The Story of Lithuanian Art Thirty Years Later
Keywords:methodology, historiography, source research, ecclesiastical art, visuality research, applied arts research, Lithuanian Art History
The paper offers a general overview of the Lithuanian art historical research published during the three decades of Independence (1990-2020). The paper discusses the changes in institutional and academic life, the spectrum of methodological approaches, as well as the key art theoretical publications and their authors. The overview aims to assess the current situation in the art historical discipline and fascilitate the debates around the question whether Lithuania has managed to develop its own school of art theory.
The analysis of the publications (mostly monographs) by the Lithuanian art theorists has conclusively shown that such school does already exist. In terms of its organisation, Lithuanian art theoretical school matches all the academic criteria: education is provided at all levels, and the dissemination and continuity of research, both empirical and theoretical, are ensured. The school has already gone through two or even three phases of development. The first stage, spanning between 1990 and 1998/99, was rich with significant achievements in the sector of education: it saw the launch of the first art theory doctorate programme in Lithuania, as well as the establishment of the Institute of Art Research, and the Vilnius Academy of Arts Publishing House. During the period, Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University launched their art theory programme, while the Culture and Art Institute in Vilnius had acquired two art theory departments. The second stage (2000-2010/12) saw a rapid growth of the number of publications, widening of the art theoretical specialisation, and further development of research methodologies. Along with the formal analysis and methodologies of iconography and iconology, came the outlines of social art history. All the spheres of art history became equipped with various methods of source research and interpretation. Among the main fields of research were the history of ecclesiastic and devotional art (patronage and heritage of mansions and urbanite art). One of the leading research problems of the time – the relation of text and image. The third stage covers the period of 2010-2020, and instead of the focus on the oldest examples of art historical heritage to the art of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
In Lithuania, the methodological innovations started gradually taking root only after the year 2000, therefore there are still many possibile routes to explore. Most texts emoploy a combination of different methodologies, varying between iconology, phenomenology, and semiotics. This helps the research to better grasp the multiplicitous nature of the analysed phenomena, although this sometimes comes at the expense of the narrational coherence and constructiveness of conclusions.
The Lithuanian school is predominantly national-based. This has many advantages, although sometimes this makes it difficult to distribute the research internationally. Despite all the developments within the Lithuanian art history as a discipline, international collaboration via conferences, projects, publishing, and media still leaves much to be desired.
Due to the reliability of documented information, Lithuanian art historians are able to produce a particularly high level of in their work with sources. Rather than emerging as a circle of followers around a particular prominent individual, the Lithuanian art theoretical school is a result of a number of colleagues – art historians and critics – practicing mutual support and exchange of ideas.