Horst Bredekamp

Theory of the Image Act

Frankfurt Adorno Lectures 2007, With numerous illustrations
(German title: Theorie des Bildakts)
ca. 450 pages
Horst Bredekamp
Foto: Horst Bredekamp
© Jürgen Bauer

Horst Bredekamp is Professor for History of Art at Humboldt University Berlin and Permanent Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin. 

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Not since the Byzantine iconoclastic controversy and the iconoclasm of the Reformation have images been debated with the intensity of recent decades. In the fields of archaeology and art history, but in many other areas as well, experts have become almost fixated on questions surrounding the image.

Horst Bredekamp, one of the foremost art historians of the present day, explores the reasons why the concept and authority of images, as well as their power and impotence, have become themes so doggedly pursued in our times.

Viewed superficially, the explosion in debate over the image can be attributed to the unprecedented dominance of the visual in almost every area of life. Less obvious, however, is the paradox presented by a more deep-lying problem: pictures, as human-created artefacts, do not possess a life of their own, yet they recurrently develop a presence that lends them the ability to be more than lifeless matter, hence the expectation that deliberating upon images can bring forth more than mere contemplation.

The power of images to move us to action lies in this duality of lifeless rigidity and vivacity. With this paradoxical ability in view, Bredekamp draws up a theory of the image act as a counterpart to that of the speech act, and pursues the phenomenon of the vital impact of images in three areas: artificial life, the exchange of image and body, and the autonomous activity of form.

The book is the extended version of Horst Bredekamp’s widely noted Adorno lectures, delivered in Frankfurt in 2007