommended above is outdated, largely useless and wholly unenjoyable.

Edited by auvers-sur-oise
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Cosigning runaway & auvers-sur-oise. Looking at some of the theoretical suggestions that have been posted makes me feel like I"m reading through the syllabus from one of my methods classes- read what's interesting to you, and what might help you clarify a research project idea that you can described on your SOP.  Read to find out which of your ideas have been considered by scholars already, and whether you have a different point of view that you might consider expounding upon in a seminar paper, MA thesis, or possibly in your dissertation.  And look at art- how quickly we forget to do that! You'll have plenty of time to work through all of the big names in theory later, guided by a professor and in discussion with your classmates-- but don't bog yourself down with it now, because the goal is to get to that point, not to have read the collective works of Marx.

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Wow... we are one complicated group [including myself]! :D  And I find it sobering, illuminating and absolutely hilarious.

 

This was meant to be a pretty straightforward thread.  I thought that many of us would find useful and fun to share some of the readings that either shaped or influenced one's interests.  Though I realize that my inquiry could be easily construed as an attempt to strengthen my theoretical background, and obviously it will, I have the habit of making a list of about 50 books to read every year, which I pretty much follow very closely.   And I though we would have fun by exchanging suggestions here.

 

Unfortunately I have been diagnosed with both OCD and anal retentiveness – not a fun combination I will tell you... So I have the habit of making lists for almost everything.   If that wasn’t enough, I have two addictions: buying books and drinking Starbucks.  Just so you have an idea, I don’t even like coffee, but I drink about 5-7 SB venti lattes a day; I have been trying to reduce this number in order to be able to buy more books.  A propos, I buy on average 200 books each year, which does not include the ones required for school.  P.S.: I have already read [and sometimes reread] a good 2/3 of the books suggested here.  --- But I do want to go back to some of those titles though.  There are some great suggestions here!

 

With that in mind, I understand, especially based on my previous posts, that it seems like all I ask and do on Gradcafe is intended somehow towards next year’s applications.  Honestly, I didn’t have that in mind AT ALL when I started this thread.  Since this will be the first time in a long time that I will be able to choose pretty much everything I want and will read this year, I felt it would only be logical to ask for suggestions here.  Please forgive me if this is not the place to post this kind of query though -- I genuinely mean it!

 

I have actually begun to talk with several of you in private to pick your individual brains regarding the application process in order to stop disturbing the flow of the forum with my “selfish” questions [no sarcasm here].  Many of us have already heard from all the schools, others are still on the wait, and many others are dealing with the [nice] problem of having to decide where to go.  So I figured I would stop talking a bit about admissions since we [the ones applying next year] still have a good way to go until applications are due again.  Instead I thought I would trigger a new conversation about things that some people may find more exciting: books being one of them.

 

Once again, you guys have generously shared more than I was hoping to get here though.  But I found really interesting how we [again including myself] tend to over think and complicate even the most straightforward requests.  I am actually happy to realize that I am not the only one like that.  Perhaps that means we are all in the right field and pursuing the right thing: graduate studies.

 

Just as a side note… I do critically look at art on a daily basis, go to Museums and galleries as much as I can, and buy the exhibition catalogues of those shows I cannot make in person.  I should also add that I am making a different list with books that I should buy in order to improve my profile for next year’s application.  For example, since I have no knowledge of German, I ordered April Wilson’s German Quickly to start to address that problem.  Regarding other languages, I am completely fluent in French, Portuguese and Spanish with reading fluency of Italian.   I know that it sounds like bragging, and perhaps it is a little, but it is supposed to be in a funny lighthearted way, not at all pedantic.  Please don’t take it the wrong way!

 

Okay… now that you are all tired of my ranting about personal motivations for this thread, I hope we can resume the book/readings ideas exchange.  AND, by the way, I know I still need to post mine… I am working on my list [imagine that] and will soon be posting it here too.

 

cheers!

Edited by brazilianbuddy
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yipes. cleisthenes's "tiny sampling" is exhausting.  all of marx, freud, brecht, frankfurt school, foucault in german/french... that alone would be awesome to accomplish in one's whole lifetime (but good on you if you can swing it).  

