Stephen Bann CBE, FBA (born Manchester, England, 1942) is the Emeritus Professor of History of Art at the University of Bristol. He attended Winchester College and King's College, Cambridge, attaining his PhD in 1967.
He was subsequently appointed Professor of Modern Cultural Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury, and later appointed to the Chair in History of Art at Bristol in 2000. He was made a Fellow of the British Academy in 1998, and named a CBE in 2004.
Stephen Bann's work has been influential in focusing scholarly attention toward connections between the history of art and visual culture. The Clothing of Clio (1984), The Inventions of History (1990) and Romanticism and the Rise of History (1995) are concerned in particular with the deepening consciousness of history particular to the 19th century. The examples that Bann takes are explained by him not from a reductive art historical perspective, but through acknowledgement of such examples' location in a broader, metahistorical network. Visual sources, sometimes even unlikely or fragmentary ones, are valued by the author as still points of reference: “a visual example provides a support for the exegesis that the reader (spectator) can follow in a directly participatory way. Its very self-contained nature (as opposed to an extract from a text) enables it to generate cross-references as well as to provide a field for practical analysis” (Romanticism and the Rise of History).
Bann's notion of "historical-mindedness" as originating in the 19th century and particularly in Paris is unique in the addition of the concept of "the poetics of the museum". Here, the subjectivity of the author of a museum or collection is established as significant in determining how particular representations of the past are structured, specifically in terms of tendencies toward synecdoche (empathetic recreation) and/or metonymy (mechanical and sequential display).
Bann's interest in semiotics, the capacity of images to bear significance, is exemplified in Under the Sign: John Bargrave as Collector, Traveler, and Witness (1994), which comments on the peculiar history and status of a 17th-century cabinet of curiosity as an aid in the self-definition of the collector. Themes of travel and acquisition are brought together on these grounds to detect meaning. Similarly, in writing on the history of gardens, Bann has found cause to cite the Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, among others indicative of a contemporary imaginative predisposition.
In Ways Around Modernism (2006), Bann affirms his approach of appreciating commentaries or histories as themselves change- and epoch-making. The argument is completed with an assessment of Post-Modernism in connection with “the historical phenomenon of 'curiosity'” which, for Bann, “has resurfaced as a widespread and noteworthy feature of present-day art”. By implication, Post-Modernism may thus reveal overlooked qualities in Modernism. An insistence upon the importance of looking and unstinting attentiveness, in addition to inter-disciplinary openness, is characteristic and influential in his writing.
Bann's book Parallel Lines: Printmakers, Painters and Photographers in Nineteenth-Century France (Yale University Press, 2001) was awarded the 2003 R. H. Gapper Book Prize by the UK Society for French Studies. This prize recognises the work as the best book published by a scholar working in Britain or Ireland in French studies in 2001.
In 2006, the American academic journal Grande Fromage named Bann as one of the leading thinkers on modernity, stating: "Stephen Bann has done much to explain the abstract and make the subject of modernity fresh and alive."
- + Reg Gadney, Frank Popper, and Philip Steadman, Four Essays on Kinetic Art, St. Albans, 1966
- Experimental Painting: Construction, Abstraction, Destruction, Reduction, London, 1967
- + J.E. Bowlt (eds), Russian Formalism: A Collection of Articles and Texts in Translation, Edinburgh, 1973
- (ed), The Tradition of Constructivism, New York, 1974
- The Clothing of Clio: A Study of the Representation of History in Nineteenth-Century Britain and France, Cambridge, 1984
- The True Vine: On Visual Representation and Western Tradition, Cambridge, 1989
- The Inventions of History: Essays on the Representation of the Past, Manchester, 1990
- + William Allen (eds), Interpreting Contemporary Art, London, 1991
- + Krishan Kumar (eds), Utopias and the Millennium, London, 1993
- Under the Sign: John Bargrave as Collector, Traveler, and Witness, Michigan, 1995
- (ed) Frankenstein, Creation and Monstrosity, London, 1994
- The Sculpture of Stephen Cox, London, 1995
- Romanticism and the Rise of History, New York, 1995
- "Eminent Views" with Bob Chaplin. Limited edition book, Connecticut, 1995
- Paul Delaroche, London, 1997
- Parallel Lines: Printmakers, Painters, and Photographers in Nineteenth-Century France, Yale, 2001
- The Tradition of Constructivism, London, 2001
- Jannis Kounellis, London, 2004
- The Reception of Walter Pater in Europe, London, 2004
- Ways Around Modernism (Theories of Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Arts), London, 2006
- Cherry, Deborah (ed), About Stephen Bann, Blackwell, Oxford 2006
- Conan, Michel (ed), Landscape Design and the Experience of Motion, Washington D.C, 2003