The Power of Images, by David Freedberg

01/01/1989View on timeline


Freedberg, formerly the Pierre Matisse Professor of the History of Art at Columbia University, and since 2015 the director of the Warburg Institute, had, before turning his attention to the brain, published widely on Dutch, Flemish, French, and Italian seventeenth-century art (including painting, drawing, and print), iconoclasm, the intersection of art and science, and, to a lesser extent, contemporary art. Freedberg’s interest in the neurosciences relates directly to historical events he explored in his seminal The Power of Images.


Although beauty has been a central topic in aesthetics, the neuroaesthetics of beauty has brought us to the point of wondering if, in spite of its name, the new discipline is about aesthetics at all. With David Freedberg, we enter a different world—one that promises a more sophisticated treatment of art as well as smarter ways of linking neuroscientific knowledge and the aesthetic relation.

In that book, Freedberg (1989) wished, as Ernst Gombrich (1990) noted in a sharp review, “to lead the response to art back to our elementary reactions.”

Vidal, Fernando and Ortega, Francisco. Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject (Forms of Living)....

Cover of the book, found at the website for the University of Chicago Press.
You can purchase the book below:

The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response


Freedberg (1989, 437) pointed to in The Power of Images when he complained that our perception is clouded by “the compulsion to establish whether an object is art or not.” There are occasions indeed when that compulsion and the discourse that surrounds it are obstacles to both feeling and understanding, yet if art is to remain a meaningful notion and the aesthetic relation a meaningful experience, cortex without context simply won’t do.


Vidal, Fernando and Ortega, Francisco. Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject (Forms of Living)....

David Freedberg is best known for his work on psychological responses to art, and particularly for h...
Learn more about David Freedberg's research and find a list of selected publications for download below:

Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University

Watch David Freedberg talk about iconoclasm:
Destruction of Monuments and Memory in the Middle East: David Freedberg
Contemporary Image Conflicts: Violence and Iconoclasm from Charlie Hebdo to Daesh - David Freedberg
The Fear of Art: Reflections on Art Censorship and Banning

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Published in 18/01/2019

Updated in 19/02/2021

All events in the topic Chap. 2: Neuroaesthetics:


Invalid DateCoining of the word NeuroaestheticsCoining of the word Neuroaesthetics
Invalid DateNeuroaesthetics as a field of studyNeuroaesthetics as a field of study
Invalid DateCoining of the term NeuroarthistoryCoining of the term Neuroarthistory
Invalid DatefMRI Experiment on Art Creation, by Robert SolsofMRI Experiment on Art Creation, by Robert Solso
Invalid DateAndy Warhol's Brillo BoxAndy Warhol's Brillo Box
Invalid DateThe Power of Images, by David FreedbergThe Power of Images, by David Freedberg
Invalid DateDavid Freedberg's articles on neuroaesthetics
Invalid DateDiscovery of Mirror NeuronsDiscovery of Mirror Neurons
Invalid DateAndy Warhol: Brillo Box, by Arthur DantoAndy Warhol: Brillo Box, by Arthur Danto