Causality and the Work of Art

April 27–28, 2018

How does causality occupy a distinctive, if rarely examined, place within art-historical investigation? Aby Warburg, for instance, distinguished between “the visual assertion of mythological causes and the numerical assertion of calculable causes”—even while locating both within a single “observing man.” Art-historical discourse reflexively splits the dichotomy: along a diachronic axis (between eras of cult and eras of art) and between media (the uncanny object against the rationalized space of painting). The pre-modern object becomes the locus of magic (today “agency”), the modern picture a site of objective delimitation. We propose, instead, to ground an investigation of causality in the work of painting. How does the two-dimensional plane of representation maintain the tension between myth and number, and what aspects of its behavior are omitted or occluded by that dichotomy? By putting this question to scholars with specialties across Asia and Europe who work on either side of the “modern,” we hope to introduce a second fundamental tension: between appeals to cultural specificity and to the peculiarities of medium.


Lisa Saltzman, Starr Director, Research and Academic Program

Benjamin Anderson and Ittai Weinryb

Yukio Lippit, The Colorful Realm of Living Beings
Andrew Moisey, The Captured Picture and the New Science
Sugata Ray, Causality at the Limits of Causality; Or the Story of a River that is Also Love in Liquid Form

Beate Fricke, Miracles of Mediation. Crossing Lineages of Insemination and Creation
Yael Rice, Limning the Veil of the Face of Depiction
Ittai Weinryb, More than This

Benjamin Anderson, The Personifications in the Paris Psalter
Nathaniel Jones, Cause from Effect? Ancient Encounters with Painting
Lihong Liu, Causality and Ecoempathy: The Everyday Cosmos of Chinese Painting

Marisa Bass, La petite mort: Causalities of Death and Desire in the Dutch Kitchen Scene
Ivan Drpić, The Aging of Icons
Joseph Koerner, Causes of, Causes in Albrecht Dürer’s Engraving of the Fall

Participants Included

Benjamin Anderson, Cornell University (convener)
Marisa Bass, Yale University
Ivan Drpić, University of Pennsylvania
Beate Fricke, University of Bern
Nathaniel Jones, Washington University in St. Louis
Joseph Koerner, Harvard University
Yukio Lippit, Harvard University
Lihong Liu, University of Rochester
Andrew Moisey, Cornell University
Sugata Ray, University of California, Berkeley
Yael Rice, Amherst College
Ittai Weinryb, Bard Graduate Center (convener)