A linguistic model of art history

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Chomky's theory of generative grammar largely guides modern linguistics. The theory, of course, posits that the principles of language are not learned, but are part of our bio-endowment. Prior to the emergence of generative grammar in the 1950s, however, linguistics focused primarily upon structural description of already produced linguistic output. The goal, in a very general sense, was to categorize and taxonomically order the structural patterns of the world's languages. The systematic study of art today, as represented by the discipline of Art History, has almost identical methods and goals as those of historical linguistics - sorting and taxonomically ordering the extant output of world artistic behavior in terms of structural similarities and differences or styles of art. The question I want to pose here is this: Is the shift from inductive categorizing of the external structure of linguistic output to the deductive modeling of the mind's competence to produce such output also applicable to the study of art? The answer I think is yes, and hinges in part on the similarity of art and language. While art and language probably don't operate under the same set of principles, there may be enough similarity between the two that the analogy is worth pursuing as a preliminary approximation of how the mind creates art. Toward that end, this paper re-conceptualizes the notion of artistic style, exploring the potential for a 'generative art grammar'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-90
Number of pages18
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000


  • Art
  • Art style
  • Cognitive models
  • Generative grammar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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