Do we feel ourselves by looking at objects? This two-day international symposium in Berlin returns to the late nineteenth-century German proposal that empathy (die Einfühlung) constitutes a way to understand aesthetic response. In contemporary usage, empathy implies the ability to share another person’s feelings, offering the possibility of transcending social divisions through emotion. However, the word’s complex life begins in an aesthetic theory of how human emotions project into optical forms.
Who feels themselves in which objects? Considering the relationships of visual perception, bodily touch, and emotional response, symposium speakers will offer new narratives and counter-narratives of empathy and intimacy that foreground the differences of power, race, ethnicity, and gender that mark the complex history of American art. Talks will range across art forms, styles, and periods, including nineteenth-century performances and neo-classical sculpture, early twentieth-century urban photography and Communist dance, post-war abstract sculpture by veterans in France, contemporary memorials to victims of police brutality, and social practice projects with refugees. We will consider empathy as a notion for opening connections, as well as highlighting the disconnections, among separated academic disciplines and national aesthetic histories.