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The Politics of Style: Meyer Schapiro and the Crisis of Meaning in Art History

Persinger, Cynthia (2008) The Politics of Style: Meyer Schapiro and the Crisis of Meaning in Art History. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation focuses on the art historical praxis of one of the most significant Euro-American art historians of the 20th century, Meyer Schapiro (1904 - 1996). While Schapiro has most often been celebrated for his Marxist art history of the 1930s, his art historical explorations over the course of his career were part of an extended dialogue with his German-speaking colleagues regarding the crisis of meaning in art history. In chapter one, I propose that Schapiro is concerned with what I have called the politics of style, the ways in which the definition of style has been implicated in racial and national politics since the discipline's institutionalization in the 19th century. In chapter two, I consider Schapiro's earliest publications and establish his indebtedness to the German art historical tradition, particularly the work of Emanuel Löwy, Wilhelm Vöge and Heinrich Wölfflin. With the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 30s, racial and national characterizations of style became increasingly pernicious.In chapters three and four, I explore Schapiro's concern with fascism as it affects his art history and arises in his publications and personal correspondence including his discussions with Erwin Panofsky regarding iconology and with Otto Pächt of the New Vienna School regarding structural analysis (Strukturanalyse) and the belief in "national constants." In chapter five I establish how Schapiro's theorization of style as heterogeneous in his 1953 essay "Style" corresponds with reactions to racial and national essentialism by social scientists like cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict and modern artists. In chapter six, I consider Schapiro's semiotics in relation to linguist Roman Jakobson's poetics and Panofsky's iconology.My reading emphasizes both the social historical situation from which Schapiro interprets art and how his personal background as a Jewish immigrant who grew up in the working-class neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn affects his interpretation. I contend that Schapiro's experimentation was motivated by his desire to maintain a definition of style that recognized the unity of form and content without resorting to racial or national determinism. I conclude that Schapiro's art historical struggle provides an important lesson for the contemporary interpreter of images.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Persinger, Cynthiacypst4@pitt.eduCYPST4
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMcCloskey, Barbarabmcc@pitt.eduBMCC
Committee MemberArac, Jonathanjarac@pitt.eduJARAC
Committee MemberSavage, Kirkksa@pitt.eduKSA
Committee MemberSmith, Terrytes2@pitt.eduTES2
Date: 28 January 2008
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 31 October 2007
Approval Date: 28 January 2008
Submission Date: 11 December 2007
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: historiography; methodology; nationalism
Other ID:, etd-12112007-110642
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:10
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:54


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