The Art History Newsletter

CAA’s Greatest Hits

by | 31 March 2011 | Journals

The College Art Association is also marking its centennial by assembling lists of greatest hits from Art Bulletin, Art Journal, and Canon definition is a perennially controversial exercise — witness the brouhaha over one recent attempt to name the 64 “greatest” artworks “made since World War II,” which prompted one commenter to ask, “Will there be a woman’s bracket too?” Indeed the list is mostly populated by white male Americans — and the authors’ justifications have failed to win much respect.

The College Art Association doesn’t pretend to present the “greatest” works of art history. Its lists are inherently limited — judges could choose only from writings published by the journals in question. Nonetheless, their choices deserve scrutiny. To begin with the criteria that aroused so much controversy above — Of the 38 essays and reviews chosen by The Art Bulletin‘s editorial board, 17 were written by female authors (another was co-written by a woman and a man). Not much to apologize for there. There are other problems however, which the board addresses frankly:

[Some] gaps are simply revealing of the state of the field: there are very few pieces by women for the early years because few women were publishing in The Art Bulletin at the time. There are also few works by scholars of color and Jewish scholars because there were few in the field at the time; academe and museums were seldom hospitable, and Meyer Schapiro remains an exception for the 1920s and 30s. However, the fact that African American scholars remain few despite their presence on and at the head of the journal’s editorial board is still significant in what it says about the state of American and European cultural institutions. The gaps are filled in interesting ways that also speak to the state of the field, as when, from the early 1970s, feminist work appears and, from the early 1980s work on race appears alongside articles about the arts of Africa and of African Americans.

On another level, it’s interesting to note how few of their selections won the association’s Porter Prize when they appeared — just four of the twenty-seven eligible (the prize was founded in 1958). How surprising! Is it that hard for art historians to recognize great scholarship when it appears? Either that’s the case, or the field is so highly fractured that every board ends up with highly idiosyncratic choices — which seems even less plausible.

There is another way to measure the importance of individual articles — with a citation tracker such as ISI’s Web of Knowledge (which includes the Arts and Humanities Citation Index). This method has its own disadvantages, but is arguably more “objective.” According to ISI, these are the ten most cited articles from Art Bulletin, only two of which appear in CAA’s centennial list:

1. “Beautiful Women, Parmigianino, ‘Petrarchismo’, And The Vernacular Style” by E. Cropper (1976). Times Cited: 57

2. “Semiotics And Art-History” by M. Bal and N. Bryson (1991). Times Cited: 52

3. “Jacopo de’ Barbari’s View of Venice: Map Making, City Views, and Moralized Geography before the Year 1500,” by J. Schulz (1978). Times Cited: 38

4. “Contrapposto – Style And Meaning In Renaissance Art” by D. Summers (1977). Times Cited: 36

5. “Augustinian Interpretation Of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling” by E.G. Dotson (1979). Times Cited: 23

6. “The Feminist Critique Of Art-History” by Thalia Gouma-Peterson and Patricia Mathews (1987). Times Cited: 20

7. “Artists And Rederijkers In The Age Of Bruegel” by W.S. Gibson (1981). Times Cited: 19

8. “Jerome Nadal And Early Jesuit Art In Rome” by T. Buser (1976). Times Cited: 19

9. “The Roman House as Memory Theater: The House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii,” by B. Bergmann (1994). Times Cited: 18

10. “The Sleeping Nymph – Origins Of A Humanist Fountain Type” by E.B. MacDougall (1975). Times Cited: 18

Art Journal chose 13 items from its archives. Of the 10 selections created by a single individual, 4 are by women, including the oldest selection, Ruth L. Benjamin’s 1935 article, “Japanese Painters in America.” In an accompanying note, Karen Higa writes that this piece “underscores that even in their earliest incarnations, CAA’s publications registered the global in the formation of American art.”

According to ISI, these are the 5 most-cited Art Journal pieces, none of which appear in CAA’s centennial list:

1. “Photography’s Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View,” by R. Krauss (1982). Times Cited: 23

2. “‘Galileo, Florentine “Disegno” and the “Strange Spottednesse” of the Moon” by S.Y. Edgerton (1984). Times Cited: 20

3. “The Traffic in Photographs,” by A. Sekula (1981). Times Cited: 15

4. “Remarks on the Collections of Rudolf II: The Kunstkammer as a Form of Representatio” by T.D. Kaufmann (1978). Times Cited: 12

5. “On Paradigms and Revolutions in Science and Art: The Challenge of Interpretation” by R.S. Root-Bernstein” (1984). Times Cited: 10


  1. Hercule Poirot said on 1 Apr 2011 at 7:31 am:

    I always wonder why concerns about diversity begin and end where they do. For example, the quoted text gives no attention to the representation of transgendered, Sikh, or differently abled Americans among the authors. Is this not a cause of worthy concern? Or do only female-Americans and African-Americans “count”? Some kinds of diversity are more diverse than others.

    On another note, the period through vol. 27 of the Art Bulletin accounts for 5 of the essays listed, or less than one every five years. (Not a single essay from 1946 to 1963 made the cut.) Taking the first 45 volumes together, that averages out to about one essay every nine years.

    If we consider vols. 46 through 90, these account for all 27 remaining essays (fourteen of which appeared in the twelve years from 1987 to 1998). This averages out to one essay about every 1.7 years.

    What could account for the disparity? Perhaps the baby boomers are just much better scholars than the Silent and Greatest generations.

  2. Jon Lackman said on 1 Apr 2011 at 9:38 pm:

    BTW three years ago I did a post about most-often cited art history articles.

  3. jr said on 21 Apr 2011 at 5:30 am:

    Interesting, but there are a couple of false premises at work here. One is that the CAA was assembling “greatest hits.” I don’t know about AB, but at AJ the brief was far broader, and less about canonizing than about examining the archives for pith, with the sum of the last century in view. The other question, as the writer notes, is the citation index. The number of citations will be higher not just if a piece is “great”; other factors–a hot topic, severe “badness,” even the practice on the part of some scholars of repeated self-citation–can skew these numbers.