 

better off, in my opinion, to read fewer texts closely and strategically -- the Verso Aesthetics & Politics compilation is a good place to start to get a sense of how ideas were circulating among the key Frankfurt School(ish) thinkers.  The newer translation of Benjamin's Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media is also excellent.

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Agreed, but undergraduate text books aren't art - they are books. Go to museums as often as you are able, and engage with actual art objects. You'll have 5+ years to be weighed down by the canon, the counter-canon and the counter-counter-canon. Beef up on the basics, like runaway suggested, if you feel so compelled, but insufficient familiarity with Saussure will not be a deal breaker.

Sorry but I don't have the time or the money to go galavanting around Europe whenever I need to see a piece of art. Seeing works in person is obviously better, but books and artstor are a fine substitute. 

 

yipes. cleisthenes's "tiny sampling" is exhausting.  all of marx, freud, brecht, frankfurt school, foucault in german/french... that alone would be awesome to accomplish in one's whole lifetime (but good on you if you can swing it).  

 Agreed. Rolling my eyes over that one.. v. pretentious. 

Edited by JosephineB
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@Cleisthenes: do you really think that you need to read Benjamin in German or are you just being funny? I would hope it's the latter, because if not this seems really pretentious; given that many of the readers of this forum are just starting out in their careers, don't you think that's a bit of a tall order?  I speak and read German proficiently but I know I'll get more out on the English translation.  And why is it necessary that we read only this ONE essay by Benjamin auf Deutsch?  Benjamin is relevant on so many levels, especially if you specialize in modern and contemporary, but I would never tell prospective grad students that they need to read it in the original.  

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Lol at reading 

 

@Cleisthenes: do you really think that you need to read Benjamin in German or are you just being funny? I would hope it's the latter, because if not this seems really pretentious; given that many of the readers of this forum are just starting out in their careers, don't you think that's a bit of a tall order?  I speak and read German proficiently but I know I'll get more out on the English translation.  And why is it necessary that we read only this ONE essay by Benjamin auf Deutsch?  Benjamin is relevant on so many levels, especially if you specialize in modern and contemporary, but I would never tell prospective grad students that they need to read it in the original.  

 

Seriously, this. Obviously it's helpful to be able to cross-reference between German and English, but the only Benjamin you need to read in German is the untranslated stuff. 

It's a waste of your time to try to read all of Freud, Marx, the Frankfurt School etc—especially before grad school. In addition, there are so many theorists missing from Cleisthenes' list. You could very well add Spivak, Said, Althusser, Gramsci, de Man, Weber, Habermas, Fanon, Husserl, Gadamer, any of the autonomists, Butler, Sontag, Wittgenstein, Laplanche, Cixous, Kristeva, Irigaray, Bataille, Sloterdijk, Latour, Badiou, Bakhtin, Shklovsky etc. That doesn't include earlier philosophers, even—all of the aforementioned thinkers are 20th century. One could very well start another list, with everything from Schiller to Riegl. 

My point is that one could very well put together another list of thinkers comparable to that posted by Cleisthenes', and claim that they are necessary reading. Yet, it is humorous to think of Derrida confessing to have never read Wittgenstein—particularly because he did not have the time to grapple with him properly. I think the same can be said about anyone wanting to go to graduate school. Deal with what you are able to properly grapple with, and with what is particularly pertinent to your sub-field. 

P.S. Interesting that Cleisthenes' list is almost entirely void of thinkers of gender/race/sexuality, no? Would produce a very white-washed, heteronormative, patriarchal Art History. 

 

P.P.S. As soon as you start considering things mandatory, you will become a raging lunatic. New theoretical fields with vital texts pop up every now and then, and you're sure as hell not going to be able to run around trying to learn Affect Theory, OOO and world-systems theory. If you try that you'll end up producing shit scholarship. 

 

P.P.P.S. Literature rocks too. Frank O'Hara can tell you as much about AbEx as any theorist. Try it. 

Edited by poliscar
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P.P.S. As soon as you start considering things mandatory, you will become a raging lunatic. New theoretical fields with vital texts pop up every now and then, and you're sure as hell not going to be able to run around trying to learn Affect Theory, OOO and world-systems theory. If you try that you'll end up producing shit scholarship. 

 

I agree, but... I would put Eve Sedgwick's Touching Feeling near the tippy-top of a must-read theory list.  

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