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Agency, affect and intention in art history: some observation

Rampley, Matthew (2021) Agency, affect and intention in art history: some observation. Journal of Art Historiography (24). ISSN 2042-4752

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URL of Published Version: https://arthistoriography.files.wordpress.com/2021/05/rampley.pdf

Identification Number/DOI: https://doi.org/10.48352/uobxjah.00003428


Recent years have seen a notable growth of interest in the operations of affect and agency in art. Works of art are said to have agency, primarily through their impact on the affectivity of the spectator. This turn is an inflection of a wider phenomenon in the humanities, motivated by interest in the theory of affect. Although it has only recently gained visibility, one can trace an art historical interest in affect back to Aby Warburg, whose work emphasised the non-rational, emotional engagement with works of art. This article explores some of the claims that have been made in relation to affect and agency in art, but it also subjects them to critical scrutiny. What does it mean to talk about art having agency? What is its purported significance for art historical inquiry? To what extent does affect theory provide a convincing theoretical basis for the idea of artistic agency? Indeed, what is understood by the idea of agency in such accounts? The article argues that while there are many attested historical cases in which works of art are said to act as if they were agents, these have to be understood in terms of culturally framed attributions of agency, rather than a general theory of affect, which may have a purely tangential significance for art historical analysis.

Type of Work:Article
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
Department:Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies
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This article is archived in ePapers for preservation purposes

Date:June 2021
Keywords:Aby Warburg, Alfred Gell, David Freedberg, Griselda Pollock, Horst Bredekamp, agency, affect, emotion, feelings, anthropology, pathos formula
Subjects:N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Copyright Status:Copyright for articles published in this journal is retained by the authors, with first publication rights granted to the journal. Authors may subsequently archive and publish the pdfs as produced by the journal. By virtue of their appearance in this open access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings. Copyright restrictions apply to the use of any images contained within the articles. This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/
ID Code:3428
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