Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraktion und Einfühlung. Ein Beitrag zur Stilpsychologie


Book, 21,5 x 14 x 1,5 cm.

Collection: Collection MHKA, Antwerp.

Wilhelm Worringer (1881-1965) was a German art historian known for his theory of abstract art, which questioned what he described as "the one-sidedness and European-Classical prejudice of our customary historical conception and valuation of art". First presented as a dissertation in 1907, Abstraktion und Einfühlung was published as a book in 1908. In the book, Worringer makes a distinction between two kinds of artistic expressions – the art of abstraction and the art of empathy, while providing a comprehensive psychological explanatory of both. If the art of empathy deals with organic representation, which provides a recognisable spatial illusion of reality, abstraction is associated with inorganic geometric stylisation. Worringer argues that the former is presupposed by the fact that “aesthetic enjoyment is objectified self-enjoyment. To enjoy aesthetically means to enjoy myself in a sensuous object diverse from myself, to empathise myself into it”. Abstract art in its turn suggests another kind of aesthetic enjoyment – that one of alienation from an “anxious relationship” with the world. Regular abstract forms, suggests Worringer, are: “therefore, the only ones and the highest, in which man can rest in the face of the vast confusion of the world-picture”. Having analysed diverse cultures and historical periods, Worringer was one of the first to introduce the idea that the fundamental difference between figurative and abstract artistic expressions lie in their opposite approaches to existential experience. The “urge to abstraction” has nothing to do with inferiority or incompetence in his eyes. Worringer’s theory of abstraction contributed to the interest of non-European cultures among avant-garde artists, and was particularly influential for German expressionists.

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