Unedited reconstruction of temporal order in William Hogarth’s « Bagnio » by sample participant

Unedited reconstruction of temporal order in William Hogarth’s « Bagnio » by sample participant

Towards an Experimental Narratology of the Image

Klaus Speidel

Lise Meitner project

In 1766 G. E. Lessing drew a strict distinction between the arts of time and the arts of space. He explained that only the former (poetry, theater, etc.) should be used for conveying stories, simultaneously asserting that paintings that only show one moment in time are not suitable for narrative. To this day, his point of view is regularly echoed by image theorists as well as researchers specializing in the study of narrative, most of whom maintain that monochronic pictures can only remind viewers of stories they already know. My project challenged these ideas. The project developed new concepts to deal with pictorial narrative and questions experts’ assumptions based on experiments with more than 220 non-expert viewers. One finding was that viewers largely agreed that certain monochronic pictures tell stories. The difference with pictures that contained lower narrativity was statistically significant. As storytelling is a concept that non-experts master well, this result calls into question the conviction that monochronic pictures, which only show one moment in time, cannot tell stories. Further analyses focused on how strongly content summaries of different participants resembled each other and whether different viewers reconstructed the same timelines. Results showed that participant scripts summing up the content of a picture did not vary greatly. They all mentioned events that are explicitly or implicitly represented, mostly through traces. To account for this I introduced the concept “trace-based narrative”. It was also shown that different viewers reconstructed the temporal order of events implicated in different pictures in very similar ways.