Blind Spots

Critical Theory and the History of Art in Twentieth-Century Germany
Schwartz, J.
Date published: 
May 2005

Art historians and critics have long found inspiration in the works of Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, Ernst Bloch and Siegfried Kracauer. Indeed, these figures have been crucial to the recent theoretical developments and self-consciousness in the discipline. For their part, the early German Critical Theorists had a sophisticated sense of the state of the visual arts at the time – from the work of the avant-garde to developments in the academic history of art. This book is the first to focus on the extraordinary symbiosis between Critical Theory and other discourses of the visual in the first half of the twentieth century.
In four extended case studies, Frederic J. Schwarz traces the way central concepts of the aesthetics later termed ‘Frankfurt School’ were deeply rooted in contemporary developments in painting, photography, architecture and film, as well as psychology, advertising and the discipline of art history as it was practised by figures such as Heinrich Wölfflin, Erwin Panofsky, Wilhelm Pinder and Hans Sedlmayr. By studying the emergence and importance of the concepts of ‘fashion’, ‘distraction’, ‘non-simultaneity’ and ‘mimesis’ in the work of the Critical Theorists, Schwarz explores the shifting intersection between the history of art and the Frankfurt School and seeks to uncover its specific logic. He argues that artists, art historians and Critical Theorists were united by a common project: that of exploring those aspects of modernity that could only be revealed by its visual products, of knowing the modern visually.

Frederic J. Schwartz is Reader in History of Art, University College London, and author of The Werkbund: Design Theory and Mass Culture Before the First World War (Yale University Press, 1996).