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On the Limits of Empathy

Author(s): Juliet Koss

Reviewed work(s):
Source: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 88, No. 1 (Mar., 2006), pp. 139-157
Published by: College Art Association
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On the Limits of Empathy

Juliet Koss

After a century of benign neglect and denigration, empathy the possibility of bridging radically different subject posi
has been rearing its comforting head in Anglophone cultural tions, both within and across historical periods and geo
discourse. Seemingly a kinder, gentler model of the aesthetic graphic zones.4 Within the discipline of art history, Einf?hlung
with stringent abstraction, dizzying
dis more specifically has garnered scholarly and critical notice in
traction, or harsh has been linked in the the last decade.5 Attention to its emergence in late-nineteenth
last decade to an range of the art century and its demise in the decades reflects
unlikely subjects, including Germany ensuing
of Edward Hopper and Adolf Menzel, the architecture of an effort to broaden and complicate
the grand narrative of

Frank Gehry, the Surrealist project, and the entire discipline modernism, question its central tenets, and

of film.1 The concept has also recently been investigated, and changes
in the nature and
of modern spectatorship.
even explicidy promoted, by the performance artist Karen
Finley and
the conceptual artist Barbara Kruger (Fig. I).2
Aesthetic Empathy
Frequendy conflated with sympathy or compassion, empathy
The initial theoretical statement concerning Einf?hlung was
usually signifies a process of emotional and psychological
in 1873 by the philosopher Robert Vischer in his
projection. More specifically, it can refer to the concept of treatise ?ber das optische Formgef?hl: Ein Beitrag zur Aesthetik
Einf?hlung?literally, the activity of "feeling into"?that was de
(On the Optical Sense of Form: A Contribution to Aesthet
in in the
veloped late-nineteenth-century Germany overlap
ics). Vischer used the term to describe the viewer's active
ping fields of philosophical aesthetics, perceptual psychology,
with a work of art. In an
and art and architectural to describe an em perceptual engagement viewing
optics, history
he wrote,
bodied to an or environment. object,
response image, object, spatial

Simultaneously haptic and optic, Einf?hlung offered a fo

rum for abstract discussions of the active I entrust my individual life to the lifeless form, just as I. . .
perceptual experi
ence of the individual Like do with another living person. Only ostensibly do I remain
spectator. abstraction, distraction,
in its wake, it described a un the same the remains an other. I seem
and estrangement potentially although object
comfortable destabilization of identity along the viewer's per merely to adapt and attach myself to it as one hand clasps
borders?a sensation at once another, and yet I am and mag
ceptual physical, psychological, mysteriously transplanted
and emotional. in a range of none transformed into this other.6
Promulgated disciplines, ically
of which was either discrete or fully formed, it underwent
fates in each one. A loss of interest among This of and transforma
divergent gradual reciprocal experience exchange
art historians (such as Heinrich W?lfflin) and psychologists tion?a solitary,
as it were,

(such as Theodor Lipps) preceded more forceful rejections both viewer and object, destabilizing the identity of the
of the concept by Wilhelm Worringer in 1908 and, in the former while animating
the latter. Physical, emotional, and

1930s, Bertolt Brecht, but the concept lingered for decades psychological, the process of Einf?hlung placed the spectator
within the discourse of modern architecture. at the center of aesthetic discourse.
Beyond offering
a sequence of shifts or discursive trends, the Devoid of connotations, the German term Ein
etymological spatial
critical history of Einf?hlung reveals a fracturing of the disci f?hlung first appeared in print in 1800 in the work of Gott
at the turn of the last a of narrative, fried Herder, whom theorists cited as
plines century; rejection late-nineteenth-century
with the of visual abstraction; and a precursor; the more be traced to the
emergence widespread concept generally may
transformations, with the birth of cinema, in both the
objects writings of Aristode.7 The theme of sympathy broadly speaking
of and the status of themselves. evoked the of Arthur and
spectatorship spectators writings Schopenhauer Jean
Like the recent "return to the of em Rousseau; one influence was Friedrich
beauty," resurgence Jacques proximate
would seem to a backlash the Nietzsche, an of Vischer's father, the
pathy signal against opposi acquaintance philoso
tional aesthetics of recent decades?a distancing from the pher of aesthetics Friedrich Theodor Vischer. Favoring the
intellectualism of
discourse and the words Mitleid and Miterlebnis over Einf?hlung, Nietzsche nei
allegiances of identity politics.3 The concept's contemporary ther considered empathy or sympathy in spatial terms nor

appeal may also lie in its interdisciplinary orientation. As a discussed response as it literally occurred on the
the aesthetic
discussion of spectatorship, it has been applied to art, archi spectator's skin. Yet his description of this response as a
tecture, literature, film, and theater; it has infused political as merger of the self into the work of art that provoked a loss of
well as aesthetic discourse in the United States, with one speech and the dissolution of individual identity strongly
president claiming to feel his nation's pain and the next resembles the aesthetic activity that was also described as
advocating "compassionate conservatism." Empathy appears Einf?hlung. In 1876, for example, he wrote that the spectator
to a constructive theoretical that values for the Gesamtkunstwerk is led "to a new
promise approach Wagnerian totally
emotional, as much as rational,
and allows for understanding and empathy [Verstehen und Miterleben], just as

1 Barbara U le monde, 1995 < Barbara

Kruger, empathie peut changer Strasbourg, France, (artwork Kruger; photograph provided by
Mary Boone Gallery, New York)

though his senses had all at once grown more

spiritual and
f?hlung, Nachf?hlung, and Zuf?hlung, which may be translated
his more sensual."8 This aesthetic also in as attentive and immediate feel
spirit response feeling, responsive feeling,
volved an element of or
Selbstent?usserung, self-estrangement, ing, respectively.11
as we shall see. We are aware of the of to elicit a visceral
power images
Subsequently developed by such authors as Konrad Fie response; an
example would be the discomfort
dler, Lipps, August Schmarsow, and W?lfflin, the discourse of among the squeamish by depictions of physically painful
Einf?hlung treated vision and the experience of space in events.12 Vischer articulated this response to form in abstract
and terms.9 Its nature re terms, that even marks could induce
bodily psychic interdisciplinary arguing simple physical
flected a relative the humanistic and scien reactions. Vision itself, in fact, was not central; the
openness among always
tific disciplines; viewers might "empathize into" anything process relied
on a network of responses that in
from or nonreferential to works of cluded emotion, and (in
everyday objects markings spatialunderstanding, imagination,
fine art, to the interests of theorists and some cases) "artistic or the creative aesthetic
according particular reshaping,"
researchers. Placing the perceiving eye within the viewer's response. "We can often observe in ourselves," he noted, "the

body, Einf?hlung described a range of relations between this curious fact that a visual stimulus is
not so much

and the work of a to with our eyes as with a different sense in another our
body art, including tendency anthropo part of
and a notion of projection we now associate This sensation occurred with
morphize might body."13 particular intensity
with Freud. The viewer, Vischer wrote, "uncon the surfaces, he an
Sigmund along body's argued, usefully providing
sciously projects its own bodily form?and with this also the explanation for the mystical shivers and goose bumps
soul?into the form of the object. From this I derived the aesthetic transport. Along with the destabilization of identity
notion that I call and and such sensations on the
'Einf?hlung'"10 Pity, sympathy, compas psychic projection, bodily specta
sion all within the discourse, and were not tor's skin a self-awareness. in
appeared they produced powerful Einf?hlung,
always (or consistendy) differentiated. W?lfflin's claim, for other words, articulated a loss of self
simultaneously that
that [Mitleiden] ... is psychologically reinforced a sense of selfhood.
example, "compassion powerful,
the same process as aesthetic sympathy [?sthetischeMitf?hlen]" Vischer
primarily used as
examples natural or
not only had no scientific basis but also contradicted Vi (such as circles, clouds, colors, and lines), a rhetorical model
scher's careful distinctions between Einf?hlung and An derived from physiology, optics, and philosophy rather than

2 Heinrich W?lfflin, drawing of

Romanesque and Gothic arches. The
Research Institute, Los
Getty Angeles,
Research Library, 860448

from art history, the discipline he would enter within the The concept of Einf?hlung suffused the early work of
decade. A mixture of and Ein W?lfflin, whose dissertation, zu einer der
hazy projections impressions, Prolegomena Psychologie

f?hlung could also be provoked by such three-dimensional Architektur (Prolegomena to a Psychology of Architecture),
objects as flowers and sculptures. Only in the final pages of was completed in 1886 in the Department of Philosophy at
his treatise did he attend to the perception of works of the University of Munich. "Asymmetry," W?lfflin wrote, "is

art?which, he maintained, had the to the often as as if a limb were

capacity prompt experienced physical pain, missing
In this context, or This of vision as
purest optical feeling. late-nineteenth-century injured."16 psychological understanding
nature of these quesobjects
was never embedded in the body could be most productively applied,
tioned; his include Albrecht D?rer's Eour he believed, to the of works of architecture.17
examples Apostles. interpretation
But in fine art, and the notion of architectural form, and architecture itself,
combining psychology, optics, Representations
of universal the discourse of that an for embodied vision. Wolfflin's own
spectatorship, Einf?hlung provided opportunity
Vischer and others developed unwittingly helped set the drawings of Romanesque and Gothic arches on a scrap of

terms for the and of visual abstraction. The tucked into his of the Prolegomena allow us to test
theory practice paper copy
form" of the twentieth was embedded within his claim that "the round arch is generally as
"pure century recognized
an idea of embodied more cheerful to look at than the arch. The former
perception. pointed

According to Vischer, spectators feel physical discomfort goes about its task quietly,
content with its roundness; the

while looking at a single vertical line on a blank page. "A latter embodies a will and effort in every line" (Fig. 2).18
horizontal line is
because the eyes are
For W?lfflin at this time, both architecture and its two
he declared, whereas a "vertical line, con dimensional were of
horizontally," by representation equally capable eliciting
trast, can be when in isolation for ... it Schmarsow, however, between the
disturbing perceived Einf?hlung. distinguished
contradicts the binocular structure of the
perceiving eyes and two. In a lecture in 1893 marking his inheritance of the art
forces them to function in a more
complicated way."14
Rather history chair at Leipzig (a position for which he was chosen in
positing verticality
as the visual expression of the up favor of Vischer and W?lfflin), Schmarsow famously defined
right human body and horizontality as implying a landscape, architecture as
than structural, material, or

Vischer discussed the form of a line in relation to the formal?and of all the arts in its to
pure unique ability provoke

perceptual faculties of the individual spectator. He under

Einf?hlung. "Psychologically," he decreed,
stood human vision to be simultaneously optical and bodily
and described it, crucially, as binocular. Unlike monocular the intuited form of three-dimensional arises
vision, which an without reference to scale? the of our sense of sight, whether or
perceives image through experiences
seen not assisted . . .
the actual size of images through telescopes and micro
by other physiological
factors. [It] consists

scopes is not vision situ of the residues of sensory to which the muscu
immediately apparent?binocular experience
ates the in relation to the As lar sensations of our the of our skin, and
spectator's body image. objects body, sensitivity
that mediate visual moreover, binoculars them the structure of our all contribute.19
experience, body
selves create an image by means of bodily perception; held in
the viewer's hands, a doubled that be Here the between the viewer's
they present image again, psychological parallel
comes unified only within the viewer's
body.15 Turning dis body and that of the work of art (in this case, a building) was
tant views into haptic experiences, they allow the individual mediated through
vision. But while vision was crucial initially,
spectator to
into" an
image. perception ultimately proved to be a bodily phenomenon:

3 Adolf Hildebrand, bronze plaque

for the grave of Konrad Fiedler, 1895

(artwork in the public domain)

"Every spatial creation is first and foremost the enclosing of a from a distance,
inspiring within the viewer an intense aes

[human] subject; and thus architecture as a human art differs thetic sensation that he explained in somatic terms: "We
fundamentally from all endeavors in the applied arts."20 seem, so to
to grow larger
or smaller to fit the im
was primarily concerned with the fine (and not the
age."27 He
Schmarsow was not the first to define architecture as spa
tial, but his arguments were particularly significant, given his applied) arts, writing, for example, that in painting, "of prime
status and the context in which he spoke.21 Like Vischer and importance is not the
of color in itself, as in a carpet,

