The other night my dissertation research had me searching through Vogue’s 1944 issues and while I didn’t find what I was looking for, I did come across an article that stopped me in my tracks. As an (aspiring?) art historian, the editorial titled “Are You Educated in Art?” in the January 1, 1944 edition of Vogue caught my attention. In this two-page spread art critic Frank Crowninshield instructs the reader about Western art history in the form of fourteen questions. Crowninshield provides answers to various questions ranging from the use of archaic Greek statuary to the influence of Picasso.
Although this questionnaire comes across as an art history pop-quiz, the text insists that it “has little more to do with your discernment and taste than with your study-book knowledge; for, in the appreciation of art, one may know all the facts and still be a Philistine.” The use of the word “taste” here is integral to the reader’s reception of this article. IAntje Krause-Wahl describes that in this period, “Vogue increasingly saw it as its responsibility to guide their readers in the principles of good taste. Jessica Daves, who in 1952 followed Edna Woolman Chase as editor-in-chief, explicitly formulated this when she described the magazine as a ‘vehicle to educate the public taste.’”
The use of art and the acquisition of art historical discernment played an integral role in Vogue’s discourse on how to obtain taste. Later, in July 1945 Vogue even devoted an entire issue to the Museum of Modern Art which featured Marcel Duchamp’s “The Large Glass” on the cover. Thus, the 1940s Vogue reader not only knows the latest fashions but she also acquires other skills crucial to being an ideal society lady such as knowledge of art history and an interest in modern art. Indeed, women’s magazines such as Vogue act as “instruction manuals” of femininity. This direct appeal to its reader to cultivate their taste and learn how to properly appreciate art, provides an excellent example of the way in which fashion magazines work to construct femininity and teach artistic literacy.
By Abby Fogle
Craik, Jennifer. The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion. London: Routledge (1994), 47.
Krause-Wahl, Antje. “American Fashion and European Art—Alexander Liberman and the Politics of Taste in Vogue of the 1950s” in the Journal of Design History Vol. 28, No. 1. (2015). doi:10.1093/jdh/epu041.
Every term we have a meeting of the Addressing Images Discussion Group. Actually, that makes it sound far too official and formal, what really happens is that anyone who feels like spending their lunch hour talking about fashion can drop in and join my students and me. This session opens up discussion of dress’ significance within imagery – whether paintings, prints, photographs, advertisements, film stills or drawings. It brings together dress and art historians, as well as those interested in exploring issues and meanings within representation.
Guided by PhD student Leah Gouget-Levy, a single image will be shown, giving participants the opportunity to re-examine familiar, and confront new representations of fashion and dress. We will rethink images through the lens of dress history, and consider what is shown from the perspective of participants’ own research. The aim is to provide a forum to debate, share reactions to images, and to consider ideas about fashion, dress and representation in an informal environment. This reflects our desire to share and build upon the innovative work being undertaken in this field at the Institute with the wider community, and beyond.
Taking place this Friday over the lunch hour, these sessions are open to all.
Friday 9 February 2018
12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Research Forum Seminar Room, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN
Every time a Louis Vuitton x Artist collaboration rolls out, I go through an emotional journey: from the initial shock that wears off to ambivalence to final acceptance, and maybe appreciation (except for the Chapman Brothers collaboration, which I loved from the start). Back in April, when I first saw the Jeff Koons x LV collaboration in Hong Kong, I was appalled. The collection was part of the large window display at the flagship LV store at Landmark, a shopping arcade in Central Hong Kong; it was an unavoidable, conspicuous and mandatory stop on my way to and from work. I felt visually assaulted every time I walked past it. I was startled by the way the designs came out, not because I wasn’t used to seeing paintings taken out of their standard museum settings and imprinted onto bags, (‘been there, done that’ with the museum totes) but by how inexpensive and kitsch they looked. So, as you can imagine how shocked I was when LV announced they were dropping more designs from the LV x Jeff Koons Master collection in October. Enough is enough!
In the initial launch of the collection in April 2017, Jeff Koons took famous works from five legendary painters—Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Peter Paul Rubens, and Titian—and stretched them across some of Louis Vuitton’s most popular bags, like the Speedy, Neverfull, and Keepall. With a ‘subtle’ touch, Koons emblazoned the artist names in gold capital letters across the front, and matched the bag’s handles in a plastic acrylic colour palette to the paintings’ undertones. In this second instalment, Louis Vuitton x Koons added an additional six artists: François Boucher, Claude Monet, Paul Gaugin, Nicolas Poussin, Édouard Manet and J.M.W Turner.
