Ethico-Aesthetics of the Visual

Research Group Hana Gründler

The far-reaching relations between art, visuality and ethics require fundamental examination. Art history, and more generally the history of images, have so far only partially addressed this relationship and not in its historical depth. However, it is well known that (art) objects and the built environment play an essential role in raising aesthetic awareness, and that they can even contribute to the ethical and political constitution of the individual and society in general – both in in a critical-transformative and a disciplining sense.

In view of current aesthetic and socio-political questions and challenges, which are closely linked to the power(-lessness) of images and the gaze, the Research Group will look at this complex of topics from a diachronic and interdisciplinary perspective. Topics range from medieval reflections on the emotionalizing and moral function of images to early modern postulates of an aesthetic and ethical sensitization through art and architecture up to modernist utopias of a new art for “New Men”. Last but not least, current debates about the affective, attention-raising, disturbing or even manipulative dimension of photographs, installations, performances and films are also included.

This methodologically and systematically broad attempt to develop an Ethico-Aesthetics of the Visual must always be aware of the inner ambivalence and contradictoriness of the phenomenon. Hypostasizing and subjectivizing notions of the image, which often go hand in hand with an accentuation of the affective and empathetic dimensions, must be problematized against the background of an ethics of vision, as should also be the Enlightenment assumption of a transparent seeing and thinking based on reason.

A central task is thus to investigate the subtle, not always perceptible transitions between visibility and invisibility, seeing and being seen, knowing and not knowing, since the critical and disruptive potential of art and theory often develops in these not precisely determinable marginal areas, where common perceptions and epistemic norms are questioned and transformed. And lastly, in a critical sense, the relationship between visuality and theory needs to be more closely analyzed and more thought needs to be given to the responsibility of the latter. Or to put it differently: The conditions of the possibility of (art historical) seeing and speaking must be problematized and the practice of theory itself questioned.

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