W?lfflin, he was an art historian who architecture at but its capacity to denote distance."28 Moreover, he advo
the center of his work?standard practice
in late-nineteenth cated a particular kind of art, presenting relief sculpture as
century Germany, but rare in the United States today.22 By the ideal art form, since it spurred the spectator's

publicly registering the concept of Einf?hlung as amenable to imagination

strongly into action. His status as a relief

considerations of spatial perception, Schmarsow encouraged sculptor ensured that his artistic achievements exemplified
its continuation within the discourse of modern architecture his
long after it had faded from art historians' attention, a loss of One persistent
account of modernism in the visual arts

interest that paralleled that of psychologists after 1900. The asserts an

increasing reliance on
opticality, ranging
uneven fate of Einf?hlung may thus be seen to reflect the logically from the work of Edouard Manet to the post-paint
divergence of the two disciplines of art and architecture erly abstraction of the 1960s. Modernism, as Clement Green
Even as the of architecture it, was a matter "of
history.23 spatial understanding berg explained purely optical experience

persisted, it was often drained of the emotional content that against optical experience as revised or modified by tactile
Einf?hlung had provided; indeed, the concept itself was not associations."30 Facing
a work of art, in his account, the

named.24 modernist viewer an aesthetic from the

always experiences response
In 1893, however, when the sculptor Adolf Hildebrand vantage point of a disembodied eye: a singular perceiving
published Das Problem der Form in der bildenden Kunst (The entity that remained unencumbered by any attachment to

Problem of Form in the Fine Arts), the concept's basic prin the human body within which itwas located. The conceptual
ciples were still considered powerful. "There is a psychology opposition of bodily and optical perception paralleled an
of art," Hildebrand declared in reference to Einf?hlung, "a other distinction between traditional representational paint
clear feeling for the effect of such stimulated movement on ing and those works Greenberg described as modernist: "The
as a whole. Such effects determine whether or Old Masters created an illusion of space in depth that one
not we breathe
freely, for our
general sensations are related could imagine oneself walking into," he argued, "but the
to the spatial imagination... ,"25 Like Vischer, he treated the analogous illusion created by the Modernist painter can only
of aesthetic as and be seen into; can be traveled ... with the
experience perception temporal, spatial, through only eye."31
embodied. Even spectators who attended to
singular, station The spatial concerns of traditional representational painting
ary works of visual art were,
implicitiy, mobile creatures, provided the spectator with an opportunity for an embodied
remaining physically present within their environment. Per perceptual experience. By contrast, modernist painting

ception was therefore neither static nor entirely dependent posited

essentially flat, optical,
and monocular.
on visual cues. "Since we do not view nature
as visual The invention of such a notion of opticality is often as
beings tied to a single vantage point but, rather, with all our cribed to Fiedler, who famously stated in 1887, "The sole aim
senses at once, in
perpetual change and motion, we live and of artistic activity is to be found in the expression of the pure
weave a
spatial consciousness into the nature that surrounds visibility [Sichtbarkeit] of an object."32 Fiedler's position is
us," he asserted; the awareness of space remained "even when consequendy often taken as antithetical to the concept of
we close our
eyes."26 Einf?hlung. Hildebrand, however, developed the ideas for his
Hildebrand's treatise offered a series of conceptual dichot own book during many years' dialogue with Fiedler. Begin
omies: the near and the distant view (Nahsicht and Fernsicht), ning in 1881, Fiedler reviewed several drafts over the course
scanning and seeing (Schauen and Sehen), and inherent and of a dozen years, a collaboration that suggests
effective form (Daseinsform and Wirkungsform). Favoring the liance between Einf?hlung and opticality. Correspondence be
second term in each case, he argued that the ideal work of art tween the two, demonstrating the extent of Fiedler's influence
united these pairs; framing the effective form of the depicted on Hildebrand's ideas, lasted from 1870 until Fiedler's death
object or image, it allowed the viewer to apprehend it as if in 1895, when Hildebrand designed the bronze plaque for his

. ^ ;- \ ,- ;* ;. -?


4 Rozanova, Green Stripe (Color

Painting), 1917. Rostov Kremlin State if?r.
Museum Preserve (artwork in the
public domain)

friend's grave 3).33 Vischer's now stood?in the Soviet Union, the
(Fig. seemingly contradictory perception, following
"the sense of form" thus captures an essential October Revolution?as a monument of modernist non
phrase optical
claim of occurs with the entire Vischer and his cohorts would not have rec
Einf?hlung, optical experience objectivity.
For Vischer, Hildebrand, and Fiedler, was not Rozanova's line as a work of art, but in
body. opticality ognized painted
"revised or modified tactile associations," as in and the universal to abstract form
by Greenberg's positing debating response
such associations were there from the theorized a to visual abstraction
phrase; beginning. they perceptual response
In 1917, almost half a century after Vischer described the decades before its actual birth.35
viewer's response to a vertical line, the Russian
simple Suprem
atist artist Rozanova made a small that consists
Olga painting Psychological Empathy
of a green vertical stripe on a white background (Fig. 4). "We While historians and theorists of art and architecture com

propose to liberate painting from its subservience to the posed treatises on Einf?hlung that garnered authority from
ready-made forms of reality," the artist declared, "and to
psychological research?which itself depended on physiolog
make it first and foremost a creative, not a art. ical after the late likewise at
reproductive, analysis 1870s?psychologists
The aesthetic value of an abstract lies in the com tended to the and with zeal around the turn
picture topic, particular
of its content."34 Rather than of the twentieth Prominent them was
pleteness painterly depicting century.36 among
three-dimensional architectural space or a narrative scene, a
Lipps, who declared in his essay "Einf?hlung und ?stheti
work of art
now demonstrate, with revolutionary clar scher Genuss" (Empathy and Aesthetic Pleasure) of 1906
ity, the radical act of pure painting. A green vertical line, that, in "I them with . . .
viewing objects, necessarily permeate
which theorists of Einf?hlung in Ger and power. reason, bear
late-nineteenth-century striving, activity, Grasped by they
many have used to measure a viewer's embodied within them, insofar as are this of
might they 'my' objects, piece

myself."37 Without this active contribution on the part of a horizontal and vertical lines. "The types appear to be not
he could not be con attitudes of the wrote,
spectator, explained, objects properly merely momentary subject," Bullough
sidered to exist.38 While a work of art allowed the viewer to "but fundamental and modes of
permanent apprehending
experience Einf?hlung in its purest form, this state of affairs and appreciating colour."
held true for any object; psychological investigations of Ein While only small groups were tested, and viewer categories

f?hlung were therefore concerned with everyday objects, remained abstract?differences in class and gender, for ex

treating the viewer as the primary object of analysis and ample,

were often
disregarded?psychological research on

relying on inductive reasoning and experimentation. Einf?hlung established the possibility of perceptual differ
Even such aesthetic theories, however, were to be ence. work on numbers," ar
coming "Experimental large Bullough
considered the support of psychological
useless without evi "would . . . have shown that no one of the
gued, single
dence. As Lipps himself argued in 1907, "Aesthetics is either explanations championed by different adherents of the the
psychological aesthetics or a collection of declarations of ory [of Einf?hlung] could claim the monopoly of truth."46
some individual who possesses a sufficiendy loud voice to Regardless of how firmly they were based in the theoretical
proclaim his private predilections or his dependence on concerns of
perceptual psychology,
the aesthetic theories of

fashion."39 The loud of individual theorists? individual authors were seen to founder on the bedrock of
the reference well have been to Schmarsow, Vischer, scientific research. The dissolution of Einf?hlung as an
might objec
W?lfflin, or Hildebrand?would, ideally, be replaced with tive paradigm led Bullough to conclude in 1921: "The great
careful scientific that were based on the varieties of views and the acrimonious wrangles which took
analyses experiences
of a larger number of people. Rather than theorizing a place at the end of the last century between the upholders of
universal to and Gothic arches, as rival doctrines arose from the of
response Romanesque precisely generalization
W?lfflin had, Einf?hlung might be used to interpret the data purely personal introspective evidence."47 Such evidence,
accumulated from numerous
at least from the based on the claims of an individual theorist, could not be
same one at different moments.40 into universal truth.
numerous responses to forms and colors, psycho
In the late nineteenth century, theorists of Einf?hlung had
logical research on Einf?hlung acknowledged the possibility described the aesthetic responses of a viewer whom they
of perceptual difference. Vischer had noted the reactions of extrapolated from their own
personal experience. They
one of own?and the role of treated the as an educated and cultured individual
only pair eyes?his perceptual spectator
research in his writing was minimal. Authority rested in the whose elite status
on a
presumed superiority
to an

of the
author, who his as univer uncultured Vischer's comment that Einf?hlung "leaves
body presented experience public.
sal. Hildebrand's declarations were bol the self in a certain solitude" meant, that the
only theoretically ostensibly,
stered by laboratory research; he particularly admired the process of psychic projection left the viewer feeling emotion
work of Hermann von Helmholtz, whose three-volume Trea ally and psychologically depleted and, as itwere, theoretically
tise on Physiological Optics was published between 1856 and solitary.48
At the same time, it revealed a basic
1866.41 "What he says about the laws of the fine arts is about the kind of viewer capable of feeling Einf?hlung and
completely in accordance with my thoughts," Hildebrand the environment within which it could be

wrote to Fiedler, "and the correctness of my work?I a universal aesthetic to round or

proves articulating response

always thought that itwould find a good reader in Helmholtz pointed arches, W?lfflin likewise had allowed for a very par
in particular."42 Hildebrand made a bust of Helmholtz in ticular viewer: a cultivated and sensitive individual whose soul

1891, the commission as "a nice to get be an exalted of art. While

describing opportunity might transported by experience
closer to this man."43 And in 1897, three after the never described, the viewer was
years explicitly empathetic implic
scientist's death, Hildebrand designed the Helmholtz family itiy a man of property whose identity was destabilized within
site. the confines of a realm, circum
grave relatively private carefully

Addressing individual perception at a universal level, Ein scribed by the laws of decorum and propriety.
f?hlung offered a forum for abstract discussions of the view The capacity for aesthetic judgment presumed a level of
er's but its of as indi material comfort and an undated
experience, conception spectatorship poise exemplified by pho
vidualistic also prompted its downfall. In the early twentieth tograph of W?lfflin (Fig. 5). The well-groomed scholar leans
century, psychologists and aesthetic theorists began losing forward in his chair, gazing intensely at a work of art. His shirt
interest in the concept, owing partly
laboratory research collar is crisply starched; his jacket formal but not uncom
that discovered perceptual
differences among those tested. fortably so; and his face is bathed in a radiant light that
According source, to one psychologist the British Edward appears to emanate from the work of art itself?or perhaps

