Marvelous Images: On Values And The Arts [PDF] [s48heccuki80] (2023)

The twelve essays by Kendall Walton in this volume address a broad range of theoretical issues concerning the arts. Many of them apply to the arts generally-to literature, theater, film, music, and the visual arts-but several focus primarily on pictorial representation or photography. In "'How Marvelous!': Toward a Theory of Aesthetic Value" Walton introduces an innovative account of aesthetic value, and in this and other essays he explores relations between aesthetic value and values of other kinds, especially moral values. Two of the essays take on what has come to be called imaginative resistance-a cluster of puzzles that arise when works of fiction ask us to imagine or to accept as true in a fiction moral propositions that we find reprehensible in real life. "Transparent Pictures", Walton's classic and controversial account of what is special about photographic pictures, is included, along with a new essay on a curious but rarely noticed feature of photographs and other still pictures-the fact that a depiction of a momentary state of an object in motion allows viewers to observe that state, in imagination, for an extended period of time. Two older essays round out the collection-another classic, "Categories of Art", and a less well known essay, "Style and the Products and Processes of Art", which examines the role of appreciators' impressions of how a work of art came about, in understanding and appreciation. None of the reprinted essays is abridged, and new postscripts have been added to several of them.


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Kendall L. Walton

M A RV E L O U S I M AG E S On Values and the Arts

1 2008

1 Oxford University Press, Inc., publishes works that further Oxford University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education. Oxford New York Auckland Cape Town Dar es Salaam Hong Kong Karachi Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Nairobi New Delhi Shanghai Taipei Toronto With offices in Argentina Austria Brazil Chile Czech Republic France Greece Guatemala Hungary Italy Japan Poland Portugal Singapore South Korea Switzerland Thailand Turkey Ukraine Vietnam

Copyright © 2008 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Published by Oxford University Press, Inc. 198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016 Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Oxford University Press. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Walton, Kendall L., 1939– Marvelous images : on values and the arts / Kendall L. Walton. p. cm. ISBN 978-0-19-517794-7; 978-0-19-517795-4 (pbk.) 1. Aesthetics. 2. Art—Philosophy. 3. Photography—Philosophy. I. Title. BH39.W328 2008 701'.17—dc22 2007023755










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This volume and its forthcoming companion, In Other Shoes: Music, Metaphor, Empathy, Existence, reproduce a number of essays that I have published over the years and introduce several new ones. All explore topics in aesthetics or philosophy of the arts, broadly conceived, but most of them—well, all of them—take up issues in other areas of philosophy at the same time: philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, or value theory. The present collection begins with a cluster of essays concerning values and the arts. Many works of art are marvelous—marvelously beautiful, or aesthetically valuable in other ways. I have long been skeptical of the theoretical importance of notions of aesthetic value, and I still am. Nevertheless, the opening essay of this volume, “ ‘How Marvelous!’: Toward a Theory of Aesthetic Value,” explores a kind of value that fits common conceptions of aesthetic value surprisingly well, despite differing greatly from most traditional accounts. One new postscript cites several precedents, however; another describes different ways in which a work might be good because it is bad. “The Test of Time,” an adaptation of a review of Anthony Savile’s excellent book with that title, examines the claims of durability or longevity as an indication of aesthetic value, and considers what sort of value this must be if time is a reasonable test for it. Works of art possess values of other kinds also, and serve them in important and distinctive ways. “ ‘How Marvelous!’ ” considers how aesthetic value is related to other varieties, as well as how it differs from them. “Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality” and “On the (So-Called) Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance” focus especially on moral values, and on works that subvert them as well as ones that serve them. They address the peculiar conundrums concerning works of fiction with moral dimensions that I noted in Mimesis as Make-Believe, which have been discussed subsequently under the misleading rubric of “imaginative resistance.”



