The relationship between materiality and mediality, between hand and eye, touch and visuality is a topic which had been controversially discussed long before the advent of the digital era, even before the “scopic regime” (M. Jay). This relationship concerned both, the production as well as the reception of art works. Until today the notions of medium and material seem to be in latent conflict, though the materiality of the medium and the mediality of the material may be regarded as two different functions of the same work.
A look back into history may help to understand the power and fascination of the long time favoured overthrow of materiality in the fine arts which was accompanied by the dominance (or tyranny, as some put it) of the optical. In Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s tragedy “Emilia Galotti”, which appeared in 1772, the painter Conti reflects on the characteristics of artistic production. He considers himself a great artist, though his hand does not always satisfy his artistic requirements. In elaborating on this shortcoming, the painter asks a meanwhile famous question:
“would Raphael not have been the greatest pictorial genius if he had unfortunately been born without hands?”
- Monika Wagner (DE) is professor of art history at Hamburg University, was chair of the Funkkolleg Moderne Kunst, fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. Major fields of research: fine arts since 1800, history of perception, iconography of materials (Das Material der Kunst. Eine andere Geschichte der Moderne, 2001. Lexikon der künstlerischen Materials, ed. with D. Rübel, S. Hackenschmidt), 2002.
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