Visual knowledge


Kim H. Veltman

Proposals Concerning a Chair in Visual History

January 1981

1. Introduction
2. Historical Background
3. Problems of Arrangement and Classification of Images
4. Problems of Scale and Context
5. Computers
6. Preliminaries
7. Teaching Duties
8. Project One
9. Project Two
10. Project Three
11. Conclusion.

1. Introduction

In this paper a brief account is given how interest in visual images has developed during the past century. Some problems in the present methods of arranging and classifying images are outlined. It is suggested that new solutions are possible with the aid of computers. Preliminary steps to be taken are mentioned. The scope of the incumbent's teaching duties is described. Three projects are outlined.

2. Historical Background

At present much is being done to collect and conserve contemporary photographs and other visual records. The National Archive of Canada acquires nearly one million new items per year. Nonetheless, the historical aspects of visual images have remained largely neglected, with the exception of those pertaining to fine art (cf. The Princeton Index of Christian Art, the De Witt Collection at the Courtauld Institute, the Warburg Institute Collection and that at I Tatti).

Nonetheless, already in the nineteenth century there were a few individuals who envisaged a more comprehensive history of visual images, including ornament, and industrial arts (Gottfried Semper, Alois Riegl). This ideal fascinated the founders of the Warburg Institute (Aby Warburg, fritz Saxl, Erwin Panofsky). The next generations focussed their energies on understanding the psychological motives behind these various forms of visual images (Ernst Kris, Otto Kurz, Ernst Gombrich). In the meantime the goal of making a comprehensive collection of man's visual expressions slipped into the background.

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