Besides marveling at particular works of art, one cannot but find remarkable the resources artists have at their disposal—the media they work in and the techniques they employ—which make possible the production of marvelous objects and ones that are effective in serving or subverting values of various sorts. The essays in part II examine the medium of visual representation. Some of them develop and defend the account of depiction I presented in Mimesis. Others consider what is special about two important species of depiction—photography and still pictures (with emphasis on the fact that they are still). “Pictures and Hobby Horses: Make-Believe beyond Childhood,” a lecture designed for general audiences, is an informal introduction to my theory of depiction and the notion of make-believe it rests on. I include it partly because it provides relatively easy access to the central features of my views on these topics, for readers not familiar with Mimesis, but also because it approaches them from a different angle, one that brings out my indebtedness to Ernst Gombrich. Unlike Mimesis, it reproduces the order in which I originally developed the ideas it sketches, starting with the problem of how to account for the visualness of pictures and other depictions, then introducing the theory of make-believe in order to solve it, and after that exploring applications of the theory to fictions of various kinds and a wide range of related phenomena. “Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism” initiates and anchors my attempt to discover what is special about photographs. Photographs, I say, are aids to vision; on seeing a photograph of a bear, one sees (indirectly) the bear. This is not the only respect in which photographs differ from pictures of other kinds, but it is the most important one. I have included several postscripts to this essay clarifying features of my transparency claim that have sometimes been misunderstood, and indicating directions in which I think further investigation would be fruitful. I do not do much in these essays by way of replying to objections or assessing rival theories. An exception is “On Pictures and Photographs: Objections Answered,” which considers arguments advanced by Noël Carroll and Gregory Currie against my account of depiction and the transparency thesis.1 “Seeing-In and Seeing Fictionally” and “Depiction, Perception, and Imagination” examine relations between my account of pictorial representation and that of Richard Wollheim, in the process clarifying and elaborating my account. Although much has been written about photography using still photographs as examples, there are very few discussions of what is special about still photographs as opposed to moving ones, or of the medium of still pictures generally. The depiction of motion and change by means of unchanging marks on a picture surface, in particular, has been insufficiently remarked or investigated. 1. I replied to other objections in an essay not included here, “Looking Again through Photographs: A Response to Edwin Martin” (Critical Inquiry 12 [1986], 801–808). Currie’s more recent writings on pictorial representation go in a different direction, utilizing a notion of perception like imagining.



“Experiencing Still Photographs: What Do You See and How Long Do You See It?” first published in this volume, tackles these topics. Although it concentrates primarily on photographs, having begun as a contribution to a symposium on photography, its conclusions apply to still pictures in general, indeed to “still” depictions of all sorts: sculptures, paintings, and drawings, as well as photographs. As a bonus, reflection on “still” media brings interesting features of motion pictures into focus. The two older essays constituting part III treat very general issues concerning the understanding and appreciation of works of art of many kinds. “Categories of Art” and “Style and the Products and Processes of Art” both address the mossencrusted questions of intentionalism in aesthetic theory. Each finds a role in appreciation and criticism for facts about the circumstances of a work’s genesis, including the artist’s intentions—but very different roles in the two cases. The value of works of art, why they are important and why people esteem and treasure them—not far from the surface in any of these essays—is especially evident in “Style,” which thus connects with the more recent essays of part 1, especially “ ‘How Marvelous!’ ” An unmarked theme of several of the essays in this volume, made explicit only in “Experiencing Still Photographs,” is the difference between two things’ appearing (to be) different, and their appearing differently, a distinction that is commonly overlooked—when, for example, people claim that if a forgery and the original are visually indistinguishable they must be identical aesthetically. “Categories” and “Style” both, in different ways, illustrate this distinction and underscore its importance. I have saved for In Other Shoes essays focusing primarily or substantially on empathy and its relatives, especially what I have called “other shoe experiences,” and essays on emotional responses to fiction, on music, on metaphor, and on existence claims and the ontological status of fictional entities. This may seem a scattered assortment, but the essays draw a network of substantial, if sometimes unexpected, connections among these topics. The choices as to which essays to include in which volume were inevitably somewhat arbitrary. “Pictures and Hobby Horses” contains informal observations about empathy—about empathizing with people in pictures—and about what later came to be called mental simulation, topics I address more systematically and thoroughly in In Other Shoes. In “Style” I argue, in effect, that empathy with artists and performers is a fundamental ingredient of much appreciation of the arts. Readers with special interests in music may want to consult “Categories” and “Style” in addition to the essays devoted primarily to music that are collected in In Other Shoes. Musical performance, music making, is a paradigm of the “processes of art” discussed in “Style.” Both “Style” and “Categories” bear on questions concerning musical personae, and musical examples are prominent in each of them.



