Modern Theories of Art, 2: From Impressionism to Kandinsky

By Moshe Barasch | Go to book overview

10
Robert Vischer

In the last third of the nineteenth century the issue that artists and critics know as the “problem of expression” came to occupy a central place both in some of the sciences and in the domain of aesthetics. Fechner and Darwin, and the great scientific traditions they represented or initiated, were signs of this profound concern with what to many seemed a newly discovered dimension of existence, the expression of modes of psychic reality. How are emotions manifested, and how is it that these manifestations seem to be instantly understood by spectators? Moreover, how should we account for the strange fact that emotional characters are perceived in parts of nature that, we were taught to believe, are devoid of feeling? How should we account, for example, for our speaking of a serene or a melancholy landscape? Questions like these attracted much interest in the decades beginning about 1870.

Fechner's answer, as we have seen, was ultimately reminiscent in some way of the old beliefs in a World Soul. To a reader grossly overstating the case it may have seemed that Fechner was thinking of a mysterious Soul that infused everything with an intrinsic Life, thus creating a bridge between the different realms and layers of being. Darwin intended to leave little room for metaphysical assumptions, but he, too, wondered how an infant so naturally grasps the meaning of expressions of specific emotions. In summarizing the wealth of distinct observations and penetrating analyses he made in his The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, Darwin reminded the reader of a fact well known from everyday experience: “… when a child cries or laughs, he knows in a general way what he is doing and what he feels….” How does the infant know it, how does he or she acquire this knowledge? Darwin continued: “But the question is, do our children acquire their knowledge of expression solely by experience through the power of association and reason?” And in conclusion: “As most of the movement of expression must have been gradually acquired, afterwards becoming instinctive, there seems to be some degree of a priori probability that their recognition would likewise have become instinctive.”1

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Modern Theories of Art, 2: From Impressionism to Kandinsky
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Impressionism 9
  • 1: Introduction the Crisis of Realism 11
  • 2: Aesthetic Culture in the Literature of the Time 13
  • 3: Impressionism and the Philosophical Culture of the Time 24
  • 4: Science and Painting 34
  • 5: Impressionism Reflections on Style 45
  • 6: The Fragment as Art Form 69
  • Part II - Empathy 79
  • 7: Introduction an Empathy Tradition in the Theory of Art 81
  • 8: Gustav Fechner 84
  • 9: Charles Darwin the Science of Expression 93
  • 10: Robert Vischer 99
  • 11: Empathy Toward a Definition 109
  • 12: Wilhelm Dilthey 116
  • 13: Conrad Fiedler 122
  • 14: Adolf Hildebrand 133
  • 15: Alois Riegl 143
  • 16: Wilhelm Worringer Abstraction and Empathy 171
  • Part III - Discovering the Primitive 189
  • 17: Introduction Conditions of Modern Primitivism 191
  • 18: The Beginnings of Scholarly Study Gottfried Semper 199
  • 19: Discovering Prehistoric Art Early Questions and Explanations 210
  • 20: Understanding Distant Cultures the Case of Egypt 243
  • 21: Gauguin 262
  • 22: African Art 272
  • Part IV - Abstract Art 291
  • 23: Abstract Art Origins and Sources 293
  • 24: The Subject Matte of Abstract Painting 309
  • 25: Color 320
  • 26: Line 341
  • 27: Composition and Harmony 352
  • Bibliographical Essay 371
  • Name Index 383
  • Subject Index 386
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