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In Victorian Britain, authors produced a luminous and influential body of writings about the visual arts. From John Ruskin's five-volume celebration of J. M.W. Turner to Walter Pater's essays on the Italian Renaissance, Victorian writers disseminated a new idea in the nineteenth century, that art spectatorship could provide one of the most intense and meaningful forms of human experience.
In The Literate Eye, Rachel Teukolsky analyzes the vivid archive of Victorian art writing to reveal the key role played by nineteenth-century authors in the rise of modernist aesthetics. Though traditional accounts locate a break between Victorian values and the experimental styles of the twentieth century, Teukolsky traces how certain art writers promoted a formalism that would come to dominate canons of twentieth-century art. Well-known texts by Ruskin, Pater, and Wilde appear alongside lesser-known texts drawn from the rich field of Victorian print culture, including gallery reviews, scientific treatises, satirical cartoons, and tracts on early photography. Spanning the years 1840 to 1910, her argument lends a new understanding to the transition from Victorianism to modernism, a period of especially lively exchange between artists and intellectuals, here narrated with careful attention to the historical particularities and real events that informed British aesthetic values.
Lavishly illustrated and marked by meticulous research, The Literate Eye offers an eloquent argument for the influence of Victorian art culture on the museum worlds of modernism, in a revisionary account that ultimately relocates the notion of "the modern" to the heart of the nineteenth century.
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Rachel Teukolsky is assistant professor of English at Vanderbilt University.
"No society in modern history, surely, has accorded art criticism a larger public role than Victorian Britain. The Literate Eye illuminates the consequences of this distinctive presence through a series of dazzling readings in literature, popular science, period debates, and other forms. Teukolsky's is an absolutely brilliant book, a must-read for students of nineteenth-century culture and its legacies."-Douglas Mao, Johns Hopkins University
"Rachel Teukolsky's innovative study reveals the richness and complexity of Victorian art writing. In an important move, The Literate Eye brings exhibitionary practices within the purview of aesthetic theory, alongside a spectrum of critical and literary texts. In Teukolsky's historical-rather than teleological-account, formalism emerges as a strand within Victorian thinking, rather than its avenging other. This book should be read by all historians of nineteenth-century art-especially those who idly accept modernism's view of Victorian aesthetic culture at face value."-Tim Barringer, Yale University
"Impressive in scope, ambition, and skill, The Literate Eye is an important addition to the field. Teukolsky has read a remarkable quantity of material and she analyzes art discourse with sensitivity and panache."-Talia Schaffer, Queens College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York
"The Literate Eye is a book students of nineteenth and twentieth century art and culture have needed for a long time: a lucid, detailed, and compelling account of the development of formalism out of the rich ferment of thinking and writing about art that characterized the nineteenth century. The claims and methods of this book will not only spark further work, they will provoke salutary debate for years to come."-Jonah Siegel, Rutgers University
"Interesting and valuable...The author keeps close to facts and evidence, faithfully maps her local studies onto a larger picture, and supplies abundant leads for f
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