Traumatic Sublime: Genealogy of the Term and Relation to Contemporary Art and Media


  • Sonja Jankov



traumatic sublime, sublime, Lyotard, Bill Viola, video, media


Prolonging the concept in art theory related to Andy Warhol’s art, whose (photo)graphic series are characterized by “traumatic”, id est repetitive, operation of technique, Hal Foster introduces the term traumatic sublime to describe Bill Viola’s video works. The term relates not only to themes presented in the videos, but also to the media presenting them. Through his HD installation Ocean Without Shore at the 52nd Venice Biennale, Viola emphasised how important technical specifications of media are for his work, defining the colour saturation on the video with water curtains. This paper gives an overview of the technical evolution of Bill Viola’s works and of the term sublime, from Longinus, over Immanuel Kant, to Hal Foster and Jean-François Lyotard. It concludes that traumatic sublime can be related to several forms of new media art, not exclusively to Bill Viola’s work.

Author Biography

Sonja Jankov

Independent researcher and historian of contemporary art


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How to Cite

Jankov, S. (2016). Traumatic Sublime: Genealogy of the Term and Relation to Contemporary Art and Media. AM Journal of Art and Media Studies, (9), 135–143.