• 214 pages
  • 6 x 9
  • 4 figures, 18 halftones
  • Price: $31.50
  • EAN: 9781439910849
  • Publication: Oct 2013
  • Price: $61.50
  • EAN: 9781439910863

Art, Politics, and Development

How Linear Perspective Shaped Policies in the Western World

Philipp Lepenies

In his groundbreaking study, Art, Politics, and Development, Philipp Lepenies contributes to the ongoing controversy about why the track record of development aid is so dismal. He asserts that development aid policies are grounded in a specific way of literally looking at the world. This “worldview” is the result of a mental conditioning that began with the invention of linear perspective in Renaissance art. It not only triggered the emergence of modern science and brought forth our Western notion of progress, but ultimately, development as well.

Art, Politics, and Development examines this process by pulling from a range of disciplines, including art history, philosophy, literature, and social science. Lepenies not only explains the shortcomings of modern aid in a novel fashion, he also proposes how aid could be done differently.


"This is a brilliant, provocative book. Lepenies makes a novel link between two disparate subjects, art and economics, and he relates them in an absolutely new, unprecedented way. The breadth of his scholarship is simply astounding. Art, Politics, and Development opens with an impressively researched study of Renaissance art history and the inception of linear perspective in Florence, Italy, during the early fifteenth-century. He goes on to show how the perspective rule for improving pictures came to be accepted as replicating ultimate visual ‘truth’. This book could become a cultural classic."
Samuel Edgerton, Amos Lawrence Professor of Art, Emeritus, at Williams College, and author of The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective

"In Art, Politics, and Development , Philipp Lepenies argues in persuasive detail that the ‘development mindset’ arose from the superior position that the viewer of a perspectival painting is invited to take up. His is an invitation to humanomics, bringing the humanities to the study of ordinary life, and to its improvement. This book is a masterpiece, ranging from economics to art history, and showing their vanishing point."
Deirdre N. McCloskey teaches economics, history, English, and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago and is the author of Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World

"While none of (the book's) components (are) original, the combination of them may be. The best section, on the invention of perspective.... cites art historian Erwin Panofsky's Perspective as Symbolic Form . Lepenies isn't writing history; he's building an intellectual construct. Its end point is the assertion that contemporary thinking on development supports a linear concept of progress and that we possess a privileged viewpoint on it."
Library Journal

About the Author(s)

Philipp H. Lepenies is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, Germany.

In the Series

Politics, History, and Social Change

This series, edited by John C. Torpey, will disseminate serious works that analyze the social changes that have transformed our world during the twentieth century and beyond. The main topics to be addressed include international migration; human rights; the political uses of history; the past and future of the nation-state; decolonization and the legacy of imperialism; and global inequality. The series will also translate into English outstanding works by scholars writing in other languages.