Out of the vacuum : viewer agency and receptions of Goya's Saturn
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This thesis takes the form of a meta-criticism of the hermeneutics of the art-historical enterprise. I begin with an immanent critique of the discipline, paying careful attention to where art historians shift the interpretive focus in the spectrum of maker--object--viewer. After advocating for an increase in our consideration for the viewer in the present context, I then present a synoptic reception model for the interpretation of images in both their original forms and reproduced states. These two modes of viewing hinge upon spatial constructions: that of real spaces (e.g., museums, galleries, etc.) and virtual spaces (e.g., the Internet and other ephemeral media). Instead of relegating reproduced images to the art-historical basement, I argue for the productive interpretation of reproductions through a staged theoretical intervention between Jacques Derrida, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Walter Benjamin. In order to demonstrate the use of my reception model, I conclude with a case study of a particular image--Francisco de Goya's Untitled (Saturn Devouring One of his Children) of 1820-1823. From the painting's beginnings in a farmhouse in Spain through the vicissitudes of nearly 200 years of grafting--from mural to canvas, Madrid to Paris and back again, and as a reproduced image in its "afterlife"--I analyze the aura of the image as imputed by its viewers. I argue that each subsequent reproduction of the image does not necessarily cause a loss of aura, but that conversely and paradoxically, aura actually increases. I analyze the act of viewing itself not as a passive act of visual consumption, but as an interactive process of cumulative production. In this fashion, the reproduced image can play a significant role in the formation of identities and possesses the phenomenological potential to lead to increased self-awareness.