“Looking as Knowing”: Svetlana Alpers on Critical Thinking and Photography

“I got to looking from reading. . . . I was doing with pictures what I had been taught to do with literature. I was accustomed to taking a critical view.” 

In this episode

Caro Fowler speaks with Svetlana Alpers, a specialist of Dutch Golden Age painting and professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. In this conversation, Svetlana shares how literary criticism influenced her early encounters with art and  reflects on her intellectual formation at Harvard in the 1960s, and teaching in the art history department at Berkeley. She considers the altered state of the discipline today, and the turn toward global art history. Finally, they discuss the relation between painting and photography in light of her new book on Walker Evans, drawing out parallels between this new project and her earlier work.


Svetlana Alpers is professor emerita of history of art at the University of California, Berkeley, and a visiting scholar in art history at New York University. Her many books include Rembrandt’s Enterprise: The Studio and the Market, Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence, The Art of Describing, The Vexations of Art: Velazquez and Others, The Making of Rubens, and Roof LifeHer latest book, Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch, was published in October 2020. Svetlana co-founded the interdisciplinary journal Representations in 1983 and has been a consultant to both National Public Radio and the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

This conversation was recorded on June 9, 2020.


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