at Cross Purposes? When Art History meets design history


Saturday, 22 October 2011

10.00 - 18.10, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre (with registration from 09.30)

The Courtauld Institute of Art

painting on wall of reclining male with female leaning over him, image surrounded by gold design work and cupid figures
Paris, Hotel Soubise, interior, Salon de la Princesse (detail), 1736 – 1739. Architect: Gabriel Germain Boffrand. © The Courtauld Institute of Art

Speaker(s): Marta Ajmar-Wollheim (V&A/Royal College of Art); Richard Checketts (V&A/Royal College of Art); Deanna Petherbridge (artist, independent writer and curator); Celina Fox (independent historian); Matthew Craske (Oxford Brookes); Katie Scott (The Courtauld Institute of Art); Caroline Arscott (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

Ticket/entry details: £15 (£10 V&A and Courtauld staff/students) Please send a cheque made payable to ‘The Courtauld Institute of Art’ to: Research Forum Events Co-ordinator, Research Forum, The Courtauld Institute of Art , Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN, clearly stating that you wish to book for the ‘When Art History Meets Design History’ conference. For credit card bookings call 020 7848 2785 (9.30 - 18.00, weekdays only). For further information, send an email to

Organised by: Anne Puetz (The Courtauld Institute of Art) and Glenn Adamson (V&A/Royal College of Art)

Art history and design history would seem to have ample common ground. ‘Social art history’ and other new forms of the discipline have been with us since the 1980s, and many art historians have long embraced everyday, non-canonical material (such as illustration art). The catholic nature of design history, conversely, leaves the door wide open for the study of fine art. The discipline’s fascination with questions of representation and mediation, too, finds obvious parallels in art historical methodology.

Yet in practice, cross-pollinations between the study of fine art and the decorative arts rarely occur, at least in the early modern period. Medieval and Renaissance art historians do often deal with the full range of media, and the overlap between contemporary art and design is widely recognised. But in the early modern period and, to a lesser extent, the later nineteenth century, there is still a marked separation. Art historians continue to concentrate on the ‘fine’ arts of painting, sculpture and architecture and on fine or popular printmaking of a narrative character. Specialists in material culture, meanwhile, sometimes describe their remit as ‘anything that’s not fine art.’ There is sometimes an ideological assumption at work in this exclusion – as if in eschewing painting and sculpture, design historians occupied a democratic moral high ground.

At Cross Purposes? When Art History Meets Design History aims to fill the space between the two fields. We hope to foster a cross-disciplinary discussion between leading art and design historians working on the period up to the 1880s. Each speaker is invited to focus on a case study from their own research in which the decorative and the fine are inextricably mingled; and further, to reflect on their own methodological relation to these two categories. How can combining the insights of art and design history enrich the work of both disciplines? What connections exist already, what remain to be pursued and, conversely, are there in fact areas in which the separation into ‘art’ and ‘design’ history remains meaningful or necessary?

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