What would Wölfflin do?

slides_scattered Wölfflin, the master of extemporaneous speaking, places himself in the dark and together with his students at their side. His eyes like theirs are directed at the picture. He thus unites all concerned and becomes the ideal beholder, his words distilling the experiences common to everyone. Wölfflin considers the work in silence, draws near to it, following Schopenhauer’s advice, as one draws near to a prince, waiting for the art to speak to him. His sentences come slowly, almost hesitatingly. When many of his students imitate these pauses in his speech, they imitate not just an external mannerism, because they feel that these solemn effects convey something positive. Wölfflin’s speech never gives the impression of being prepared, something completed that is projected onto the art work. Rather it seems to be produced on the spot by the picture itself. The art work thus retains its preeminent status throughout. His words do not overwhelm the art but embellish it like pearls.[1]

When Robert S. Nelson wrote “The Slide Lecture, or The Work of Art History in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in 2000 he noted, “dialogue and deictics today are yielding to hypertext, HotSpot, and Powerpoint”.[2] He however could only speculate, “Where will the art historian stand in cyberspace, and what codes, disciplinary, performative, or otherwise, will control the content and guarantee the reliability of art presentations?” Fifteen years later applications like Wölff speak to the “proliferation of internet resources” that Nelson saw, providing “greater equality of opportunity for teachers and students throughout the world”.[3]

Named after the famed Swiss art historian credited for popularizing the use of side-by-side slide comparisons to facilitate the formal analysis of two images, Wölff “modernizes his timeless method of analyzing style and form”. The website continues on to claim, “As Wölfflin popularized the use of projectors, Wölff introduces mobile technology to the study of art.”[4] I have used other digital databases (FADIS and artstor) in the past and I am curious to see if Wölff will live up to its claim to help you “Discover, organize, and present works of art in high resolution with the stroke of a finger.”[5] I am going to check it out and will report back. If as Nelson suggests, “For art history the ability to produce objective representations of works of art, especially in great abundance in the slide lecture, permitted new types of arguments.”[6] What will an app like Wölff do?

[1] Franz Landsberger, Heinrich Wölfflin (Berlin: Elena Gottschalk, 1924): 93-94. [2] Robert S. Nelson, “The Slide Lecture, or the Work of Art ‘History’ in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Critical Inquiry 23 no. 3 (Spring 2000): 434. [3] Nelson, 434. [4] https://www.wolffapp.com (accessed 21 March 2015). [5] https://www.wolffapp.com (accessed 21 March 2015). [6] Nelson 432.

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