While wrestling with notions of aesthetic value in “ ‘How Marvelous!’ ” I found myself thinking about the nature of sports and the values they may involve. A new essay to appear in In Other Shoes—“ ‘It’s Only a Game!’: Sports as Fiction”—examines sports and the experiences of participants and spectators more directly. Each of the essays in both volumes is intended to stand on its own, to be understandable apart from any of my other writings. This makes for some unavoidable overlap among them, especially in introductory sections. Several contain short sketches of ideas presented more carefully in others or in Mimesis as Make-Believe before going on to make their distinctive contributions. Minor editorial adjustments aside, the texts of all but two of the reprinted essays are complete and unchanged (although I have inserted several new footnotes, in square brackets). The exceptions are “Pictures and Hobby Horses,” which finds here a more or less settled form after its varied life as an occasion-driven lecture, and “The Test of Time,” which was modified to be independent of Savile’s book. Footnotes in the various essays and references to writings of other scholars constitute an extensive but seriously incomplete record of my intellectual debts. I should mention especially David Hills and Patrick Maynard, whose stimulation and advice for many decades is inadequately acknowledged in my references to them. I can’t overemphasize the benefits of numerous casual conversations and offhand comments—by many colleagues at the University of Michigan over the years, by lecture audiences, and by students in courses and seminars—which not infrequently pointed toward what I came to see as significant insights, or alerted me to problems in my views or infelicities in my formulations of them. Thanks to Katherine Kuehn, whose detective and diplomatic skills were indispensable in obtaining permissions for the illustrations and arranging for their reproduction in this volume. Thanks also for support from the Dean’s Office Discretionary Fund, University of Michigan College of Literature, Science and the Arts, and from the University of Michigan Department of Philosophy.


par t i .

aesthetic and moral values

Chapter 1. “How Marvelous!”: Toward a Theory of Aesthetic Value, 3 Postscripts to “ ‘How Marvelous!’ ” 20 Chapter 2. The Test of Time, 23 Chapter 3. Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality, 27 Chapter 4. On the (So-Called) Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance, 47

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pictures and photographs

Chapter 5.

Pictures and Hobby Horses: Make-Believe beyond Childhood, 63 Chapter 6. Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism, 79 Postscripts to “Transparent Pictures”: Clarifications and To Do’s, 110 Chapter 7. On Pictures and Photographs: Objections Answered, 117 Chapter 8. Seeing-In and Seeing Fictionally, 133 Chapter 9. Depiction, Perception, and Imagination: Responses to Richard Wollheim, 143 Chapter 10. Experiencing Still Photographs: What Do You See and How Long Do You See It? 157

par t i i i .

categories and styles

Chapter 11. Chapter 12. Index, 249

Categories of Art, 195 Style and the Products and Processes of Art, 221

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1 “HOW MA RVEL O U S !” Toward a Theory of Aesthetic Value


esthetics is often classified as a branch of value theory. This classification is curious and in some ways objectionable. Many important issues of aesthetics, as traditionally practiced, have no direct connection with notions of value or evaluation. This is as it should be, if aesthetics is the theoretical or philosophical examination of the cultural institution of art. For there is much to the institution besides evaluation, and one might argue that it is far more important to understand and appreciate works of art than to decide how good they are. It is arguable, also, that the interest we do have in evaluating works of art is a somewhat parochial feature of the cultural surroundings of the fine arts in Western society during the last several hundred years, that it is much less important in other contexts. We must not assume that all cultures in which people produce and enjoy or find satisfaction in what we call works of art even recognize anything much like our notion of aesthetic value. But there is no denying that this notion plays an important role in the practices surrounding the fine arts in recent Western culture, and for that reason alone it deserves attention. The notion of aesthetic value can look very questionable when we do attend to it, however. The worries are familiar. There is enormous variety among the works we take to be of high aesthetic quality, and our reasons for praising them, for pronouncing them aesthetically valuable, are astonishingly diverse. Some good or great works stimulate, some soothe, others are disturbingly provocative or upsetting. Some afford intellectual pleasures; others emotional experiences—fulfilling emotional experiences in some instances, distressing ones in others. Some works offer insight or illumination; others catharsis. Some provide escape from everyday cares; others help us to deal with them. Some require careful study and analysis; others wear their charms on their sleeves. Great works can be exuberant or gloomy; they can be intense, or serene, or painful, or funny. “Aesthetic value” 3



