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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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Andrew Patrizio
in The ecological eye
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
Techniques, materials, land, energy, environments
Andrew Patrizio

This chapter assesses art historical perspectives in relation to writing about Land Art and environmental art movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and the work that continues in this vein. Without discussing case studies of art practice, it examines ideas and ideological framing that emerge from a more theoretical position. Contemporary art historical accounts are discussed, identifying the ideological and methodological possibilities they offer for the discipline of art history. As a complement to discussions of ‘expanded sculpture’, the literature of environmental aesthetics and psychology is assessed for its relevance to ecocritical art history approaches. The chapter also examines a seemingly tangential area normally ghettoised as ‘technical art history’ – including the study of the chemical, material and historical aspects of art within an ecological frame of reference, boosted by a new-found interest in more philosophical aspects of materialism.

in The ecological eye
Andrew Patrizio

Building on canonical, largely male writers thus far discussed, this chapter shows the rich vein of theory, political philosophy and activism in ecofeminism and queer theory. It explores the relatively under-discussed intellectual boundary between the major scholars in ecofeminism and those in feminist art history. Pioneering work in ecofeminism becomes powerful in understanding the themes of domination and hierarchy that lie at the heart of The ecological eye. Queer theory too stands as a productive extension of the challenge to domination and hierarchy that runs throughout the book and so helps to delineate rich territory for supporting a transversal ecological imaginary in art history.

in The ecological eye
Anarchism, social ecology and art
Andrew Patrizio
in The ecological eye
Andrew Patrizio

Russian political theorist Peter Kropotkin is a giant in the early formation of anarchist thought. This chapter pays particular attention to the cultural/visual implications and possible models both he and Murray Bookchin offer for art history, the humanities and cultural practice. Kropotkin’s main work, Mutual Aid (1902) influenced later subjects in our discussion, particularly Bookchin and Herbert Read. Murray Bookchin is central to 1960s–1990s libertarian socialist political theory, interested in nonhierarchical human formations as well as symbiotic organisation in the botanic and animal worlds. He is discussed here in the realm of art and art history, exploring his understanding of earlier utopian traditions and his interest in artisanship, medieval society and technology. There are also links to another key text in the tradition of critical theory, Félix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies, in relation to external and internal ecologies.

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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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