Munro, Thomas

Date born: 1897

Place born: Omaha, NE

Date died: 1974

Place died: Omaha, NE

Museum educator and art historian at Cleveland Museum of Art. Munro's father, Alexander Allen Munro (1856-1909), was a school administrator; his mother was Mary Spaulding (Munro). Munro attended to Amherst College between 1912-1915 but received his B. A. from Columbia University in 1916. After receiving his Master's Degree in 1917, he joined the army in World War I, rising to the rank of sergeant with the psychological services of the Medical Corps. After discharge he returned to Columbia where he was an instructor in the Philosophy Department, 1918-1924, gaining his Ph. D in 1920. In 1924 Munro was hired by the capricious collector of modernist art, Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) to be assistant educational director of the Barnes Foundation. Munro. Barnes' anti-historical approach to art fit Munro's aesthetic-style notion of art appreciation. During this same period, 1924-1927 he was visiting professor of modern art at the University of Pennsylvania. He married Lucille Nadler in 1925. Between 1928-1931 Munro taught on the philosophy faculty at Rutgers University. With the Parisian collector and art dealer, Paul Guillaume(1891-1934), he published an early book on African art, Primitive Negro Sculpture, in 1926. It was during this time, too, that Munro published his Scientific Method in Æsthetics (1928), which set forth his positivist view of art criticism. In 1931 Munro accepted the positions which would eventually lead to his high-profile in the art world: a joint appointment as curator of education for the Cleveland Museum of Art and professor of art history at Case Western Reserve University. His hire at Cleveland was facilitated by the Museum's energetic new director, William Milliken (q.v.). In 1945 the American Society of Aesthetics, which Munro had helped form in 1942 took over the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism and Munro became its editor. The academic year 1949-1950 Munro was a visiting professor in esthetics at the Sorbonne, Paris. In Cleveland, Munro used his appointments at the two institutions to publish his two most singular books: The Arts and their Interrelations (1949), a book about the creative process through its various forms, and Evolution in the Arts, and Other Theories of Culture History (1963), an insightful and early art historiography. In 1967 he retired from both positions, retaining emeritus status at Case until his death in 1974. The Cleveland Museum of Art established the Thomas Munro Memorial lectures in 1985. His daughter, Eleanor C. Munro (b. 1928), was an associated editor of Art News and also an art writer.

Munro was influenced by the philosophy and educational theories of John Dewey (1859-1952). A positivist, like Dewey, his art history hinges on the notion of progression in art. Like other intellectual art history movements--the so-called second Vienna School of art history, for example--he believed he had developed a "scientific method" of art historical inquiry. Unlike the Vienna School, which Munro doubted objectifiable patterns of intent; his model was "broadly experimental and empirical," seeking analysis from history and psychological studies. As a museum educator, Munro opposed explaining art as the self-expression of the artist. Instead he argued for a more disciplined model emphasizing the creative, historical, critical, and aesthetic considerations. Evolution in the Arts shows Munro ahead of his time. The book is the first English-language monograph to look at the discipline of art history and its theoretic roots. A work of scholarship and personal conviction, it has been unjustly ignored by the modern trend of historiography.

Home Country: United States

Sources: Munro, Eleanor. Memoir of a Modernist's Daughter. New York: Viking, 1988; Dictionary of the Avant-gardes. Richard Kostelanetz, ed. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2001, p. 432-33; Osborne, Harold. "Museums and Their Functions." Journal of Aesthetic Education 19, no. 2 (1985): 41-51 [excellent discussion of Munro's theories in museum education]; [obituaries:] Hungerland, Helmut. "Thomas Munro." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 33 no. 1 (Fall 1974): 4-6.

Bibliography: and Guillaume, Paul. Primitive Negro Sculpture. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1926; Scientific Method in Æsthetics. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1928; The Arts and their Interrelations. New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1949; Art Education: Its Philosophy and Psychology; Selected Essays. New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1956; and Read, Herbert. The Creative Arts in American Education: The Interrelation of the Arts in Secondary Education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960; Evolution in the Arts, and Other Theories of Culture History. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, and H. N. Abrams, 1963; Oriental Aesthetics. Cleveland: Press of Western Reserve University, 1965; Form and Style in the Arts: an Introduction to Aesthetic Morphology. Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1970.