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Rudolf Arnheim Remembered
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Rudolf Arnheim Remembered

Kendall Walton

Rudolf Arnheim’s retirement from Harvard in 1974 capped an enormously impressive and productive career. But for some of us this was only the beginning. He taught for another ten years under the auspices of the History of Art Department at the University of Michigan; his courses were exceedingly successful and exceedingly popular. After a second retirement ceremony in 1984 he continued to participate eagerly and fruitfully in conversations, with colleagues and others, on just about anything connected with the arts.

Arnheim did not just write and think about the arts from a distance; he knew and appreciated his subject matter intimately, from the inside. Nor was he constricted by tradition. He looked for and found art and beauty in unfashionable places. He was among the first, even before the introduction of talkies, to take film seriously as an art form. Many decades later he encouraged the late Selma Jeanne Cohen – a major force in the belated establishment of scholarly studies of dance and dance history – to join the American Society for Aesthetics. The two of them spent an evening at a friend’s home in Ann Arbor discussing and admiring, from photographs, the movements of Cohen’s cat, Giselle.

Arnheim was honored in many ways by many organizations. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1976, and was awarded honorary degrees by Sarah Lawrence College, the University of Michigan, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Padua. To inaugurate its new quarterly schedule of publication, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts published a special issue in honor of Arnheim’s centenary (Volume 1, No. 1, February 2007).

Asked to what audience he targets his writings, Arnheim once answered, “Oh, I write them for myself.” Anyone who knew Rudi will realize that this bespeaks, not self absorption, but personal and intellectual honesty. Arnold Berleant’s characterization of Rudi as a gentle and gracious person, accessible and thoughtful in conversation, with a sly and warm sense of humor, is exactly right.

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