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Extracts from:  Peter Nesteruk, A Rhetoric of Time in the Arts: Eternity, Entropy and Utopia in Visual Culture (2011).



(Cover Introduction, Contents Page, Preface)



Cover Introduction: The role played by temporality in the impact and interpretation of art has been an area long and unjustly neglected. This book will attempt to redress this balance by insisting that our sense of temporality together with, what we might call, the rhetoric of eternity can not only can be used to decode the world of the visual image, of art and architecture, but also to explain our position relative to the art work, as to what we see before us. As such this book consists of a sequence of readings of images and buildings, of framed art and frame of our lived experience, the built environment.

Beginning with representative works from the epoch of medieval and renaissance art, a key period in the history of Western art in terms of temporal rhetoric in narrative and priority, the analysis will progress to the seventeenth century onward, when such potentials were to become hidden, but still effective, as will a chapter on photography. The last two chapters will focus upon architecture and our experience of the city, from an analysis of the Pantheon in Rome to the skyscrapers of New York - and beyond.

This work is for those interested in art, architecture and the analysis of visual culture.



(Contents Page)


: Preface.                                                                                                   p. 3  


Chapter One: A Short History of the Rhetoric of Eternity:

Priority and Narrative in Medieval and Renaissance Art.         p. 5


Chapter Two: Painting: Time and Affect in Two Dimensions                 p. 44


Chapter Three: Photography and Identity:

The Image of Captured Time.                                                           p. 104


Chapter Four: Architecture in Pieces: the Rhetoric of Cohesion.             p. 154


Chapter Five: Utopia and Dystopia:

Eternity and Entropy in Twentieth Century Architecture.     p. 208             


Afterword.                                                                                           p. 287


*For detailed chapter content, please see each chapter file.






This book consists of a sequence of readings of images and buildings. The images chosen traverse the history of (mainly Western) art and include painting and photography, the inclusion of the latter indicating its importance in recent art history, and will include a section of comparative historical trends in Chinese art history (showing similarities and differences regarding the findings of the period covered in chapter one). Many of the findings of the earlier chapters on the evolution of the uses of time in the two dimensional image translate into the world of three dimensions and its dominant art form, architecture, or, more precisely, our built environment. Many of the factors that influence our experience of the image also influence our experience of the environment in which we live, our cities, their streets and squares and the buildings we find there. Both are, in effect, images as far as our nervous system is concerned; it is not only rural landscapes that are read as images, but also urban landscapes. Or perhaps, given the priority of evolution, it is images that are read, that have evolved to be read, as landscape, ‘natural’ and urban. So one thesis of this book is to suggest that the symbolism and codes that we use to read one kind of visual culture obtain in other kinds of visual experience. Another is that these codes are part of our visual sense, one of the most developed (with hearing) senses we humans have; in part genetic-evolutionary (part of our received human characteristics), in part a product of our cultural evolution. An evolution in which we play a increasingly formative role, beginning with the changes of landscape due to the Neolithic revolution and climaxing in this century’s, almost completed, urbanization - the dominance of the city as source of human experience. So our physical apparatus (genetic) and cultural evolution have armed us with a language, a set of codes, a symbolism, let us call it a rhetoric, that we use to understand, or better, to feel, our environment, our perception, our object in focus, that on which we furnish our intentionality, that which dominates our perception, our mind, the interior space which we imagine as coeval with the self – that which lifts, as well as depresses, our spirit…


The first chapter will describe and apply the ‘rhetoric of time’ as it was deployed in the art of the Medieval and Renaissance period – it will include a brief ‘pre-history’ to situate this period as part of a process of evolution, as well as comparative material from other geo-cultural traditions (a survey of similar traits in Chinese art history). The second chapter will continue this survey into the period covering the Baroque through to the early twentieth century and include extended readings of some well-known paintings (Poussin, David, Turner, Monet, Braque, Hopper). The third chapter, which begins with a brief account of the theory of the temporal implications of black and white photography as a genre, continues the analysis of the role of the rhetoric of time in art into the later twentieth century – with a particular focus on questions that have become centre-stage in recent art (as well as in drama and literary history) questions of identity and community (not least feminist and post-colonial concerns) and includes discussions of Rauschenberg, Mendieta and Boltanski. The fourth chapter will use the rhetorical tools developed in the first three chapters to ‘read’ architecture and will include an original reading of the Pantheon, Rome, continue with the influence of the Palazzo tradition and culminate in the Historicism of the late nineteenth century. The final chapter will continue these insights into the reading of twentieth century architecture, most especially in the survey of the upper levels of our built environment and its evolution – with a particular focus on Manhattan, New York. The theoretical implications of this survey will then be considered. The Afterword will hazard a few generalizations as to the evolution of our intimate relationship with space.




Copyright, Peter Nesteruk, 2011.