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Clark, T. J.

    Image Credit: Keble University

    Full Name: Clark, T. J.

    Other Names:

    • Timothy James Clark

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1943

    Place Born: Bristol, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): Marxism and Modern (style or period)


    Marxist-approach art historian; Chancellor’s Professor of Modern Art at the University of California, Berkeley. Clark attended Bristol Grammar School, before graduating with a A. B., from St. John’s College, Cambridge University earning a first class distinction in 1964. He joined the Situationalist International in 1966, whose theorist, Guy Debord (1931-1994), developed the concept of “spectacle” that Clark would use later in his work. He received his Ph. D. in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London in 1973. Clark lectured at Essex University 1967-1969 and then at Camberwell School of Art as a senior lecturer, 1970-1974. During that time he published two books in 1973 which launched his international career as an art historian. The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France, 1848-1851 and Image of the People: Gustav Courbet and the Second French Republic, 1848-1851 were seen as a manifesto of the new art history in the English language, provoking controversy as an unabashed Marxist interpretation of some of the most traditionally-researched topics in art history. In 1974, Clark accepted a visiting professor position University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) which was subsequently turned into an associate professor position. In 1976, Clark became a founding member of Caucus for Marxism and Art of the College Art Association. The Caucus session delivered papers by other prominent Marxist art historians, including O. K. Werckmeister, Lee Baxandall, Serge Guilbaut. He returned to Britain and Leeds University to be chair of the Fine Art Department in 1976. In 1980 he joined the School of Fine Arts faculty at Harvard University, setting off a furor among many conservative and connoisseurship-based faculty. Chief among his Harvard detractors was the Renaissance art historian Sydney Joseph Freedberg. Freedberg’s and Clark’s rivalry at Harvard was public. Clark disallowed any students of his to study with Freedberg, a stance for which Clark was formally reprimanded by Harvard’s visiting committee for intolerance and for violating students’ academic freedom. Freedberg, however, retired early in 1983 largely in opposition to Clark, continuing to teach at the University of Virginia. In 1985 Clark published, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers. He joined the Department of History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley in 1988, becoming George C. and Helen N. Pardee Chair of Art History. There he published a book of essays in 1999, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism. In addition to 19th-century topics, he broadened his view to include Picasso and Jackson Pollock. Clark identified an end to the modernist tradition, which he saw aligned with leftist politics, both coinciding with the fall of the Berlin wall. In 2005, writing under the name “Retort”, he co-authored Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War with Iain Boal, Joseph Matthews, and Michael Watts. His most theoretic, The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing, looked at the social and intellectual phenomenon re-examining art works. His students include Thomas E. Crow and Guilbaut. Clark’s Image of the People and The Painting of Modern Life provided a new form of art history that transcended traditional preoccupations with style and iconography. His books brought out the political implications of the work of Courbet and Manet, suggesting that the paintings of these artists may have served an active role in the creation of social and political attitudes. Clark made a distinction between “ideology” and the work as a representation, a rejection ideology as theorized by Louis Althusser. (Moxey). Characteristic of Clark’s method is to identify distinctions or disparities within a painting, and then pin those incongruities to a psycho-sexual or sociological interpretation, using a semiotics to come to a new meaning of the work of art. Clark’s detractors, most eloquent among them Nicholas Penny, have charged him with a selective view of art, asserting that in the case of Manet for example, not all of the artist’s canvases show the disjuncture that Clark characterizes. Eunice Lipton termed him “the most dazzling bad boy in the Art History Community,” characterizing his essay on Olympia (in his book Painting of Modern Life), “obfuscating and tortured.” Clark’s work was blind to gender issues, a fact pointed out by Griselda Pollock (and acknowledged by Clark).

    Selected Bibliography

    The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France, 1848-1851. London: Thames & Hudson, 1973; Image of the People: Gustav Courbet and the Second French Republic, 1848-1851. London: Thames & Hudson, 1973; “Marxism and Art History” [session of the College Art Association of America annual meeting February 2, 1976, Chicago]. unpublished manuscript of the papers; “Manet’s Bar at the Bolies-Bergère.” In The Wolf and the Lamb: Popular Culture in France from the Old Regime to the Twentieth Century. Edited by Jacques Beauroy et al. Saratoga Springs, NY: Anma Libri, 1977, pp. 233-52; “Courbet the Communist and the Temple Bar Magazine.” in, Malerei und Theorie. Courbet-Colloquium (1979). Frankfurt am Main: Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut Frankfurt am Main, 1980; The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers / New York : Knopf, 1985; “Arguments about Modernism: a Reply to Michael Fried.” in, Pollock and After. New York: Harper & Row, 1985; White, Laurens P. Painting from Memory: Aging, Dememtia, and the Art of Willem de Kooning. Berkeley: Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, University of California, 1996; Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, pp. 140-1; Haskell, Francis. [review of The Painting of Modern Life] New Republic (February 18, 1985): 32-34; Penny, Nicholas. London Review of Books (March 20, 1986): 13-14; Tassel, Janet. “Reverence for the Object: Art Museums in a Changed World.” Harvard Magazine 105 no. 1 (September-October 2002): 48 ff.; Moxey, Keith. “Semiotics and the Social History of Art.” New Literary History 22 (1991): 985-999; Lipton, Eunice. “History of an Encounter.” in Behar, Ruth, ed. Autobiographical Writing Across the Disciplines A Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003, p. 261; Harris, Jonathan. Writing Back to Modern Art: After Greenberg, Fried, and Clark. New York: Routledge, 2005.


    "Clark, T. J.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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