Philosophers and theologians have long engaged in intense debate and introspection over the representation of the deity, its possibilities and its proscriptions. The Forbidden Image traces the dual strains of “iconophilia” and iconoclasm, the privileging and prohibition of religious images, over a span of two and a half millennia in the West.Alain Besançon’s work begins w Philosophers and theologians have long engaged in intense debate and introspection over the representation of the deity, its possibilities and its proscriptions. The Forbidden Image traces the dual strains of “iconophilia” and iconoclasm, the privileging and prohibition of religious images, over a span of two and a half millennia in the West.Alain Besançon’s work begins with a comprehensive examination of the status of the image in Greek, Judaic, Islamic, and Christian thought. The author then addresses arguments regarding the moral authority of the image in European Christianity from the medieval through the early modern periods. Besançon completes The Forbidden Image with an examination of how iconophilia and iconoclasm have been debated in the modern period.“Even the reader who has heard something of the Byzantine quarrels about images and their theological background will be surprised by a learned and convincing interpretation of the works of Mondrian, Kandinsky, and Malevich in terms of religiously inspired iconoclasm. . . . This is an immensely rich and powerful masterpiece.”—Leszek Kolakowski, Times Literary Supplement ...
|Title||:||The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm|
|Number of Pages||:||432 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
|Last checked||:||21 Minutes ago!|
The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm Reviews
Eh...it was ok. Maybe it's because I have my own book on iconoclasm floating unwritten in my head, but I thought this work was basically a massive vanity project, using 2500 years of history to unfurl a rather idosyncratic pet theory on modern art. Very lopsided, too, betraying his own philosophical proclivities, and lacked good editing at times. Reading Aquinas, Kant, and Hegel is itself an exercise in thicket-cutting: a commentator and interpreter's job should be to make that work easier, not simply re-seed the thicket. Also suffers throughout from a major confusion between iconoclasm as such, and the idea of whether or not God (any god) can be represented - these two things are related, definitely, but they're certainly not the same thing. In other words, he tinkers a little with the definition of iconoclasm to suit his own ends. Finally, though it never claims to be anything but an 'intellectual' history of iconoclasm, it seems that reducing iconoclasm (which is very rarely an intellectual phenomenon, but more often a physical, even instinctual one) to its philosophical underpinnings and ignoring its actual concrete manifestations, is not the best way to do justice to the concept. The French revolutionaries who dismantled church sculptures probably didn't have Kant's theory of artistic creation on their minds.
Reading this book has been a labor of love and perseverance for me for a variety of reasons having to do with both the excellence of the book and the shortcomings of my education in philosophy as well as with some of the authors' changing third-person voices. However, neither the lack of education nor the magnitude of the work or the author's editorial choices should stop any thinking art lover from reading this book for it really points the intellectual way out of the sterile and insignificant art scene of recent generations. First, the excellence of the book: The scope of the book is so monumental, to attempt to explain the role of the image in art that there is a lot of exposition required to make the basic philosophical points of the book. Pretty much every major philosophical, aesthetic thinker back to the Greeks is considered not just within his time but also within the history of aesthetics. Several of the conclusions Besancon reaches sent me into day-long reveries which accounts for how long it took me to read in part. I spent days thinking about the implications to art, to philosophy and to worship. That the philosophy of aesthetics is connected to religion should surprise no one. The first images reproduced from life by prehistoric man were made to thank "God" for their hunts. So the importance of image-making was for the Greeks and every other thinker upto Heiddeger, primarily a religious question. We could make images BUT should we make images? Plotinus, Plato and Aristotle disagreed in significant ways. The tendency then (as now, says Besancon) was to shy away from reproducing images. The mere conception of God, said Islam and Judaism, trapped us into a partial lopsided view of God. The mere conception of reality trapped us into subjectivity. This inability to grasp the whole of reality, the whole of God, meant that many thinkers, emperors and artists preferred to simply give up trying to make images rather than to attempt the imperfect. And to wit, says Besancon, within every major religion and philosophical school this is the ONLY option that makes sense. Sticking to ornamental art, like Islam and Judaism do is absolutely rational, particularly in their religious art. Religious subjects are after all the most magnificently funded and the most popular for they draw even the most insensitive materialist. Christianity alone stands out from this nearly universal Iconoclasm. Why? Because one of the central tenets of Christianity is that God took on a physical form, therefore he could be partly understood as an image. Therefore, the history and promotion of making images, pictures of the world around us, is intimately connected to this freeing influence -the incarnation. (The author's reflections on the iconoclasm of Judaism and the portrayal of the angels on the ark of the covenant also sent me into hours of meditation) In Christianity, depicting a historical world became possible and indeed necessary, time appeared, in order to study the history of the incarnation. The universe was no longer flat. The human form took on more dignity and human skill took on more dignity. (I always point to the Creation of Adam by Michelangelo as arguably the apex of human artistic endeavor, myself.) Still, even in Christianity how touse images has always been a contested question, leading to various artistic periods and traditions. The development of theology in connection to the images is nailed down by Besancon in copious documents and with exacting attention to detail. In his effort to be fair, Besancon often changes points of view to 'empathize' with the theologian or philosopher in question, which often confused me to no end. While Pseudo-Dionysus (the source of Aquina's aesthetics) and the Abbot Sugger tolerated subjectivity in religious art and affirmed the affective and symbolic importance of art (primarily in stained glass) as a tool for meditation, the Orthodox patriarchs were concerned with checking subjectivity more than other traditions. Jewish painter, Marc Chagall participated in the art culture primarily by painting Christian subjects with a tradition and symbolism that was accessible, public and acceptable for secular use. The artist's importance a profession was elevated not because of the subject but by the skill and his use of common visual language. All this golden age of popularity for art, began to change even at the end of the renaissance, when the new philosophers began to be insecure about the ability of man to know (and thus paint) the universe. Pascal, Hegel and Heiddeger (ostensibly christians) began to cast doubt again on man's ability see the universe desiring a more certain and perfect philosophy and theology. The death knell of popular art began in philosophy. Hegel, who despite loving art had never seen any Italian art himself, prophetically saw only three choices available to artists as image-makers: One, return to artistic orthodoxy and believe that man can 'incarnate' the world. Two, water down the theology, philosophy and standards so that you can fit pretty much anything into your art. (Rothko's primitivism that demands pretty much nothing.) And three: create the superman-genius that discovers his own aesthetics. I think we can pretty much see that we are now in option three, where the cult of genius/self has overtaken the scene and every artist hopes to be the superman using only their self - the artist without works. (Warhol anyone) For Besancon Abstraction is not just another school it is the new iconoclasm, zero form. Malevich. However, against the tide of tin-pot supermen Besancon points to artists who reject formlessness. "And yet, " he concludes "Despite what Hegel says there is nothing inevitable about the death of the image". And he is right.
One of the most cogently written and utterly fascinating studies of iconodulia and iconoclasm alike. Highly recommended especially for the general reader or those new to the burgeoning study of iconoclasm in the East-Roman Empire in the Middle Byzantine period. Further thoughts here: http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot...
Besançon's survey is stunning in the breadth of artistic, philosophical, and historical material it explores, and in the generosity, erudition, and wit with which he discusses its subjects.