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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Who serves the survey? Fletcher, Allan John

Abstract

Who Serves the Survey? is an intimate contemplation on the art history survey. In it, I examine art history's flagship books and courses through their capacity to structure knowledge. Fastening first on what, borrowing from Foucault, might instructively be termed the "art-function" and the "story-function", I cogitate on the capacity of each ("serving under" and "serving up" the survey) to constrict, constrain and contain conceptions of vision, visualization, visual representation and visual comprehension. From there, I delve into the beginnings of the modern art history survey and probe a number of points where it (the survey) both produces and is, in turn, produced by the national, the archival, the financial, the social, the pedagogical, the professional/professorial and (tangentially) the psychological. The last section is analytical and prescriptive in that it poses questions inspired by the advent of visual culture/visual studies as an alternative and an intervention. Key among these, is the vital theoretical and pedagogical query: How might visual material be introduced and studied otherwise? In my judgment, visual cultural studies, growing out of two mutually influential tendencies in Britain: critical art history and cultural studies, provides the best option for reconceiving the study and teaching of visual representations. It has two distinct advantages. Unlike the comparatively rigid methodology of art historical surveys, visual studies refuses to impose a predetermined method or system, choosing instead, to affirm the inquiry process itself by allowing the researcher/bricoleur to track down, cook up and cobble together whatever methodologies fit the task at hand.

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