Universität Wien FIND

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080039 SE Theories of Abstraction (2021W)

Continuous assessment of course work


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 20 participants
Language: German


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

Depending on further developments, the course may have to be adapted according to specifications of the rectorate and will eventually take place in a hybrid form or completely online. Please note the information in u:find.

Friday 01.10. 09:30 - 13:30 Seminarraum 4 d. Inst. f. Kunstgeschichte (1. Stock) UniCampus Hof 9 3F-O1-27
Friday 29.10. 09:30 - 13:30 Digital
Friday 12.11. 09:30 - 13:30 Digital
Friday 26.11. 09:30 - 13:30 Seminarraum 1 d. Inst. f. Kunstgeschichte UniCampus Hof 9 3F-EG-07
Friday 10.12. 09:30 - 13:30 Seminarraum 1 d. Inst. f. Kunstgeschichte UniCampus Hof 9 3F-EG-07
Friday 14.01. 09:30 - 13:30 Digital
Friday 21.01. 09:30 - 13:30 Digital


Aims, contents and method of the course

After a good hundred years, abstract (non-objective, non-representational, non-mimetic, non-figurative or even concrete) art has become a cultural habit. However, the refusal of a legible (figurative, pictorial) representation, which is replaced neither by mere ornament nor by symbolic signs, represents a fundamental break in the history of visual art.Established methods of interpreting art are deprived of their basis: the (re)recognizability of an object shown by or in a picture. Abstract art has no 'natural subject' (Panofsky). In order to legitimize such strangeness, a variety of theoretical justifications have been formulated. Especially artists of the first half of the century have tried to make plausible that abstract art is a different (and 'higher') realism than the traditional one, which took the world accessible to perception and natural consciousness as its subject and standard. A theoretically as well as pictorially decisive moment is the interpretation of perspective, which limits the perception of human subjects to one point of view and with which Cubism - after signs of dissolution since the 19th century - definitely broke.
The seminar focuses on artists' texts of the first half of the century that understood this break with perspective 'epistemologically' (referring to the possibilities of human subjects to access reality) and 'ontologically' (referring to the constitution of the real and the position of the human subject in it) as a breakthrough towards the representation of a transperspectival experience and reality. In art criticism, on the other hand, a skeptical-formalist reading has been established that understands abstract, non-mimetic (a-perspectival) art as primarily self-reflexive, exposing its own materiality, its means, the conditions of the medium (e.g., orthogonal limitation, flatness, the use of pigment and certain tools and procedures of its application). In the sixties this 'formalist' reading became dominant and since then has also significantly determined the artistic development itself (thus various varieties of 'concrete painting'). In contrast, the philosophically sophisticated self-interpretations of the artists of the first avant-garde are often dismissed, especially in critical art history, as hypertrophic and conventional metaphysics, as an escape into an otherworldly (Platonic, esoteric) backworld.
We will perform close readings of important texts (among others from the extensive theoretical work of Mondrian and Malevičs) and get to know some of the sources of the understanding of abstraction as a 'New Realism': the energetic and dynamistic conception of nature of the 19th century (from Helmholtz to Nietzsche), the media-analytical conception of painting and implicit epistemology of Neo-Impressionism, the philosophy of Henri Bergson. It should become clear that the 'New Realism' implies a radical critique of the finite ('perspectival') consciousness, but that it does not delimit this consciousness to an otherworldly world - to ideal or rational structures underlying the visible world, to the often invoked 'absolute' - but confronts it with a dynamic abyss from which it, together with its objects, only emerges in the course of subject formation or individuation.
The seminar will take its time to get to know and think through the connections outlined here. The analysis of individual paintings and of developments of works will play an important role. The goal is to relativize the still established formalistic reduction of abstraction to an art that is only interested in the pictorial signifier.

Assessment and permitted materials

Participants take part in the preparation of the sessions in different ways (handouts on texts, theses on analyses of works, abstracts of important reference texts that not everyone reads...). Topics for seminar papers, are to be developed during the semester in consultation with me. Active participation in discussions is expected.

Interest in philosophy is welcome for the seminar, willingness to invest some time in reading complex and occasionally extensive theoretical texts is a prerequisite for participation.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

Minimum requirement:
- Attendance is mandatory. In case of absence due to illness or exceptional family circumstances, written proof must be provided.
- For a positive completion of the course, all subtasks must be completed.
- Seminar paper: To ensure good scientific practice, the course lecturer may invite students to a grade relevant interview after handing in the paper, which has to be completed positively.
- active participation in discussions 20%.
- Speech and presentation 20 %
- Consolidation in the form of a written homework 60 %

Examination topics

The works, texts and historical interrelations covered in the seminar.

Reading list

Texts and works by Kasimir Malevič, Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Bergson, Umberto Boccioni, Herrmann von Helmholtz, Paul Signac a.o..; Literature by Clement Greenberg, Yve-Alain Bois, Regine Prange, Sebastian Egenhofer, David Antliff a. o. - Materials will be afforded via moodle and the library.

Association in the course directory

Last modified: Fr 01.10.2021 18:08