Towards an Experimental Narratology of the Image

Period: November 2015 - October 2017

Principal investigator(s):

  • Dr. Klaus-Peter Speidel

Team member(s):

  • Univ.-Prof. Raphael Rosenberg

Funding program: FWF "Lise Meitner Programme (M 1944)"

Involved fields: Art History, Philosophy, Psychology


The question of the temporal nature of the arts has occupied researchers since Lessing affirmed in his Laocoon that an image differs from a text because it does not have any “temporal program”. Until now, some image theorists and narratologists believe this to implicate that a picture cannot tell a story, while many art-historians believe it to be quite unproblematic that some pictures tell a story. The aim of our project is to use psychophysical methods in order to experimentally extend on these debates and questions. More specifically, we aim to shed some light on the relationship between visual exploration of a picture in time and its degree and type of narrativity. The heart of the project is a study in which subjects will look at different kinds of pictures (highly narrative or not) while their psychophysical reactions are being tracked through various means. We hypothesize that narrative structures significantly affect visual exploration patterns, where a more systematic exploration of pictures could reflect a variation in degrees of narrativity. We further believe that certain pictures have by their makers been intended to evoke emotions such as suspense, surprise and relief, which have been frequently associated with narrative. We hope that psychophysical techniques will allow to correlate such emotions with certain picture elements. Specific attention will be paid to pictures in which elements essential to the overall meaning are very small (e.g. Raft of the Medusa by Géricault). At least in these cases we expect pictures to evoke emotions in a comparable way to texts. By clarifying the differences and similarities of picture- and text-reception, the project will also be highly relevant for text-and-image-studies.

Dr. Klaus-Peter Speidel