Art history for comics: past, present and potential futures

Gray, Maggie and Horton, Ian (2021) Art history for comics: past, present and potential futures. In: Comics|Histories Conference; 16 - 17 July 2021, Held online. (Unpublished)


Some of the foundational texts of Comics Studies of the 1960s and 70s emerged from Art History, registering the dramatic shifts that discipline itself underwent in this period, as traditional approaches in this field were challenged. Although subsequently the study of comics remained marginal to the discipline, recently there has been renewed interest in comics among art historians. At the same time, art historical methodologies have informed some recent comics scholarship (whether implicitly or explicitly), particularly that placing greater emphasis on the form’s graphic, material and aesthetic dimensions. This paper will re-examine the ‘hidden’ history of comics scholarship by art historians such as Pierre Couperie, Ernst Gombrich and David Kunzle, from the 1960s to the 1990s, which was informed both by traditions of stylistic analysis and iconology, and the emerging fields of cultural history and the social history of art. It will also map the contemporary engagement of comics scholars with issues of abstraction and formalism that draws on Modernist theory and the avant-gardes of the early 20th century. In conclusion, it will consider models for adopting art historical approaches in comics scholarship on the basis of existing academic work, and seek to provoke further exploration of comics from diverse art historical perspectives.

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