CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed

Schedule of Session 3.pdf

Schedule of Session 3.jpg

The third section investigates the socio-cultural foundations of artistic difference. Special attention will be given to the fact that some societies and realities have been mythologized so that they appear to be especially imaginative or hallucinatory. The discussion will focus on two aspects of this topic. The first is the issue of the relationship between the socio-cultural background and the artistic concept(s) it produces. The second is the symbiosis between imaginative and hallucinatory symbolization and contemporaneous artistic concepts, that is, how artists project their own imagination on nature and artifacts to produce artworks that are characteristic of their unique time and place.

At the most fundamental level, artists throughout history have created "imaginative and hallucinatory" images of things that have never existed, usually in the context of religion and mythology, for example, the sphinx in Egypt, the centaur in Greece, the dragon in China, the feathered serpent in Mexico, angels and demons in Christian art, Dreamings in Australian Aboriginal art, etc. Indeed, such representations are among the oldest known, for example, the 30,000-year-old composite feline-human from Hohlenstein-Stadel, Germany. The creation of virtually all artworks almost always involves the transformation of the real world through the artist's imagination and the projection of that vision in the artwork.

Apart from the picturing of beings that exist only in legend and religion, during the long history of art, artists have frequently been called upon to represent imaginary events in narrative art. Among the countless subjects and places that artists have represented, of great potential interest for this section are the ways that artists have created pictures of Heaven and Hell, whether in representations of the horrors suffered by the Damned in Hell in Romanesque church portals (or in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch), or in Tang dynasty visions of the Western Pure Paradise of the Amitabha Buddha. Similarly, many artists have, either at the request of their patrons or on their own initiative, represented the miraculous in paintings and sculptures. In this category, of course, would be the innumerable artworks that portray the miracles performed by Christian and other saints and the miraculous apparitions and transformations of gods and spirits. Examples include the different forms that gods such as Jupiter take in Greco-Roman legend and art (eagle, swan, etc.), the miraculous transformations of appearance that are at the heart of much of the art of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, the visionary paintings of Moreau and the Symbolists in Europe in the late 19th century, and the various incarnations of Hindu deities in Asia. Of special interest will be the deliberate choice by European Surrealist painters in the 20th century to create, usually without any reference to mythology or religion, "imaginative and hallucinatory" works of art that "project the artist's imagination on nature and artifacts." 

The fact that this congress will be held for the first time in China also provides the opportunity to examine these questions in the contemporary global context. If artworks are products of their time and place of origin, how does an artist incorporate cultural symbols into an artwork created for a worldwide audience? Do mythologies change over time or when they cross boundaries and migrate from one cultural context to another? How does one negotiate comparative frameworks in local and global, historical and contemporary contexts?   In contemporary art, are there any universal mythologies that are taking shape? Do the development of new media and multimedia works necessitate adjusting the “concepts of art history”?

The special appeal of the theme of section 3 is how the basic questions posed can be applied to a diverse range of artistic cultures from antiquity to the present and serve to elucidate how artistic concepts reflect the socio-cultural background not only of artists but also of their patrons. The discussion of this theme in Beijing will also serve to underscore how all artworks, even seemingly realistic ones that imitate nature, are still products of the artist's imagination. For example, in Classical Greece, famous for its rationality and emphasis on measurement, the statues of beautiful athletes with perfect bodies are not images of real people but the projections of a philosophical notion of what constitutes perfection. Thus "imagination and projection" is a very rich theme indeed. It is hoped that this section will make a major contribution to the Beijing Congress’s overall theme of “Concepts of Art History.”