Image Caption: The Double Meaning of Silhouette, drawing by Rosa Sancarlo

The Double Meaning of Silhouette, drawing by Rosa Sancarlo

Experiencing Silhouettes: A Historical and Empirical Study on Silhouettes and their Aesthetic Experience

Rosa Sancarlo

PhD project

The starting premise of the dissertation project is the role of the silhouette as the most ancient and recurrent mode of representation in the history of art. From such observation arises the question: why has such a simple mode of representation both been present since the beginning of art and expanded outside the borders of art into our daily visual life and has not yet ceased to fascinate artists and audiences? To pursue this inquiry, the project "Experiencing Silhouettes" will focus on the aesthetic characteristics of silhouettes and their effects on the aesthetic experience of the beholder. The overarching question is: How do we aesthetically experience silhouette? The literature on silhouettes and silhouette art is indeed rich, but it leaves the issue of their perception largely untouched. This project will approach the issue through a historical as well as empirical analysis. The historical analysis will firstly develop a historical overview of the phenomenon and its literature. Secondly, it will consider the use of the mode in three particular case studies, namely: European silhouette portrait art (18th-19th century), African American Art (1920s-40s) and American Street Art (1980s). Thirdly, it will employ formal and stylistic analyses to examine the selected artworks. The empirical analysis will consist of two experiments. The first will examine the aesthetic experience of beholders in front of silhouettes. The second will examine the single aesthetic characteristics of silhouettes. Both experiments will employ the methods of eye-tracking and written survey. At the crossroad between art history, empirical aesthetics and visual culture studies, the present project will lead to brand new findings regarding how we visually, cognitively and emotionally perceive a visual object that has crucially shaped the past and the present of our visual world.