Infantile History – Exhibition in the Department of History at York University

Dear all,

Have you ever been described as “infantile”? Have you ever classified someone or something as such?

As part of exploring what history is, whether it has a goal, age and direction, and what the means to answer these questions are, you are invited to submit artworks to be displayed in the Department of History. While all artworks that capture infantile elements are very welcome, the project is mainly interested in looking at history through children’s and childlike paintings. The fact that paintings record bodily gestures makes painting a medium that indexes its creator. What is there in paintings, and especially childlike ones, that indicates the age or maturity of their creator? What exactly do we see there that suggests that the creator of the work has potential to be, to become, something else? What can we take from this when approaching visual and material history: sources, methods and periodization of time?

Some ideas of artworks to get the ball rolling, but any additional ideas are welcome:

  • Children’s and childlike drawings and paintings, made in the near or far past.
  • Photographs of yourself as a child, and/or other children (and pets, naturally).
  • Pictures of settings, objects or people that use childlike rhetoric.
  • Any materials from your scholarly work that relate to infancy and childhood, and/or the relation between these and other stages of the human life cycle.

The submission is open to everyone, there is no limit on the number of submissions per person, and all submissions are accepted!

The exhibition is planned to run between December, 2016 – early April, 2017, in the main corridor of the Department of History. Works, in any size and shape, can be submitted by putting them in a box, in the department office, across from Jeannine’s desk. Please attach a note to the work with your name and email address. Any additional details that will be displayed in a label next to the work are welcome. These could be: name of creator, their age at time of producing the work, year of production, places connected to it, and further information/insights. Please note that the works will be returned to you, but will not be covered by insurance.


If you have any questions or ideas, or if you’d like to participate but cannot come to campus and would like me to print your submission/s, please contact me at:

Thank you very much for your collaboration!

Looking forward to it,


Posted in Contemplations, My Art

Back to School


This year I’m teaching two tutorial groups in a first year introductory course: ‘War, Revolution & Society in the 20th Century.’ Our main secondary source is the book Twentieth Century and Beyond: A Brief Global History (2008). In the third chapter, ‘The Great Powers of Europe,’ on p. 39, there is a photograph of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family. As you can see, the second part of the caption reads “His only son, Alexei, was born in 1904.” When I read it, I was wondering why it conveys this piece of information. Since there is no explicit reference (in parentheses) from the verbal text to the photograph, and therefore the reader cannot know the photograph’s specific context or what point it comes to make or support, I had to hypothesize the relation between both kinds of text. Influenced by the caption, I focused on Alexei: Is there anything special here? Or did I miss anything written about the Tsar’s only son? I didn’t remember anything relevant, so I went back to the verbal text and looked for “Alexei,” “son,” “heredity,” and “dynasty,” but found nothing in the entire chapter. So, I searched the index but “Alexei” as well as the other terms weren’t there. What is, therefore, the meaning of the second part of the caption? What do the readers get from knowing that Alexei was the Tsar’s only son, and that he was born in 1904? Since the book doesn’t answer any of these questions, it seems perfectly appropriate to ask: What makes Alexei who, like his sisters, is surrounded by his parents and the other siblings, special? Why is he, except for the Tsar, the only figure who is treated differently in the caption? And lastly, since we discuss the book in a class which consists of students of varied gender indemnities, how does the caption affect the students’ emotions and identification with the history we study? And more generally, how does it position each one of us in relation to memory and commemoration?

Goff, Richard et al. Twentieth Century and Beyond: A Brief Global History. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008
Posted in Contemplations

Dates and Places in the List of Illustrations

When the list of illustrations informs about the times in which the artworks were produced, and their location at the time of conducting the research or publishing the book, the readers can gain a perspective on the sources’ temporal and geographical scope, right from the beginning. In the case of Colin Morris’ The Discovery of the Individual 1050-1200 (1987 ed.), the temporal scope of the whole study is in the title of the book. However, in the list of illustrations, figs. 5, 6 and 7 are all from the tenth or late tenth century, which raises interesting questions. For instance, did the visual arts precede written language in expressing eleventh and twelfth century individualism, which, according to the title, deserves special attention? Are there less surviving eleventh and twelfth century visual artworks that express individualism and hence the turn to works from earlier times? Or perhaps it’s a question of production rather than survival? And, finally, given the fragmentary and fluctuating nature of cultural evolution, would it be beneficial to define the studied process using broad and porous terms, allowing more sources, places, people and ideas into the historical scope? At any rate, displaying the temporal and geographical scope of visual evidence in the list of illustrations allows readers to fantasize about and even plan a research trip, to the past and the future, and read the book as a deep scholarly preparation.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Noa Yaari - Fontevraud Abbey - 2016

Top image: Tomb effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) at Fontevraud Abbey, France (sources:
Bottom image: Noa Yaari, Fontevraud Abbey, 2016
Posted in Dissertation, My Art

Interdisciplinary Method and Human Behavior

Interdisciplinary method in research on human behavior is the other side of working with a diverse group of participants in a social experiment; both halt reductionism in our perception of “human being.” If the perception of the examined phenomenon and its agents is not restricted by the examiner by narrowing down the tools of inquiry, the effect is that the potential varied input of the inquiry can be reflected in its output. Any reduction of either the group or the method to narrowly classified definitions would yield biased results that would not reflect “human behavior,” which can still be quite conformist and homogeneous.

