Immersed in Concentric Layers: Framed Narrative and its Absorptive Effects in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.
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Absorption appeared in art criticism beginning in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In his book, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot , art historian Michael Fried postulates that artists began producing absorptive paintings, paintings in which the subjects lack awareness of the beholder, as a response to the theatrical Rococo style of the early 18th century. Theatrical paintings, as opposed to absorptive art, portrays figures as if they are on a stage, aware of the beholder’s presence and their role as subject. German thinker and writer Walter Benjamin discussed absorption nearly fifty years before Fried in his 1936 collection of writings, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Benjamin designates two types of absorptive qualities in paintings: “A man who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it. He enters into this work of art the way legend tells of the Chinese painter when he viewed his finished painting. In contrast, the distracted mass absorbs the work of art” (Benjamin 20). According to Benjamin, concentrating on a work of art causes the art to absorb the viewer, allowing the beholder to process the artwork as a whole. On the other hand, a distracted beholder, while still viewing and remaining absorbed in the experience, only briefly touches on multiple aspects of the piece.
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