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York Summer Theory Institute in Art History

Posted on 23 May 2023

Now in its eighth year, and back after several postponements due to COVID, the York Summer Theory Institute in Art History (YSTI) will take place from 5 - 9 June 2023. Welcoming students from both the UK and across the world, YSTI is hosted by the History of Art Department and led by Professor Whitney Davis of University of California at Berkeley and Honorary Visiting Professor of Art History at the University of York; the theme for this year’s summer school is Art History and Picture Theory. 


Art history has always had many ideas about the nature and history of pictorial representation as a distinctive means of communication, how depiction works perceptually and culturally, what pictures can be used to do socially, how picturing relates to language, when depiction is an art. But important work has also been done outside art history in psychology, philosophy, media archaeology, digital humanities, and elsewhere. This year students who have registered to attend YSTI 2023 will consider what this can offer to art historians, as well as what art historians can contribute. 

Professor Whitney Davis will give one of two evening lectures to the students entitled Pictorial Art and Global Psychological Modernity. The lecture explores the relation between depiction and the emergence of psychologically modern humans in the Middle Paleolithic period. Did depiction help humans to disperse from homelands in central East Africa to practically every continent? How do we even recognize depictions in very remote prehistory anyway, considering that the objects, experiences, and worlds depicted are so far away from us in time?

We also look forward to welcoming Dr Fiona Hughes, Senior Lecturer in the School of Philosophy and Art History at the University of Essex, who will give the second evening lecture entitled 'Making-Remote': Late Paleolithic Art Depictions at the Threshold of Appearance and Non-Appearance. Remoteness is not merely a descriptive category, referring to extreme temporal or geographical distances. A strategy of ‘making-remote’ can be found in late Palaeolithic cave art from forty thousand years ago. While the fascination of this art undoubtedly arises partly because it looks and feels so distant from us, nonetheless we can enter into affective relations with it. The lecture explores the ways in which very remote arts can seem both familiar and strange.