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Crow, Thomas E.

    Image Credit: The Clark

    Full Name: Crow, Thomas E.

    Other Names:

    • Thomas Eugene Crow

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1948

    Place Born: Chicago, Cook, IL, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): art history, art theory, deconstruction (theory), eighteenth century (dates CE), French (culture or style), Marxism, and semiotics


    Historian of 18th-century French art and prime exponent of the “New Art History” in the United States. Crow was raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. As a teenager, he moved with his family to San Diego, California in 1961. He entered Pomona College, Pomona, CA, graduating with a B. A. graduating magna cum laude in 1969. He continued graduate work at the University of California, Los Angeles with an M.A. in 1975 and Ph.D. in 1978. His classmates included another Marxist-approach art student and later art historian, Serge Guilbaut. Crow’s dissertation, written under the Marxist-methodology art historians T. J. Clark and O. K. Werckmeister, was on the reception of Jacque-Louis David’s “Oath of the Horatii” (1784). The dissertation took aim at the traditional interpretation of David’s pre-revolutionary work by art historians such as Bob Rosenblum and Hugh Honour who had argued that the work was not seen as supporting the French Revolution. His approach to the topic and tenacity set his career on a course of controversy. He joined the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA, as an instructor in its Critical Studies program in 1977. He married the horticulturist Catherine Phillips. The following year he was hired by the University of Chicago as assistant professor of history of art. After only two years, Crow moved to Princeton University as assistant professor of art and archaeology in 1980. In 1985 he published his Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris for which he won the Eric Mitchell Prize for the best initial publication in art history from the College Art Association. Despite this honor and the book’s general acclaim, Crow’s approach was too extreme for Princeton; his outspoken views of traditional connoisseurship-style art history rankled many. His tenure bid at Princeton was denied in a controversial decision. In rejecting Crow’s tenure, Princeton department of Art and Archaeology chair William A. P. Childs (b. 1942) wrote that Crow’s book, the prime consideration for tenure, was “too lopsided and did not give sufficient consideration to the art or art historical aspects” of the subject. The decision caused another Princeton art historian, John Kinder Gowran Shearman to relinquish his position in favor of teaching at Harvard. Crow was immediately hired at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, as associate professor in their art history department and concomitantly Michigan Society of Fellows senior fellow. He held a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship for the 1988-1989 year. Crow moved to Sussex, England and the University of Sussex as professor of history of art and chairman of department in 1990. He was called to Yale University in 1996 as Robert Lehman Professor of the History of Art, appointed as department chairman the following year. The same year he published Modern Art in the Common Culture an examination of the connection between modern art and mass culture. In 2000 Crow was appointed director of the Getty Research Institute and professor at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, replacing Salvatore Settis. He lectured as the Phyllis Wattis Distinguished Lecturer at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2001. Crow served at the Getty until 2007 when he joined the faculty at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, as the Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art. He was succeeded at the Getty by Thomas W. Gaehtgens. Crow’s methodology followed the controversial, quasi-Marxist direction mostly notably practiced by his mentor, Clark. Crow’s approach follows less exclusively on class issues, looking at issues of social context and reception as key determinents in an object’s meaning. In the twenty-first century, Crow began writing directly on art historiography.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Jacques-Louis David’s ‘Oath of the Horatii’: Painting and Pre-Revolutionary Radicalism in France. University of California, Los Angeles, 1978; Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985; Emulation: Making Artists for Revolutionary France. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995; Modern Art in the Common Culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996; The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996; The Intelligence of Art. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999; “Marx to Sharks: The Art-Historical ’80s.” Artforum 41 no. 8 (2003): 45, 47-8, 51-2; “The Practice of Art History in America.” Daedalus (Spring 2006).”


    Day, Sara.” Art History’s New Warrior Breed.” Art International no. 6 (Spring 1989): 78-89; Glueck, Grace. “Clashing Views Reshape Art History, When Art Historians Put the Picture in a Social Frame Revising Art History.” New York Times December 20, 1987, Section H, p. 1; “Thomas Crow Named Director of Getty Research Institute.” [press release] Getty Institute, February 14, 2000; “Thomas Crow Comes to NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts As Professor of Modern Art.” [press release] New York University October 24, 2006


    "Crow, Thomas E.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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