Art History as a Systematic Science?

Maxmilian Schich

Within the last year, Science, Nature, and PNAS have published peer-reviewed papers on art history, both dealing with the lives of artists and complexity in artworks themselves. Together with my own 2014 Network Framework of Cultural History and the 2010 Quantitative Analysis of Culture by Michel et al., this means a systematic science of art and cultural history has finally arrived in the most prestigious and most general publication venues of multidisciplinary science. Far from being oddities, these papers reflect a much larger renaissance of scholarship, whose mission is still best expressed in an aphorism from the feather of Goethe, printed in the very first issue of Nature journal in 1869, namely that “even the most unnatural is still nature” and by extension a subject of science. While transcending traditional notions of the arts and humanities, yet also of computational social science, what still remains unclear is how to position and nurture such work within the academic landscape. In this talk I will shed some light on a number of relevant aspects, including how quantifying complexity and fishing for complications have to go hand in hand, how art history is connected to all other disciplines via an ecology of networks, and how a systematic science of art and culture depends on the synthesis of non-traditional workflow pipelines and multidisciplinary collaboration.

Maximilian Schich works to understand art and cultural history by converging critical and creative aesthetics, quantification, and computation. He is an associate professor in arts and technology at the University of Texas at Dallas, a founding member and the acting assistant director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History. Max is the first author of A Network Framework of Cultural History (Science Magazine, 2014) and a lead co-author of the animation Charting Culture (Nature video, 2014), both of which received global press coverage in 28 languages. He currently serves as an associate editor for "Quantitative Methodologies: Novel Applications in the Humanities and Social Sciences" at Palgrave Communications, a Nature journal. He holds a Magister Artium in Art History, Classical Archaeology and General Psychology from Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, and a PhD in Art History from Humboldt-University in Berlin. He also worked as a pathologist for large cultural graph databases, as a postdoc in network science at Northeastern, and in computational social science at ETH Zurich.

Faculty, staff and graduate students are invited to attend a seminar lunch with Professor Schich on April 10, at 12:00 p.m. in Umrath 201.  If you would like to attend, please RSVP at