appears to be an incredible grab bag. What justification is there for speaking of a single kind of value in cases of all of these sorts? The distinctiveness of aesthetic value, as well as its unity, threatens to evaporate under scrutiny. Formalists such as Clive Bell and Eduard Hanslick who postulate the autonomy of aesthetic value (or musical value) take a heroic course. Much of what we take to be aesthetically valuable about many works of art seems thoroughly intertwined with concerns of everyday life, with “practical” values of various kinds, with cognitive and moral and religious values. It just does not seem plausible that what is so wonderful aesthetically about much great poetry, for instance, has nothing at all to do with the insight we receive from it, or that the feelings one has in appreciating music aesthetically are entirely unlike and irrelevant to everyday emotions—even granting that to be informative or to elicit emotional responses is not thereby to have aesthetic value. Could it be that aesthetic value supervenes on or is otherwise dependent on the capacity to provide practical or cognitive or emotional benefits of various kinds? If so, it may be possible to preserve its unity; a single sort of value might supervene or depend on any of various other kinds of value. And the supervening or dependent value may itself be distinct from the “practical” and other everyday values that it supervenes or depends on. I will propose an account of aesthetic value along these lines, although the values on which aesthetic value may depend, on my account, include ones that are very different from those I have mentioned. I should emphasize from the start that in offering this account I do not presume to be articulating what people have always or usually meant by “aesthetic value” (even during just the last several centuries in Western culture). It is far from clear that there is any one thing that people have usually meant by it, even implicitly. But the notion I will propose fits surprisingly well into the slot that critics and theorists have expected aesthetic value to fill, and I believe that it is closer to what many have meant than it may first appear to be. Most important, however, what I will call “aesthetic” value is value of a kind that needs to be recognized no matter what we call it. Works of art we judge to be aesthetically meritorious characteristically possess value of this kind, and appreciators cherish them for it.

I. VALUES AND INSTITUTIONS We must distinguish questions about the aesthetic merit of particular works of art—questions about whether a particular sonata or novel or movie or fresco is a great work of art, or merely good, or mediocre, or terrible and whether one work is better or worse aesthetically than another—from questions about the value of the cultural institution of art. In what ways does the institution, our practices of making, displaying, contemplating, appreciating, discussing, criticizing, judging works of art, benefit (or harm) people or society? What purposes does it serve? What are our reasons for engaging in it? One might ask about the


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evolutionary value of the institution, the survival value of human inclinations to develop such an institution, or the contributions such an institution might make to the health and survival of cultures of which they are a part. However skeptical one might be about the viability or coherence of the notion of the aesthetic value of works of art, or about its applicability beyond a narrow range of cultural institutions, questions about the value of institutions in which paintings, novels, sculptures, cantatas, and so on, are embedded are clearly in order and clearly within the province of the aesthetician. This does not make aesthetics a branch of value theory any more than, for example, the philosophy of science is. For central to the examination of any human institution—science, religion, sports, children’s games of make-believe—should be questions about the point of the institution, what ends it serves, what reasons we have or what reasons one might have for participating in it. In asking about the value of an institution, we usually have in mind extrinsic or instrumental value. We want to know what contributions the institution makes to our lives, what beneficial effects it has. But aesthetic value is usually thought of as intrinsic.1 Of course works of art play a role in the institution’s achievement of its beneficial effects. But this is not what their aesthetic value is understood to consist in; insofar as they are aesthetically valuable they are good in themselves. I want to explore another possible difference between the two kinds of value, or a cluster of possible differences, ones that might be expressed initially by saying that questions about aesthetic merit are asked from a perspective internal to the institution and that one is participating in the institution when one judges a painting or a novel to be great, or to be better aesthetically than another one, that aesthetic value is institution-bound. This thought might be spelled out in several ways. Perhaps questions about aesthetic merit make sense only because the institution gives them sense. Perhaps they are legitimate or appropriate or in order only within the institution. Perhaps it is traditions of the institution that determine how they are to be answered, what is to count as aesthetic value. Maybe the answers matter, maybe people appreciate and care about aesthetic value, only insofar as they accept or “buy into” the institution. We can also ask whether the practice of aesthetic evaluation might be essential to the institution. Could it be that the benefits the institution has to offer are realized only if people participate by judging the value of works of art or asking about their value? One way to begin to appreciate the institution-bound character of aesthetic value is to compare other institutions in which the evaluation of particular objects or events or activities analogous to the aesthetic evaluation of works of art is relatively unimportant, or which don’t even have provision for such evaluation. 1. Or anyway as inherent. See William K. Frankena, Ethics, 2nd edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1973), pp. 81–82.