Bullough, experiments in 1905 revealed, for example, "the from a window at the
the work of art in a

same subject found oblique straight lines sometimes pleasant three-quarter view: a small
of a
set within an

and sometimes on one and the same ornate wooden frame. (Is it a religious of a woman?
unpleasant, occasionally painting
The changeable
nature of individuals was exacerbated a nude figure? Were we inW?lfflin's privileged position, we,
the unreliability of those in groups; universal and consis too, would know.) W?lfflin's own attention to the work is
tent characterizations could not
confidently be assigned even
hap tic in the most literal sense; he holds it in his right hand,
to the forms. After one hundred viewers, a table, in a that reads,
simplest testing propped against physical gesture
himself found "four clearly distinguishable types of symbolically, as one of familiarity and potential ownership.
apperception."45 Such discoveries called into question the The objects
on the table, meanwhile?a vase of flowers, a

of W?lfflin's statements a stack of further facets of his ab

accuracy universalizing regarding sculpture, books?signify

sorbed and erudition. Likewise other the of cinema among

engagement: beauty, tactility, ing, among things, popularity
(and, on closer somewhat awk lower- and middle-class As Erwin would
brighdy lighted inspection, spectators.52 Panofsky
held), the art historian's hand appears at the center of later reminisce, movies in Berlin around 1905 were
wardly projected
the photograph's lower edge, holding the work of art for
both him and us to see. Anchoring this representation of the in a few small and dingy cinemas mostiy frequented by the
of Einf?hlung, it also our own to "lower classes" and a of in quest of
trajectory encourages gaze sprinkling youngsters
. .. Small
travel from W?lfflin's attentive eyes down to the painting and adventure. wonder that the "better classes" when

to the three-dimensional the flowers, and the they slowly began to venture into these early picture the
up again figure,
books?and to the radiant world aters, did so . . .with that characteristic sensation of self
. . .
affectionately described W?lfflin as
For his part, Worringer conscious condescension with which we may plunge
"this bourgeois aristocrat of Switzerland (or should I say: this into the folkloristic of Coney Island. .. .53
aristocratic that "in W?lfflin's case, the
bourgeois)," adding
'le style c'est l'homme'is of the most convinc The and social status of cinema audiences
expression really rapid growth rising
himself articulated the after 1910 made film increasingly prominent both in German
ing accuracy."49 Lipps clearly privi

status of the empathetic viewer?or, more
accurately, society and aesthetic debate. While they were not explicidy
that of the theorist o? Einf?hlung?when he wrote in 1906: mentioned in of the viewer's relation to the work of
art, new audiences hovered in the background, challenging
one the narrow of aesthetic discourse.
But that should know what aesthetic parameters
that one should have had in this aes Psychologists' differentiation of viewer types ostensibly re
means, experience
thetic contemplation, in brief: that one should know that sulted from The
laboratory experimentation. phenomenon
aesthetic is to be absolutely also reflected a profound shift in the conception of specta
experience clearly distin
one that was linked to a revised of the
guished from all the experience of things that occur in the torship, understanding
real world. . . .All of this must first be demanded of status of the that, in turn, reflected
any spectator sociological
one who of and wants to the discus changes among European audiences. Theorists of aesthetic
speaks empathy join
sion of the question of Einfuhling had sought to base their claims on psychological
foundations, but the emerging discipline of psychology had
insufficient to describe a universal aesthetic
Like the theorists themselves, the viewer that the concept proved response.
Difficulties arose in translating individual claims into univer
posited was implicitly a bourgeois man of property: a viewer
as well as in the terri
who might sit comfortably at home, holding the object of his sally applicable statements, negotiating
aesthetic between his hands. His subjectivity tory between objects of fine art and mass cultural
engagement experiences.
could be destabilized within the confines of a relatively pri research into aesthetics
Early-twentieth-century psychological
vate realm; his cultural and intellectual background demonstrated not only that a viewer could feel Einf?hlung in
the absence of a work of art but also that an aesthetic
indeed, his gender) remained so consistent as to be taken for response

and his elite status in part on his might occur with no accompanying experience of Einf?hlung
granted; depended superi
to an uncultured
ority public.
With the
expansion of middle-class leisure, the explosion Empathy and Abstraction
of mass media, and the unprecedented growth in the audi If the demise of Einf?hlung was already under way among
ence for culture in the last decades of the nineteenth century, psychologists and aesthetic theorists at the beginning of the
this cultivated individual?and the Einf?hlung he theoreti twentieth century, its death knell was rung in 1908, when
cally experienced?was increasingly difficult to maintain as a
Worringer used it as a conceptual foil in Abstraktion und
universal model. (as in Paris) in 1895,
Introduced in Berlin Einf?hlung (Abstraction and Empathy). Embraced as the bi
film gathered viewers into audiences that engaged in a kind ble of twentieth-century aesthetic theory
even before its pro
of spectatorship that the writings of Lipps, Vischer, and fessional publication, this book catapulted its author to fame
W?lfflin had not addressed.51 A photograph taken at a cin and was
reprinted almost annually in
subsequent decades.54
ema in Berlin in 1913 shows an audience absorbed in this Conflating the
of the artist, spectator, and histo
new form of 6). Men, women, and chil rian?as well as the attributes of the work of
spectatorship (Fig. art?Worringer
dren are in one which been that all to a dialec
together room, they have allowed argued aesthetic activity could be traced
to enter after a small entrance fee. Rather tical formulation the two in his book's
paying relatively comprising concepts
than the work that view, in other words?or tide. For Worringer, Alois artistic will, not
owning they following Riegl,

emulating this established model of aesthetic perception, as ability?the Kunstwollen, and not the
museum visitors
do?they have gained
access to it tempo artistic creativity.55 Borrowing a rhetorical model from The
rarily by
means of a commercial transaction, and the terms of Birth of Tragedy, in which Nietzsche had divided Greek art into
their engagement have changed. Strangers sit among strang the duality of Apollonian and Dionysian impulses, he posited
ers, together watching the images that flicker on the giant, empathy and abstraction as two creative urges that, together,
flat screen before them. This screen is distant, intangible; the constituted the Kunstwollen.56

spatial depth displayed on it depicts a narrative that, to use Adhering to the requirements for the doctorate in his day,
"can be traveled . . . with of his dissertation in 1907, dis
Greenberg's words, through only Worringer published copies
the eye." Here, spectators cannot hold an
image in their hands.
tributing them to those he thought might prove sympathetic.
This kind of optical experience, however, long remained One
was the writer Paul Ernst, who, unaware that
outside the realm of aesthetic discourse, an omission reflect the book had not been published professionally, reviewed it


5 W?lfflin, n.d.

in the journal Kunst und K?nstler. "The litde book deserves to this doctrine did not apply universally; rather, it governed
be closely heeded," he announced; "it contains nothing less only the artistic naturalism of ancient Greece and Renais

than a program for a new aesthetics."57 a sance that was made and for, who were
Providing synopsis Italy?art by, people
and an assessment of Worringer's argument, Ernst's review at ease in their environment and who found psychic repose in
sparked enough interest to prompt its publication the follow aesthetic activity. Art from other eras and cultures was gov

ing year. "For a

long time in our art as well as in our art erned by an "urge to abstraction [Abstraktionsdrang]," which
appreciation we have remained under the influence of Greek reflected discomfort on the part of both viewer and artist,
antiquity and the Renaissance," Ernst wrote in summary of and which he associated with ornament and with the notion
the book. "But there are people and ages who had completely of style. More specifically, abstraction expressed a "spiritual
different artistic feelings and expressed these in their works. aversion to space [geistige Raumscheu]," a horror vacui repre
As a rule, we
these today
as achievements of a de sented on the cover of the book's ninth edition in 1916 by an
ficient ability [K?nnen], when in reality they are the achieve ornamental motif, its abstraction mitigated by the elaborate
ments of a differendy directed will Wollen]."58
[ Works from be twists of stylized snakes (Fig. 7) .62
yond the borders of Renaissance Italy and ancient Greece were Worringer based his arguments around what he initially
also worth investigating, in other words; they merely required put forward as a condensed formula for the theory of Ein
a new
framework with which to be understood. f?hlung: "Aesthetic enjoyment is objectified self-enjoyment,"
Worringer's understanding of the latest psychological re or a
sensation rendered in the form of an
search and theoretical discourse regarding Einf?hlung was His source was an essay published by Lipps in 1906; Worrin
better than he acknowledged. His main source for empathy ger chose to make rhetorical use of this formula rather than
theory, he noted, was a dissertation completed in Munich in engage more fully with a range of writings about Einf?hlung.
1897 by Paul Stern (a student of Lipps, and Worringer's Lipps's "aesthetic system," he explained,
"shall serve
pars pro
friend) and published a year later.59 But while Worringer toto as a foil for the following That system, in
frequendy cited the work of Hildebrand, Riegl, Schopen turn, was
in this one formula, which Worringer
hauer, Gottfried Semper, and W?lfflin, he generally ignored stated (without the use of quotation marks) five times in his
the particular claims offered by Lipps?an omission that is book's first chapter, each time to slighdy different effect.64 By
striking given that his argument throughout the first of his its fifth and final appearance, Worringer had dislodged Ein
book's three chapters revolved around a formula taken from f?hlung from its pedestal to set a complementary theory of
Lipps's work. Having attended Lipps's lectures at the Univer abstraction beside it. Perhaps more significandy, he had
sity of Munich in 1904-5, Worringer would also have been placed discomfort at the heart of the aesthetic experience.
aware of his own recent shift from the After a of that reads as an endorse
professor's away psy summary Einf?hlung

chological understanding of Einf?hlung.60 In his book, how ment, Worringer repeated Lipps's phrase:
aesthetic enjoy
ever, he played down the importance of Lipps's major works ment is objectified self-enjoyment. Immediately, however, he
as well as three decades of debate on the topic of Einf?hlung. asserted that his own book's very purpose was to demonstrate

"Modern aesthetics," Worringer grandly announced in his that "with this theory of empathy, we stand helpless in the
book's opening pages, "culminates in a theory that can be face of the artistic creations of many ages and
described with a general and broad name as the doctrine of While Einf?hlung operated as the theoretical basis for the
empathy."61 Like the psychologists, Worringer argued that naturalist art of ancient Greece and the Renaissance, the

6 Berlin cinema audience, 1913

happy and wholesome relation to the outside world it re "urge

to abstraction"?an urge that led artists to create ab

flected could not be universally applied; the art of all other stract
images and viewers to
contemplate them?may be seen

cultures was based on the urge to abstraction, which he as an attempt to theorize

this condition. Worringer proudly
posited as both a fundamental, universal urge and the result
acknowledged the influence on his thinking of Georg Sim
of highly developed cultures. "[W]ith primitive peoples, as it mel, whose lectures he had attended in Berlin. In the fore
were, the instinct for the 'thing in itself is at its strongest," he word to the 1948 edition of the book, he even wrote of
a man who was Kantian na the famous professor while visiting the Trocad?ro
argued, positing primitive by glimpsing
Abstraction conflated a basic artistic on the part
ture.66 urge Museum in Paris as an art history student and conceiving of
of primitive cultures with the modern theories produced by his dissertation topic later that day.70
the most advanced intellects of Western Europe: "What was With the fourth appearance of Lipps's formula, Worringer
once instinct is now the ultimate of
product knowledge."67
finally stated his own position: "aesthetic enjoyment" and
The third appearance of Lipps's formula indicated neither were not but
"objectified self-enjoyment" equivalent, op
nor dissent. "What modern man calls
agreement beauty,"
posed. The former described the urge to abstraction; the
Worringer explained, "is a satisfaction of that inner need for was now
latter stood for Abstraction associated with
self-affirmation that Lipps sees as the prerequisite of the
unease: an aesthetic the
enjoyment encompassing experi
empathy process. In the forms of a work of art, we enjoy ence of its own interference.
Empathy, by contrast, implied
ourselves. Aesthetic enjoyment is objectified self-enjoy the comfortable relation between the viewer and the work of
ment."68 A beautiful
object was, in effect, created by the
art by means of which aesthetic enjoyment was delightfully
spectator's perception of it; the spectator relocated his enjoy rendered in the form of an object. More important than their
able experience of self-affirmation within the object. The
differences was the element of discomfort they shared: both
activity of aesthetic contemplation thus provided an experi to abstraction and the urge to empathy, Worringer
the urge
ence of psychic repose; the aesthetic object offered a repos
wrote, "are of a common need that is revealed
itory for the emotions it inspired. only degrees
to us as the deepest and ultimate essence of all aesthetic
Crucially, for Worringer aesthetic activity did not necessar
that is the need for [Selbstent
ily entail comfort. He first suggested as much with a passing experience: self-estrangement
or a distance measured within the self.71
reference to Lipps's distinction between positive and negative ?usserung],"
or between a sense of freedom and one of reluc As if to emphasize the insufficiency of Lipps's formula,
tance felt in the face of the work of art.69 But even "negative it once more, reiterating that even Ein
Worringer repeated
did not sufficiendy articulate the profound sense f?hlung an experience
entailed of self-estrangement. In this
of unease thatWorringer wished to discuss. Such a sensation psychic transfer, he wrote, the spectator invested the work of
could be felt, he believed, both while contemplating a par art with a portion of his self, sacrificing his autonomy as an
ticular work of art and as a general existential condition. individual in order to exist, momentarily and aesthetically,

Perhaps the true flaw of Einf?hlung was its failure to account within the work. "Insofar as we
this urge to

properly for psychic discomfort; what Worringer termed the into another object," he explained,

templation of a work of art.")74 Abstraction and Einf?hlung

existed at extremes an existential continuum
opposite along
of emotional discomfort. The universal to self-es
trangement played itself out formally in one, while an indi
vidualistic urge to self-estrangement appeared in the guise of
the other. at the of their continuum, the two
Meeting edges

perceptual experiences were not always distinguishable.

