Essay on Confronting Images

Essay on Confronting Images

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Georges Didi-Huberman is critical of the conventional approaches towards the study of art history. Didi-Huberman takes the view that art history is grounded in the primacy of knowledge, particularly in the vein of Kant, or what he calls a ‘spontaneous philosophy’. While art historians claim to be looking at images across the sweep of time, what they actually do might be described as a sort of forensics process, one in which they analyze, decode and deconstruct works of art in attempt to better understand the artist and purpose or expression. This paper will examine Didi-Huberman’s key claims in his book Confronting Images and apply his methodology to a still life painting by Juan Sánchez Cotán.
In Confronting Images, Didi-Huberman considers disadvantages he sees in the academic approach of art history, and offers an alternative method for engaging art. His approach concentrates on that which is ‘visual’ long before coming to conclusive knowledge. Drawing support from the field of psycho analytics (Lacan, Freud, and Kant and Panofsky), Didi-Huberman argues that viewers connect with art through what he might describe as an instance of receptivity, as opposed to a linear, step-by-step analytical process. He underscores the perceptive mode of engaging the imagery of a painting or other work of art, which he argues comes before any rational ‘knowing’, thinking, or discerning. In other words, Didi-Huberman believes one’s mind ‘sees’ well before realizing and processing the object being looked at, let alone before understanding it. Well before the observer can gain any useful insights by scrutinizing and decoding what she sees, she is absorbed by the work of art in an irrational and unpredictable way. What Didi-Huberman is s...


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... over time – and the viewer’s personal experience, essentially her history. This gets very near to a common sense perspective – what we look at, and what we think about what we see has much to do with who we are and what we have experienced in life. Thus, art may be described as an interaction between the viewer, influenced by her experiences, with the work of art, inclusive of its history and the stories built up around it over time. When we look at art, we must acknowledge that the image is temporally stretched – there is more to it than meets the eye at present. What we learn from Didi-Huberman’s approach is to give this temporal ‘tension’ its due. Didi-Huberman describes and defends the importance of of how we look at artistic works: images that represent something determinate, while always remaining open to the presentation of something new and different.

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