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The Pensive Image

Art as a Form of Thinking

While the philosophical dimension of painting has long been discussed, a clear case for painting as a form of visual thinking has yet to be made. Traditionally, vanitas still life paintings are considered to raise ontological issues while landscapes direct the mind towards introspection. Grootenboer moves beyond these considerations to focus on what remains unspoken in painting, the implicit and inexpressible that manifests in a quality she calls pensiveness. Different from self-aware or actively desiring images, pensive images are speculative, pointing beyond interpretation. An alternative pictorial category, pensive images stir us away from interpretation and toward a state of suspension where thinking through and with the image can start.

In fluid prose, Grootenboer explores various modalities of visual thinking— as the location where thought should be found, as a refuge enabling reflection, and as an encounter that provokes thought. Through these considerations, she demonstrates that art works serve as models for thought as much as they act as instruments through which thinking can take place. Starting from the premise that painting is itself a type of thinking, The Pensive Image argues that art is capable of forming thoughts and shaping concepts in visual terms.

240 pages | 16 color plates, 26 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Art: Art Criticism, European Art

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: General Philosophy


"[An] invigorating book."


“Grootenboer’s book provides an accessible, clear, and innovating means of thinking about being by revealing a new philosophical subject: artworks.”

Phenomenological Reviews

“Is there a kind of thinking that painting, or photography, can do, which ‘thinking in words’ cannot? What kind of realm do viewers enter when they go somewhere with an image? Are there pictures that are especially good to think with? These are the questions of Grootenboer’s unflinching, generous book, and her conclusion is pungent: ‘Philosophy . . . needs art to say what it cannot say.’”

T. J. Clark, author of Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come

“Thinking with Grootenboer is an unequivocal delight. The Pensive Image recuperates the vibrant invitations to contemplate and reflect that lurk in the quiet corners of Dutch art. Grootenboer’s philosophical insight and deft eye for the unexamined detail meld in a book that is refreshingly original and truly engaging at every turn.”

Marisa Bass, author of Insect Artifice: Nature and Art in the Dutch Revolt

“It’s wonderful to finally have this book. For nearly a century now, the history and philosophy of art have been gathering ideas about how pictures seem to embody thought, rather than simply announce narratives or messages. The literature on this subject is bewilderingly diverse, and this is the first book to bring together compatible insights from writers as diverse as Diderot, Winckelmann, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Damisch, Deleuze, Clark, Rancière, Marin, Mitchell, and Barthes. The result is a coherent account of the thought that sounds in ‘stilled images’ of all kinds.”

James Elkins, coauthor of Visual Worlds: Looking, Images, Visual Disciplines

"What does it mean to say a painting thinks? The central claim of this invigorating book is not that a painting can show thought happening, as in depictions of melancholics musing, head on hand; nor that it can illustrate philosophical concepts. Nor does Hanneke Grootenboer want to argue that a painting is a way of working out a philosophical conundrum; nor even that it can prompt theorisation about the nature of reality, artifice and representation. She argues, instead, for something weirder–and more suggestive. . . . she asks: 'Do we, as viewers, find ourselves pondering these things, or is the painting as such pensive?' Grootenboer wants to affirm the latter."


Table of Contents

Art as a Form of Thinking

Part I | Defining the Pensive Image
Chapter 1 | Theorizing Stillness
Chapter 2 | Tracing the Denkbild

Part II | Painting as Philosophical Reflection
Chapter 3 | Room for Reflection: Interior and Interiority
Chapter 4 | The Profundity of Still Life
Chapter 5 |Painting as a Space for Thought
Painting’s Wonder


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