Like the theorists of Einf?hlung, Worringer presented his
claims in Abstraction and Empathy in terms of emotional sen
sations and psychological drives. At the same time, his book
shifted the terms of aesthetic debate in several significant
ways. While refusing to acknowledge that Einf?hlung was ab
stract?insofar as it described a viewer's basic physiological
to form?he its
response pure transposed universalizing
claims to the concept of abstraction, even though such claims
had long been part of the internal critique that had crumbled
the authority of Einf?hlung. Beyond this, he reconfigured
Einf?hlung in his text as a general emotional identification,
ignoring its spatial orientation, thus further separating the
visual and applied arts from the discipline of architecture.
Finally, he placed discomfort at the heart of the aesthetic
a between
response, thereby constructing conceptual hinge

Einf?hlung and the articulations of estrangement that would

describe the communal aesthetic of the mass
audience in the 1920s and 1930s.

Self-Estrangement and the Fear of Space

The conceptual opposition of Einf?hlung and abstraction in
book thus masked a more claim: one
Worringer's profound
could trace "all aesthetic enjoyment, and perhaps the entire
human sensation of happiness generally, in its deepest and
ultimate essence, to the of [Selbst
impulse self-estrangement
7 Cover of Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung 9th
ent?usserung] ."75The articulation of this impulse, sometimes
ed. (Munich: R. Piper, 1916)
translated as self-distanciation or self-alienation, fundamen

tally reworked the status of comfort in the conception of the

aesthetic If aesthetic at its core, en
response. enjoyment,
we exist in the other We are delivered from our
object. tailed an of then discomfort
as as we ... are absorbed an experience self-estrangement,
individual into
being long could be, in some essential way, pleasurable.
external in an external form. We as it were,
By bringing the
object, feel,
notion of aesthetic distance into the body of the viewer,
our individuality flow into fixed boundaries, as opposed to
Worringer provided a link between the idea of an individual
the boundless differentiation of the individual conscious
loss of self that had been fundamental to the late-nineteenth
ness. In this self-objectification lies a self-estrangement [In
century discourse of Einf?hlung and that of collective alien
dieser Selbstobjektivierung liegt eine Selbstent?usserung].72
ation, which would become central to the discourse of es

or Brechtian
The empathetic spectator, letting down his emotional guard, trangement, Verfremdung.
of in terms of self-es
permits himself to dissolve into the work of art. Such a Worringer's analysis spectatorship

process of
absorption, Worringer maintained, entailed a loss trangement derived in part from Nietzsche, who in 1876 had
of self that was felt as not comfort.
described the activity of spectatorship almost as a form of
To prove his point, Worringer aesthetic schizophrenia. Writing of Richard Wagner's music
quoted Lipps himself?this
from his two-volume Aesthetics. "In dramas, the philosopher explained that a spectator
time, notably, empathizing
I am not the real I,"Lipps had argued, "but rather am set free
from this inner I; that is, I am set free from everything that I is from time to time compelled ... to ask himself: what
am outside of the observation of form. I am only this ideal, would this nature have with you? To what end do you really
this observing I."7?Even the ultimate authority on Einf?hlung, exist??Probably he will be unable to find an answer, and
it would seem, had acknowledged the viewer's bifurcated will then stand still, amazed [befremdet] and perplexed at
subjectivity?a distancing from the self, as it were?as central his own being. Let him then be satisfied to have experi
to the perceptual process. (Daily speech could likewise be enced even this; let him hear in the fact that he feels
mobilized to prove the existence of estrangement within the alienated [entfremdet] from his own being the answer to his
aesthetic response, Worringer maintained:
"popular usage question. For it is precisely with this feeling that he par
speaks with striking accuracy of 'losing oneself in the con ticipates in Wagner's mightiest accomplishment, the cen

tral point of his power, the demonic transmissibility and As a

process of
spectatorial engagement, Einf?hlung
was asso

self-estrangement [Selbstent?usserung]
of his nature. . . ,76
ciated, fundamentally, with temporality. Developed in an era
of art, it was also linked to narrative; scenes
For Nietzsche, aesthetic perception in its most heightened might literally be depicted within a painting, or they might
form?the engagement with Wagner's music dramas at
Bay simply be implied, as with a portrait or a still life. Insofar as it
reuth, in the year of the festival theater there? had been used to discuss the of archi
inaugural spectator's experience
entailed a
of the spectator's
sense of self. The tecture, Einf?hlung suggested amovement through space that
experience was both liberating and disturbing, a conflation necessarily
occurred in time.
By contrast, abstraction en

of two sensations: a loss of self and an active tailed, in view, an effort to arrest
paralyzing Worringer's temporality
engagement in the art
object. The simultaneous presence of itself?to the "single object of the outside world" from
detachment and
absorption, estrangement and identifica other objects and from this world. For both artist and viewer,
tion, defined both artistic creation and aesthetic abstraction "the consummate ... of
reception.77 represented expression
While the discourse of Einf?hlung had, in the nineteenth emancipation from the chance and temporality of the world
treated the aesthetic to as well as This creative was manifested as a universal hu
century, response spatial picture."85 urge
visual form, attended to two-dimen man need to free from the existential terror of
Worringer primarily particular objects
sional creations in 1908. "Space is the greatest enemy of all the three-dimensional and of the dimension of time itself?a
efforts at abstraction," he asserted, "and must therefore be fear that could be allayed only through aesthetic activity.
the first thing to be suppressed in the representation."78 Like A passing reference made by Hildebrand to "the agonizing
Hildebrand, he posited relief sculpture as the epitome of quality of the cubic [das Qu?lende des Kubischen]" had helped
artistic creation, insofar as it transformed
spatial depth
into construct, in The Problem ofForm, a theoretical justification of
planar relations.79 But whereas Hildebrand had associated ancient Greek sculptural relief; Worringer appropriated the
two-dimensionality with the notion of distance on the claim to justify even flatter artistic creations?as well as those
grounds that flat images resulted, literally, from distant views, from all historical eras and geographic locations.86 All the
Worringer linked two-dimensionality with the emotional dis same, relief sculpture remained central to
Worringer's argu
tance felt within the spectator's body. He described this ment, a stance he derived from Hildebrand and Riegl. In
unease as "a tremendous
spiritual aversion to
space," Stilfragen (Problems of Style), published in 1893, Riegl had
likening it to "physical agoraphobia."80 As a result of this sen portrayed the history of world art as a grand trajectory from
sation, he both artists and viewers were led to create, three-dimensional to two-dimensional
argued, objects representation:
or seek out, of abstract of visual
images purity: approximations
that soothed both eye and soul in a process reminis If we concrete for a moment and in a
planarity ignore examples try
cent, ironically, of his initial presentation of Einf?hlung. purely deductive way to reason out
abstracdy which of

"the urge to abstraction is the them came first in the development, then we will find
result of man's inner unease, caused the phenomena ourselves forced ... to conclude that three-dimensional
great by
of the outside world."81 This "primitive fear" persisted in the sculpture is the earlier, more
primitive medium, while
modern era of oriental cultures [orientalische surface decoration is the later and more refined.87
among "people
Kulturv?lker]," he asserted?those who had, over the course of

many centuries, to resist the influences of Like celebrated flatness, ornament, and
managed civilizing Riegl, Worringer
the West.82 Abstraction, that is, was both the ultimate achieve non-Western cultural artifacts. Unlike Riegl, he presented
ment of advanced civilizations and a basic human ex and the archaeo
urge: arguments succincdy polemically. Avoiding
otic and foreign,
it remained the most fundamental form of logical detail that made Problems of Style so intimidating, he
creativity. While about reinforced its claims with arguments rooted in
cautioning against generalizing prim psychological
itive on the grounds that the term covered discourse.88
people disparate
cultures of varying levels of artistic talent, Worringer himself Again following Riegl, Worringer held that abstraction was
privileged human instinct in a manner that today reads as
epitomized by the flat style of Egyptian vegetal ornament.
Freudian. The fear of was universal and was felt both The to abstraction now as the theoretical
space by urge operated
artists and viewers, but the "rationalistic of man apparatus the creations of overlooked ages and
development ushering
kind this instinctive is caused an
by man's
represses fear, which into aesthetic discourse.89 Even while for
peoples arguing
lost position in the world."83 Nonetheless, it was to be found of the art historical canon, showed little
expansion Worringer
both among and among those interest in the art audience; he described univer
"primitives" contemporary expanding

Europeans who had been rendered fearful by the very process sal vision within the framework that of an aesthetic discourse
of civilization. This logic, although perverse, was prevalent in had been in place since Immanuel Kant, leaving intact the
early-twentieth-century European culture, making
possible conception of the spectator as a cultivated individual. Like
to argue that to
the urge to the discourse of Einf?hlung itself, Worringer's book offered,
abstraction was to confront human instinct on its own terms, at the level of the individual viewer, a theoretical understand
of the forces of Western civilization. of a universal, visceral to art. Where researchers
stripped repressive ing response

Worringer characterized the urge to abstraction?both for in psychology laboratories had begun to point to the possi
creative artists and those who viewed their creations?as "the bility of larger audiences comprising varied individuals, Wor
attempt to rescue the single object of the outside world from ringer theorized their experience within the field of aesthet
its connection with and dependence
on other things,
to ics. In conflating the psychic experience of the Egyptian artist
snatch it from the course of events, to render it absolute."84 and the and in
contemporary European spectator, identify

Despite Worringer's efforts to distinguish naturalism and

imitation, the two were linked in early-twentieth-cen
tury German artistic discourse; artists and designers engaged
in the rejection of the former had for years been disparaging
the latter. In 1900, the architect Peter Behrens had written,
for example: "It's not difficult for a man with a talent for
imitation to put on a mask and represent a well observed
character; even if not everyone can do this, that does not

make it art."92 True art required a level of creativity beyond

the simple craft of imitation; the sinuous Jugendstil tendrils
Behrens himself designed at the turn of the century did not
forms but, rather, in abstract vi
reproduce plant expressed
sual terms the force of vegetal growth. By 1908, even Behrens
had abandoned his Jugendstil roots. "We have in the fine arts
as in poetry reached the outermost of Naturalism,"
Ernst asserted in his review of Abstraction and Empathy that
year; "the pendulum will now swing to the other side, and it
is Worringer's achievement to have this
explained process

historically and philosophically."93

As the aesthetic swung toward abstraction, nat
uralism and imitation came
to be associated with feminine
creativity. Using the terms laid out inWorringer's book, one
might theoretically have assigned abstraction, and the notion
of decorative ornament with which it was associated, to the
province of women. But while Worringer linked ornament to
the artistic creations of primitive people [Naturv?lker] and
with children's scribbles, he did not present the concept in
terms.94 Those who did, meanwhile, such as the art
critic Karl Scheffler, associated women not with abstraction
and ornament but, instead, with naturalism, and
imitation. In Die Frau und die Kunst (Woman and art), also
published in 1908, Scheffler labeled the woman artist "the
8 Gabriele Munter, M?dchen mit Puppe (Girl with DoU), 1908-9. ...
imitatrix par excellence who sentimentalizes and trivial
Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley
izes manly art forms."95 True and aesthetic
(artwork ? 2005 Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York / VG creativity original
women essen
ity remained
Bild-Kunst, Bonn) the of men; functioned

tially as copyists. This distinction between male and female

creative impulses also held true among viewers, in Scheffler's
ing the work of art as both cause and effect of this experi view: "Woman looks at a work of art in terms of the nature

ence, he allowed for the possibility that untrained eyes? contained within it; abstraction remains foreign
to her."96

