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Thread: Empathy in Art

  1. #1 Empathy in Art 
    Forum Ph.D.
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    Feb 2007
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    Empathy in Art

    Wilhelm Worringer’s book “Abstraction and Empathy”, first published in 1908, is considered by many to be a landmark interpretation of modern art. Worringer speaks of two forms of aesthetics, i.e. appreciation of beauty. There is the appreciation of beauty in nature and there is an appreciation of the plastic arts.

    Worringer limits his study to the plastic arts; and he begins his analysis by presupposing “that the work of art, as an autonomous organism, stands beside nature on equal terms and, in its deepest and innermost essence, devoid of any connection with it, in so far as by nature is understood the visible surface of things.”

    Modern aesthetics has moved from the consideration of aesthetics as an objective study to a subjective object of study. The focus is upon the contemplating subject and thus develops a theory of empathy, which is only one pole of modern aesthetics with abstraction being the opposite pole.

    Empathy, as a pre-assumption of an aesthetic experience, finds beauty in the organic whereas the pre-assumption of the urge to abstraction “finds its beauty in the life-denying inorganic…in all abstract law and necessity.”

    “Aesthetic enjoyment is objectified self-enjoyment…To enjoy aesthetically means to enjoy myself in a sensuous object diverse from myself, to empathize myself into it.”

    Worringer is informing us that whereas earlier forms of aesthetics focused on pleasure and its opposite--un-pleasure, his concentration is upon the inner life and self-activation of the viewing subject. “The presupposition of the act of empathy is the general apperceptive activity.”

    Worringer is also focusing on the fact that, while generally unrecognized by the philosophical objectivism view, each sensuous object is always the product of both that sensation which is given and my apperceptive activity.


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