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2011-2012 marks the first year of the IFA/Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship. The two-year Fellow is given the opportunity to pursue a research project while gaining teaching experience at a graduate level, and participating in a major international research initiative on the state of scholarship in the fields of art history, archaeology, and conservation. For information on how to apply for this fellowship click here.
In the fall, Dr. Jennifer Raab will join the IFA to share her expertise in nineteenth-century American art. Her book project, The Art and Science of Detail: Frederic Church and Nineteenth-Century Landscape Painting, explores the concept of detail. What does it mean to see a work of art “in detail”? What, in fact, is a detail and how has the definition evolved? Focusing on the particularly contested medium of landscape painting, Raab argues for a fundamental shift in representation from knowledge to information during the second half of the nineteenth-century, from the assumption that all details could be contained in one great system, to a realization that details might delineate difference and even undermine order. While “knowledge” implied the pursuit of a unifying structure, “information”—a word more commonly used as the nineteenth-century progressed—made no such promises. The form and function of “detail” was increasingly debated, and no other artist was more celebrated, and criticized, for his handling of detail than the American painter Frederic Church. In the scientific discourse of his time, which Church carefully followed, Alexander von Humboldt’s cosmological unity yielded to Charles Darwin’s competitive vision of the world. Church’s landscapes reveal two conflicting impulses: a need to create a visual language for an emerging scientific realism, and a desire to convey the ideas of a Humboldtian romanticism—art as an expression of science, and science as an a priori form of humanism, even a confirmation of religious faith. Church’s pictures mark the waning of faith in universal knowledge and the birth of our contemporary information age.