those not
to cultivated
example? Such an association of Einf?hlung with passivity, imitation,
might likewise be capable of aesthetic experience. and feminine creativity would hold sway for decades.
Worringer set the duality of Einf?hlung and abstraction Artists and writers in 1908, particularly in Munich, wel
parallel to that of naturalism and style, linking Einf?hlung comed Worringer's book, which they took as support for
with naturalist
and his arguments
un their own rejection of artistic naturalism. While Worringer
derstood in relation to recent cultural in Mu demonstrated no interest in contemporary art, his
developments European
nich. Two decades earlier, that city's
most advanced artistic book encouraged Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele M?nter, as
creations had fallen under the rubric of naturalism, but by well as other future members of the Blaue Reiter, to investi
the early twentieth century artists, art theorists, writers, and gate painterly abstraction.97 The flat, unmodeled planes of
dramatists considered that
to be outmoded.90 Pri color in Munter's M?dchen mit Puppe (Girl with Doll, 1908-9),
marily in drama, but in other fields as well, naturalism had its forms composed of abstracted expanses of color within
come to stand for an obsessive imitation of and the black oudines, reflect several sources, the
reality heavy including
abandonment of true
creativity. Rather than simply denigrat paintings of Henri Matisse and the Jugendstil emphasis on
ing naturalism for itsmimetic capacities, however, Worringer planarity and flatness (Fig. 8), but she acknowledged her
historicized it, declaring it an artistic tendency that, by 1908, debt toWorringer direcdy. "We have known each other since
was on the wane. In so doing, he distinguished it from the beginnings of the postimpressionist development of art,"
imitation, which (like the urge to abstraction) existed, he the artist reminded Worringer in a letter written on the
maintained, in every era and among all cultures. "The drive occasion of his seventieth birthday, a development "for which
to imitation, this elemental human need, stands outside aes you prepared the intellectual ground. I still have from those
thetics proper," he argued; "in principle its satisfaction has early years the original copy of your book Abstraction and
to do with art."91 Empathy, which had at the time such a profound effect."98 As

9 Wassily Kandinsky, Composition IV, 1911. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, D?sseldorf (artwork ? 2005 Artists Rights Society
[ARS], New York / ADAGP, Paris)

one critic stated that same year, there existed "hardly

single works of art that, at least theoretically, would be equally
member of the avant-garde of modern art who was not
deeply accessible to all. Formal clarity would deepen the interaction
excited by this book."99 between artist, object, and spectator; bypass the limitations of
In ?ber das Geistige in der Kunst (Concerning the Spiritual in linguistic difference; and ignore national boundaries, both
Art), first published in 1911, Kandinsky, too, advocated uthe within Europe and beyond.
rejection of the third dimension, that is to say, the attempt to keep the
on a His IV of that an
picture single plane."100 Composition year,
Empathy, Distraction, Estrangement
image on the threshold of abstraction, likewise demonstrates
In 1925, the art critic Franz Roh identified "the art of the
the resonance of Worringer's ideas (Fig. 9). Subtided Battle,
nineteenth as an era of
century, including impressionism,"
the painting shows three figures standing at its center, with
Einf?hlung, one
that had since been replaced?first by ab
white robes, red caps, and two vertical spears. On the
straction, in the early twentieth century, and subsequentiy by
left, three groups of parallel black lines become the spears of
what he very termed realism."102 In associ
hesitandy "magic
advancing armies visible over the hilly horizon, and on the the birth of a new form of
ating the demise of Einf?hlungv?th
right, two large figures lean backward in the foreground. The visual art, Roh conflated a theory of aesthetic perception?a
the viewer's effort in order to become repre
image requires form of spectatorship?with the visual style of the art objects
sentational. As Kandinsky explained it,
with which its theoretical spectator engaged. Such a confla
The more abstract form the more clear and direct its tion reveals, above all, the impossibility of disengaging aes
. The more an artist uses these abstract
thetic discourse from the kinds of objects it describes. Both
appeal... forms,
the deeper and more confidendy will he advance into the the birth of abstract painting and the reconfiguration of
architecture as a art around the turn of the last cen
kingdom of the abstract. And after him will follow the spatial

viewer ... who will also have

gradually acquired
greater tury appeared to detach narrative, spatial depth, and tempo
familiarity with the language of that kingdom.101 rality from the realm of the visual arts. The emergence of
film, meanwhile, and its extraordinary ability to conjure
Painterly abstraction offered a realm of purity and directness, three-dimensional space?precisely what Worringer had
a kingdom of unknown riches awaiting discovery by the bold called the greatest enemy of all efforts at visual abstrac

est artists and art lovers of the early twentieth century. Those tion?as well as the
growing presence of crowds in cinemas

who dared navigate such territory would create truly universal and the interest of particular historians and critics in watch

unlike that of the cultured spectators of the

nineteenth was treated as
century, wholly passive.
It was this model of weak
spectatorship?shallow, passive,
willed?that Brecht with such vehemence when, in
1936, he promulgated the theory of Verfremdung (estrange
ment or alienation) after work with the unnamed
many years'
The of estrangement, he
concept. technique explained,
could be used to combat the theater
"empathy [einf?hlungs
theater]" that relied on the of disbelief.107 The use
of Einf?hlung, according to Brecht, existed only for bourgeois
entertainment: it an of
encompassed experience psychologi
cal and emotional identification that encouraged spectators
to lose control of their own identities and the
prevent possi

bility of critical thought. In Brecht's writings, the concept had

litde to do with the active experience of embodied spatial
perception that the theorists o? Einf?hlung had debated in the
last quarter of the nineteenth century. and
emotional, it was devoid even of the element of self-estrange

ment thatWorringer, following Simmel, had placed within its

shallow domain. For Brecht, Einf?hlung provided a useful foil
for the tool that was to reinstate
estrangement, conceptual
self-control, critical awareness, and en
spectators' political

gagement both within the auditorium and, be

its walls.
his condemnations of the concept, Brecht
Despite public
confided to his journal that Einf?hlung could be useful as "a
rehearsal measure"; in he wrote, "two
performances, ideally
different methods are used: the of and
technique empathy

to Adolf
the technique of estrangement [die einf?hlungstechnik und die
10 Heinrich Hoffmann, audience listening Hitler,
The Research This alternation of and
possibly Weimar, photograph. Getty Institute, Verfremdungstechnik].,"108 distancing
Los Research 920024 was in fact he insofar as
Angeles, Library, absorption necessary, explained,
neither could exist without the intermittent pres
ence of the other. In entry of 1940, Brecht elabo
rated on their theoretical relation:
all the status of Einf?hlung as a dom
ing movies, challenged
inant of aesthetic
theory perception.
The of Einf?hlung was, indeed, over. Yet, Roh's de in this new method of art would lose
reign practicing empathy
cree the remained central to the its dominant that the alienation effect
notwithstanding, concept role, against (a
understanding of spectatorship throughout
the twentieth
effect) will need to be introduced, which is an artistic
and was reworked to accommodate shifts in effect too and also leads to a theatrical it
century, merely experience,
the status of and the to which at consists in the of real-life incidents on the
spectators objects they reproduction
tended. It continued to surface as a foil, a femi in a way as to their and
conceptual stage such underline causality
nine weakness, and the of a art it to art
ingredient populist history.103 bring the spectator's
attention, this type of also
Given the it is such facilitate the mas
concept's reconfiguration, particularly striking generates emotions; performances
that three of the most important theorists of Einf?hlungin the of and this it is that moves the
tering reality; spectator.109
1920s were women: Vernon Lee, Clementine Anstruther

Thomson, and Edith Stein, a student of Edmund Husserl.104

Here, theoretical were conflated with the
The intense of absorbed also took again, techniques
experience spectatorship
on art forms that were to them. The realism of nine
other terminological guises. Kracauer's assertion produce
visual art had been linked to "an era of Ein
in 1929, for example, that films "drug the populace with the teenth-century
of counterfeit social as a that, to both
pseudo-glamour heights, just hypno f?hlung" perceptual experience according
tists use to put their to Lipps and Worringer, involved a bifurcated sense of self.
glittering objects subjects sleep,"
a visual, and emotional that Contrary to his own highly publicized claims on the subject,
posited psychological, absorption
had been as feminine, and communal the theatrical realism Brecht hoped to create in the 1930s
reconfigured passive,
for the Weimar mass audience.105 Visiting the new
picture required the occasional use of Einf?hlung. At different histor
Kracauer maintained, the ical moments?and with regard to radically different model
palaces, moviegoers?especially
"little on their off?diverted their atten and estrangement described the
shopgirls" evenings subjects?both empathy
tion from the dull routine of daily employment.106 Their viewer's
uncomfortable destabilization of identity.
distraction was as a form of attention: an intense the arguments of Brecht and others, it is not
figured Despite always
in the narratives followed on-screen. This to make a clear distinction between and
absorption they possible passive

wm w


11 Hider at the of Morgenrot,

Ufa-Palast, 1933, photograph. The
Research Los Angeles, "X*
Getty Institute,
Research Library, 920024

active spectatorship,
or between observation and participa
indicates of an empty seat at the bottom of the
the existence
tion. While Brecht was developing the theory of estrange photograph, complete with a program booklet laid out on
ment, itwas becoming increasingly difficult, in Germany and the balustrade before it. The real actors, here, would seem to
elsewhere, to distinguish the role of the individual spectator be the political figures on view within the photograph, and
within the communal audience. Brecht was concerned less not those whom are on the silver screen. Hider
they watching
with the passive aesthetic response per se than with the himself, his arms crossed and his head turned slightiy toward
potential political ramifications of such passivity in the audi the camera, appears
as aware of the photographer
who is

ences of the 1930s. His concerns may be represented with two taking his picture as of the film he ismeant to be watching.
contemporaneous photographs (Figs. 10, 11). The first, In Germany in the 1930s, the mass audience seemed to be
taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, shows an audience attending equally absorbed by the movies and the political rallies of
to Adolf Hider and others on a theater stage. Crowded into National Socialism; Brecht characterized their absorption as
three tiers of an auditorium, men and women appear fully passive and labeled such passivity Einf?hlung.
absorbed in the are the camera, Never one to from contradiction?or the
performance they watching; shy conceptual

positioned just above the speakers to emphasize Hider's performance

gender bending, for that mat

bowed head in the lower left corner of the image, faces the ter?Andy Warhol can serve both to personify the conflation
attentive crowd and centers on the banner hung from the of empathy
and estrangement and to demonstrate the ex

royal box: a flat canvas that displays a swastika. Brecht's traordinary reach of these two theoretical models. A photo
mistrust of Einf?hlung stemmed from a horror of passive, graph from 1971 shows Warhol and other spectators engaged
communal spectatorship
and a fear of the uncritical accep in rapt absorption at the Invisible Cinema, constructed that
tance of Nazi that was already widespread. Without
claims year by the avant-garde filmmaker Peter Kubelka for the
mentioning Vischer, Lipps, or Worringer (his own reference Anthology Film Archives in New York (Fig. 12). Permitting a
point was Aristode), he criticized the kind of spectatorship form of spectatorship simultaneously individual and commu
that entailed a loss of self and an overidentification with the nal, the construction allowed each spectator
to see the movie

object of attention. The swastika at the center of the image screen, but not the other spectators. Dismanded owing

suggests, too, that National Socialist visual language might be difficulties with in the room (heating and
air circulation
associated as much with abstraction as with Einf?hlung?or air-conditioning proved impossible), it combined the private
that the Einf?hlung Brecht decried had litde to do with the activity of individual spectatorship with the communal activity
concept as it was discussed in the nineteenth century.110 of movie going. Here, a
solitary spectator could attend to a

A second photograph shows Hider and his cohorts sitting film in a manner that approximated the individualistic expe
in the balcony at the cinema, attending a film premiere at the rience of Einf?hlung, as it had been described almost a cen
Ufa-Palace in Berlin in 1933. As if absorbed in the perfor tury earlier with regard to representational works of art,
mance, they stare out beyond the space of the image?all but objects in nature, and abstract forms. And who could say if
one, who looks directiy, and quizzically, at the camera lens. these spectators felt empathy
estrangement, sitting sepa
The generic gesture of a disembodied hand, at the right, rately, together, within a communal audience?

