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Kaila Howell // Color and Bildung in Philipp Otto Runge's Artistic-Theoretical Project (AT)

In addition to being one of the foremost artists of the Romantic period, Philipp Otto Runge was a key player in the early development of Romantic thought. A prolific letter writer, who was engaged in the social circles of Hamburg and Dresden, he exchanged ideas with some of the most prominent intellectuals of the period, including J.W. Goethe, F.W.J. Schelling, Ludwig Tieck, and Heinrich Steffens. Ultimately more concerned with the method and process of artistic formation than with the formed product itself, his extensive and evolving ideas about art constitute an essential part of his artistic work.
My dissertation explores Runge’s participation in the contemporary reimagining of Bildung (self-formation). A medieval term with origins in ancient Greek philosophy, Bildung regained currency during the mid to late eighteenth century before it emerged as one of the defining concepts of early Romanticism. For Runge, Bildung is the end and process of a new historically self-conscious art centered around the education of perception and thought.
At the basis of this project is Runge’s work on color. Drawing yet complicating analogies between color and language, Runge envisions color as a relational event that demonstrates our mutual formation with reality. Eschewing traditional dichotomies between it and form, he treats color as itself a form-generating process that participates in the activities of thinking and perceiving.
Color, as Runge foresees it, is the ‘last art.’ Eventually shifting away from material methods of artistic production, Runge imagines color as the basis for a new art focused on the formative processes of the mind. Ultimately, traditional painting would give way to an art of living, a process of self-realization defined by the search for wholeness. To an extent, Runge’s art prefigures twentieth-century artistic experiments in conceptualism. In doing so, however, it shines new light on the relationship between concept and percept, as well as on the nature of the concept, in conceptual art.

[Caption: Philipp Otto Runge, Farbenkugel (Hamburg: Perthes, 1810)]