Noa Yaari - Untitled - 2016

Noa Yaari, Untitled, 2016
Posted in Contemplations, My Art



My Art

Noa Yaari, Everything! 2005. Letterset on a mirror. Tel Aviv. Photographer: Kfir Harbi.
Posted in Contemplations, My Art

Visual Quoting

When historians work with images, they might benefit from thinking like artists when they embed visual evidence in their research and publications. Quoting a visual text is like quoting a verbal one; it comes from the realization that there are places where the original text would benefit from using someone else’s work. The advantage of quoting can emanate from the lingual qualities that the quoted text brings with it, the evidential impact it has, or both.

Noa Yaari - Untitles - 2011

Noa Yaari, Untitled, Ink on paper, 2011, Toronto

Displaying images within a verbal text is quoting artists in a historical work, but it is also quoting other artists in an artistic work. The historian-artist, like any other historian and any other artist, has to know why: their text shifts from a verbal to a visual form and vice versa; quoting someone else’s text is better than continuing to use the author’s own voice; there is a specific image that significantly contributes to their text and argument. In order to answer these questions, historians also have to think like artists do, when they quote other artists’ work in their own creation. Visual quoting is a rhetorical device, and the decision to implement it in a text, whether it is mainly verbal or visual, changes the meaning and the appearance of the text; the art that is taking form.

Posted in Dissertation, My Art

From Iconic to Symbolic Signs

Last Tuesday (May 10) I took a late morning walk in the beautiful campus of University of Notre Dame, Indiana. It was a quiet rainy day, and I had some free time before lunch.


In the Vatican emblem there are two keys. The golden one symbolizes the power Christ gave to Saint Peter and his successors that reaches the heavens, and the silver symbolizes the same power over the faithful on earth. The key as a signifier of power seems like a convention, it doesn’t necessarily imitate or visually resemble “power.” On the other hand, there’s some affinity between a form of a key and the concept “power.” When we look at a key we see that one of its ends is larger, less unique, and meant to be held by the hand. The other end is thinner, has a very specific form, and meant to penetrate a hole that fits it, and there to turn in order to attain a certain effect. Using a key is a voluntary action to change a situation, using the right tool (it won’t work with the wrong key). Therefore, key resembles power; it is managed by it and leads to more of the same thing.


When I approached this crossroad I didn’t see what I saw later on when I looked at the photo; the crosswalk begins or ends in the middle of the junction. What does it mean? Usually, traffic signs are considered to be symbols; they carry minimal resemblance to what they signify, if at all. It’s true that the black and white stripes resemble human steps, but the fact that the crosswalk doesn’t bridge two sides of a road means that it is a pure symbol. What I understand from this is that you have to make the first or last path on your own, and remember that the key to safety, whatever forms it might have, is in your hand, as it is in others’.

Photos: Noa Yaari, University of Notre Dame I and II, 2016
Posted in Contemplations

From Symbolic to Iconic Signs

Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519) drawing of the psychophysical question exemplifies a transition from symbolic to iconic signs, which generates new knowledge. In these drawings Leonardo tries to explain how mind and body function together. In 1487, in the Royal Library MSS 12626r and 12627r, he illustrated schematic cross sections of the head and mapped mental capacities, according to the tripartite model. Leonardo probably became familiar with the idea of connecting functional centers to cerebral ventricles through reading the work of Albertus Magnus (1206-1280), who mainly relied on the work of al-Ghazali (1053-1111). As we can see, in 12626r and 12627r, the sensus communis, in which all the senses converge, and the judgment and soul reside, is in the middle ventricle, unlike the tradition in which it’s in the anterior one.

Leonardo-12626r-detail                   Leonardo-12627r-detail

                        12626r, detail                                                                                12627r, detail

We know that Leonardo designated the middle ventricle to the sensus communis since in 12626r, “senso commune” is written on the left side of it, and in 12627r “chomune senso” in it.

In Royal Library MS 19057r from 1489 we see a different kind of representation, although the attempt to localize mental capacities continues. In the top paragraph of the page Leonardo writes: “Where the line a m, intersects the line c b, will be the confluence of all the senses; and where the line r n, intersects the line h f, will be the pole of the cranium, at a third of the base of the head, and thus c b, will be a half” (Saunders and O’Malley, p. 52).


