Art and Material Culture

I was very skeptical about this week’s readings applicability to my own object and research. Art history and connoisseurship doesn’t seem like something that could embody my own object, a D.A.R.E T shirt.  

In Michael Yonan’s Toward a Fusion of Art History and Material Culture Studies I realized that my initial connection between Art History and Material Culture as fields was not always assumed. Yonan emphasized that most of the major Material Culture publications did not come out of the field of Art history. Yonan articulates why, even though Art Historians often see Art History as integral to Material Culture, the fields haven’t coalesced more dramatically. Yonan goes on to argue that art history should be an integral element of Material Culture and could aid the field. Yonan clarifies that art histories sometimes problematic and elitist ideas about what constitutes art has prohibited it from fully aligning itself with Material Culture. Yonan also argues for the importance of integrating visual elements into the study of Material Culture.


The Connoisseurship of Artifacts by Charles Montgomery provides a method for analyzing artifacts that is deeply entrenched in the idea that artifacts and material culture are both art and should be held to a high standard. Montgomery asserts that appearance, form, ornament, color, materials, function, date and a few other factors. However, it is clear that Montgomery places value on aesthetics and value in a way that prioritizes both art and objects with perceived worth. This seems to be a limited view of material culture.


In Copley’s Cargo by Jennifer Roberts Roberts emphasizes the importance of the transatlantic exchange of Boy with a Squirrel to the development of a particularly distinct style of American art. Roberts continues to discuss the transatlantic exchange of both photographs and art. This is an important perspective in both the discussion of art specifically and in the analysis of Material Culture more generally. Most of what I have read thus far has almost  exclusively focused on American narratives of material culture.


While these articles have made clear the importance of art in the field of Material Culture, it is difficult for me to apply these insights to my own project. I am interested in looking at a T shirt, something that is emphatically non elite or artisitic, and while the emphasis on aesthetics and materiality is important I am not sure how this expertise can be applied to my own work more specifically.