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ARTECHNE Report Summary

Project ID: 648718
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ARTECHNE (Technique in the Arts. Concepts, Practices, Expertise (1500-1950))

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-02-28

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

How is technique in art taught? How is it learned? The transmission of ‘technique’ in art has been a conspicuous ‘black box’ resisting analysis. The tools of the humanities used to study the transmission of ideas and concepts are insufficient when it comes to understanding the transmission of something as non-propositional and non-verbal as ‘technique’. Only in the most recent years, the history of science and technology has turned to instructions, as given in historical recipes, describing how to make objects (instruments, medicines and visual and decorative art objects). This project undertakes the experimental reconstruction of historical ‘artistic’ recipes to finally open the black box of the transmission of technique in the visual and decorative arts. Related central questions this project addresses are: what is artistic technique? And how is - and how should - it be evaluated? Who are the experts, and on what basis are they considered experts? The answers to these questions depend upon what ‘technique’ is considered to be and how it is transmitted, and upon how one thinks it should be studied. Considering ‘technique’ as a textual, material and social practice, this project writes a history of the theory and practice of the study of ‘technique’ in the visual and decorative arts between 1500 and 1950.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

We have made progress on three main research questions of the project:

RQ1. What is technique in the visual and decorative arts?
Mining and analyzing a diversity of texts, brought together in the ARTECHNE database, we have begun to investigate the meaning of the concept and the term 'technique'. This has resulted in the insight that the term technique was invented in German philosophy of art in the 18th century (cf. Hendriksen, Marieke (2017). ‘“Art and Technique Always Balance the Scale”: German Philosophies of Sensory Perception, Taste, and Art Criticism, and the Rise of the Term Technik, ca. 1735–ca. 1835’, in: History of Humanities, vol. 2 (1), pp. 201-219).

RQ2. How is technique studied and transmitted?
Re-enacting the instructions in a 18th-century Dutch manual on silversmithing by one of the PhD students apprenticing with a silversmith and senior metal conservator, we have investigated the role of texts in the processes of learning a craft. We have also identified one particular process (the codification of error) in dealing with the limitations of language in describing the material and sensory practices of craft.

RQ3. Who is considered expert in technique?
We have begun to study the practices of the study of technique in the arts in the long nineteenth century, and the conflicts of expertise between the humanities and the sciences this entailed (cf. Dupré, Sven (2017). ‘Materials and Techniques between the Humanities and Science: Introduction’, in: History of Humanities, vol. 2 (1), pp. 173-178).

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The wider impact of the project is visible in two ways:

1). We have fostered an interdisciplinary discussion on the use of performative methodologies across the humanities and social sciences (cf. the upcoming NIAS Lorentz workshop, which brings together specialists from the fields of art history, archaeology, conservation, musicology and anthropology. Its goals are to reflect on reconstruction, re-enactment and replication (RRR) practices in research, and to learn from each other’s approaches and experience). This will lead to the adoption and development of a new standard for the use of performative methodologies.
2). The project delivers new insights in the transmission of skill and technique, relevant for the history of science and technology, as well as insights in conservation history significant for the preservation of cultural heritage.

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