Participation in children’s games of make-believe doesn’t demand or even encourage judging the value of props, or games (types or tokens), or participants, or acts of participation. One finds or chooses or is given props for a game, and uses them, but in participating in the make-believe one needn’t evaluate the props or consider how they stack up against others. Children don’t endeavor to perform well, in participating in their games; it seems out of place to judge that one child did a superb job of playing dolls, but that, unfortunately, another’s performance was mediocre. Judgments can be made from an external viewpoint, however. There are benefits to be gained from playing games of make-believe. It is fun, entertaining, pleasurable. One learns about real-world activities, about how to do certain things, about what it is like to do them and how one feels about them. A particular prop may be especially well suited to achieving these benefits, or more conducive to this than other props are. But this value is instrumental rather than intrinsic, and so is not analogous to aesthetic value. And one needn’t judge the prop to be good, one needn’t recognize its value, in order to benefit from it. It is necessary only that one use it in the game. The same may be true of a particular game, or a participant, or a child’s “performance” on a particular occasion. Any of these may be especially conducive to whatever benefits one gains, but achieving the benefits usually does not require one to recognize its merit. Many folk art traditions are much like children’s games of make-believe in these respects, and unlike the tradition of Western fine art. (Consider the tradition of singing hymns in religious ceremonies.) People may participate in singing or dancing or acting, or watch with interest and enjoyment as others do, without it ever occurring to them to ask how good aesthetically the performance or the work performed is, or whether it is better or worse than another one. These questions are likely to seem out of place or inappropriate, at best. And they needn’t be raised in order to achieve the benefits that folk art serves. Contrast sports and other competitive games—baseball, chess, pickup sticks, Ping-Pong, bridge, Monopoly, dominoes, and so on. These are instances in which “values” (of a sort) are clearly internal and intrinsic to an institution, in which “evaluation” makes sense only within the institution and is essential to the institution’s function. The “value” in question is that of winning. And we judge teams and players, moves, plays, and strategies, as being better or worse, as they are more or less conducive to winning. What constitutes winning is defined by the rules of the game, by the clause in the rule book that goes, “The object of the game is . . .” And it is (primarily, if not exclusively) from a perspective within the game that one cares about winning and losing. Making these “value” judgments is essential to the institution. One must recognize winning and losing in order to play baseball, or even to follow the game. Perhaps participants must care about winning, at least while they are playing, or pretend to, or anyway try to win. And no doubt some of the benefits of which the institution can boast, the