Lutz Koepnick, Helga Lutz, Erik Wegerhoff, and the two anonymous (and
mutually contradictory) readers for The Art Bulletin.
All translations are my own, except where otherwise noted; once again, I am
grateful to Steven Lindberg for checking them over but retain the responsi
bility for any errors that might remain. Throughout the text I have left the
term Einf?hlung untranslated where it refers specifically to the late-nine
teenth-century discourse in an effort to distinguish the concept from more
amorphous understandings of empathy.

1. Claims for a critical empathetic approach deriving from "a surrealist

tradition, an alternative modernist tradition ... that
has to do with psychology, emotion, surprise and scariness" are found
in Herbert Muschamp, "How the Critic Sees: Conversation with Her
bert Muschamp," Architecture New York 21 (1998): 16-17. On Hopper,
see Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel (London: Hamish Hamilton,
2002), 53-54 and passim; on Menzel, see Michael Fried, Menzel's Real
ism: Art and Embodiment inNineteenth-Century Berlin (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2002); and on Gehry, see Christian Hubert, "Outside/
In: Frank Gehry and Empathy" (lecture, School of Architecture, Uni
versity of Toronto, November 8, 2001). According to the cultural histo
rian Alison Landsberg, "technologies of mass culture," film especially,
"are a preeminent site for the production of empathy." Landsberg, Pros
theticMemory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in theAge ofMass
Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 47. Finally, an in
dependent film entitled Empathy, directed by Amie Siegel, produced by
Mark Ranee, and released in 2002, addressed the relation between psycho
analysis, documentary filmmaking, and modern architecture and design.
2. Karen Finley's performance at the Cutting Room, New York, in July
2002 (a work in progress "which explores the emotions of New Yorkers
after September 11th," according to its promotional material) was enti
tled "The Distribution of Empathy." Barbara Kruger's empathy project
exists in several versions and at least three languages; Einf?hlungsver
m?gen kann die Weh ver?ndern (The Capacity for Empathy Can Change
the World), for example, was installed on advertising billboards in
Wuppertal, Germany, in 1990.
3. In this context, see Suzanne Perling Hudson, "Beauty and the Status of
Contemporary Criticism," October, no. 104 (Spring 2003): 115-30; Alex
ander Alberro, "Beauty Knows No Pain," Art Journal 63, no. 2 (Summer
2004): 36-43; Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1999); and Dave Hickey, The Invisible Drag
on: Four Essays on Beauty (Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1993). The link
between beauty and empathy was made by Carl Jung, who argued (cit
ing Theodor "The form into which one cannot empathize is
ugly." C. G. Jung, Psychological Types, or The Psychology of Individua
tion, trans. H. Godwin Baynes (1923; reprint, London: Pantheon
Books, 1964), 360, emphasis in the original; translation modified.

12 Andy Warhol at Peter Kubelka's Invisible Cinema at the 4. "The most fruitful research developed in the afterlife of Warburg's
contributions," the historian Michael S. Roth has argued, for example,
Anthology Film Archives, New York, 1971 (photograph by "will be work that explores
Michael Chikiris, reproduced by permission of Anthology Film specific intersections of memory and empa
thy in the visual domain, work that tries to understand the past as part
Archives) of the history of the present. This is to be distinguished from simply
projecting the present back on to the past?an exercise in narcissism,
not empathy." "Why Warburg Now?" (paper presented at the College
Art Association Conference, New York, 2000).
5. Scholarly interest in Einf?hlung has been prompted by the translation
and publication of selected primary documents in Empathy, Form and
Juliet Koss is assistant professor of art history at Scripps College, ed. and trans. Harry
Space: Problems in German Aesthetics, 1873-1893,
Claremont. Her work has appeared in The Art Bulletin, Assem Francis Mallgrave and Eleftherios Ikonomou (Santa Monica: Getty Cen
and elsewhere; she is ter Publications, 1994). Other relevant recent works include Georges
blage, Grey Room, Kritische Berichte,
Didi-Huberman, L'image survivante: L'histoire de l'art et temps des fant?mes
currently completingThe Total Work of Art: Modernism, Spec selon Aby Warburg (Paris: ?ditions de Minuit, 2002), 400-413; Juliet
tatorship, and the Gesamtkunstwerk [Department of Art History, Koss, "Empathy and Abstraction in Munich," in The Built Surface, vol. 2,
Architecture and thePictorial Arts from Romanticism to the TxvenfyFirst Century,
Scripps College, Claremont, Calif 91711,]. ed. Karen Koehler (London: Ashgate, 2002), 98-119; and Nina Rosen
blatt, "Empathy and Anaesthesia: On the Origins of a French Machine
Aesthetic," Grey Room 2 (Winter 2001): 78-97. The call for papers for a
Notes session devoted to empathy at the Society of Architectural Historians'
conference in 2004 referred to the concept as a "dominant theory."
Portions of this material were delivered at Columbia University, February 6. Robert Vischer, ?ber das optische Formgefuhl: Ein Beitrag zur Aesthetik
2004; Yale University, February 2004; Johns Hopkins University, April 2004;
(Leipzig: Credner, 1873), 20.
Scripps College, April 2005; the College Art Association Conference, New
York, February 2000 and February 2003; the Association of Art Historians' 7. On the link between Einf?hlung and Aristotle's notion of eleos in the
conference, London, April 2003; and the Society of Architectural Historians' Rhetoric, see Walter Kaufmann, Tragedy and Philosophy (Princeton:
Princeton University see also Gottfried Herder,
conference, Providence, April 2004. My thanks go to all of those who invited Press, 1968), 44-48;
me to speak and tomy audiences and interlocutors at each event My research KaUigone: Vom Angenehmen zum Sch?nen (Leipzig: J. F. Hartkoch, 1800).
on Einf?hlung was carried out at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, For a history of Einf?hlung from Immanuel Kant through German Ro
during a residential fellowship in 1998-2000; further support for my research manticism to the late nineteenth century, Mallgrave and Ikono
came from a Summer Stipend from the National Endowment for the Human mou, introduction to Empathy, Form and Space, 1-85; as well as David
ities, 2002; a sabbatical research fellowship from Scripps College, 2002-3; and Morgan, "The Enchantment of Art: Abstraction and Empathy from
a Humboldt Foundation Research Fellowship, 2002-4. I am deeply grateful German Romanticism to Expressionism," Journal of theHistory of Ideas
for all of these, and to the Bergemanns for their hospitality in Nuremberg. 57, no. 2 (1996): 317-41; and Richard A. Etlin, "Aesthetics and the
Finally, my thanks to those who have generously read and commented on Spatial Sense of Self," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56, no. 1
earlier incarnations of this essay: Lory Frankel, Marc Gotlieb, Sandy Isenstadt, (Winter 1998): 1-19. Brief essays on empathy theorists and related fig

ures, from Gustav Fechner and Charles Darwin toWilhelm Worringer, assigned in methods courses in doctoral programs in architecture his
appear in Moshe Barasch, Modern Theories of Art, vol. 2, From Impression tory in the United States, for example, while generally remaining ab
ism toKandinsky (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 84-187. sent from their counterparts in art history.
8. Friedrich Nietzsche, "Richard Wagner in Bayreuth" (1876), in Untimely 24. See, for example, Siegfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture (Cam
Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, ed. Daniel Breazeale (New York: bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1941); L?szl? Moholy-Nagy,
Cambridge University Press, 1997), 239, translation modified. The Ger "The Concept of Space" (1925-28), Bauhaus 1919-1928, ed. Herbert
man is found in Nietzsche, "Richard Wagner in Bayreuth," in Unzeitge Bayer et al. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1938), 122; and Bruno
m?sse Betrachtungen IV, reprinted in Nietzsche Werke: Kritische Gesamtaus Zevi, Architecture as Space: How toLook at Architecture (1948; reprint, New
gabe IV, ed. Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari (Berlin: Walter de York: Horizon Press, 1957), 188-93.
Gruyter, 1967), 61. 25. Adolf Hildebrand, Das Problem der Form in der bildenden Kunst (1893; re
9. Other important discussions of empathy include Karl Groos, Einleitung print, Baden-Baden: Heitz, 1961), 28-29; trans, in Mallgrave and
in die ?sthetik (Giessen: Ricker, 1892) and Der ?sthetische Genuss (Gies Ikonomou, Empathy, Form and Space, 247-48.
sen: Ricker, 1902); and Johannes Volkelt, Der Symbol-Begriff in der 26. Hildebrand, Das Problem der Form, 19; trans, in Mallgrave and Ikono
neuesten ?sthetik (Jena: Dufft, 1876) and ?sthetische Zeitfragen (Munich:
mou, Empathy, Form and Space, 239.
Beck, 1895).
27. Hildebrand, Das Problem der Form, 33; trans, inMallgrave and Ikonomou,
10. Vischer, ?ber das optische Formgefuhl, vii; trans, in Mallgrave and Ikono
Empathy, Form and Space, 253. Hildebrand's distinction of Sehen and
mou, Empathy, Form and Space, 92. A mutual interest in the work of Schauen (42) may also be found in Vischer, ?ber das optische Formgefuhl, 1-2.
Arthur Schopenhauer links the empathy theorists to Freud; see Mail On the relation of Hildebrand's and Vischer's see Mallgrave
grave and Ikonomou, introduction, 8-10. and Ikonomou, introduction to Empathy, Form and Space, 36-37.
11. Heinrich W?lfflin, Prolegomena zu einer Psychologie der Architektur (Berlin: 28. Hildebrand, Das Problem der Form, 30; trans, in Mallgrave and Ikono
Gebr?der Mann, 1999), 14. Vischer's distinctions are found in ?ber das
mou, Empathy, Form and Space, 250.
optische Formgefuhl, 24-25. "Feeling" here describes an active, physical
as in the phrase "I feel the ground beneath my feet." 29. Antagonism to space and the interest in relief (and in notions of sculp
tural shallowness and visual flatness, more generally) pervaded the the
12. One image that can provoke a visceral response appears on the cover
ory and practice of the visual arts in Germany at the time. See also
of Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in in Grundbegriffe der Kunstwissenschaft: Ab ?ber
Schmarsow, "Reliefkunst,"
theNineteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990). Crary's
gang vom Altertum zum Mittelalter (1905; Berlin: Gebr?der Mann, 1998),
work on embodied perception in the nineteenth century denies the 263-78. It should be noted that relief sculpture is technically more dif
place of Einf?hlung within this history, owing partly to a focus on ficult to produce than sculpture in the round. On the link between
French material. "The whole neo-Kantian legacy of a disinterested aes relief sculpture and narrative, with reference to Hildebrand, see Rosa
thetic perception," Crary has written elsewhere, "from Konrad Fiedler lind E. Krauss, Passages inModern Sculpture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT
... to more recent 'formalisms,' has been founded on the desire to
Press, 1977), 12-15. On opticality and embodiment in the work of
escape from bodily time and its vagaries." Crary, Suspensions of Percep Roger Fry, see Krauss, The Optical Unconscious (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT
tion: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT
Press, 1993), 138ff.
Press, 1999), 46. Placing Einf?hlung within this escapist camp, he calls
... to counter 30. Clement Greenberg, "Modernist Painting" (1960), in Collected Essays
its model viewer "constructed the claims of an antihu
and Criticism, ed. John O'Brien, vol. 4 (Chicago: University of Chicago
manist psychology or behaviorism." Ibid., 158. Ein
Press, 1993), 89.
f?hlung was often deeply engaged with stimulus-response psychology,
however; it treated embodied, as 31. Ibid., 90.
temporal perception theoretically,
opposed to empirically. 32. Konrad "Der Ursprung der k?nstlerischen
Fiedler, Th?tigkeit (1887),
13. Vischer, ?ber das optische Formgefuhl, 10; trans, in Mallgrave and Ikono quoted in Francesco Dal Co, Figures of Architecture and Thought: German
mou, Empathy, Form and Space, 98. Architecture Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990),
114. "In the following investigations," Fiedler explained in his book's
14. Vischer, ?ber das optische Formgef?hl, 8; trans, in Mallgrave and Ikono
opening pages, "'artistic activity' always refers only to the activity of the
mou, Empathy, Form and Space, 97.
fine artist." Fiedler, "Der Ursprung der k?nstlerischen Th?tigkeit," in
15. In this context, see the discussion of Adolf Menzel's Moltke's Binoculars Konrad Fiedlers Schriften ?ber Kunst, ed. Hans Marbach (Leipzig: S. Hir
(1871), The Opera Glass (ca. 1850), and Lady with Opera Glasses (ca. 1850) zel, 1896), 185.
in relation to embodied vision in Fried, MenzeVs Realism, 46-47, 101.
33. As W?lfflin put it, "without Fiedler, Hildebrand might very well not
16. W?lfflin, Prolegomena, 22; trans, in Mallgrave and Ikonomou, Empathy, have written his Problem ofForm.n W?lfflin, in Henry Schaefer
Form and Space, 155. introduction to On Judging Works of Visual Art, by Konrad Fied
17. "We judge every object by analogy with our body," he asserted two ler, trans. Schaefer-Simmern (1876; Los Angeles: University of Califor
years later, "and should not architecture participate in this unconscious nia Press, 1978), xii. See also G?nther Jachmann, ed., Adolf von Hilde
animation? It participates in the highest possible measure." Heinrich brands Briefwechsel mit Conrad Fiedler (Dresden: Wolfgang Jess, 1927).
W?lfflin, Renaissance und Barock (Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1907), 56. 34. Olga Rozanova, "Extracts from Articles" (1918), in Russian Art of the
Compare Vischer, ?ber das optische Formgef?hl, 10; trans, in Mallgrave Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism, trans, and ed. John E. Bowlt (New
and Ikonomou, Empathy, Form and Space, 98: "In rooms with low ceil York: Thames and Hudson, 1988), 148.
ings our whole body feels the sensation of weight and pressure. Walls 35. By contrast, the vertical zips of Barnett Newman might be read in rela
that have become crooked with age offend our basic sense of physical
tion to Einf?hlung?albeit watered down, over the decades, in its trans
stability." fer to the United States. On Newman's critique of Worringer's argu
18. W?lfflin, Prolegomena, 35; trans, in Mallgrave and Ikonomou, Empathy, ments (which the artist knew only through paraphrases provided by
Form and Space, 177. Further analysis of W?lfflin's dissertation appears T. E. Hulme), see Karlheinz Barck, "Worringers im Kon
in Mallgrave and Ikonomou, introduction, 39-47. text der Stilforschung," in Wilhelm Worringers Kunstgeschichte, ed. Hannes
19. August Schmarsow, Das Wesen der architektonischen Sch?pfung (Leipzig: B?hringer and Beate S?ntgen (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2002), 31. For a
Karl W. Hiersemann, 1894), 10-11; trans, in Mallgrave and Ikonomou, discussion of Newman's zips with regard to the phenomenological con
cerns of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, see Yve-Alain Bois, "Perceiving New
Empathy, Form and Space, 286.
man," in Painting asModel (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), 194-96.
20. Schmarsow, Das Wesen, 15; trans, in Mallgrave and Ikonomou, Empathy,
Form and Space, 288. 36. The birth of experimental psychology within the domain of philosophy
is usually taken to be the establishment of Wilhelm Wundt's laboratory
21. Mitchell Schwarzer has traced the shift to a spatial understanding of
in Leipzig in 1879. See Stuart Danziger, Constructing the Subject: Histori
architecture to an essay by the Viennese architect Hanns Auer, "The
cal Origins of Psychological Research (New York: Cambridge University
Development of Space in Architecture" (1883). Schwarzer, German Ar
Press, 1990), 17-38; John Fizer, Psychologism and Psychoaesthetics: A His
chitectural Theory and the Search for Modern Identity (New York: Cambridge
torical and Critical View of Their Relations (Amsterdam: John Benjamins,
University Press, 1995), 192.
1981), 45-57; Mark Jarzombek, The Psychologizing ofModernity: Art, Archi
22. This disciplinary divergence is legible in Michael Podro's remark that tecture,History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 37-72;
"there is something strained about the way he [W?lfflin] yokes paint Martin Jay, "Modernism and the Specter of Psychologism," Modernism/
ing and architecture." It is also worth noting Podro's reference to "the Modernity 3, no. 2 (1996): 93-111; and David E. Leary, "The Philosophi
basic and rather primitive theory of empathy." Podro, The Critical Histo cal Development of the Conception of Psychology in Germany," Journal
rians of Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), 98, 100. of theHistory of the Behavioral Sciences 14 (1978): 113?21. See also Crary,
23. Insofar as it addresses an aesthetic response to space as well as visual Techniques of the Observer, 69 and passim.
form, Einf?hlung has remained central to the canon of architectural 37. Theodor Lipps, "Einf?hlung und ?sthetischer Genuss," Die Zukunft 54
theory, while fading from that of art history. Its central texts are still (1906): 108. An English translation (mistakenly dated 1905) is found in

