Arts (including Architecture)

Ørom (2003) presents and discusses the following "paradigms" in art history and art scholarship: 


6.1 Cultural history and the iconographic paradigm

6.2 The stylistic paradigm

(6.1. and 6.2. are termed the "traditional" paradigms)

6.4 The materialistic paradigm

7. Changes in the domain of art history and art scholarship


6.1 Cultural history and the iconographic paradigm

“Burckhardt aimed at describing the panorama of a whole age and, “within this panorama he set the visual arts at or near the centre of the defining characteristics of an age.” Panofsky created his iconographical paradigm in the tradition of cultural history. The iconographic analysis (which included a stylistic analysis) aims at the interpretation of the intrinsic and symbolical meaning of images. The interpretation of this intrinsic meaning is based on the study of contemporary philosophy and literature.

The focus of the iconographic paradigm is allegorical and symbolic meaning. Panofsky studied the Renaissance and the Baroque period. Works of art from these periods have a privileged status for the scholars belonging to this paradigm. In general the art-historical tradition for cultural history (E. H. Gombrich) and iconography have the high culture in focus.“


6.2 The stylistic paradigm

is established around 1870 and later on developed by Heinrich Wölfflin”, who “considered that laws governed the ways in which forms changed through time (…),“

 “Based on stylistic characteristics (for instance linear versus painterly and plane versus recession) Wölfflin grouped works into related categories. The analysis of style became the basic and defining method of the stylistic paradigm in art history and the object was the works of art belonging to high culture.               

The object of the stylistic paradigm is the formal aspect of the work of art (style, composition, way of painting and the like). The aim of the stylistic analysis is to describe, categorize, compare, and systematize these stylistic features in order to determine a sequence of historical styles. It means that the overriding principle in knowledge organization – whether in art exhibitions, art histories or systems of knowledge organization – is the historical sequence of styles. “


. . . As a consequence of the focus on styles the intertextuality is limited to works of art, i.e. the history of art is conceived of as an autonomous history. The meaning of the works of art is beyond the horizon of this paradigm. The way works of art are analyzed and organized in taxonomies is similar to Linné's principles in “Systema Naturae” in which the forms of nature in the animal kingdom, the vegetable kingdom, and the mineral kingdom are analyzed systematically and grouped in families, species, and so on.”


6.4 The materialistic paradigm

(Social history of art)“This paradigm was developed in the 1940s and 1950s by among others Arnold Hauser. The paradigm is based on, “the Marxist thesis that the economic base conditions the cultural superstructure and that as a result styles vary according to the character of the dominant class." Within this paradigm the social functions of art and the sociology of art are studied.  . . .

The works of art are considered as integrated elements in the historical and social context. This materialist conception of art is opposed to the general Western idea of autonomous art. [It] . . aims at analyzing the meaning and the function of art in the context of material, social, political, and ideological structures (at the time when the works of art were created). This paradigm does not understand the evolution of the art as being continuous. Changes in the power and class structure cause changes in and ruptures with the artistic tradition.”


7. Changes in the domain of art history and art scholarship

In the early 1970s, ”new” art historians with different theoretic orientations started criticizing the ”traditional” paradigms. Criticisms included: the narrowness of the way in which art was defined and studied, the focus on individual artists, the limited scope of methods (analysis of style or iconography), and the concentration on the canonical works of art.


In some ways these ”new” art historians were inspired by the social history of art in their “new” art historical practice. In general they conceive of art in a broader social context including power structures and the relations between artists and public. In this view, the structures of meaning have changed.


Ørom, 2003, p. 141-142, general conclusions:

  1. First, different socially and historically embedded discourses on art, including pre-paradigmatic studies and scholarly paradigms pervade knowledge organization in the art institution at three levels. These three levels are "articulated” respectively as: 1. Art exhibitions, 2. Primary and tertiary document types (printed, audio-visual, and multimedia documents), and 3. Classification systems, bibliographies, thesauri (and other secondary document types.)

  2. Concerning the general discourse in which art is understood, there is a marked (ideological) difference between the Soviet BBK on the one hand, and the Western classification systems (DDC, LCC, and UDC) on the other.

