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Assembling an ecocritical art history
Author: Andrew Patrizio

The ecological eye aims to align the discipline of art history with ecology, climate change, the Anthropocene and the range of politics and theoretical positions that will help to ground such an approach. It looks both backwards and forwards in order to promote the capacities of close attention, vital materialism, nonhierarchy, care and political ecology. The book seeks to place the history of art alongside its ecocritical colleagues in other humanities disciplines. Three main directions are discussed: the diverse histories of art history itself, for evidence of exemplary work already available; the politics of social ecology, Marxist ecologies and anarchy, showing its largely untapped relevance for work in art history and visual culture; and finally, emerging work in posthumanism and new materialism, that challenges unhelpful hierarchies across the human, animal, botanical and geological spheres. The ecological eye concludes with an appeal to the discipline to respond positively to the environmental justice movement.

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Political, cultural, green
Andrew Patrizio

This chapter finds support for a cultural politics of nonhierarchies, networks and flows in writings that follow from early anarchist and social ecology contributions and in more general works on green political thought. The chapter calls attention to the resurgence of nonhierarchical political formations from various perspectives and how they have shaped artistic practices and art historical methodologies. What ends up foregrounded are the transversal, interlinked and mutually influencing parts of our social body. Drawing on some of the content in Part I and the Conclusion, this chapter analyses these approaches methodologically and speculates on how the discipline of art history might productively continue to adopt scholarly rich, egalitarian political positions, and inform a fully ‘green’ political ideology.

in The ecological eye
Andrew Patrizio

This chapter takes a nonhierarchical reading through the art history of flesh (widely conceived across animal and vegetable) rather than ‘inanimate’ matter. This is an important extension of ‘the political’ and the ‘environmental’ that takes us beyond the human, into the territory of the ‘other-than-human’. This kind of work can be understood as part of a larger, flattening ontological set of studies nested within the wider humanities discourse on ecology. It offers alternatives to conventional art historical approaches to animals (iconographic or social-historical perspectives which maintain and reinforce a value-laden, hierarchical system of understanding art). One important exception within contemporary art history is the work of Steve Baker. Critical animal studies is discussed, specifically in relation to its potential for eroding normative, hierarchical value systems in undertaking ecologically orientated, ‘green’ art history (such as Haraway, Wolfe, etc.). Such human-animal-biopolitical theory has a long history as part of the fight for rights of other-than-humans on the planet. Therefore, the discussion is extended to the growing work done in relation to plants, such as that of Marder. This chapter builds a case for a more formal and grounded nonhierarchical art history of the other-than-human.

in The ecological eye
Andrew Patrizio

Following directly on many of the ideas implicit in the previous chapter, this chapter explores the potential to open art history, as a humanities discipline, into the discourses of posthumanism. This involves drawing on productive earlier histories that, like recent counterparts, offer a critique of anthropocentric perspectives which dominate mainstream art history. Both Guattari’s notion of ‘the three ecologies’, and Braidotti’s work are key in this regard, as is the radical scientific philosophy of Barad and other critics of normative ways of parcelling up knowledge and ontology. The chapter also looks at the challenges posed by the enormity of scale in aligning the humanities with environmental concern, as well as intersubjectivity as a useful term to help shape future art historical approaches.

in The ecological eye
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Paying attention – environmental justice and ecocritical art history
Andrew Patrizio
in The ecological eye
Andrew Patrizio

Much anarchist and social ecologist writing argues for a degree of connectedness between other animal life and insensate bodies and materials on earth. In this vein, a new strand of nonhierarchical, vitalist political ontology, termed ‘new materialism’, takes mutualism and ethics more radically beyond the human. This chapter looks briefly at prehistories, within vitalist traditions, before turning to recent contributions to this dynamic field such as by Barad, Bennett, Grosz and in the anthology by Coole and Frost, New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (2010) among many others. New materialism seeks to take politics and philosophy to new levels of nonhierarchical awareness. This chapter argues for its potential (along with its variants) within the history of art, given new materialism’s apparent productive encounters within other humanities disciplines. The perhaps surprising conclusion for art history, as a discipline dominated by hierarchies, markets, monetisation and value systems, is that this is an intellectual trajectory that art historians should positively engage with and make their own contributions.

in The ecological eye
Andrew Patrizio
in The ecological eye
Andrew Patrizio

This chapter discusses the pivotal figure of Herbert Read. He wrote extensively and influentially on anarchism as a politics and a cultural direction. He saw one of his most famous books, Education Through Art (1943) as an anarchist manifesto. Read’s role in establishing the ICA is clear, which he saw as ‘a microcosm of a modern, anarchistic society’. He was aware of and developed ideas coming from a number of polymathic thinkers in politics, philosophy and the natural sciences, such as Kropotkin, Bergson and D’Arcy Thompson. Building on them, and extending his role far beyond art historical study alone, he articulated thoughtfully the aspirations of a new kind of anarchism. The chapter concludes with a discussion of more recent anarchist theory, particularly that of Antliff, which has, or could in the future, play a role within the discipline of art history.

in The ecological eye
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Andrew Patrizio
in The ecological eye
Andrew Patrizio

This chapter draws on the work of many canonical art historians and weighs their contribution, implied or explicit, to an ecocritical art history. It looks at the standard introductions to art historical theory and method that are in circulation, mining them for ecological potential and seeking out a positive case for environmental concerns of various types nascent within the discipline. Yet is also problematises the fact that none of these introductions explicitly asserts ecological imperatives. The conclusion of this chapter is that art history is well placed to expand into a critical environmental humanities whilst drawing selectively on existing work in the discipline.

in The ecological eye