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excitement it affords, for instance, depend on its provision for winning and losing and on participants’ recognizing winners and losers. The contrast between internal and external judgments, between judgments of winners and losers, on the one hand, and judgments of players and plays and games as being conducive to the purposes or benefits the institution of sport (or a particular sport) serves, on the other, is at its starkest here. Besides excitement, thrills, and entertainment for players and fans, these benefits include keeping kids out of trouble, developing physical and mental skills, providing practice in handling success and failure, promoting cooperation and self-reliance, providing a safe outlet for aggressive tendencies, enhancing a sense of community, increasing alumni contributions. (There is a downside also.) Evaluating players and plays with regard to aptness for winning is not judging them for their contributions to these social or personal goods. And the two often conflict. Close games are more exciting than lopsided ones, and may well contribute more to the achievement of other social benefits. But a superb play, one conducive to winning, by the team or player already in the lead may turn what could have been a thrilling contest into a dull romp. The general level of play within a league or a sport has little relation to these social benefits. It is unlikely that society is better off now than it was fifty years ago because of the fact that skill levels in sports are much higher, even if the world is a better place with sports than it would be without them. (Maybe there is benefit in the fact that the trend is upward, however, even if the absolute level of skill doesn’t matter.) The sixth game of the 1975 World Series has been called the greatest baseball game ever played—not because there was more winning in it than in other games. Like (virtually) all baseball games, it had just one winner and one loser. And the winner won just barely—that is part of what made it such a good game. Chess games (either the play of one of the contestants, or the game as a whole) are sometimes admired for their beauty or elegance. Among game types, I prefer baseball, Ping-Pong, and chess to football, boxing, and gladiator contests, and I can give reasons. These are all external value judgments, and are distinct from judgments of winners and losers, or of aptness for winning and losing. Players’ primary objectives are, standardly, to win, not to further the social benefits the institution is capable of furthering; the institution prescribes playing to win. But it is by playing to win, frequently, that these benefits are achieved. A game known to be rigged isn’t exciting even if the score is close. Athletes do not usually perform for fans in the way that rock musicians do, even if they depend on fans just as much for their livelihood and fame. (Performers of classical music may have objectives somewhat more like those of athletes—they may think of themselves as serving the music rather than the audience. And this may be what listeners want and expect.) The distinction between evaluation of the institution of sport and evaluation of players and plays as to their aptness for winning, is reminiscent of John Rawls’s distinction between justifying the institutions of promising and punishment, and



justifying actions falling under these institutions.2 The institution defines what counts as winning and tells participants to try to win (if they want to participate in the institution), just as the institution of promising determines what constitutes promising and keeping promises, and tells people to keep their promises. One can step outside the institution of sport and ask whether having it, with its criteria for winning and its injunction to try to win, is a good thing, just as one can ask whether the institution of promising is a good thing, from a perspective outside of it. There can be values internal to an institution (in one or another sense) without the criteria of value being explicitly stipulated, of course. The institution of stamp collecting has its own special criteria of excellence, but not because there is anything like an authoritative rule book spelling out the object (or objects) of the institution.3 Rareness in stamps is (intrinsically) “valuable” from a perspective internal to the institution, and to value a stamp because it is rare is to participate in the institution. This fact is recorded in the literature, but it is simply the practice of stamp collectors that makes it a fact. Other values internal to the institution are less definite and harder to specify, and many are not even recorded. (Of course a nonparticipant may appreciate the economic worth of a stamp which results from the “value” stamp collectors accord it by virtue of its rarity. This economic value is of course instrumental.)

II. ARBITRARY VALUES The “value” of winning, in competitive games, will strike us as very unlike aesthetic value. But there may be more to the comparison than first appears. The main difference, it seems, is that winning is, in itself, a value only in scare quotes, only within and relative to the institution. It does not really matter, in general, whether one wins or loses. Maybe participants in the game only pretend that it matters; there may be value in engaging in this pretense.4 (Sometimes it does really matter for extrinsic reasons; winning may boost one’s confidence or alumni donations. But losing can also have good consequences. It may teach one how to handle failure; it may force one to pay more attention to things that matter more than sports do.) From a perspective external to the institution of stamp collecting, the “value” accorded to rareness may seem rather arbitrary; there isn’t really anything especially good about a stamp’s being rare. Aesthetic value, by contrast, is surely real (as real as any values are); beauty really is a good thing, it seems, and it is good apart from consequences.5

2. John Rawls, “Two Concepts of Rules,” Philosophical Review 64 (1955), pp. 3–32. See especially p. 16. 3. I owe this example to David Hills. 4. [See my “ ‘It’s Only a Game!’: Sports as Fiction,” in Walton, In Other Shoes (forthcoming).] 5. The sense in which the value of winning and that of rareness in stamps are unreal needs examination. Sports fans and stamp collectors really do care about winning and


