Whitney Davis on Pictorial Art and Global Psychological Modernity


For the 2019 FORART lecture, Whitney Davis (Berkeley) will discuss the evolutionary modernity of picture-making in the human species.

Pictorial Art and Global Psychological Modernity will deal with new research on the evolutionary ‘modernity’ of picture making in the human species (from c. 40,000 BCE), the problem of pre-modern-human ‘pictures’ (before c. 40,000 BCE), and, most important, in what ways the making of pictures ‘modernized’ the ‘modern human’ perceptual and cognitive systems (in place by c. 200,000 BCE) and form of life – creating a new kind of world into which human beings were integrated. The lecture will combine approaches from art history, paleoanthropology, archaeology, cognitive evolution, and aesthetics.

Whitney Davis is  George C. and Helen N. Pardee Professor of History of Art at the University of California at Berkeley. His teaching and research interests include prehistoric and archaic arts (especially prehistoric and predynastic arts of north eastern Africa); worldwide rock art; the Classical tradition and neoclassicism in Western art since the later Middle Ages, and especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain; the development of professional art history in interaction with archaeology, philosophical aesthetics, comparative anthropology, and other disciplines; art theory in visual-cultural studies, especially problems of pictorial representation and other kinds of visual notation; aspects of modern art history, especially its expression (or not) of nonnormative sexualities; the history and theory of sexuality, especially the history of psychoanalysis; queer theory; world art studies; and environmental, evolutionary, and cognitive approaches to the global history of visual culture.  He is the author of:

The Canonical Tradition in Ancient Egyptian Art (Cambridge University Press, 1989)

Masking the Blow: The Scene of Representation in Late Prehistoric Egyptian Art (University of California Press, 1992)

Pacing the World: Construction in the Sculpture of David Rabinowitch (Harvard University Art Museums, 1996)

Drawing the Dream of the Wolves: Homosexuality, Interpretation, and Freud’s “Wolf Man” Case (Indiana University Press, 1996)

Replications: Archaeology, Art History, Psychoanalysis (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996)

Queer Beauty: Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond (Columbia University Press, 2010)

A General Theory of Visual Culture (Princeton University Press, 2011), which received the 2012 Monograph Prize of the American Society for Aesthetics and the Susanne K. Langer Award of the Media Ecology Association.

He is currently working on three book projects: Visuality and Virtuality: Images and Pictures from Ancient Egypt to New Media (a companion volume to A General Theory of Visual Culture); Space, Time, and Depiction; and Inquiry in Art History (a study of the interaction of idiographic and nomological traditions of explanation in art history since the late 19th century).