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By Annemarie Schimmel

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With a highly complicated historical and contemporary relationship to many other terms used in art^ history – that composite term itself, along with, for example, design, craft, artisan, labour, theory, and science – art remains one of the most problematic and confusing, yet indispensable terms in cultural history and analysis. Its complexity and significance is partly a result of its centrality within both the development of visual-representational practices and cultural theory since the renaissance.

But to see it as either marginal or absurd involves already holding some basic assumptions about the nature of art, and the purpose and value of art historical inquiry. If these assumptions are not systematically and self-consciously questioned then they remain ‘pre-analytic’, or to put it another way, simply instances of prejudice (pre-judging) or unexamined ‘common sense’. 16 APPROPRIATION Further Reading Barthes, Roland ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives’, Image, Music, Text (Fontana: 1977).

By virtue of appearing not to refer to objects in the real world – objects and people represented^ naturalistically and through narrative^ conventions in most nineteenth-century art – abstract paintings are claimed to achieve this distance. : Alberto Giacometti’s boldly abstract sculpture Head (c. 1928)). But in each and every case this was a decision made by artists located in specific social and historical circumstances, often acting according to an acute sense of how their societies were organised, and with a desire – sometimes utopian – to see them changed for the better.

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