Svetlana Alpers: Style

Style as related to the study of art has always been historically biased. Alpers, an American artist, art historian, and art critic, emphasizes the importance Italian examples played in defining style; and, in doing so, she demonstrates how art historians contributed to shaping the concept of style. Comparing Raphael’s The Three Graces to Rubens’ painting of the same title highlights how easily two artists’ works can be differentiated from one another, even when depicting the same subject matter.

The Three Graces
Oil on panel
Musée Condé, Chantilly

Peter Paul Rubens
The Three Graces
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The discussion of style is one that can easily be avoided, but it undoubtably relates to how we classify a work of art. Style is perhaps directly related to what we consider “good” art and “bad” art, but it can also be argued that all artwork has style. Alpers suggests the art we consider “good” aligns with Italian examples. Do these Italian examples influence a viewer’s perception of contemporary art? What is involved in making and perceiving something as art?

This information is based on reading from: Svetlana Alpers, “Style is What You Make It: The Visual Arts Once Again,” in The Concept of Style, Berel Lang, ed., 1979.


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