But constantly relooking at the bags, (involuntarily), I have come to accept them, in a way. Kitschy as they might be, I must admit they are congruous and loyal to the Jeff Koons brand-name. Kitsch is characteristic of Koons’ work, and it is his way of appropriating mundane, ephemeral items and transforming them into ‘art’.
In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Koons declares that he hopes people looks at this collaboration as his continued effort to “erase the hierarchy attached to fine art and old masters.” By removing everyday objects such as vacuum cleaners and shampoo polishers from the household and placing them into the museum setting, he has re-contextualized these dull objects into expensive ‘artwork.’
Now, collaborating with LV, Koons is turning his thesis into a two-way street. Instead of just transforming commonplace objects into artwork, he is taking the most irreversible, unchallengeable works of art, (i.e. old masters that have been consecrated by museum establishments), and commodifying them, thereby transforming these works of art into functional items that can be owned by anyone. Is he successful in breaking down the hierarchy attached to fine art and old masters? Hard to say, but at least this time round instead of converting commodity into art, he is rebranding art as commodity. After all, what comes around goes around.
It has all come full circle, and this justification is as far as my appreciation for the bags will go. One last note: be prepared for more bags to come from this collection, because Koon’s Gazing Ball Series reinterpreted as many as 40 old master paintings.
We read with distress the AQA Exam Board’s decision to drop Art History as an A and AS Level – this means the qualification will no longer be offered in any UK schools. For those of us, who, like me have spent their adult lives working within the field, this decision is deeply worrying and suggests a lack of appreciation for the subject’s significance and impact at school level.
Professor Debby Swallow, Märit Rausing Director of the Courtauld, wrote an eloquent response to this news:
“The definition of Art History as a ‘soft subject’ and the demise of its existence as an A Level seriously misunderstands a subject which is enormously important to the economy, culture and well-being of this country. History of Art is a rigorous interdisciplinary subject, which gives its students the critical skills to deal with a world that is increasingly saturated with images. It brings together visual analysis with history, languages, literature, chemistry, and art and design to name but a few inter-related areas of study and research. Those studying it at university level have a significant impact across the cultural sector, especially in public museums and galleries. Art History as a subject needs to be much better known and not denigrated. The Courtauld Institute of Art, the oldest higher education institution in this country dedicated to its study, is deeply committed to increasing understanding and enjoyment of the study of the history of art and to working with others to ensure that it is embedded across the school curriculum and is accessible to all our school students.”
We should be seeking to expand the subject, rather than, as the government’s policies with regards to school curricula have meant, reducing the focus on Arts subjects. As our Head of Public Programmes Henrietta Hine comments, ‘In terms of widening participation young people can’t apply to study art history at university if they don’t know it exists as a subject; ceasing to offer the A level will surely only exacerbate the situation.’ Something leading Make Up Artist Kay Montano expresses in her comment:
Comments added to our Instagram posts citing Swallow’s statement and protesting this decision have shown the wealth of support for the subject in general – and the importance of maintaining, and indeed, working to increase its presence in British schools, opening it up to a broader range of young people. As these responses from Theo Johns, a Fine Art Dealer and Agent, Farah Ebrahimi, Art Director at e15 and Philipp Mainzer Office for Art & Design, and Leslie Camhi, a journalist and author who has written for titles including Vogue and The New York Times show – art history opens our eyes to wider cultural significances and events:
And, as Swallow points out, in an age of increasing reliance on images to communicate diverse meanings, cutting a subject that is predicated on developing an acute eye for representation’s significance and cultural resonances is wrong-headed. This was something many of our Instagram followers commented on, including textile designer Peter D’Ascoli, and Art Historian and Costume maker Serena Foksaner:
Art History as Gateway to Careers
Our alumni destinations demonstrate the breadth of experience and transferrable skills art history graduates have – in addition to those who find jobs in museums, galleries and academic, we have many who go on to work in law, banking, journalism, design, publishing and with the government, as well as many other fields. To illustrate this, here is the latest list of where our most recent former students were working six months after graduation – and remember, this is just from The Courtauld Institute:
David Chipperfield Architects
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Royal Academy of Arts
The Courtauld Institute of Art
University of Cambridge
Victoria and Albert Museum
Yale Center for British Art
Source: Based on the latest Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey: 6 months after graduation
Art History, Dress & Fashion
My own students in Dress History, a branch of art history that again encompasses the subject’s breadth and diversity have an equally impressive range of post-graduation employment, ranging from museums and galleries, including The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York to the Mode Museum in Antwerp and Tate Modern. Others have worked within the fashion industry, as buyers, as journalists, for example at The Stylist, at Conde Nast and for fashion show producers. Their success is indicative of the skills art history imparts, and the passion it instills in people to think creatively about historical and contemporary culture.