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Once we have attached scare quotes to the value of winning, however, we find analogies to aesthetic value. The (scare-quoted) “value” of winning is intrinsic, as aesthetic value is supposed to be. Winning is “good” in itself (from the perspective within the game), not because of its consequences; whatever constitutes winning is the object of the game. And the “value” of winning is independent of other values, of practical values, moral values, economic values, and so on, as aesthetic value is supposed to be. If what counts as aesthetic value is somehow decreed by an artistic tradition, as what counts as winning and losing is decreed by the institutions of baseball, tennis, bridge, and so on, we will be able to account for both the intrinsicness and the distinctiveness of aesthetic value. What about unity? Is the notion of winning, in competitive games, a unified one? What counts as winning in different games—basketball, chess, horse racing—is very different. Still, we might say that to win is, in every case, to achieve the object of the game, whatever that happens to be. Maybe aesthetic value has a similar unity in diversity? Let’s set aside the notion of aesthetic value, for a moment, and consider whether there might be anything in the arts at all like winning (and losing) in sports, anything analogous to the object of a game, any “values” that might need scare quotes, that are values only within and relative to an artistic tradition. There are in various artistic contexts (unwritten) understandings that certain objectives are to be pursued, and there are traditions of valuing their achievement. A goal of some visual art is the “realistic” portrayal of a threedimensional world on flat surfaces; some artists attempt to come as close as possible to fooling the eye. Composers, in some periods, compete with each other in the craft of counterpoint, in producing intricate combinations of melodic lines with their inversions, retrogrades, retrograde inversions, augmentations and diminutions, and so on, while conforming to the rules of one or another system of counterpoint. Musical performers aim for technical perfection and sometimes put on flashy demonstrations of skill. Some writers endeavor to reproduce

about rareness, it seems. Fans may also desire to desire that a given team win, which on some accounts constitutes valuing this result. (See David Lewis, “Dispositional Theories of Value,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 13, 1989, pp. 113–137.) After all, they (probably) chose voluntarily to be sports fans and to root for the teams they root for. And stamp collectors are not forced to pursue their hobby or to accept its traditional emphasis on rareness. So maybe they want to desire (to possess) rare stamps. Presumably only what people are disposed to value in relevantly ideal circumstances is really valuable for them. Would the fans’ and collectors’ meta-desires survive “cognitive psychotherapy”? Would they survive full disclosure and vivid awareness of all relevant facts? Maybe, if there are extrinsic reasons for buying into the institution, for being a sports fan or a stamp collector. But will that account for the apparently intrinsic value, for the fan or the collector in question, of the relevant team winning or of the collector’s possessing rare stamps?



local dialects as faithfully as possible; others take up the challenge of rendering ordinary speech in established poetic forms. Various other constraints, either self-imposed constraints or ones inherent in a chosen medium, challenge artists in other ways. Some artists attempt the trick of telling a story by means of visual images only, without the help of words. Others dream up devices for portraying motion in still pictures. John Hollander describes the pantoum verse form as follows: There may be any number of quatrains, but, starting with the second one, they are generated by repeating the even-numbered lines of each as the odd-numbered ones of the next. The final line of the poem repeats the opening one. In addition, a touch of riddle is preserved in that the first half of each quatrain is about something wholly different from the second half.6

One can’t help but think of constraints imposed by the rules of competitive games, under which one attempts to achieve the object of the game. Sometimes the object, in the case of an artistic style, is not very definite, even if the constraints are; satisfying the constraints may itself be difficult enough, and the object may amount to producing something satisfying them that makes sense or is interesting. There is a lot of variety in these examples. In some, the (stated or unstated) objective and the restrictions under which it is to be pursued may be thought to serve aesthetic value (whatever that is). No doubt, in increasing the realism of their portrayals artists sometimes achieve greater aesthetic value. Avoiding parallel fourths, fifths, and octaves in contrapuntal writing in the style of Bach is perhaps justified by the fact that such parallels sound ugly in that style. (Their ugliness probably has something to do with their tendency to make the two voices sound like one, or their establishment of a clunky harmonic rhythm.) But the connection with aesthetic value is often tenuous. Deceptive realism and intricate counterpoint certainly do not always make for aesthetic value; they can have the opposite effect. And aesthetic value can be achieved by deliberately unrealistic portrayals, or by studied contrapuntal simplicity. Emphasis on goals like those I mentioned can reduce a work to a sterile academic exercise. Virtuosity in a musical performance, athletic technical facility, may replace inspiration and insight. Some will speak of art degenerating into craft. One may have the impression that some of the goals or objectives artists pursue are arbitrary, to a greater or lesser extent, an impression that is reinforced by the fact that the goals and the restrictions change from generation to generation and vary from culture to culture and genre to genre. It is as though artists devise

