Art, ars, means ‘‘deception,’’ and . . . the artist (suspending disbelief )
must participate in his own illusion, if it is to be convincing. He must
fool himself.—pa u l b a r o l s k y
Guided by a Hegelian philosophical framework presented in the over
ture, this book employs case studies to explain the origin of the modern
public art museum, describe how it developed, and indicate why now
it is undergoing a radical transformation. Research began on March 29
1986, when I started reading Thomas Crow’s Painters and Public Life in
Eighteenth-Century Paris. His analysis of art in the public sphere provided
one central idea, but I didn’t know that until I began writing in 1998
It took me two years to understand the central importance of museum
skepticism and three more years to comprehend fully how to use tha
concept in my historical discussion. The final argument was worked ou
in April 2003, thanks to Eleanor Munro’s Memoir of a Modernist’s Daugh
ter, which showed how to link Crow’s discussion to discussion of th
present fate of the museum. My use of Ovid’s conception of metamor
phosis builds self-consciously upon Paul Barolsky’s claims. In writing ar
history, he argues, we need to acknowledge that ‘‘our understanding o
art, far richer than the sum of the documented facts, is itself fictive, given
form by a web of poetic influences that escape detection in conventiona
Within such narratives a firm dividing line between strict his
torical truth and creative fiction may be impossible to establish. I play th
philosopher’s inevitable concern with truth against the creative writer’
natural fascination with metamorphosis, with resolution coming only in
the conclusion, where the distinction between what is and what migh
be is deconstructed.
Like successful visual artists, art writers have a personal style. Onc
you have done a number of books, then (so I have found) the basic ma
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