Art History and Sound

Workshop series: The Listening Art Historian

Speaking Silence (workshop 3)

Thursday, 30 May 2013

10.00 - 12.00, Research Forum South Room

man at desk listening, pink disc highlights his ear to show this
Photo source: Illustration based on: Anon. Aby Warburg, 1912

Speaker(s): Nina Ergin (Koç University, Turkey), John Harvey (Aberystwyth University, UK), Asma Neem (Catholic University in Washington DC, USA), Jennifer Walden (University of Portsmouth, UK)

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission. No booking required.

Organised by: Irene Noy and Michaela Zoschg with Professor Katie Scott (The Courtauld).

Art historians constantly encounter traces of sound. These can take the form of notes in an illuminated manuscript, a textual echo of past noise and lost voices, or depictions of instruments, singers and dancers, captured on panel, canvas, paper, film or in wood, marble and bronze or spaces that have been specifically designed and built to embrace and amplify sound: pulpits, choir stalls, opera houses, the floor of the stock exchange. The aural is continuously intertwined with visual arts as content or context. In the 20th and 21st centuries especially artists have variously incorporated sounds, live and recorded, in their performances, happenings and multi-media installations putting into question the silence and fixity of visual art.

As a result of the collapse in the Enlightenment of the Renaissance notion of the unity of the arts and the substitution of a modern division of temporal from spatial art forms, art historians have generally limited their research and interpretation exclusively to the visual aspects of art and have disregarded the existence, never mind the significance, of the aural. Despite the recent broadening of art history’s disciplinary boundaries to include ‘non-traditional’ media as well as related fields, art historians are primarily trained to analyse and explain the non-ephemeral dimensions of art. When the visual approaches the transient qualities of the aural it raises problems of methodology and terminology.

This workshop series aims to explore both historical and contemporary instances of sound in art history, as well as some of the theoretical and methodological questions arising from this preoccupation. It is designed to provide an open platform for all art historians concerned with collecting, analysing, interpreting and describing sound(s) to meet and discuss ways of hearing visual art. It is being hosted at The Courtauld Institute of Art on three different occasions throughout the academic year 2012/13. Each workshop consists of four papers that are intended to function as catalysts for a subsequent round table discussion, and each workshop endeavours to address the dynamics existing between aurality and art historical material, tools and methods from a different angle.


  • John Harvey (Aberystwyth University, UK): Quiet Bell: Seeing Silence in Millet’s The Angelus

  • Asma Neem (Catholic University in Washington DC, USA): Dewing’s A Reading and Gendered Listening in the Gilded Age

  • Nina Ergin (Koç University, Turkey): '...praiseworthy in that great multitude was the silence': Sound/Silence in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

  • Jennifer Walden (University of Portsmouth, UK): A ‘Philosophy’ of Listening and Art History

download abstratcs Download abstracts

download report (workskhop 1) Download report (workshop 1)

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