Lipps, "Empathy and Aesthetic Pleasure," in Aesthetic Theories: Studies in reception was affected by Worringer's political and biographical cir
thePhilosophy of Art, trans. Karl Aschenbrenner, ed. Aschenbrenner and cumstances, which may be gleaned from a lecture in 1924 concerning
Arnold Isenberg (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965), 409. what he termed "the eternal cultural struggle on two fronts in the
38. Lipps, "Einf?hlung und ?sthetischer 106: "It is a basic fact of midst of which we Germans, as people of the European center, are
and even more so of aesthetics that a 'sensuously given ob placed." Worringer, Deutsche Jugend und ?stlicher Geist (Bonn: Friedrich
is an absurdity?something that does not exist Cohen, 1924), 5; I thank Margaret Olin for sharing this text with me.
ject,' strictly speaking,
See also Helga Grebing, als Lebenssinn: Sozio
and never can exist." "Bildungsb?rgerlichkeit
biographische Ann?herungen an Wilhelm und Marta Worringer," in
39. Lipps, "Psychologie und Aesthetik," Archiv f?r die gesamte Psychologie 9 and S?ntgen, Wilhelm Worringers Kunstgeschichte,
B?hringer 204-8.
(1907): 117, quoted in Fizer, Psychologism and Psychoaesthetics, 224 n. 15.
55. Again following Riegl, Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 42, pre
40. At the same time, those whose work had been steeped in Einf?hlung sented the Kunstwollen as Riegl's critique of the materialist followers of
had moved away from its theoretical claims. On the methodological Gottfried Semper. Riegl had argued: "Technical factors surely played a
shifts inW?lfflin's work, for example, see Martin Warnke, "On Hein .. .but it was
role as well by no means the leading role that the sup
rich W?lfflin," Representations 27 (1983): 172-87. porters of the technical materialist theory of origin assumed. The impetus
41. See Hermann von Helmholtz, Handbuch der physiologischen Optik did not arise from the technique but from the particular artistic impulse."
(Leipzig: Voss, 1867). Riegl, Problems of Style: Foundations for a History of Ornament, trans. Evelyn
Kain (1893; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 30.
42. Hildebrand to Fiedler, July 24, 1892, in Bernhard Sattler, ed., Adolf von
Hildebrand und seine Welt: Briefe und Erinnerungen (Munich: Georg D. W. 56. His argument overthrew the tyranny of ancient Greece and the Renais
Callwey, 1962), 384. Fiedler viewed this common ground more warily, sance, while remaining under Nietzsche's spell. The reference here is
to E. M. Butler, The Tyranny of Greece over Germany: A Study of the Influ
warning his friend, "If you were ever to publish your research, people
would be able to say in some instances that Helmholtz has already ence Exercised by Greek Art and Poetry over the Great German Writers of the
touched upon it." Fiedler to Hildebrand, August 6, 1892, in ibid., 385. Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Centuries (Boston: Beacon Press,
43. Hildebrand to Nikolaus Kleinenberg, 11, 1891, in ibid., 359.
1935). One might argue that with Problems of Style, Riegl offered a theo
February retical justification of Jugendstil ornament while still perpetuating the
See also two letters from Hildebrand to Fiedler of April 9 and 16,
1891, and one from Helmholtz to Hildebrand of December 26, 1891, tyranny of Greece.
in ibid., 362, 374. The bust is now in the Academy of Sciences in Berlin. 57. Paul Ernst, review of Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, in Kunst
und K?nstlern (September 1908): 529. Worringer referred to "the poet
44. Edward Bullough, "Recent Work in Experimental Aesthetics," British
Paul Ernst" in the foreword to the 1948 edition of his book; the art
Journal of Psychology 12 (1921): 93. critic Karl Scheffler cited "the dramatist Paul Ernst, who may be de
45. Bullough, ibid., 86, labeled these "objective," "physiological," "associa scribed as the leader of the neoclassical school in Germany." Scheffler,
tive," and "character."
"B?hnenkunst," Kunst und K?nstler 5 (March 1907): 222.
46. Ibid., 78. 58. Ernst, review of Worringer, Abstraktion and Einf?hlung, 529.
47. Ibid. 59. Paul Stern, Einf?hlung und Association in der neueren ?sthetik: Ein Beitrag
zur Psychologischen Analyse der ?sthetischen Anschauung
48. Vischer, ?ber das optische Formgef?hl, 26. (Empathy and As
sociation in the New Aesthetics: A Contribution to the Psychological
49. Worringer, lecture on W?lfflin, n.d., inWorringer Archive, Germani
sches Museum, folder ZR ABK 146, p. 160a/93, Analysis of Aesthetic Representation) (Hamburg, 1898); see Worringer,
Nuremberg, emphasis Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 136 n. 2.
in the original.
60. He also had included in the bibliography appended to his dissertation
50. Lipps, "Einf?hlung und ?sthetischer Genuss," 113.
the two volumes of Lipps's Aesthetics, published in 1903 and 1906, re
51. For a treatment of German socioeconomic transformation between Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 170 n. 3. On
spectively. See Worringer,
1870 and 1918, see Fritz K. Ringer, The Decline of the German Mandarins: of psychologism
Lipps's abandonment following criticism from Ed
The German Academic Community, 1890-1933 (London: Wesleyan Univer mund Husserl, see Fizer, Psychologism and Psychoaesthetics, 224 n. 18; on
sity Press, 1990), 42-61. Worringer's productive misreading of Lipps, see Waite, "Worringer's
52. See Anton Kaes, "Mass Culture and Modernity: Notes toward a Social His Abstraction and Empathy, 23-28.

tory of Early American and German Cinema," in America and the Germans: 61. Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 36.
An Assessment of a Three-Hundred-Year History, ed. Frank Trommler and
62. Ibid., 49.
Joseph McVeigh, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
63. Ibid., 36.
1985), 320; as well as idem, "The Debate about Cinema: Charting a Con
troversy (1909-1929)," New German Critiqued (Winter 1987): 7-33. Film 64. Theodor Lipps, quoted inWorringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 37,
theory itself, one might argue, emerged in part from the discourse o? Ein 40, 48, 58, 59: "Aesthetischer Genuss ist objectiver Selbstgenuss."
f?hlung with the publication in 1916 of Hugo M?nsterberg, The Photoplay:
65. Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 40.
A Psychological Study. Trained inWundt's psychology laboratory and well
versed in Einf?hlung M?nsterberg moved to the United States at the turn 66. Ibid., 52.
of the twentieth century, soon becoming director of the experimental psy 67. Ibid.
chology laboratory at Harvard University. See M?nsterberg, Hugo M?nster 68. Ibid., 48.
berg on Film: The Photoplay; A Psychological Study and Other Writings, ed. Allan
Langdale (New York: Routledge, 2001), 45-162; as well as Juliet Koss, "Re 69. See ibid., 39.
flections on the Silent Silver Screen: Advertising, Projection, Reproduc 70. See ibid., 9-13. For an analysis of this tale as "empathetic discourse in
tion, Sound," Kritische Berichte: Zeitschrifl f?r Kunst und Kulturwissenschaften the crudest sense," see Waite, "Worringer's Abstraction and Empathy, 30.
32, no. 2 (July 2004): 53-66.
71. Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 59.
53. Erwin Panofsky, "Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures," in Three
72. Ibid., 59-60, emphasis in the original.
Essays on Style, ed. Irving Lavin (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995),
93-94. 73. Lipps, quoted in ibid., 60.

