Art History as Ekphrasis – Jas´ Elsner

Jas´ Elsner argues in his 2010 article ‘Art History as Ekphrasis’ that Art History is a form of ekphrasis as is any translation of the sensual world into language. His fundamental position is that “art history is ultimately grounded in a method founded on and inextricable from the description of objects.”

“from the mere mention of an object to its dismissal, from encomiastic praise to vituperative attack – all these and everything in between constitute ekphrasis, and hence may make up the descriptive basis for the practice of art history”

“The reason such accounts are ekphrasis, and hence the bedrock of art history, is that all these descriptions conspire to translate the visual and sensual nature of a work of art into a linguistic formulation capable of being voiced in a discursive argument. The act of translation is central.”

“The enormity of the descriptive act cannot be exaggerated or overstated. It constitutes a movement from art to text, from visual to verbal, that is inevitably a betrayal.”

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Elsner, J 2010, ‘Art History as Ekphrasis’, Art History, 33, 1, pp. 10-27, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 26 May 2015.


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