Aby Warburg and the Networks of Art History

Presentation by Pepper Stetler (Miami University).

This paper will explore what art historical methods of analysis can provide for the burgeoning fields of network theory and network archaeology.  While art history might seem to be the discipline best equipped to analyze the visual manifestations of networks, scholars of network theory have rarely taken advantage of the tools of this discipline.  In turn, art historians have been equally resistant to looking outside of the discipline for alternatives to hermeneutical approaches to interpretation.  In an attempt to bridge the gap between art history and network studies, this paper will address the art historical practice of Aby Warburg, a German scholar from the early twentieth century who, with the aid of photography, approached the history of art as a network of references and associations.  Warburg’s work stands as an important historical reference that reveals how art history and network studies might productively inform one another in the future.

Warburg’s most significant yet perplexing contribution to the history of art was the Mnemosyne Atlas.  This project consisted of a series of well-ordered arrangements of photographs that were glued on paper mounts.  Preferring to relay his ideas visually rather than textually, Warburg produced an atlas of expressive human gestures through recent news photographs, postage stamps, and photographic reproductions of ancient and medieval reliefs and Renaissance paintings.  The Mnemosyne Atlas served as a dynamic and mobile method of historical inquiry that allowed Warburg to focus on the repetition of expressions and gesture in visual culture across time rather than the symbolic interpretation of form—a method that can be productively applied to the visual analysis of networks in our own time.

Pepper Stetler is Assistant Professor of Art History at Miami University. Her research focuses on the art and visual culture of Germany’s Weimar Republic (1918-1933). She is currently working on a book manuscript that addresses how the display and sequencing of photographs in books relates to contemporary debates on modern visual experiences. Photographic books by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Karl Blossfeldt, Helmar Lerski, and August Sander figure prominently in her research. Other projects focus on intersections between avant-garde photography and methodologies of art history in early twentieth-century Germany and the notion of Sachlichkeit in modern German culture.

Pepper Stetler presents at "Network Archaeology."

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Sorting Network Artifacts, Part 1 | Words in Space

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