                                     19057r, detail

Here, unlike in 12626r and 12627r, Leonardo doesn’t specify the mental capacities next to or in the cerebral ventricles. Instead, his method is to direct the viewers’ gaze from the text to the image and vice versa. The skull that he draws from an observation of a real one, defines the space for the discussion. The single letters that he writes in the paragraph and at the ends of the lines (a, m, c, b, r, n, h, f) enable him to point to a specific line. The lines, which he probably drew after and over the image of the skull, help him to direct our look to a specific point by intersections within the image. This point is the “confluence of all the senses”, the sensus communis.

The transition from words as the main signifier of the location of the sensus communis to a very specific point in a drawing that imitates a real skull is a linguistic move from symbols to iconic signs within the same scientific question. This move not only enabled Leonardo to get closer to a point in space, but also to communicate his findings in a way that makes much more sense.


Left image: Leonardo da Vinci, The Musculature of the Leg and the Anatomy of the Head and Neck, 1487. Pen and brown ink on paper, 222 x 290 mm. Windsor, Royal Library, no. 12626r
Right image: Leonardo da Vinci, Miscellaneous Anatomical Drawings, 1487. Pen and brown ink on paper, 203 x 152 mm. Windsor, Royal Library, no. 12627r
Bottom image: Leonardo da Vinci, Two Views of the Skull,  1489. Pen and brown ink on paper, 188 x 134 mm. Windsor, Royal Library, no. 19057r


Kemp, Martin. “‘Il Concetto dell’Anima’ in Leonardo’s Early Skull Studies.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute 34 (1971): 115-134
O’Malley, Charles D. and J.B de C.M. Saunders. Leonardo da Vinci on the Human Body. 1952. Reprint, New York: Gramercy Books, 2003
McMurrich, J. Playfair. Leonardo da Vinci: The Anatomist. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1930
Richter, Irma A. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952
Richter, Jean Paul. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, vol. 1. New York: Dover, 1970
Roberts, Jane, and Kenneth D. Keele, eds. Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomical Drawings from the Royal Library Windsor Castle. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984
Posted in Contemplations

Place in Image Captions III

But… ethically, if we think about the caption more as part of the book than as an element that accompanies the artwork, the historian has a say. For example, the caption of Fig. 181 in Burckhardt’s Civilization raises interesting questions about the responsibility of the historian, editor and publisher for updating locations of artworks that have changed since the book was written, and since its first publication. The caption of Fig. 181, Portrait of a Young Woman by Bastiano Mainardi (1460-1513), indicates that the painting is in Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin. However, in 1956 the museum was renamed after its founder and first director Wilhelm von Bode (1845-1929). Though the 1958 edition was published after the museum was renamed, it still uses its previous name. Should creators of new editions ensure the accuracy of the information conveyed in captions? If yes, it means that each edition entails historical research. If no, the captions themselves become part of history, featuring some kind of “authenticity,” even if it confuses the readers.

N. Yaari - Bode Museume - 2015             Bastiano - Portrait of a Woman

What is the ethical status of image captions in books? Do they belong to anyone, and are they under someone’s responsibility? Are the ethical questions about them also questions about art and its identification as commodity that is always associated with fixed body and time? And, lastly, when we talk about “body,” can we refer to the universal “body of art” and universal “body of books” at the same time, and expect that when one of them changes the other, because both belong to a single material world, changes as well?


Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. New York: Harper & Row, 1958
Left image: Noa Yaari, Bode Museum, 2015
Right image:  Bastiano Mainardi, A Portrait of a Woman, 15th Century, Tempera on wood, 44 x 33 cm. Bode Museum, Berlin (source:
 Bode Museum:


Posted in Contemplations, Dissertation, My Art

Place in Image Captions II

In my last post, I suggested to indicate in captions “any location that contributes to the meaning of the work” when the artwork has no body. Upon reflection I realize that it’s problematic and, unfortunately, I have to disagree. Artworks do not begin and end with a place in which their materiality and physicality settle. There are numerous activities around and within the work that literally take place, beyond the collection or the city in which the work dwells at the time of writing about it. To look at artworks as objects whose evolution culminates in a specific form and location is to dismiss their never-ending transformation. It reflects a capitalistic approach to art and culture; appreciation of human endeavors through their capacity to sell and be sold. Furthermore, this idea resonates with Aristotelian cosmology, according to which each one of the elements – earth, water, air and fire – aspires to its ‘natural place’; a concept that we don’t work with anymore… And finally, it attests to my confusion between the artist’s and the historian’s role, when I position the latter in an inappropriate status in relation to the former, who has the right to determine whether their works, both the process and the end-product, occupie a spatial spot.

Fork-dance       Shelley-2014


Left image: Charlie Chaplin, The Gold Rush, 1942, Hollywood (source:
Right image: Noa Yaari, Shelley, 2014, Toronto
Posted in Contemplations, Dissertation, My Art