• Region: Online
  • Type: Talk
  • Cost: Free

Art History Residency Talk, presented in association with the University of Nottingham: 24 May, 4.00pm 

Patricia Smyth is Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick and Senior Research Fellow on the AHRC-funded ‘Theatre and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth Century’ project. She recently completed our Art History Residency provided in partnership with the Ampersand Foundation.

Launched in 2020, the Residency offers researchers the opportunity for concentrated time to develop their work at Wigwell Lodge in Derbyshire. During her residency, Patricia has worked towards the completion of her second monograph.

The hybrid talk is on Wednesday 24th May 2023 (16:00-18:00) and hosted by the Centre for Research in Visual Culture, University of Nottingham: location – Clive Granger A40 and online, with digital access details here. The talk is free to attend and all are welcome.

The Talk: What Lies Beneath: Emotional Response to Art, Theatre, and Spectacle in the Nineteenth Century

This talk explores emotional response to images in the nineteenth century and proposes a new methodology for thinking about the ways in which popular audiences engaged with art and visual culture. Recent work on the history of emotions distinguishes between sociolinguistic categories – such as ‘sentimentality’ – and ‘affect’, defined as pure somatic response. However, neither formulation lends itself to the discussion of images. Nineteenth-century commentators often struggled to articulate their emotional responses to art and spectacular entertainments, suggesting a type of experience that lay beyond the accepted vocabulary of feeling. Studies of affect, on the other hand, tend to focus on states such as terror and heart-pounding suspense, in other words a narrow range of intense sensations that precludes the kind of drawn-out contemplation involved in looking at pictures.

What can an image-based approach bring to our understanding of nineteenth-century emotions? What, too, can it tell us about the viewing practices of popular audiences, spectators who for the most part have left no testimony of their experiences? Tracing the motif of submersion and drowning between painting, theatrical ‘sensation scenes’, objects, and ephemera, I reveal meanings and affects that run counter to those embedded in texts, titles, and captions. The concept of reverie is explored as a state of mind between attention and dreaming, a creative mode in which spectators bring their own imaginations to bear on images, but which could also shade into hallucination.

Image credit: Scene from The Colleen Bawn, 1861, Egron Sellif Lundgren, Royal Collection Trust/© His Majesty King Charles III 2023

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