The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things

The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things

George Kubler

Language: English

Pages: 144

ISBN: 0300100612

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

When it was first released in 1962, The Shape of Time presented a radically new approach to the study of art history. Drawing upon new insights in fields such as anthropology and linguistics, George Kubler replaced the notion of style as the basis for histories of art with the concept of historical sequence and continuous change across time. Kubler’s classic work is now made available in a freshly designed edition.


The Shape of Time is as relevant now as it was in 1962. This book, a sober, deeply introspective, and quietly thrilling meditation on the flow of time and space and the place of objects within a larger continuum, adumbrates so many of the critical and theoretical concerns of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. It is both appropriate and necessary that it re-appear in our consciousness at this time.”—Edward J. Sullivan, New York University


This book will be of interest to all students of art history and to those concerned with the nature and theory of history in general. In a study of formal and symbolic durations the author presents a radically new approach to the problem of historical change. Using new ideas in anthropology and linguistics, he pursues such questions as the nature of time, the nature of change, and the meaning of invention. The result is a view of historical sequence aligned on continuous change more than upon the static notion of style—the usual basis for conventional histories of art.
"A carefully reasoned and brilliantly suggestive essay in defense of the view that the history of art can be the study of formal relationships, as against the view that it should concentrate on ideas of symbols or biography."—Harper's.
"It is a most important achievement, and I am sure that it will be studies for many years in many fields. I hope the book upsets people and makes them reformulate."—James Ackerman.
"In this brief and important essay, George Kubler questions the soundness of the stylistic basis of art historical studies. . . . The Shape of Time ably states a significant position on one of the most complex questions of modern art historical scholarship."—Virginia Quarterly Review.

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Grundbegriffe (Munich, 1915). I. 2. THB CLASSING 011 THING! century and seventeenth-century Italian art. By pointing out five polar opposites in the realization of form (linear-painterly; surface-depth; closed-open; multiplicity-unity; absolute-relative clarity) he usefully characterized some fundamental differcnce1 of morphology in the two periods. Other writers soon extendeo the conception to both Greco-Roman and medieval art, in a three-part division of each by archaic, classic, and

Art and Theory (1947). Some sequences require contributions from many different kinds of sensibility. The presence of pairs of great rivals engagecl in contrasting ways upon the same problems at the same time usually defines such situations: Poussin and Rubens, Bernini and Borromini thus marked out the wide roads of seventeenth-cen. tury painting and architecture. The contemporary revalidation of primitive experience also has been carried by contrasted pairs, like Eliot and Joyce or Klee and

when he invents something, he is the beneficiary of what we have called a good entrance (pp. 6-7) as the first to perceive a connection among elements to which the key piece had only just come into view. Another could have done it as well as he, and another very often does, as in the celebrated coincidence of Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace in respect to the theory of the origin of the species, because of similar training, equal sense of problem, and parallel powers of perseverance. THB

totally U1.1related civilization half a millennium later. The phenomenon is of course possible at every level of historical relationship. It transformed Western civilization most profoundly in the Renaissance, when the unfinished work of GrecoRoman antiquity took possession of the entire collective mind of Europe to dominate it until deep into the twentieth century, even as late as Picasso's illustrations of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Today classical antiquity has been displaced by even more remote

routine behavior. He11ce invention has always had to halt at the gate of perception where the narrowing of the way allows much less to pass than the im~ portance of the messages or the need of the recipients would justify. How can we increase the inbound traffic at the gate~ The purist reduction of knowledge. One old answer is to reduce the magnitude of the inbound messages by amplifying what we are willing to discard. This answer was again attempted in Europe and America by the generation

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