Symposium: Art & Identity

Symposium: Art & Identity


Art and Identity
Challenging Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives

May 7-8, 2010

Two-day symposium organized by the Danish Society for Philosophy and Psychology in collaboration with the Departments of Philosophy and Psychology, University of Copenhagen.

This symposium focuses on art in relation to questions of identity and self-development, and includes art’s implications for philosophical and psychological traditions. Philosophy has often searched for the functions of art in rational and general systems, while psychology, with its more empirical nature and much shorter history, holds out the possibility of creating an aesthetics based upon actual, lived experience. Although many philosophers reject the reduction of art to its subjective potential for experience, philosophical aesthetics contains several assumptions about the psyche, both in relation to psychic structures as well as to psychic functions. Within scientific psychology, partly delimited as more of an empirical endeavor than philosophy, aesthetic experience has been granted much lesser import and has comprised less of psychology’s self-identity. Accordingly, the central questions of this symposium are: How is art linked to identity and self-development, seen from philosophical and psychological perspectives? What are the borders for these fields of inquiry when it comes to experiences with art? And how can philosophy and psychology inform each other in this mutual quest for understanding the functions of art in relation to questions of identity and self-development?

Mark Johnson (University of Oregon)
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford University)
Gerald Cupchik (University of Toronto)
Ciarán Benson (University College Dublin)
Judy Gammelgaard (University of Copenhagen)
Andrew Bowie (University of London)

Registration is required to attend the symposium. The registration fee is 50 DKK for students and 150 DKK for others. It covers admission to the symposium as well as refreshments (not including lunch). To register, please send an email to . Please include your name, address, and affiliation. The registration fee is to be paid to Danske Bank account number 2022435 with the registration number 1551 (please write “Symposium10” and your name in the area indicated for additional text). The fee can also be paid at the registration table (exact amount in cash, please) upon arrival at the symposium site.

Organizing committee
Bjarne Sode Funch, Jonas Gerlings, Kasper Levin, Sofie Nielsen, and Tone Roald


Friday, May 7th

12:15 Registration

13:00 Welcome – Jan Riis Flor (Chairman of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology) and Tone Roald (main organizer).

13:30-15:00 Mark Johnson (University of Oregon): Aesthetic Dimensions of Human Meaning

15:00 Coffee/Tea

15:45-17.15 Gerald Cupchik (University of Toronto): I am, therefore I think, act, and express both in life and in art

Saturday, May 8th

09:00-10.30 Ciarán Benson (University College Dublin): Acts in Art: Consequences for Identity

10:30 Coffee/Tea

10:45-12.15 Andrew Bowie (University of London): Aesthetics and Subjectivity Twenty Years On

12:15 Lunch

13:45-15.15 Judy Gammelgaard (University of Copenhagen): The Little Shock Effects of Aesthetic Experience: Transformative Potentials in Proust

15:15 Coffee/Tea

15:45-17.15 Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford University)

17.15-17.30 Concluding remarks by Kasper Levin


Ciarán Benson
Ciarán Benson is Professor Emeritus in Psychology at University College Dublin. His research interests include the cultural psychology of self and identity, philosophical psychology, and the psychology and philosophy of the visual arts. His main publications on these topics are the books The Cultural Psychology of Self: Place, Morality and Art in Human Worlds (2001), and The Absorbed Self: Pragmatism, Psychology and Aesthetic Experience (1993). In these works he investigates ways in which to understand the self through aesthetic experiences, revealing art’s transformative potential as a psychological force.

Andrew Bowie
Andrew Bowie is professor of philosophy and German at Royal Holloway, University of London. His work on German philosophy offers insight into the tradition of the humanities and especially into the field of aesthetics. The field of aesthetics has been explored historically, for example, in his work: Aesthetics and Subjectivity: from Kant to Nietzsche (2003). In his latest major work, Music, Philosophy, and Modernity (2007) he takes up the relationship between music and philosophy, showing how music can challenge philosophical questioning.

Gerald Cupchik
Gerald Cupchik is professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He explores the meaning and experiences of feelings and emotions in everyday and aesthetic episodes. Topics of special interest include nonverbal communication of emotion and the creation and reception of art and poetry. His list of publications includes “Finding meaning and expressing emotion in response to artworks” (co-author A. Gignac, Visual Arts Research, 2007), “The scent of literature” (co-author K. Phillips, Cognition and Emotion, 2005) and “The evolution of psychical distance as an aesthetic concept.”(Culture and Psychology, 2002).

Judy Gammelgaard
Judy Gammelgaard is associate professor of Psychology at the University of Copenhagen. She is a psychoanalyst whose research interests include aesthetics and literature. In Katarsis: Sjælens Renselse i Psykoanalyse og Tragedie (1993) [Catharsis: The Purification of the Soul in Psychoanalysis and Tragedy], she has provided a reinterpretation of the concept of catharsis based on a reading of Aristotle and Freud, wherein catharsis becomes a way of obtaining self-knowledge, not emotional release. Experiences with art provide a foundation for understanding empathy in her book Mellem Mennesker – Træk af Indfølningens Psykologi (2000) [Between People: Aspects of the Psychology of Empathy]. She has written on Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, Marcel Proust, and the Danish authors Henrik Pontoppidan and Peter Høegh.

