The hopeless chasm between discourse and image: On Carl Einstein’s Art Criticism
Thursday, November 14
132 West 21st Street, 6th Floor
Free and open to the public
For the German author Carl Einstein (1885-1940) the abstract, systemic nature of language was responsible for our inability to directly experience the dynamic flux of the real. “The rigidity of things,” he wrote, “is effected by linguistic habit.” It was his view that the “foul old stagnant pool” of language, created “by spirits and the dead,” paralleled the dead artistic forms of bygone eras that continued to haunt the present, forming a hard, impenetrable crust over an ever fluctuant reality. Yet in its concrete singularity each visual artwork had the potential to be wholly new, unmediated and unconstrained by visual memory and generalizing concepts, whereas language would be impossible without such concepts and their iterable signifiers. It follows that Einstein believed the inadequacy of language also extended to the relationship between word and image. Thus his art criticism is defined by a paradox: a fierce skepticism toward language’s capacity to describe art. In this talk Haxthausen will explore the ways in which Einstein’s writing on art was shaped by this skepticism.
Charles W. “Mark” Haxthausen is Robert Sterling Clark Professor of Art History, Emeritus, at Williams College, where he served as director of the Graduate Program in the History of Art from 1993-2007. For the current academic year he is Leonard A. Lauder Distinguished Scholar at the Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art at the Metropolitan Museum. In 2009 he was recipient of the College Art Association’s Award for the Distinguished Teaching of Art History. Sol LeWitt: The Well-Tempered Grid, which he curated in 2012 for the Williams College Museum of Art, received the “Award for Excellence” for the “Outstanding Exhibition in a University Museum in North America” (2012) from the Association of Art Museum Curators. Haxthausen has written widely on modern and contemporary art and art criticism, with a focus on Germany, although his interests also extend to post-1960s American art. Among his publications is the The Two Art Histories. The Museum and the University (editor; Yale, 2002). Since 1996 he has published numerous articles on the art criticism of Carl Einstein. His translations, with extensive commentary, of fourteen texts by Einstein, A Mythology of Forms: Selected Writings on Art, will be published in December by the University of Chicago Press.
Quijote Talks take place in our library on 21st Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues in Chelsea. Named after our favorite after-lecture hangout, El Quijote in the Chelsea Hotel, and inspired by the knight errant himself, this new series consists of pointed talks and discussions about relevant pasts and possible futures. See our full lecture series archive here.