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Leverhulme Visiting Professor

Professor Karen Lang

22 February – 17 March 2011
These lectures are open to all.
The broad aim of these four lectures is to employ philosophical techniques to pursue questions about art that can address their historical specificity and their aesthetic indeterminacy at the same time.
One of their major objectives is to situate contemporary art within the wider tradition, or to show how aesthetic value and historical relevance both remain imperatives for artists today. The second aim of the series is more speculative. This is to develop a method, incorporating close visual analysis, that makes it possible to pursue questions about the aesthetic merit of individual works of art, while respecting their irreducibility to verbal explanation. Their overall aim is thus to analyse how works of art respond to the conditions of their production in ways proper to themselves, or involve what Proessor Lang calls ‘an aesthetic way of knowing’.

To complement the lecture series, there will be two follow-up seminars at 11.00 on Thursday 10 March and 1.00 on Thursday 17 March in F37 in History of Art (Milburn House). These too are open to all. Prospective visitors should see ttp:// where travel information, and links to maps of the campus, can be found. Please address all other enquiries to Paul Smith: 
1. Kantian Philosophy and Art History: a continuing dialogue?
5.30pm, Tuesday 22 February
Room A0.28 in Millburn House
This lecture addresses art history’s philosophical foundations, and its Kantian roots. While Kant established the contours of aesthetic judgment, art history relies in the main on a limited set of Kantian aesthetic concepts, deriving from interpreters such as Bell and Greenberg, which are often inadequately understood. This lecture aims to recover the full complement and meaning of Kant’s conception of aesthetic experience, and so to demonstrate its continuing relevance to art historical enquiry. The lecture also presents a re-reading of the Kantian subject of aesthetic judgment, replacing the idealised subject (of reason) with a subject which is both transcendental and historical (the subject of reason and nature), thereby bringing an historical dimension to aesthetics.
2. Toward an Aesthetic Way of Knowing: negotiating subject and object
5.30pm, Thursday 3 March
Room S0.18 in Social Studies
Aby Warburg noted that making and experiencing art requires ‘a viable fusion’ of objective and subjective modes of viewing, but art history has yet to produce such a fusion. Art-historical methods such as connoisseurship and social history of art aim at objectivity, while more recent studies of art and identity (querying race, gender, and sexuality) have emphasised subjectivity. This lecture presents a new approach, or ‘an aesthetic way of knowing’ involving a dialectic between the two conceptions of knowledge. It acknowledges that the aesthetic object is irreducible to conceptual knowledge or language, but it does not open the door to radical subjectivism since it permits the material uncovered by rigorous historical investigation to be relevant to an understanding of the aesthetic dimension of the artwork. Drawing on examples ranging from Bernard Berenson’s connoisseurship to Eric Fischl’s painting of 1982, The Sheer Weight of History, this lecture shows what a dialectical method can offer to art history.
3. Contemporary Art within Modernity’s longue durée:how to historicise (the) now
5.30pm, Thursday 10 March
Room S0.18 in Social Studies
This lecture considers recent art from the perspective of its embeddedness within a longer history. This approach contrasts with recent writing, which – by emphasising the novelty of the artwork – can obscure or trivialise its relation to history. In recent interpretations of the exhibitions of The Pictures Generation (which took place during the late 1970s and early ‘80s in New York), for example, allegory and appropriation are construed as forms of quotation (‘one text read through another’) rather than as historical. By contrast, Walter Benjamin introduced historical time into the theory of allegory in the 1920s when he described how conceptual and actual decay bring occluded meaning to light. These lectures show that ‘The Pictures Generation’ not only appropriated history but negotiated history in their artworks, and that manifold meanings arise when allegory is construed as a mode of historical interpretation.
4. Friedrich and Richter: painting in the state of becoming?
5.30pm, Thursday 17 March
Room S0.18 in Social Studies
Gerhard Richter, who acknowledges the abiding influence of Caspar David Friedrich, recently donated artworks and his archive to the Albertina Museum in Dresden, where their paintings hang at opposite ends of the same gallery, thus positing a relation between them. In art history, the two artists’ work is considered ‘Romantic’ on account of similarities in style, colour, and mood; but in this lecture, ‘Romantic’ is conceived instead as describing an approach at the heart of which is ‘becoming’. To paint in a state of becoming is to accept that any determinate work is insufficient with respect to the ideal (whether a Hegelian Ideal of form, style or spirit, or an ideal of artistic tradition), and that the meanings of art cannot be specified a priori, but can only be grasped through experience of the works themselves. Understanding Romanticism this way draws on aesthetic experience and also draws out how works of art are historical. This lecture aims further to demonstrate the abiding interest of Friedrich for Richter, and how this manifests itself in Richter’s many styles, his understanding of tradition, and his thoughts on the existence of a ‘German’ art.