Taking its cue from Horace’s saying “As is painting, so is poetry” (“Ut pictura poesis”), Marc Fumaroli’s treatise What Language to Say the Arts? revisits the genesis of the “conceptual turn” in art. Fumaroli argues that the roots of this transition run deeper than the twentieth-century conceptualism of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. Rather, the origins of conceptual art can be found in the emergence of aesthetics as a distinct branch of philosophy in eighteenth-century Germany, a time when writers, such as Lessing, Baumgarten, Winckelmann, and Kant, tried to analyze art from a purely intellectual perspective. These thinkers positioned themselves in opposition to another, older school of thought based on a poetic approach to the appreciation of art that harkens back to classical antiquity. Fumaroli contends that this classical tradition’s emphasis on pleasure and the sensual enjoyment of art is better suited than high-minded intellectualism to close the perceived gap between artistic practice and language.
A member of the Académie française and the Collège de France, Marc Fumaroli is a specialist in the study of rhetorical traditions, which he uses to compare literary and artistic forms of expression across time – from classical antiquity to the present day. He has written on such diverse subjects as the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns during the age of Louis XIV, the French language as a catalyst for cultural exchanges in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the constructive use of leisure in the educational process, or the interrelationship between urban and artistic forms in Paris and New York at the turn of the twenty-first century. Fumaroli’s treatise What Language to Say the Arts? was originally delivered as a Manship Lecture, which the Louisiana State University School of Art hosted in 2013.
Darius A. Spieth is professor of art history at Louisiana State University. He translated and prefaced this bilingual edition of What Language to Say the Arts?
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