54. Begun in 1905, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung: Ein B?trag zur Stilpsychologie 74. Ibid.
was first published as a dissertation (Neuwied, 1907) and subsequently 75. Ibid.
as a book (Munich: R. Piper, 1908; reprint, Amsterdam: Verlag der
Kunst, 1996). It did not appear in English until 1953, as Abstraction and
76. Friedrich Nietzsche, "Richard Wagner in Bayreuth" (1876), in Untimely
Meditations, translation modified, emphasis in original. The German is
Empathy: A Contribution to thePsychology of Style, trans. Michael Bullock
in Bayreuth,"
found in Nietzsche, "Richard Wagner in Nietzsche Werke,
(Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks, 1997). See Geoffrey C. W. Waite,
38. Wagner himself had linked sympathy to something akin to self
"Worringer's Abstraction and Empathy: Remarks on Its Reception and
alienation, describing the hybrid aesthetic experience of "a thorough
the Rhetoric of Criticism," in Invisible Cathedrals: The Expressionist Art
stepping out of oneself into unreserved sympathy with the joy of the
History ofWilhelm Worringer, ed. Neil H. Donahue (University Park, Pa.:
beloved, in itself." Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (Leipzig: Otto
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995), esp. 16-20; Mary Gluck, "In
The Making of Wiegand, 1850), 160.
terpreting Primitivism, Mass Culture and Modernism:
Wilhelm Worringer's Abstraction and Empathy," New German Critique 80 77. Describing an artist viewing the subject for a painting, Nietzsche re
2000): 149-69; as well as Siegfried K. Lang, "Wilhelm ferred to "that aesthetic phenomenon of detachment from personal
Worringers Abstraktion und Einf?hlung. Entstehung und Bedeutung," in interest with which a painter sees in a stormy landscape with thunder
B?hringer and S?ntgen, Wilhelm Worringers Kunstgeschichte, 81-117. Wor and lightning, or a rolling sea, only the picture of them within him,
ringer's work entered Anglophone criticism through that of Joseph the phenomenon of complete absorption in the things themselves... ."
Frank and T. E. Hulme, with its absorption into art history accom Nietzsche, "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life" (1873),
plished primarily by Rudolf Arnheim and Herbert Read. Its postwar in Untimely Meditations, 91.

78. Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 75-76. Introducing the reissued Ostfriedhof Crematorium, Munich, April 2, 1965), inWorringer Ar
English edition of Worringer's book in 1997, Hilton Kramer presents chive, folder ZR ABK 146, pp. 486-88.
the author as a proto-Greenbergian: "what remains central to Abstrac 100. Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. M. T. H. Sadler
tion and Empathy is the essential distinction itmakes between art that in the original; the German is
(New York: Dover, 1977), 44, emphasis
takes pleasure in creating some recognizable simulacrum of three found in Kandinsky, ?ber das Geistige in der Kunst (1911; reprint, Bern:
dimensional . . . and art that that spatial illusion in
space suppresses Benteli, 1952), 110. According to Peg Weiss, Kandinsky was "not likely
favor of something flatter, more constricted and abstract." Kramer, in to have seen the book [Abstraction and Empathy] in any case before
troduction to Abstraction and Empathy, ix.
1909, when his own ideas .. .were already well formulated." Weiss,
79. See Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 59, 76, and passim. Kandinsky inMunich: The Formative Jugendstil Years (Princeton: Prince
ton University Press, 1979), 159.
80. Ibid. On spatial anxiety in architectural discourse, see Anthony Vidler,
The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in theModern Unhomely (Cambridge, 101. Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 32; the German is found in
Mass.: MIT Press, 1992); and idem, "Agoraphobia: Psychopathologies of Kandinsky, ?ber das Geistige in der Kunst, 75-76. For his part, Worrin
Urban Space," in Warped Space: Art, Architecture, and Anxiety inModern ger's response to Kandinsky's book was polite, but distant. With refer
Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000), 25-50. ence to the artist's famous description of art as a large, upwardly mov

81. Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 49. ing triangle, he wrote: "Briefly formulated, this ismy position with
regard to your book: I am not standing at the same point, but I find
82. Ibid., 50. myself in the same triangle." Worringer to Kandinsky, January 7, 1912,
83. Ibid. in Hilmar Frank, "Die Missverstandene Antithese: Zur Logischen
Struktur von Abstraktion und Einf?hlung," in B?hringer and S?ntgen,
84. Ibid., 55-56. Wilhelm Worringers Kunstgeschichte, 75.
85. Ibid., 81. 102. Franz Roh, Nach-Expressionismus, Magischer Realismus: Probleme der
86. What Hildebrand had labeled"the agonizing quality of the cubic," neuesten Europ?ischen Malerei (Leipzig: Klinkhardt und Biermann,
Worringer, ibid., 58, argued "is ultimately nothing else than a remnant 1925), 40, emphasis in the original. In 2002, Michael Fried, Menzel's
of that agony and unease that governed mankind in the face of the Realism, 253, made a similar claim: modern Western culture between
things of the outside world in their unclear connection and interplay; 1840 and 1880 may be viewed within the theoretical framework of Ein
it is nothing else than a final memory of the point of departure for all
f?hlung, he wrote, citing the following individuals: "Kierkegaard,
artistic creation, namely of the urge to abstraction." See also Worringer, Helmholtz, Ruskin, Marx, Courbet, Millet, Thoreau, Whitman,
review of Gesammelte Aufs?tze by Hildebrand (Strassburg: Heitz und M?n Melville, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Dickens, Wagner, C?zanne, the first
del, 1909), inMonatshefte f?r Kunstwissenschafi, vol. 3 (Leipzig: Klinkhardt decade of Eakins's activity as a painter, [and] early Hardy."
und Biermann, 1910), 212. The task of sculpture, Hildebrand had actu
103. The history of empathy in the twentieth century?a subject beyond
ally written, is to offer a "visual image and thus to remove what is dis
the parameters of this essay?would treat the concept's Anglophone
turbing from the cubic form." Hildebrand, Das Problem der Form, 37,
afterlife, which began in 1904 with the translation into English of
trans, in Mallgrave and Ikonomou, Empathy, Form and Space, 258.
Wundt's Principles of Physiological Psychology by E. B. Titchener,
87. Riegl, Problems of Style, 14. Wundt's former student and later the head of the psychology labora
88. "It's certainly very welcome that Dr. Wilhelm Worringer, Professor of tory at Cornell University. Notably, contemporary German speakers
use the term Empathie, not Einf?hlung, to describe the generic experi
Art History in Bern [sic], has undertaken to portray and to develop
ence of empathy. Universalizing art historical claims based on per
further the basic principles of his [Riegl's] view of art," the critic Egon
sonal observation, legitimized by psychological insight, and deriving
Friedeil declared in a review of Abstraction and Empathy in 1920; Riegl's
from Einf?hlung, have appeared most famously in the work of Rudolf
work was important, but "not in the least accessible," and Worringer
Arnheim and Ernst Gombrich; see especially Arnheim, "Wilhelm Wor
helped the reader to navigate "the oppressive fullness of purely archae
... to
get at the genial thoughts at the core." Friedell, ringer on Abstraction and Empathy," in New Essays on thePsychology of
ological detail Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 50-62.
"Der Sinn des Expressionismus," Neues Wiener Journal, June 25, 1920;
quoted in Neil H. Donahue, Forms of Disruption: Abstraction inModern 104. See Vernon Lee, with Clementine Anstruther-Thomson, Beauty and
German Prose (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 32 n. 10. Ugliness and Other Studies in Psychological Aesthetics (New York: Lane,
89. See Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 1912); idem, The Beautiful: An Introduction toPsychological Aesthetics
78, 106-8; and Riegl, Prob
lems of Style, 51-83. For a discussion of the symbolic value of Egyptian (New York: Putnam's, 1913); and Edith Stein, Zum Problem der Ein
f?hlung (On the Problem of Empathy) (Halle: Buchdruckerei des
art in the work of Riegl and Worringer in relation to early silent film,
see Antonia Waisenhauses, 1917). Muschamp's association (in "How the Critic Sees,"
Lant, "Haptical Cinema," October, no. 74 (Fall 1995): 45
73. Two decades later Worringer wrote a book on Egyptian art, 16) of the current "opportunity for empathy" with the achievements of
?gyp feminism is therefore especially dubious, given that
tische Kunst: Probleme ihrerWertung (Munich: R. Piper, 1927). late-twentieth-centuiy
empathy has often been considered girlish since the 1920s.
90. On the naturalist movement in Munich at the end of the nineteenth
105. Siegfried Kracauer, The Salaried Masses: Duty and Distraction in Weimar
century and its demise two decades later, see Peter Jelavich, Munich
and Theatrical Modernism: Politics, Playwriting, and Performance, 1890-1914 Germany (1930), trans. Quintin Hoare (New York: Verso, 1998), 94.
See also idem, "The Mass Ornament" (1927), in The Mass Ornament:
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), 26-52.
Weimar Essays, trans, and ed. Thomas Y Levin (Cambridge, Mass.:
91. Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 44. Harvard University Press, 1995), 75-86.
92. Peter Behrens, Feste des Lebens und der Kunst, eine Betrachtung des Theaters 106. Kracauer, "The Little Shopgirls Go to the Movies" (1927), in The Mass
als h?chsten Kultur-Symboles (Leipzig: Diederichs, 1900), 22, emphasis in Ornament, 76 and passim. On the early-twentieth-century cultural cod
the original.
ing of mass culture as feminine, see Andreas Huyssen, "Mass Culture
93. Ernst, review of Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 529. as Woman: Modernism's Other," in After the Great Divide: Modernism,
Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press,
94. Worringer, Abstraktion und Einf?hlung, 92-93. He was not averse to sex
1986), 44-62; on the recoding o? Einf?hlung inWeimar German aes
ist generalizations, however, and elsewhere referred to the "feminine
thetic discourse as passive and feminine, see Juliet Koss, "Bauhaus
receptivity to the appearances of life" that dominated nineteenth-cen
Theater of Human Dolls," Art Bulletin 75 (December 2003): 735-36.
tury architecture, arguing that "this feminine self-resignation is synony
mous with the will to the loss of self...." Worringer, "Zum Problem 107. Bertolt Brecht, "Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting" (1936), in Brecht
on Theatre: The Development
der modernen Architektur," Neudeutsche Bauzeitung 7 (1911): 496. of an Aesthetic, trans, and ed. John Willett
(New York: Hill and Wang, 1994), 91-99.
95. Karl Scheffler, Die Frau und die Kunst (Berlin: Julius Bard, 1908), 4.
108. Bertolt Brecht, entries for January 11 and February 1, 1941, Journals
96. Ibid., 38.
1934-1955, trans. Hugh Rorrison, ed. John Willett (New York: Rout
97. Worringer's engagement with contemporary art increased after the publi ledge, 1996), 124, 131.
cation of Abstraction and Empathy in 1908. See Geoffrey Perkins, Contempo
109. Brecht, entry for August 2, 1940, ibid., 81-82.
rary Theory ofExpressionism (Frankfurt: Herbert Lang, 1974), 47-48.
110. A contemporaneous discussion of the link between the rise of mass
98. Gabriele Munter toWilhelm Worringer, January 13, 1951, Worringer culture, new modes of perception, and "efforts to render politics aes
Archive, folder ZR ABK 146, pp. 377-80.
thetic" appears inWalter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of
99. Werner Haftman, "Gruss an Wilhelm Worringer," Die Neue Zeitung, Jan Mechanical Reproduction," in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections,
uary 9, 1951, inWorringer Archive, folder 3R ABK 146, p. 278. In a trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken, 1969),
memorial speech, Hans Sedlmeyer referred to Abstraction and Empathy 241 and passim. Brecht's public mistrust of Einf?hlung has been inher
as "a bestseller of art history," saying, "Even in the twenties, every edu ited by art historians who ignore his treatment of the concept in his
cated person who wanted to speak about art had to have read it, much journals and fail to distinguish between the Einf?hlung he discussed
like?a bit earlier?Simmel's writings." Sedlmeyer (memorial speech, and that of the nineteenth century.