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht is the Albert Guérard Professor in Literature at Stanford University, with appointments in French and Comparative Literature. He is also Professeur associé au Département de littérature comparée at the Université de Montréal. His extensive research areas include the field of aesthetics, and in one of his most recent books, Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey (2004), he shows that interpretation alone cannot do justice to “presence.” In the dimension of “presence,” he argues, cultural phenomena and cultural events become tangible and have an immediate impact on our senses and bodies.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson is the Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the Department of Philosophy, University of Oregon. The main focus in Professor Johnson’s work is on areas such as cognitive science, cognitive linguistics and embodied philosophy. Most importantly he has shown how our thinking, our concepts, and our language are tied to bodily experience. His research has been published in a variety of articles and books, including Metaphors We Live By (1980) and Philosophy in the Flesh (1999), co-authored with George Lakoff. This research has opened up for an investigation of the aesthetic dimensions of experience, which he developes in his most recent book, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding (2007).


Acts in Art: Consequences for Identity
Ciarán Benson

The predominant emphasis in contemporary, Anglo-American psychology of art is cognitive neuro-scientific. Social-psychological approaches to art could contribute more to describing and understanding what is, arguably, the most complete kind of human experience, namely aesthetic experiences of art. In this paper I want to explore whether the longstanding, but neglected, concept of an ‘act’ can serve as a bridging concept for a more complete neuro-cultural psychology of art, illuminating its consequences for social identity. This will entail a brief historical review of ideas of the ‘act’, an outline of what is called ‘positioning theory’ (Harré et al.) in social psychology, and an application of these ideas to some examples in modern art.

I am, therefore I think, act, and express both in life and in art
Gerald C. Cupchik

Philosophers and psychologists share common concerns regarding the nature of life, truth, and action and aesthetics. I propose that a person’s identity has two complementary facets, the “thinking-I” and the “being-I.” The “thinking-I” helps us strategically adapt to challenges faced in everyday life, whereas the “being-I” is deeply involved in a search for personal meaning in particular situations. These dynamics extend to the creation and reception of art, literary works, films, and so on. The “thinking-I” (or “thinking-eye”) embodies the processes of perception, cognition, and reflection in the planning and execution of an artwork. It plays a comparable role in the decoding of the works by individuals and groups. The “being-I” is closely tied both to the conscious representation of shared meanings as well as to the unconscious projection of personal meanings onto cultural artifacts. The creative act can have a transcendent value to the extent that previously unarticulated meanings and feelings gain expression. In addition, reflecting on acts of representation or projection provides an opportunity for encountering the self and transforming one’s personal identity. I will discuss the findings of a diverse set of studies dealing with the embodiment of identity in favorite industrial design objects as well in responses to artworks representing both the Western and Islamic traditions. The complementarity of the “thinking-I” and the “being-I” lends an aesthetic unity to these findings.

The Little Shock Effects of Aesthetic Experience: Transformative Potentials in Proust
Judy Gammelgaard

Reading Marcel Proust´s Remembrance of Things Past is not only an experience of sublime art. Combining fiction, memory work, and poetics, this complex masterpiece of art offers a unique possibility for a detailed study of the interlacing of life and art. In this work, Proust´s involuntary memory is at once the unitary thread of a life and the only worthwhile impetus for artistic creation. Again and again the reader is held captive by the experiences the narrator goes through when memories of things past make their entrance; first as seemingly harmless moments of happiness, but then they suddenly open up existential dimensions beyond the comprehensible. Taking as a starting point some illustrative examples of these little shocks, the focus will be on how to outline this kind of experience. For this purpose, a distinction will be made between what in German is termed respectively “Erlebnis” and “Erfahrung,” and the proposal will be to let the latter concept define the area where experiences of life events have the potential of being transformative in a person’s life. The aesthetic experience of reading Proust will be discussed in a dialogue with psychoanalytical theory of sense, time, and memory, with the aim of elucidating the transient moments of art experiences.

Existentialist Reading? Theses about the Functions of Literature, Today
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht

Aesthetic Dimensions of Human Meaning
Mark Johnson

Human mind and thought are embodied. Our capacities to experience meaning, to think, and to create are tied to our distinctive bodily engagement with our world. This means that aesthetics, which concerns the qualities, patterns, feelings, and emotions that make meaning possible for us, provides the key to understanding how humans can experience anything as meaningful in their lives. The arts are consummations of this embodied meaning-making process. John Dewey correctly saw that the aesthetic dimensions of experience are the key to a general account of human meaning, self-identity, and values. I explore some of these aesthetic dimensions of human meaning-making in order to show how art lies at the heart of what and who we are.

Event price: 
50 DKK for students and 150 DKK for others
Event type: 
Friday, May 7, 2010 to Saturday, May 8, 2010

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