Critical Explorations of Nordic Art and Vitalism

Tonje Haugland Sørensen, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Bergen, tonje.sorensen@uib.no

MaryClaire Pappas, PhD Candidate, Indiana University, maryclaire.pappas@gmail.com

Vitalism, here broadly defined as the widespread embrace of life as a process of becoming in philosophy, art, health reform movements, and the natural sciences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, emboldened Nordic artists, philosophers, and cultural figures to reject the premises of nineteenth century materialist sciences in favor of new life-affirming philosophies and practices. This panel seeks to explore how and why Nordic artists engaged with vitalist impulses in their artmaking practices at the fin-de-siècle. A time of social, scientific, political, and economic change, many artists in the Nordic region rejected materialism and the positive sciences and instead advocated for a fully embodied mode of experiencing and investigating the world, a feature reflected in their artmaking practices. Artists engaged with vitalist tendencies both as a practice, embracing friluftsliv (open-air life), and as a philosophical, artistic, and scientific phenomenon. This panel attends to how Nordic artists embraced vitalist trends in their technologies of the self or as a philosophical doctrine, inspired by thinkers like William James and Henri Bergson.

 Vitalist interests in the Nordic region melded with already prevalent Nordic practices, such as hiking and skiing, and necessitated complex discourse on the Nordic body and body politic. Bringing together papers dealing with vitalist visual culture from a Nordic perspective, the panel will foreground how sensations, images, and art were understood as leading the viewer towards a new understanding of not only art but the self. While Nordic visual and material culture depicting vitalist bathing practices has gained renewed attention from scholars in the last decade, little attention has been paid to artworks less explicit in their embrace of such discourses. This panel will rectify this scholarly gap by bringing together papers analyzing artworks that have not been considered as part of this discourse, but nevertheless, similarly embrace a vital principle of life or an animating life-force driving the natural world.

Information about the speakers and papers on this panel will be posted shortly. 

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