Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Janneke Wesseling - The Perfect Spectator: The Experience of the Artwork and the Topicality of Reception Aesthetics

The key questions posed in this dissertation are centred on the interaction between spectator and artwork. What happens between a spectator and an artwork? How do we experience ‘meaning’ in an artwork? How may the process of interpretation be understood and articulated?

Janneke Wesseling

Key concepts of reception theory are extensively discussed, such as ‘the aesthetic object’ and ‘blank space’. To the extent that this is deemed necessary they are given a new denotation and a new theoretical context. Much attention is paid to the theory of German the art historian Wolfgang Kemp. Different notions of spectatorhood are put forward and critically analyzed.

The research is based on an art critical practice of many years and on the personal experience of artworks. The research is focused on unravelling and problematising the theoretical terminology of the interaction between artwork and spectator, with the aim of building a new theoretical foundation for this terminology. Hermeneutics and phenomenology, especially the thinking of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, play an important role in the construction of the argument. Different concepts of spectatorhood are extensively discussed.

The dissertation proposes a new set of theoretical concepts to understand the interaction between artwork and spectator. The argument is sustained by concrete examples from contemporary art and art history.

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