This relationship between understanding of art and dress history, again supports Hine’s comment about school level teaching opens young people up to the wider range of subjects that it is possible to explore at university level. Something several of our Instagram followers commented on, including fashion historian Cassidy Zachary – @the_art_of_dress –
Art History A Level also plays a significant role for many British fashion journalists and designers, providing early exposure to the ways art resonates within our culture, and how it has been and can be a key influence on designs – as seen in London womens- and menswear designer Phoebe English’s reaction:
Art History should be valued as a bridge between history, geography, literature and languages, and art and design subjects – it is a way to appreciate connections between arts and humanities and science subjects, and a conduit for creative expression in practical forms – as one commenter from New Zealand highlighted:
Sarah Mower, US Voguerunway Chief Critic and British Fashion Council Ambassador for Emerging Talent has been ardent in her support for this campaign. She credits her hugely successful career in fashion journalism to studying art history and benefitting from the myriad skills it equips us with:
“I was taught art history by Griselda Pollock and TJ Clark at Leeds University – it changed my way of being able to parse imagery, adding to what I had learned through history of art at state school, and It’s impossible to imagine being where I am without that. Fluency in art history and the ability to embed layers of meaning in clothes is a given amongst British educated fashion designers- I really believe it is deeply of the essence of our national character in fashion which others look at and envy, but cannot replicate, because these things start right back in childhood – and at school. High flyers in fashion who emerge in Britain constantly apply art history to their collections – they know how to research, and often backstage interviews are like art and fashion seminars today. Erdem’s spring collection was based on the discovery of 17th century clothes on a sunken ship, and his research in Bath museum of fashion; Mary Katrantzou quoted the art and archaeology of Knossos, Sarah Burton’s McQueen collection went into enormous depth about Scottish culture and includes a dress which uses the inspiration of a Victorian etching of a shipwreck, Phoebe Philo’s Celine quoted Yves Klein, JW Anderson borrowed from Henry V111’s portraits and discussed doublets and slashed sleeves backstage. This is just to skim the surface of the most recent round of shows – My point being: this level of creative practice is part and parcel of Britain’s commercial advantage in fashion. Fashion in the UK is worth £28 billion to the economy – take away the cultural alchemy of the creative intelligence which our designers turn into design, and you just have garments. Whilst it is pure idiocy of a government to excise a crucial commercial weapon – if they want to look at it that way – we must look at their excuses for doing so. Firstly they complain they cannot find examiners – surely there are hundreds who are reading this who can volunteer? How do we do that? Secondly, supporting teachers and teaching – how can we, the creative community, do that in practical ways? Thirdly – I want to know how these decisions about A levels were made, and are only now being presented as a fait accompli. Frankly, it is to easy to sit around writing letters to the Guardian. Practical action has to be taken.”
We urge you to sign Courtauld alumnae Nerissa Taysom’s petition to show your support for maintaining Art History as an A Level subject and to campaign for a reversal of this decision:
Today we have a special post for our blog readers – a PDF of Rebecca Arnold’s essay ‘The New Rococo: Sofia Coppola and Fashions in Contemporary Femininity’ for you to download.
The New Rococo – In the last twenty years, a visual style has evolved within cinema, in particular within Sophia Coppola’s films, and fashion imagery, including Corinne Day’s photographs and Stella McCartney’s designs, which express a light, feminine ideal reminiscent of eighteenth century rococo style. Coppola and her peers in fashion design and photography explored the potential of fashion, and gender, as masquerade. In so doing, they created a visual aesthetic that might be called ‘New Rococo.’ This combined contradictory impulses, which looked to both nature and artifice, and formed a pastiche of eighteenth century and contemporary reference points. This essay explores the reasons why rococo style re-emerged during this period, and how it enabled these image-makers to validate contemporary feminine and fashionable ideals, but also to foreground these as constructed surfaces.