Pascal Griener

The Art Experience During the Enlightenment Publication date : May 17, 2010

“This book owes a lot to my adolescent experiences. For a long time I used to skip classes at the lycée, to spend entire afternoons wandering around the Louvre. I wasn't trying to increase my knowledge. I just abandoned myself to the contemplation of a small number of works — and always the same ones. A few hours later, I would enter into the poetic world into which they invited each viewer. And then the objects of my contemplations would detach themselves from their material support. They would suddenly become immaterial images. The paintings exhibited existed only because I viewed them; yet once looked at, they produced memorable, complex, precise constructions that could not be reduced to simple mental images. Increasingly, those constructions were stored in my mind, so I could remember them at will and query them. With the passing of time, these reasoned contemplations seemed to me to possess an almost objective character. The idea of dedicating my life to such experiences attracted me, though I didn't know how to go about it. To me, those secret sessions had nothing to do with academic art history. It took ten years for me to realise that I was mistaken. Forty years later, I now see that this youthful experience was scarcely new. It was born in the eighteenth century.” Pascal Griener

This way of looking at painting dates back the eighteenth century, when new venues (cabinets, galleries) made possible new forms of aesthetic experience and the emergence of the sensitive subject. This is what the great art historian Pascal Griener, a follower of the British art historian Francis Haskell, describes here as he examines most notably the changes that curiosity and aesthetic experience underwent, the institution of the gallery, the emergence of the connoisseur, the transformations in art history, etc.

This is the history of how the modern Western world constructed the way we look at painting, its venues and codes.

The aesthetic experience is not a simple one: it implies a context, a construction and cultural values that have a history. This book shows how the European eighteenth century laid the foundations of how we look at painting.

This innovative work will be a landmark in European art history.

Pascal Griener teaches art history at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.