The Problem of Classicism: Ideology and Power

Freedberg, David A.

For all the justifiable attacks on the use of stylistic labels like "mannerist" and "baroque," art historians, like architects, continue to use the term "classicism" abundantly. But they have ceased to try to define it quite as desperately as they once did. This set of essays - and the symposium on which it is based - did not set out to define it either. They were not planned as an effort of revival (although in architectural circles the subject may have seemed to be fashionable or prescient). Rather, they were conceived as an attempt to assess what the residual interest and the ideological implications of the term might be- however exhausted it may have seemed.

The issue, of course, also involves the related notions of "classic" and "classi- cal" ("classicizing" seems less problematic). As soon as one tries to define the relations - or the distinctions - between them, the ground turns out to be even swampier than expected. Every field has a host of writers who have sought to find the classical, or to define it; but their interests have rarely been interrogated. There are even classic texts - the fundamental ones - which are generally acknowledged to have refined the term "classicism" most effectively or to have provided the most definitive and thoroughgoing evaluations of classic periods, classic ages, and classic styles.


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Art History and Archaeology
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April 6, 2010