Sensing the Present: “Conceptual Art of the Senses”

  • Mieke Bal University of Amsterdam
  • Rachel E. Burke Williams College
Keywords: senses, abstraction, writing, affect, aesthetic


After Rachel E. Burke briefly introduces the essays presented with a focus on our contemporary relationship to modern subjectivity, Mieke Bal will make the case for the sense of presentness on an affective and sensuous level in Munch’s paintings and Flaubert’s writing by selecting a few topics and cases from the book Emma and Edvard Looking Sideways: Loneliness and the Cinematic, published by the Munch Museum in conjunction with the exhibition Emma & Edvard. It is this foregrounded presentness that not only produces the ongoing thematic relevance of these works, but more importantly, the sense-based conceptualism that declares art and life tightly bound together. If neither artist eliminated figuration in favour of abstraction, they had a good reason for that. Art is not a representation of life, but belongs to it, illuminates it and helps us cope with it by sharpening our senses. As an example, a few paintings will clarify what I mean by the noun-qualifier “cinematic” and how that aesthetic explains the production of loneliness.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Mieke Bal, University of Amsterdam

Mieke Bal is a cultural theorist, critic, video artist and occasional curator. She works on feminism, migratory culture, psychoanalysis and the critique of capitalism. Her books include a trilogy on political art: Endless Andness (on abstraction) and Thinking in Film (on video installation), both 2013, and Of What One Cannot Speak (2010, on sculpture), as well as A Mieke Bal Reader (2006). In 2016 she published In Medias Res: Inside Nalini Malani’s Shadow Plays, and in Spanish, Tiempos Trastornados on the politics of visuality (2016). Her video project, Madame B, with Michelle Williams Gamaker, is widely exhibited, in 2017 in Museum Aboa Vetus and Ars Nova in Turku, Finland, and combined with paintings by Munch in the Munch Museum in Oslo for which she curated the exhibi­tion Emma & Edvard (with a book). Her most recent film, Reasonable Doubt, on René Descartes and Queen Kristina, premiered in Kraków, Po­land, on 23 April 2016.

Rachel E. Burke, Williams College

Rachel E. Burke is an MA candidate at the Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art offered in collaboration with the Clark Art Institute. She studies contemporary internet and participatory art and currently works as a research assistant for the Clark’s Research and Academic Program.


Bal, Mieke. Emma and Edvard Looking Sideways: Loneliness and the Cinematic. Oslo: Munch Museum; Brussels: Mercatorfonds; Yale UP, 2017. Print.

Bal, Mieke. Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide. Toronto: The U of Toronto P, 2001. Print.

Berman, Patricia G. “Scratching the Surface: On and In Self Portrait (1895).” Kunst og Kultur 1–2 (2017): 75–95. Print.

Culler, Jonathan. Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty. Aurora, CO: Davies Group, 1974. Print.

Culler, Jonathan. “The Performative.” The Literary in Theory. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2007. 137–65. Print.

Eisenstein, Sergei. “Through Theatre to Cinema.” Film Form. Ed. and trans. Jay Leyda. New York: Harcourt, 1998. 3–17. Print.

Flaatten, Hans-Martin Frydenberg. “Edvard Munch’s ‘Studies for a Picture Series’: The Frieze of Life and its Background in the Prose Poetry and Literary Symbolism of the 1890s.” Text and Image. Ed. Mai Britt Guleng and Karen E. Lerheim. Oslo: Munch Museum, 2012. 133–41. Print.

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Paris: Club de l’Honnête Homme, 1971. Print.

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Trans. Paul de Man (based on the version by Eleanor Marx Aveling, 1886). New York: Norton, 1965. Print.

Itten, Johannes. The Elements of Color: A Treatise of the Color System of Johannes Itten, Based on His Book “The Art of Color.” Ed. Faber Birren. Trans. Ernst van Hagen. Chichester: Wiley, 1970. Print.

LaCapra, Dominic. Madame Bovary on Trial. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1982. Print.

Lowenthal, David. The Past is a Foreign Country. New York: Cambridge UP, 1985. Print.

Owesen, Ingeborg. “Edvard Munch Between Gender, Love, and Women’s Rights.” Edvard Munch: 1863–1944. Ed. Mai Britt Guleng, Brigitte Sauge and Jon-Ove Steihaug. Oslo: Munch Museet; Milano: Skira Editore, 2013. 296–305. Print.

Prelinger, Elizabeth. After the Scream: The Late Paintings of Edvard Munch. Atlanta, GA: High Museum of Art in association with Yale UP, 2002. Print.

Schor, Naomi, and Henry F. Majewski, eds. Flaubert and Postmodernism. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska P, 1984. Print.

Tøjner, Poul Erik. Munch in His Own Words. Munich: Prestel, 2001. Print.

How to Cite
Bal, M., & Burke, R. E. (2017). Sensing the Present: “Conceptual Art of the Senses”. Text Matters: A Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture, (7), 27-54.