CFP: Medieval Popular Culture in the Visual Arts
International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo MI (May 9–12, 2019)
Julia Perratore, Fordham University
Shannon L. Wearing, UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Though most medieval imagery was destined for a purpose that modern viewers characterize as religious, many of its subjects seem to refer to a realm of experience that existed beyond the strictures of canonical Christian belief and practice – and particularly to the cultural experiences of non-elite makers and viewers. Such images might be interpreted as manifestations of medieval popular culture. From the literary and folkloric references enlivening church portals to the musicians and painted in the margins of manuscripts, such imagery can be difficult to interpret, in part because textual sources may be lacking to explain its particulars. As a result, art historians tend to marginalize the “low” and “unofficial,” or declare its significance hopelessly indecipherable, though to do so is to deny an important aspect of medieval thought. And while recent art historical studies focused on medieval patronage have proven beneficial by helping to uncover the ideological motivations of artistic production, they have tended to overlook or obscure non-elite individuals and communities.
In response to these tendencies, we invite papers that examine the concept of medieval popular culture and its manifestations in the visual arts. We are especially interested in studies focusing on producers and consumers who existed outside the highest echelons of religious and secular society, while recognizing Mikhail Bakhtin’s assertion that popular culture transcended barriers of class, wealth, and education. The application of the term “popular culture” to the Middle Ages has been criticized by a number of scholars who have maintained that “popular” and “elite” aspects of medieval culture should not be viewed as monolithic entities. We nonetheless contend that “medieval popular culture” is a broadly useful term, a first step in better understanding the diverse folkloric and mundane aspects of medieval art that relate to ephemeral experiences that could be shared by laity and clergy, nobility and peasantry alike.
This session thus has two primary methodological goals: first, to explore how theories of popular culture developed largely for the study of modern cultural and literary history can be applied usefully to the art of the Middle Ages, and second, to determine to what extent it is possible to glean information about popular cultural practices from visual art. We welcome papers that explore and question the relationship between popular and canonical (or “low” and “high”) culture, and that between elite and non-elite communities, as well as studies that investigate popular cultural imagery as a means of accessing audiences who frequently fall through the cracks of medieval art history.
To propose a paper, send an abstract (max. 250 words) and a completed Participant Information Form (available via https://wmich.edu/medievalcongress/submissions) to both organizers by September 15, 2018: Julia Perratore, firstname.lastname@example.org; Shannon Wearing, email@example.com.