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Accepted Paper:

"Hammered by the Image": Understanding Exceptional Experiences of Art  
Helena Wulff (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores transformative exceptional experiences of art: Patricia Hampl describes in her memoir, how she was "stopped" by a painting, "hammered by the image." An anthropological understanding of such experiences accentuates the role of serendipity in social life and anthropology.

Paper long abstract:

In her memoir Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime, Patricia Hampl describes how she was late to a meeting with a friend in the cafeteria of the Chicago Art Institute, running through gallery after gallery without looking at the paintings: "Then, unexpectedly, several galleries shy of my destination, I came to a halt before a large, rather muddy painting in a heavy gold-colored frame, a Matisse labeled Femme et poissons rouges, rendered in English, Woman Before an Aquarium. But that's wrong: I didn't halt, didn't stop. I was stopped. Apprehended, even." Hampl did not have an interest in the arts. Yet she was "hammered by the image." How did this happen? This paper explores transformative exceptional experiences of art. As such experiences are affective, I suggest that two qualities are necessary for them to take place: recognition in the story of a piece of art and discovery in its form such as a new colour or surface. There was a recognition for Hampl in the gaze of the woman in the painting. The story of the image made Hampl aware of her unsettled status as a recent college graduate, but it was the special blue colour of the screen that suggested a world behind it, one of splendour. This was a liberation for her, indicating her way forward as a creative writer. An anthropological understanding of exceptional experiences of art accentuates different anthropological writing genres, methodological eclecticism, and the role of serendipity in social life and anthropology.

Panel P173
Exceptional Experiences: New Horizons in Anthropological Studies of Art, Aesthetics and Everyday Life
  Session 1 Thursday 23 July, 2020, -