Questioning the Masterpiece?
A conference to be held at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts,
University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.
Papers on Thursday 20th–Friday 21st February 2014, 10.30-17.00;
with a further practical study day, Saturday 22nd February
Call for Papers
On the occasion of a major exhibition, Masterpiece: Art and East
Anglia, held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the University of
East Anglia, this conference will interrogate notions of artistic
value by focussing on the very concept of the ‘masterpiece’. The
exhibition is itself ambitious and wide-ranging, takes a broad view of
what constitutes a masterpiece, albeit in terms of a single region.
For the conference we wish to tackle the concept in terms of its
implications for considering works of art from different parts of the
The term ‘Masterpiece’ has moved between being a valuable term for
marking out artworks which display exceptional skill and virtuosity,
to one which signals an overwhelming aesthetic response in the viewer.
The production of a masterpiece may be a primary goal for an artist
who may decide upon his or her own criteria for judgement. To others
it is a social construct used to further the interests of cultural
elites. In the definition of a ‘masterpiece’, what is the relative
importance of the character of the work itself – including the
techniques and materials used – and the political, economic and social
factors shaping its production and display?
In the past, especially within the Western art canon, the term, having
had its origins in craft practice, has tended to refer only to a
limited category of artworks – mostly sculpture and painting. We would
like to raise questions about the universality of its application. For
instance, what are the implications of an artefact having been
disregarded in its own time and place, being reassessed and elevated
to masterpiece status by a subsequent critic or culture? Is this
likely to amount to culturally imperialistic value judgement or
de-contextualisation? Or is it redressing a systemic bias, usefully
widening and democratising a concept, to include what might previously
have been overlooked? How important is consensus in the definition of
a masterpiece and to what extent is its existence determined by the
economics of the market, its reputation enhanced by competition among
collectors and museums? Is the masterpiece a sign of luxury, or can it
be applied to the most humble artefact? Does the concept lose all
analytic utility when confronted with the conceptual art of the
Papers are welcome from a range of disciplinary backgrounds –
including art history, archaeology, anthropology and art practice –
which critically engage with the idea of the ‘masterpiece’ and will
normally be 30 minutes long within a 40 minute slot, allowing for
discussion. We regret that we cannot offer a speaker fee, however
conference attendance fees will be waived (Normal fees: £100 / £75
concessions; UEA students free). There may be some assistance with
expenses available. Please enquire if you need help.
Please submit a title and an abstract of 200 words and brief cv. by 25
November, to worldartuea.ac.uk with the subject heading Masterpieces
conference. For any further enquiries in the meantime contact
reddish.jennygmail.com, conference assistant.
CFP: Questioning the Masterpiece (Norwich, 20-22 Feb 14). In: ArtHist.net, Oct 14, 2013 (accessed Feb 24, 2021), <https://arthist.net/archive/6154>.