PRINT September 2010

Partha Mitter

ECHOING THE MOTHER DISCIPLINE of history, which studies change over time, art history concentrates on changes of style, or the distinct manner of an artist, a school, or a period. The bedrock of mainstream art-historical analysis has been the morphology of styles in terms of line, color, texture, composition, motif, and other formal elements. Developments since the advent of modernity have radically disrupted the entire concept of style, yet it remains—however much we might protest—the principal analytic tool for studying the evolution of artistic traditions.

Two aspects of style have dominated art history: first, style as a canon; second, stylistic influence as “engine” of change, because without change there can be no history. From both perspectives, style is an instrument of authority. And Western art history, with its cultural baggage of a universalist canon and a linear trajectory that

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