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Barbara Maria Stafford

Barbara Stafford is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Good Looking, Artful Science, Body Criticism, and Voyage into Substance (all published by MIT Press).

Titles by This Author

Consciousness as the Art of Connecting

Recuperating a topic once central to philosophy, theology, rhetoric, and aesthetics, this groundbreaking book explores the discovery of sameness in otherness. Analogy poses an intriguingly ancient and modern conundrum. How, in the face of cultural diversity, can a unique someone or something be perceived as like what it is not? This book is for anyone puzzled by why today, as Barbara Maria Stafford claims, "we possess no language for talking about resemblance, only an exaggerated awareness of difference." Well-designed images, Stafford argues, reveal the mind's intuitive leaps to connect known with unknown experience.

The first of four wide-ranging chapters paints a challenging overview of several pressing contemporary issues. Cloning, legal controversies about social inequity, identity politics, electronic copying, and the mimicry of virtual reality expose the need for a nuanced theory of similitude. The second examines the historical tug-of-war between analogy and allegory, or disanalogy. Stafford provocatively suggests that, since the Romantic Era, we have been living in polarizingly allegorical times. The third roots this divisiveness within the momentous shift from a magical universe, modeled on sexual bonds, to an engineered world built of discrete automated units. Finally, recent developments in computational brain research notwithstanding, major phenomenological questions about memory, emotion, intelligence, and awareness beckon. In the fourth chapter, Stafford intervenes in the consciousness debates to propose a humanistic cognitive science with bridging/analogy at its artful core.

Enlightenment Entertainment and the Eclipse of Visual Education

What has happened to the magic of learning? Playful illusions, spellbinding games, and lifelike automata were once integral to education. Artful Science reveals the exhilarating but paradoxical intertwining of enchantment with enlightenment in the early modern period. A cross-disciplinary guide to intellectual high and low life of the eighteenth century, Artful Science makes the case for the pedagogical opportunities inherent in an oral-visual culture. Barbara Stafford draws on an extraordinary range of historical sources and popular imagery, exploring from a new perspective the perceptual cognition that she so deftly analyzed in Body Criticism. Her important reinterpretation also casts many well-studied paintings as instances of an instructive art of demonstration.

Artful Science opens by describing the evolution of mathematical recreations and their relationship to the middle class's increasing leisure time. Subsequent chapters focus on the problem of distinguishing legitimate science from virtuoso fraud; the public performance of experiments; and early attempts to create informative and attractive natural history exhibits. Throughout, Stafford emphasizes the concern for telling truth from fiction in a world of alluring technology. The enlighteners' relentless association of sensory evidence with deception led to the submergence of a "tricking" oral-visual culture by "serious" mass literacy drives, Stafford observes. Yet sophisticated teaching techniques and ingenious learning machines made abstractions concrete and appealing to ever-widening eighteenth-century audiences. With the modern computer graphics revolution always in view, Artful Science suggests fresh means for putting intelligence, enjoyment, and communicative power back into thinking with images.

Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine

Body Criticism is a celebration of visual culture as well as a major contribution to our understanding of the history of the human body. At its core is a profound exploration of the innovative strategies developed in the eighteenth century for making visible the unseeable aspects of the world. In the process it uncovers and analyzes the persistence of a remarkable set of body metaphors deriving from both aesthetic and medical practices.

For Barbara Stafford, all forms of representation are metaphors for cognitive processes in a society, and the historian's job is to reconstruct the metaphors in order to shed light on the society. Here she looks at the changing nature of images of the human body as a key to understanding the changing status of the body as western society was establishing the outlines of modernity. The six central chapters examine a remarkable range of images and representational practices under the headings Dissecting, Abstracting, Conceiving, Marking, Magnifying, and Sensing.

The importance of Body Criticism lies in its own visibilizing of previously unexplored interrelationships between art and medicine not only during the Enlightenment but now. Stafford also presents a strong argument for society's need to recognize the occurrence of a profound revolution - a radical shift from a textbased to a visually-centered culture. She offers a novel analysis of a philosophic, artistic, and scientific quest that continues in our contemporary technological search to reveal nonapparent physical and mental experience. Based on her study of the roots of this visual culture, she argues that modern societies need to develop innovative, nonlinguistic paradigms and to train a broad public in visual aptitude.