Chapters (Layout Features)


Freedberg, David A.

Iconoclasm was published in 23 Manifeste zu Bildakt und Verkörperung on page 89.

To attack an image is to acknowledge its power.
To destroy it is to eliminate the life that is believed to inhere in it, either in what it shows or in how it is made.
To make an image lifeless is to acknowledge the life it contains.

But what does it mean to say an image has life in it? That it partakes of the life of the represented? That it has a kind of intangible vitality in and of itself, making vitality less of a metaphor than critics and theorists of representation like to think?

To remove the mouth of an image is to eliminate its power to speak; to remove its eyes is to deprive it of its ability to see or to look back at one.

These are all ways of speaking about images that teeter on the edge of metaphor. The images don’t actually speak; they are not actually animated by eyes, or corrugator or superciliary muscles. They are representations of eyes and muscles — and the degree of liveliness perceived in them depends quite precisely on how (or how well) they are painted or sculpted. These marks of what we habitually call vitality in an image are what gives them the appearance of life, life so real that they force embodied responses on us, right up to and including destroying them.

From this arises the great paradox of iconoclasm: to be hostile to an image is to be enamored of it, and to acknowledge its thrall. Iconoclasm testifies to the struggle to resist the life the iconoclast — and the rest of us — attribute to it; it is the most adequate response to the desire it evokes (the image never gives us fully what we need, so we do away with it). To destroy an image is to acknowledge the attribu- tion of a life that is even more magical than the power of loving and desiring another person. It is to acknowledge a love so intense that its clutches cannot be escaped until the work is destroyed.

This, fundamentally, is what joins pornographic with religious imagery, and gives propaganda by image its power.


Also Published In

De Gruyter

More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Published Here
August 24, 2022