The new edition drops not only Whistler's portrait of his mother but also evicts several other longtime residents, like Domenichino, the Baroque master, and Louis Le Nain, whose work is in the Louvre.You may think that last quote sounds silly, but I know exactly what Hofrichter means. There is good reason to want a very traditional presentation in the text so you have something to critique in class, some value to add. If the text itself is the critique of the tradition, it makes you passive, stuck with the editor's critique and forced to help students try to understand what the tradition was that this editor was reacting to, which can be confusing and annoying and nowhere near as fascinating as the editor imagines. In this case, however, Hofrichter is one of the new editors! But the old text was falling out of favor, and the publisher needed to revive it.
The sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac, for example, has been erased with a vengeance; even a portrait by another artist of Roubiliac posing with his work has been dropped. And some full-page reproductions that had become permanent fixtures — like the Metropolitan Museum of Art's van Eyck diptych, "The Crucifixion, the Last Judgment" — have been replaced with others seen to be more representative of an artist's work....
Stephen F. Eisenman, a professor of art history at Northwestern University who described himself as a longtime critic of Janson, welcomed many of the changes. "It's clearly a liberal version of a cold-war classic that will pass muster in most of the U.S.," he said.
But he added that it would probably never regain the dominance it once had, simply because the whole idea of a book like it, or other supposedly all-inclusive surveys like "Gardner's Art Through the Ages," first published in 1926, had become outdated.
"The main problem, I think, is that there's no longer a general belief that there exists a single canon for art that should be taught to all students," he said.
[Frima Fox Hofrichter, chairwoman of the history of art and design department at Pratt Institute], who has taught from Janson for many years, counters that teachers and students need a book to use as a starting point and basic guide to what should be considered important. But she said she had also often "taught against" Janson during her career, which leaves her in a strange predicament.
"Now," she said, "I'll have only myself to teach against."
March 7, 2006
The arbiter of art, Janson's History of Art. With a new edition, reputations rise and fall. (I like the Heidi Klum-style headline on the article!)