  3. Though the universal classification systems as such are constructed on the basis of (formal) rational and logical structures, the analysis of the art classes show that the substantial “layers” “beneath” the rational structures are constructed as “bricolage” works.

  4. The systems analyzed, including the sketched analysis of UDC, show that there are significant differences among the four systems, both regarding the understanding of art (which is a part of the discourse) and regarding the concepts of the “bricolage” work. The LCC system is the one that to a lesser extent, includes concepts from the “traditional” paradigms, the iconographic and the stylistic paradigms. In other words, it is a system in which scholarly conceptions are of minor importance compared to general formal structures. The opposite is the case with UDC in which substantial parts of the taxonomy are constructed on the basis of the “traditional” paradigms. The DDC system can be placed in between.

  5. The taxonomy of the BBK is based on the Marxist conception of art and has a less “bricolage” like structure, because the “deep” structure is more rational as a result of an overriding theoretical construction. On the other hand, this “firm” construction creates “blindness” in the sense that non-Marxist concepts tend to be excluded or negated.

  6. Simplified, it can be concluded that the UDC, in particular, is well suited for representation of knowledge produced in the contexts of pre-paradigmatic, iconological, and stylistic studies.

  7. During the recent three decades the so-called “new” art history or the “new” art scholarship, has developed interdisciplinary approaches, or paradigms, that break with both the general discourse on art and the “traditional” paradigms. This means that the “new” art history, by introducing new contexts and new theoretical positions, breaks with the principles (and practice) of knowledge organization at the three levels. From a LIS knowledge organization point of view the challenge is to be able to represent the documents produced by the “new” art scholars in (theoretically) adequate ways, in addition to the representation of the whole historical corpus of documents on art.

  8. The central problem is that a hierarchical system based on a “traditional” discourse combined with concepts from the “traditional” paradigms is “conceptually closed.” At a pragmatic level a “polyhierarchical” thesaurus such as the Art & Architecture Thesaurus, seems to be a step towards a solution of some problems raised by the approaches of the “new” art history. Because the Art & Architecture Thesaurus is a more “open” and more expanded work of “bricolage” than universal classification systems, it is easier to integrate new aspects of art studies in the facet structure.

  9. At a theoretical level however, the eclecticism and the “additive” conception of conceptual relations mean that the Art & Architecture Thesaurus has a problematic epistemological foundation.

Is it possible to generalize the paradigms discussed by Ørom (2003) to other fields? (Why is this desirable?)


"Paradigms" in Arts

General epistemologies

Cultural history and the iconographic paradigm


The stylistic paradigm


The materialistic paradigm

Materialism/Critical theory

Changes in the domain of art history and art scholarship

Post-positivism / postmodernism . . .




Karamuftuoglu (2006) argues that both information arts and information science
could be studied under a common framework, namely, the domain-analytic or sociocognitive approach. It is also argued that the unification of the two fields could help enhance the meaning and scope of both information science and information arts and therefore beneficial to both fields.






Karamuftuoglu, M. (2006). Information Arts and Information Science: Time to Unite? Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57 (13), 1780-1793.


Mills, J. & Ball, C. (2007). Bliss Bibliographic Classification. Class W. The Arts. München: K. G. Sauer Verlag.


Petersen, T. (1990).  Art & architecture thesaurus. Vol. 1-3.  New York : Oxford University Press. (Getty Art History Information Program).


Schmidt, K. & Wagner, I. (2004). Ordering systems: Coordinative practices and artifacts in architectural design and planning’, Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): The Journal of Collaborative Computing, 13(5-6), pp. 349-408.


Ørom, A. (2003). Knowledge Organization in the domain of Art Studies - History, Transition and Conceptual Changes. Knowledge Organization, 30(3/4), 128-143



See also: Art studies (Epistemological Lifeboat); ICONCLASSInformation arts (Epistemological lifeboat)





Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 10-06-2007




  1. Discuss whether Ørom (2003) provides a relevant basis for KO as a LIS approach. Is this what students of LIS should be taught?