Aims and initial questions
The first panel “Cognitive Theory in Art and Archaeology” at our international workshop was organised by the PhD students Sonja Speck and Katharina Zartner with the kind support of Prof. Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser. The main focus of the panel lay on iconographic and archaeological sources, as well as on the cognitive concepts embedded within them. In order to represent the broad spectrum of the theme and to mirror the particular interests in concepts of humanity and nature in our Research Training Group, we devised some thought-provoking questions as initial impulses for the invited speakers, as well as for the comprehensive and conclusive panel discussion. These questions were:
- What are possible applications of visual cognition in the field of art and visual studies?
- How do shape, texture and colour of objects display their cultural meaning?
- What role do abstraction and simplification play in the production of images?
- How can cognitive sciences contribute to the understanding of the development of concepts of representation?
From the psychological point of view
The first contribution in the panel came from Prof. Bob Kentridge from the Psychology Department of Durham University who read a paper entitled “Can factors in the psychology of visual perception account for stylistic regularities in Palaeolithic art?”, which had been co-authored by his colleague Prof. Charles Heywood.
On the origins of art
The second speaker of the panel was Prof. Paul Pettitt from the Archaeology Department at Durham University who gave a lecture on “Cave art, cognitive style. Materials and methods for the scientific investigations of the origins of art”.
Principles of prehistoric art
The panel’s third speaker, Prof. Christoph Huth from the Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology department at Freiburg University, presented a paper titled “The many faces of prehistoric pictorial representations” which focused on how prehistoric pictures work and why.
Following the lectures of the invited speakers, the PhD students Sonja Speck and Katharina Zartner gave a brief lecture related to common aspects of their PhD projects to initiate the comprehensive panel discussion. Titled “Composite Beings – Mental Images in the Material World”, the lecture focused on images first formed in the mind through the human creative imagination by combining several elements known from previous sense perceptions and then transported into the material world as terianthropic representations.
|PhD students Sonja Speck and Katharina Zartner delivering their short presentations (photo by Sandra Hofert).|
In her PhD project Katharina Zartner deals with a figure – the so-called hero with six curls – that we also see as some kind of hybrid, not because it is therianthropic but because it combines human and supernatural aspects. The major differences from concurrent human representations indicate the supernatural part of the composition. In the case of the hero with six curls these are an extraordinary hairstyle, nudeness and the face depicted en face.
Discussing cognitive theory in art and archaeology
Falling in line with the questions asked, it was discussed how we can verify that a present-day observer is actually able to identify the correct animal elements in prehistoric and antique representations of hybrid beings. It was shown that through perceived similarity various associations can occur. Those associations can be ranked as more or less likely only by comparison with other contemporary representations.