Marek Zgórniak

    “Image-Centred” Approach vs. Facts. 
    On Some Interpretations of Rodakowski’s 
    and Mehoffer’s paintings

    (Folia Historiae Artium, Seria Nowa, vol. 10: 2005
    published 2006, p. 161-171. ISSN  0071-6723)



        The author, referring to methodological discussions conducted by historians of literature, reflects on the problem of unverifiable theories and overinterpretations in the contemporary study of art. As an illustration, he lists Michael Brötje's publications (fashionable in Poland), which contain extended analyses that - as a rule - take no account of the artist's intention or of the work's historical background, sometimes ignoring even the chronological sequence of events. The author considers Brötje's assumptions as too arbitrary: they are impossible to corroborate and impervious to falsification (in the Popperian sense). It remains unclear which facts could eventually contradict them. Similar phenomena have recently occurred in Polish publications. The proposals contained in them are true only in a ‘consensual’ way: they are positively evaluated in certain milieus of specialists, even though they happen to contradict the testimony of sources and general knowledge. In the author's opinion, the formulation of radically new (though not necessarily reasonable) interpretations is given a boost by the battle for recognition among scholars. In Polish research on art the strategy of overinterpretation sometimes results in local success, while the lack of scholarly debate reinforces this situation.
        The author points to dangers of overinterpretation through the example of studies by two art historians from the Poznań circle devoted to Polish painting in the 2nd half of the 19th century. He claims that their concentration on certain arbitrarily selected visual aspects of the discussed paintings results in exaggerated subjectivity in their arguments. The rules and stages of source analysis are neglected in what concerns not only the work of art itself, but also the related sources. The written sources which could prove helpful e.g. in the reconstruction of the circumstances in which pictures originated are often overlooked, and so the painting analysed out of the historical and artistic context falls prey to the interpreter's unbridled activity. Instead of historical thinking about a work of art, the authors present their deepened impressions, which cannot be accepted as scholarly statements.

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