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Potential Images : Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art

Potential Images : Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art

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Book Description

Ambiguity and indeterminacy are inherent in images because visual perception is an interpretive act involving memory and imagination. Modern art has made this aspect of perception crucial to its relationship with the viewer. Potential Images , the first systematic exploration of this topic, considers those works of art that rely to a great degree on imaginative response.

Dario Gamboni concentrates on the last decades of the 19th-century and the first decades of the 20th, during which ambiguity and indeterminacy became defining characteristics of art. He examines how artists such as Redon, Gauguin, Cezanne, and James Ensor sought to involve the beholder and reshape artistic communication. Kandinsky intended that his work could be interpreted in figurative and non-figurative ways, while Duchamp_s Readymades presented the radical conclusion that "it is the beholder who makes the picture."

Drawing on an impressive range of sources, Gamboni finds parallels within other realms of culture_including psychology, semiotics, literary theory, the art of the insane, and popular visual riddles_and points to the intense cultural exchanges that supported this broad transformation. Potential Images also identifies the anthropological dimension and historical antecedents of the appeal to the viewer of ambiguity and indeterminacy, particularly in the tradition of the "image made by chance" and in Renaissance art. The author also points to its topicality from World War II to the present day, when abstraction and representation have ceased to be seen as mutually exclusive. He finally questions the social and political implications of a conception of art in which artist and viewer occupy symmetrical, equal, and even interchangeable positions.

Dario Gamboni is Professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam. His books include La plume et le pinceau: Odilon Redon et la litterature (1989) and the critically acclaimed The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution (Reaktion, 1997).