Primitivism and humanist teleology in art history around 1900

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The following text deals primarily with the writings of two art historians: Karl Woermann und Ernst Grosse and how they conceived of art. Their texts circle around fundamental divisions: the difference between animals and human beings, between peoples of nature and peoples of culture, between primitive tribes and civized societies. These divisions are symptomatic of notions of art around 1900. Under the influence of ethnology as a discipline and within the period of colonialism, art history opened itself towards the integration of the arts of non-European people. Under which conditions, with which terms, which considerations or hierarchies – in short: under which epistemological conditions did Non-European art become part of European knowledge? Posing this question, one is confronted with some contradictions: art was considered to be the marker which divides mankind from the animal kingdom. Humanist teleology, i.e. the belief in the necessity and capablility of human development as a fundamental division from lower species provided the argument for this distinction. But exactly this very same teleology also implied that even if art was considered as common to mankind, not all people were regarded as equal. The following deals with the place of art of non-European peoples within the science of art, aesthetics and art history around 1900
Original languageEnglish
Article number12/SLb1
JournalJournal of Art Historiography
Issue number12
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 06.2015