The news that influential art historian and critic Leo Steinberg recently passed away took me by surprise. The name was familiar--I recall reading essays by the man--but I wasn't sure of the influence. Intrigued by the title of the article, "The Man Who Taught Us to See", I read on.
Prior to his death at age 90 last week, Steinberg retired in 1991 from his position as professor of art history at the University of Pennsylvania. There, he was a Renaissance and Baroque scholar who wrote extensively about Michelangelo and others as well as on modern masterworks such as Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 (below image courtesy of MOMA).
Steinberg deftly countered arguments by formalist critics such as Clement Greenberg by focusing on how subject matter, symbolism, narrative, as well as contextual information like pop and material culture, inform works of art as much as (if not more so) than their formal qualities. The author of The Wall Street Journal article Eric Gibson points out that Steinberg believed art was multi-layered. Gibson writes, "Undergirding [Steinberg's] examinations was the question, 'What is the artist trying to tell us?'"
"The Man Who Taught Us to See" is a great read. So much so that it makes me want to read more by Steinberg.