Pushing back frontiers: Towards a history of art in a global perspective

Research paper by Zijlmans Kitty

Indexed on: 01 Oct '03Published on: 01 Oct '03Published in: International journal of anthropology


Traditionally, art history is a discipline focusing on the developments of Western art and architecture. It is time, however, to broaden our perspective. The world is changing, art is changing, somutatis mutandis is art history. This does not happen on its own accord. Art history needs rewriting and art historians have to do it. We need to take a critical look at our premises and points of departure, and we need to change the art historical curricula at universities and art schools. At Leiden University, the Netherlands, the Department of Art History has opted for a new orientation and decided to study the history of art from a global perspective. This means that students will meet with three lines of approach to the visual art and material culture from regions other than the West. Firstly, they are introduced to the art and material culture of Asian, African, and Amerindian civilizations by colleagues from those fields, which Leiden is so fortunate to have. The Faculty of Arts at Leiden University, houses a wide variety of language and culture studies of the world. The second approach focuses on interactions, mutual influences, and interculturalization processes in art and culture. And the third addresses methodical-theoretical reflection on art history in a global perspective. The aim here is to formulate a theoretical framework for the study of art worldwide, thereby pursuing ‘comparative art history’. In order to achieve these perspectives, exchanging ideas and concepts with anthropologists can be very productive.