The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking (Hardcover)

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While the philosophical dimension of painting has long been discussed, a clear case for painting as a form of visual thinking has yet to be made. Traditionally, vanitas still life paintings are considered to raise ontological issues while landscapes direct the mind towards introspection. Grootenboer moves beyond these considerations to focus on what remains unspoken in painting, the implicit and inexpressible that manifests in a quality she calls pensiveness. Different from self-aware or actively desiring images, pensive images are speculative, pointing beyond interpretation. An alternative pictorial category, pensive images stir us away from interpretation and toward a state of suspension where thinking through and with the image can start.

In fluid prose, Grootenboer explores various modalities of visual thinking— as the location where thought should be found, as a refuge enabling reflection, and as an encounter that provokes thought. Through these considerations, she demonstrates that art works serve as models for thought as much as they act as instruments through which thinking can take place. Starting from the premise that painting is itself a type of thinking, The Pensive Image argues that art is capable of forming thoughts and shaping concepts in visual terms.

About the Author

Hanneke Grootenboer is professor and chair of art history at Radboud University in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. She is author of The Rhetoric of Perspective: Realism and Illusionism in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Still-Life Painting and Treasuring the Gaze: Intimate Vision in Late Eighteenth-Century Eye Miniatures. Her work has been published in Art Bulletin, Oxford Art Journal, Art History, and numerous other outlets.

Praise For…

"[An] invigorating book."
— Apollo

“Grootenboer’s book provides an accessible, clear, and innovating means of thinking about being by revealing a new philosophical subject: artworks.”
— Phenomenological Reviews

“Is there a kind of thinking that painting, or photography, can do, which ‘thinking in words’ cannot? What kind of realm do viewers enter when they go somewhere with an image? Are there pictures that are especially good to think with? These are the questions of Grootenboer’s unflinching, generous book, and her conclusion is pungent: ‘Philosophy . . . needs art to say what it cannot say.’”
— T. J. Clark, author of Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come

“Thinking with Grootenboer is an unequivocal delight. The Pensive Image recuperates the vibrant invitations to contemplate and reflect that lurk in the quiet corners of Dutch art. Grootenboer’s philosophical insight and deft eye for the unexamined detail meld in a book that is refreshingly original and truly engaging at every turn.”
— Marisa Bass, author of Insect Artifice: Nature and Art in the Dutch Revolt

“It’s wonderful to finally have this book. For nearly a century now, the history and philosophy of art have been gathering ideas about how pictures seem to embody thought, rather than simply announce narratives or messages. The literature on this subject is bewilderingly diverse, and this is the first book to bring together compatible insights from writers as diverse as Diderot, Winckelmann, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Damisch, Deleuze, Clark, Rancière, Marin, Mitchell, and Barthes. The result is a coherent account of the thought that sounds in ‘stilled images’ of all kinds.”
— James Elkins, coauthor of Visual Worlds: Looking, Images, Visual Disciplines

"What does it mean to say a painting thinks? The central claim of this invigorating book is not that a painting can show thought happening, as in depictions of melancholics musing, head on hand; nor that it can illustrate philosophical concepts. Nor does Hanneke Grootenboer want to argue that a painting is a way of working out a philosophical conundrum; nor even that it can prompt theorisation about the nature of reality, artifice and representation. She argues, instead, for something weirder–and more suggestive. . . . she asks: 'Do we, as viewers, find ourselves pondering these things, or is the painting as such pensive?' Grootenboer wants to affirm the latter."
— Apollo
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226717951
ISBN-10: 022671795X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: February 15th, 2021
Pages: 240