Art History and the Parameters of Image Studies

by thomasmagnahastings

This title points in several directions. By opting for the coordinating conjunction ‘and’ it is suggested that there is no correlation between art history and image studies. At the same time, these two figures are shown to be in some kind of dialogue by the inclusion of the qualifying attribute ‘parameters of’. From this one may infer that art history – positioned first and unqualified – is not open for discussion but that image studies, through its referral to a single attribute, is. The implication that art history will continue to remain a stable entity irrespective of the parameters of images studies – an inclusion that indicates the basis for discussion – is belied by their paired coordination. As the parameters of image studies fluctuate or expand, the equal weighting afforded by the coordinating conjunction will by necessity give way to a relationship of exile or annexation, allowing one to imagine such eventualities as Art History beyond the Parameters of Image Studies, or Art History within the Parameters of Image Studies. The amorphousness of image studies is brought to bear on the established rank and purview of art history, whereby the stability of art history is thrown into question by image studies, whose credentials are stabilised in turn. This reading plots a narrative in which art history is forever behind us and image studies before us, yet to arrive. Yet the privileging of ‘parameters’ suggests that, even if image studies were to stabilise its disciplinary protocols contra art history, the forfeit would be a constant state of watchfulness or paranoia as the policing of boundaries takes over from the receptivity of a burgeoning state. An alternative to this would be as follows: Neither art history nor image studies are stable to begin with, or at all. Here, ‘parameters of’ points to the irrevocable chaos of the cosmos; that is, to an equivocal set of shared substrata that cannot be neutralised and can only, from now, be accounted for. As Georges Didi-Huberman asks, what if one “allows paradox to flourish”?

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