Art historian of French eighteenth-century painting and Harvard University professor. Bryson was born to Edward James Bryson, a director of a large company and Mai Bendon (Bryson), Bryson, a physical therapist. Bryson attended King's College, Cambridge receiving an A M. in 1971. He attended University of California, Berkeley between 1970-72 before completing his Ph.D., at Cambridge in 1977. Beginning in 1976, Bryson taught as a fellow in English at King's College. Bryson burst onto the art historical scene with his 1981 book Word and Image: French Painting of the Ancien Regime. Using the techniques of a literary critic, with which Bryson was trained, he analyzed eighteenth century painting through a deconstructivist set of conflicting intentions within the painting. He moved to the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, in 1988 as professor of comparative arts. Byrson did much to bring the art writing of the (basically French) literary critics to the audiences of art history. His 1988 book, Calligram, collected the work of Julia Kristeva, Jean Baudrillard, Louis Marin, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes and Yves Bonnefoy. Bryson joined the Department of Fine Arts at Harvard University in 1990. He is the Editor of the "Cambridge New Art History" series (Cambridge University Press). As an art theorist, he employs a methodology examining what he identifies as conflicting factors ("impulses") in the creation to the work of art, including social history and psychology. Art history, he argues, "attempts a mimesis of the absolute idealism of art, as the latter had been defined since early aesthetics." (Soussloff)
William Norman Bryson
Looking at the Overlooked : Four Essays on Still Life Painting. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990;. Tradition and Desire: from David to Delacroix. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984;. Vision and Painting: the Logic of the Gaze. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983; Word and Image: French Painting of the Ancien Régime. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981; Edited by Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly, Keith Moxey: Visual Culture: Images and Interpretations. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1994, and Visual Theory: Painting and Iinterpretation. Cambridge: Polity in association with Blackwell, 1989; edited, Calligram: Essays in New Art History from France. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Soussloff, Catherine. "Historicism in Art History." Encyclopedia of Aesthetics 2: 410.