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The Melancholy Art
Michael Ann Holly

Hardcover | 2013 | $30.95 | £25.95 | ISBN: 9780691139340
224 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 41 halftones.
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Melancholy is not only about sadness, despair, and loss. As Renaissance artists and philosophers acknowledged long ago, it can engender a certain kind of creativity born from a deep awareness of the mutability of life and the inevitable cycle of birth and death. Drawing on psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the intellectual history of the history of art, The Melancholy Art explores the unique connections between melancholy and the art historian's craft.

Though the objects art historians study are materially present in our world, the worlds from which they come are forever lost to time. In this eloquent and inspiring book, Michael Ann Holly traces how this disjunction courses through the history of art and shows how it can give rise to melancholic sentiments in historians who write about art. She confronts pivotal and vexing questions in her discipline: Why do art historians write in the first place? What kinds of psychic exchanges occur between art objects and those who write about them? What institutional and personal needs does art history serve? What is lost in historical writing about art?

The Melancholy Art looks at how melancholy suffuses the work of some of the twentieth century's most powerful and poetic writers on the history of art, including Alois Riegl, Franz Wickhoff, Adrian Stokes, Michael Baxandall, Meyer Schapiro, and Jacques Derrida. A disarmingly personal meditation by one of our most distinguished art historians, this book explains why to write about art is to share in a kind of intertwined pleasure and loss that is the very essence of melancholy.


"Enchanting."--Holland Cotter, New York Times

"Nostalgic and plaintive, this title's examination of the work of art historians is an enjoyable literary exercise that will foster discussion among art historians and their students."--Library Journal

"To consider melancholy in art beyond the limits of despondency, loss, and grief is a refreshing way to induce a different space and energy between the past of the artwork and the viewer's present. In these erudite essays, art historian Michael Ann Holly makes case for works of art--'these beautiful orphans'--that reinvest in melancholia as the signifier and the signified."--Greta Aart, Cerise Press

"In support of her argument, Holly marshals a wealth of erudition indicative of formidable trans-historical, interdisciplinary expertise. . . . With the utmost refinement, Holly's own poetic resonance echoes from artful analogy and suggestive imagery."--Giovanna Costantini, Leonardo Reviews

"While the driving power of melancholy remains unclear, many readers will be intrigued by this highly personal take on the profession."--Choice

"Holly's elegant and thoughtful book focuses on the encounter of the viewer with the work of art."--Kathryn Murphy, Apollo Magazine

"Exemplary."--Ivan Gaskell, Brooklyn Rail

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Table of Contents:

Preface xi
Acknowledgments xxiii
1 The Melancholy Art 1
2 Viennese Ghosts 25
3 Stones of Solace 53
4 Patterns in the Shadows 73
5 Mourning and Method 95
Postscript 117
Notes 133
Bibliography 165
Index 183


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