Fiction and Motivation in Medieval Art  

Since the Ancient World, engagement with visual art has recognized that perception has tremendous powers to reconfigure ‘stuff’ imaginatively. Aquinas, for example, stated that it is possible to separate representation and configuration. Later aestheticians, informed by analytical philosophy, referred to this capacity as ‘aspectual seeing’: seeing something ‘in’ a configuration, or more radically seeing the configuration ‘as’ something. This lecture returns to ‘aspectual seeing’ in the belief that it illuminates current debates about materiality, illusion, emotion and fiction in medieval art. In particular, it will reflect on (if not solve) the question of what human engagement with fictions consists of, whether that engagement can motivate us to action and, if so, what that engagement tells us about the art-life divide as presently understood by some art historians and critics.

Paul Binski writes widely on general issues of aesthetics, rhetoric and the visual arts in the Middle Ages. He is Emeritus Professor of the History of Medieval Art at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Caius College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Corresponding Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, and was Slade Professor, Oxford University, 2006-7. He delivered the British Academy Aspects of Art Lecture, 2001, and the Paul Mellon Lectures, National Gallery, London and Yale University, 2002-3. His publications include Becket’s Crown. Art and Imagination in Gothic England 1170-1300 (2004), Gothic Wonder: art, artifice and the Decorated Style 1290-1350 (2014) and most recently Gothic Sculpture (2019). Later this year he will be Franklin D. Murphy Lecturer at the University of Kansas.  

Lecture available for viewing here: