"Art has its own conditions which distinguish it from other activities. It operates with its own special materials and according to general psychological laws."
Meyer Schapiro (1904–1996)
Columbia College 1924
LittD (hon.) 1975
Meyer Schapiro personified art history at Columbia for more than five decades, but his influence extended far beyond Morningside Heights. A man whose expertise ranged from Romanesque sculpture to contemporary art, he is credited with redefining both the demands and the ambitions of the discipline. Schapiro's critical vision set him apart: He pursued "a particularly American approach to the study of art . . . founded on a deep intellectual engagement with its European elders but particularly shaped by an equally profound response to developments in modern art," wrote David Rosand, the Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History. "He recognized the dialectical tension between the assertion of artistic freedom and the constraints of social and economic life." A well-known figure outside the academy, Schapiro was a contemporary of and counselor to many renowned artists. Indeed, he counted among his legion of friends and/or former students the artists Robert Motherwell, Jacques Lipchitz, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Wolf Kahn, Jan Muller, and George Segal, as well as the critics Irving Howe and Hilton Kramer. Schapiro wrote books on Romanesque, medieval, and modern art; theory; and classic studies of Cézanne and Van Gogh. His collected essays fill seven volumes.