chapter  29
The intangibility of things: Simon J. Knell
Pages 12

IN HIS CLASSIC STUDY OF ILLUSION IN ART, art historian Ernst Gombrich (1977: 176, 190-1) observed in practitioners of his discipline, a ‘readiness to start projecting, to thrust out the tentacles of phantom colours and phantom images which always fl icker around our perceptions.’ He continued, ‘what we call “reading” an image may perhaps be better described as testing it for its potentialities, trying out what fi ts.’ In other words, while art historians believed the object was communicating to them they were really talking to it, infusing it with their thoughts and desires; the fl ow of communication was quite the reverse of their perception of it. If Gombrich understood that ‘the artist of the Western tradition came to rely upon the power of indefi nite forms’, he knew too that the reception of works of art also played upon these ambiguities, permitting artist and art historian alike to fi nd creative potential in the same uncertainties.