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36ème Congrès du CIHA - Lyon 2024

Parrainé par le Ministère de la Culture,
le Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche,
le Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères

Teaching Technical Art History

Ron Spronk 1, Arjan De Koomen 2, Claire Betelu 3

1 Queen's University - Kingston (Canada), 2 University Of Amsterdam - Amsterdam (Netherlands), 3 Université Paris 1, Paris (France)

Sujet en anglais / Topic in english

The study of artists’ materials and techniques, nowadays often referred to as Technical Art History (TAH), has a ninety-year long tradition within academia if we take the famous ‘Egg and Plaster Course’ at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum in the early 1930s as starting point. But most of these activities had relatively short life spans and were locally concentrated. Over the last decade however, several universities started offering courses in TAH in both the undergraduate and graduate level, and programs with a specific degree in TAH were also founded, for example in Glasgow, Amsterdam, and Stockholm. Clearly, both a basic as well as a more advanced knowledge of materials and techniques is now generally considered to be an important element within the broader art historical curriculum, and TAH is taught to many students each year through lectures, workshops, and labs.

The increasingly broad presence of this relatively new area of study invites further explanation and reflection. Why, how, when, and where do we teach TAH? What does it take to be able to teach this field? Is there, or should there be, a standardized curriculum for TAH at the undergraduate level? And how can we successfully teach (post)graduate students to do interdisciplinary research in a classroom, conservation studio, or in the museum? To answer these questions, it would also be helpful to examine how TAH was taught in the past, and how it entered the university. How did evolving equipment and digitization change the practice of TAH, and, in turn, the teaching of the field?

Another series of questions concern TAH’s position within the contemporary practices of Art History, Art Conservation, Conservation Science, and History of Science. Is the recent upswing in attention for TAH a manifestation of the so-called material turn? Is it a rescue operation to bring the object back to Art History? If so, might it even be an alternative to the dominant presence of critical theory, or a response to the maturation of conservation studies? Is it the academic ideal of interdisciplinarity with the ‘lab’ as classroom that is nowadays widely embraced? And, looking at the future, will a next turn in academic vogue flush out the momentum of TAH, or can it develop further? Are there opportunities to extend the teaching of TAH globally? In what ways will knowledge of materials and techniques affect the broader field of Art History? What would be the ideal teaching situation?