Politics and Art

In “towards a geography of art,” Thomas Dacosta Kaufmann describes the work of American art historian George Kubler and his efforts to reconfigure art history’s approach to both of its eponymous analytical lenses. Kubler, unlike his contemporaries, considers “questions of physical geography in relation to material, centers and traditions” (222), thus re-configuring the study of architecture into an examination of the impact of “physical and cultural geography” on artistic forms (224). Specific art forms develop according to a particular trajectory not because of anthropological conditions, but rather primarily because of spatial conditions such as climate, or distance from artistic centers.

In crafting this argument, Kaufmann tells us that the Kubler emphasized a difference between physical and cultural geography, and political geography. The idea is that the artistic geography created by culture and geographic tangibility does not necessarily correspond to geopolitical boundaries. To illustrate this, Kubler divides his atlas of artistic geography into seven zones independent of state boundaries (228). These zones are all distinct, although they do share some similar traits. While such an atlas certainly illustrates that political borders are not explanatory as far as artistic development goes, I am still left with a few questions. For example, Kubler says that what matters is the “rules of artistic geography,” which are found when the analytic focus is on the “routes of transfer of artistic ideas within Europe and from Europe to the Americas” (230). Are these routes of transfer not dependent on political choices? More broadly, is culture as a whole not significantly shaped and altered by politics?

Kubler’s thesis is that artistic, and therefore cultural, similarities extend beyond geopolitical boundaries, but it seems to me that the role of geopolitical configurations in the shaping, marketing or presentation of a culture as unique and distinct cannot be discarded. Even if the cultures in, say, Canada and the US certainly are much more similar than different, the fact that political figures and political division separate our two nations has an impact on how we perceive these two cultures, and in turn how we perceive their art. Is this perception not also relevant, or deserving of discussion, in an academic discipline as well? Perhaps refocusing away from politics allows for us to see synergies and patterns we could not perceive before, but ultimately, I am not sure we can abstract the role of politics away entirely. I am not so sure if culture and politics can ever be divided, or that one is not a subpart of the other.


Here is a link to an interactive project on Warburg’s bilderatlas that was mentioned in the reading: https://warburg.library.cornell.edu/

And here is a link to the “11 nations of the United States” map of the country that reconfigures the US based on regional cultural and ideological patterns: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-11-nations-of-the-united-states-2015-7