Plenitudes of Painting: Wilhelm Worringer and the Relationshipbetween Abstraction and Representation in European Paintingat the Beginning of the Twentieth Century
Thesis DisciplineArt History
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Throughout the twentieth century, the relationship between representation and abstraction has been regarded predominantly in terms of opposition. One of the prominent early twentieth-century defenders of this approach is Wilhelm Worringer (1881-1965), who introduces representation and abstraction as antithetic modes of art-making in Abstraction and Empathy. A Contribution to the Psychology of Style (1908). However, while he distinguishes between abstraction and representation on theoretical grounds, Worringer also observes that, in the history of art, these modes of art-making coexist. The current thesis examines Worringer’s approach to the writing of art history and theory, inquiring into his perspective on the personal responses of viewers and artists to the world, and the manifestations of these responses in art. Abstraction and Empathy addresses issues of empathy, form, and will, in aesthetics and art-making; it discusses and extends the writings of Theodor Lipps, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Alois Riegl. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Worringer’s book attracted much attention: like its sequel, Form in Gothic (1910), it was often associated with the rise to prominence of Expressionism in Germany. Later in the twentieth century, Worringer’s thought came under the scrutiny of Rudolf Arnheim, who criticized Worringer’s emphasis on abstract-representational opposition. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari praised Worringer’s approach to antithesis, yet questioned the terms Worringer proposed as opposites. For Arnheim, Deleuze and Guattari, alternatives to the antithesis between abstraction and representation became visible. Indeed, in Worringer’s time, artists such as Adolf Hildebrand, Ferdinand Hodler, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet and Wassily Kandinsky underscored the common grounds between representation and abstraction. Exploring Worringer’s Abstraction and Empathy and Form in Gothic, as well as the words and works of Hildebrand, Hodler, Cézanne, Monet and Kandinsky, this thesis aims to highlight abstract-representational interplay as observable in early twentieth-century writing and art-making.