Call for Papers


THE IMAGE IS NOT an idea. It is a radiant node or cluster; it is what I can, and must perforce, call a VORTEX, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing. 

Ezra Pound, Vorticism, 1914.


It is hard to find a definition of what an image is. Most of those ‘definitions’ content themselves with saying what an image is not. It is not (merely) a symbol; it is not (merely) a form of language; it is not (merely) an idea in our mind; it is not merely a representation of anything else in this world. It is especially the latter general consensus – that an image is, ontologically, not a mimetic representation (a ‘picture’) of a thing or idea – that constitutes the question behind this conference. As such, the conference seeks a positive answer of what an image is (without contending ourselves merely with what an image is not), by inviting interdisciplinary contributions to this important inquiry. The conference is interested in images as a starting point rather than an end in themselves: even if an image is the end of (artistic or technological) production, the produced image means the start of the life of the image. Seen as such, the image is not a representation or an illustration, but rather a starting point of something else to come.

In order to start articulating a positive definition of the image, it might be helpful to look at Ezra Pound’s definition of an image as ‘vortex’, i.e. a sort of node or cluster of energy that both transmits and receives – something that “rushes” through, from and into certain phenomena. This definition comes close to another, more recent, formulation given by Hans Belting, who believes that images can be perceived as “nomads who alter their modes in historical cultures and thus occupy the available media as if they were temporary stopping points” (Belting, Bild Anthropologie: Entwürfe für ein Bildwissenschaft, 2001). Or Aby Warburg’s idea of the so called “Pathos Formula” (Pathosformeln), by which he meant to describe sorts of “eloquent images of crystallized interferences that visualize the processing of affectual (emotional) energies into cultural (visual) patterns” (as Hartmut Böhme has reformulated it). Moreover, new research in Psychology has also contributed to a fuller understanding of the image, underlying that images are not mere representations, for example by showing that the image perceived can have vastly different properties than the physical stimulus (change blindness), and also by studying the difference between what we believe we perceive, and what we actually perceive (blindsight). Moreover, Neuro-imaging has led to a revolution in studies of mental imagery, studying underlying mechanisms used in producing and sustaining mental images.

This conference aims to bring together scholars from the humanities, sciences, social sciences, as well as artists, who work in, with, or about images. In order to get a more thorough view on the ontology of images, it is important to study them from various disciplines and angles. Hence, we invite paper proposals from a wide range of disciplines, including archaeologists, philosophers, art historians, artists, psychologists, neuroscientists and medical imaging scientists. Applicants are encouraged to determine which one of the conference’s four panels would fit their research best (yet keeping in mind that the conference seeks interdisciplinary dialogues and expects an exchange between all four panels). Please click the tab “Panels” in the menu above to determine which panel to apply to.

Sample questions that could be helpful in answering the leading question of the conference are:

  • How can images travel throughout history and how are they transformed by their medium?
  • Can images exist without a medium in which they find a (temporary) form? Do purely psychological images, images as ideas exist?
  • Do images constructed from tactile exploration, sound, or smell have a different mental form than images constructed through purely visual input?
  • How can we compare mental images, produced from viewing the same stimulus, held by different observers? What aspects of image change the most when interpreted by different observers?
  • What purpose can an image have from the respective disciplines within this conference, and how could that image be useful for a clearer understanding of the nature of the image for other fields?

Please send an abstract of 250-300 words to by 15 March, 2016, with your preferred panel in the subject line. Questions can be directed to the email address above. Participants will be notified of acceptance by mid-April.

Find us on Facebook: Facebook event / Facebook group

* This conference is co-funded by the AHRC and the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH).