The Transiency in Art Conservation and Our Approaches for Restoration

Posted by on Sep 16, 2016 in Writing Assignment 1 | No Comments

Art conservation is the care and preservation of artwork with historical relevancy. It represents the unique merging of art, art history and science, where the methods and knowledge of these disciplines are vital in its application. Art conservators must determine the best way to preserve artwork, keeping scientific limitations and artists’ intentions in mind. Though the practice of art conservation is straightforward, there is much debate about the intentions of the art conservator versus the artist, especially since most artists in question are deceased. It is also not possible to restore paintings and sculptures to their exact original state, thus slightly changing the work in attempts to preserve it, an irony that leaves room for controversy. Conservators must answer the question of whether or not a particular artist would have wanted their work to be preserved, and the subjectivity of art as a whole further complicates this. However, modern artists like Robert Rauschenberg have acknowledged this debate, and are fully aware that though their work is not permanent, it does not affect the materials they choose to create art with (Dykstra).

The biggest challenge of art conservation is that no method of art or preservation is permanent: everything is subject to chemical decomposition and deterioration, and thus the art conservation process is always a cycle (Dykstra). Because of the fragile and irreplaceable nature of artwork, it must be examined in a noninvasive way, or minimal sampling at most. One method with minimal sampling is optical microscopy and infrared microspectroscopy which allows conservators to determine the sequence of paint layers, vital information in understanding how this artwork will decay and knowing how to treat it (Fig 1). Noninvasive methods include raman microspectroscopy, shown in Fig. 2, which identifies pigments used in paintings, and reflectance spectroscopy, shown in Fig. 3, which also identifies pigments in addition to monitoring how colors fade. For my final video project, I would like to focus on at least one of these methods regarding a specific painting, should I be able to find appropriate articles and sources.

Fig. 1


Optical microscopy and infrared microspectroscopy, which determines the sequence of paint layers.

Fig. 2


Raman microspectroscopy, a non-invasive method that identifies pigments.

Fig. 3


Reflective spectroscopy, a non-invasive art conservation method that identifies pigments and how colors fade.


Berger, Gustav A. “A Structural Solution for the Preservation of Canvas Paintings.Studies in Conservation 29.3 (1984): 139-42. Web.

Carrier, David. “Art and Its Preservation.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 43.3 (1985): 291-300. Web.

Dykstra, Steven W. “The Artist’s Intentions and the Intentional Fallacy in Fine Arts Conservation.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 35.3 (1996): 197-218. Web.

Karlen, Peter H. “Aesthetic Quality and Art Preservation.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 41.3 (1983): 309-22. Web.

Leona, Marco. “The Materiality of Art: Scientific Research in Art History and Art Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 67.1 (2009): 4-11. Web.

Leave a Reply