6. John Hollander, Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 43–44.


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puzzles for themselves and try to solve them, or exercise skills “just for the heck of it”—like children making up games or contests.7 We may be impressed by the skill an artist demonstrates in achieving her objectives. But concerning the objectives themselves, the results, we may be tempted—in some instances more than in others—to ask, “So what? What is the point?” The achievement may interest us only to the extent that we “buy into” the artistic tradition, only to the extent that we choose to accept the goals the artist was pursuing, the “object of her game,” as desirable. This choice may seem arbitrary, in the way a choice to play a game with certain rules and a certain object is arbitrary. Only if we do make such a choice will we be impressed by the artist’s achievement. I will suggest that what seem to be, what in fact are, “arbitrary” goals and constraints are often connected more closely than one might think, and in a surprising way, to aesthetic value, a kind of value that transcends the mere achievement of these goals.

III. PLEASURES OF ADMIRATION Let’s look more closely at the place judgments of value, the making of judgments of value, have within the institution of (fine) art. After listening to a late Beethoven string quartet or reading War and Peace or watching a performance of King Lear, I exclaim, “That was wonderful! Marvelous!” In doing so I am making a judgment, claiming that the work or performance in question is of great value, and I am expressing my admiration for it. But my judgment and my admiration are not just responses to the value I recognize; they are partly constitutive of it. The value consists in part in the experience of judging the work or performance highly. It is partly by virtue of eliciting admiration that it is worthy of admiration. To gain the benefit of the work’s value is to appreciate it; if I didn’t feel admiration for the work (or the artist) or judge it highly, if I merely felt pleasure or enjoyment as a result of my experience with it, I would not be appreciating it. We can reap the benefits of many other good things without judging them to be good or admiring them. A good hoe or a good car will do its job efficiently and well, and benefit the user accordingly, regardless of what she thinks about its value. The car, if it is a good one, will provide dependable and safe and efficient transportation for years and years even if the beneficiary berates it constantly. The value of the car and the hoe are instrumental. But the same goes for many intrinsic values. Suppose that it is a value for me that I achieve posthumous

7. Historical circumstances make certain goals salient in a given cultural context, no doubt, and help to explain their adoption, even if they are arbitrary in the sense that neither having nor achieving them is in itself more valuable than having or achieving alternative goals would be.



fame, or that my friends not sneer at me behind my back. (Perhaps this is so by virtue of the fact that, after cognitive psychotherapy or whatever, I would desire it, or desire to desire it.) I will never be in a position to praise my posthumous fame, and I may think, paranoically, that my friends do sneer at me behind my back. Nevertheless, I may in fact possess what is in fact an intrinsic good for me—forthcoming posthumous fame and friends who don’t sneer. Could I fail to realize that these are values for me, as well as failing to realize that I possess them? Probably; I may not have sorted out the desires or counterfactual desires which (on some accounts) determine what is good for me. So I could possess the value without either judging it to be valuable, or judging that I am in possession of it—without saying anything like “How marvelous! How wonderful!” Much the same goes also for some desirable experiences, and for things whose (inherent, if not intrinsic) value lies in the fairly direct production of pleasurable experiences—things like a hot shower, or a walk around the block. One needn’t think the shower or the walk or one’s experience of it is anything special, or even entertain questions about how good it is, in order to enjoy it. One can enjoy it without appreciating it. (Actively denigrating the shower or the walk might ruin one’s enjoyment, however.) Compare enjoying a folk song or a game of make-believe without thinking it—or the performance of the song, or the props in the game, or one’s own or another participant’s activities—is special. One might enjoy the shower or the walk more if one does think it is special, however. Perhaps in that case one’s enjoyment is in part “aesthetic.” Aesthetic value arguably consists in a capacity to elicit in appreciators pleasure of a certain kind, pleasurable experiences (or experiences of enjoyment, satisfaction, gratification?). But unlike some pleasures produced by hot showers and walks around the block, “aesthetic” pleasures include the pleasure of finding something valuable, of admiring it. One appreciates the work. One does not merely enjoy it; one takes pleasure or delight in judging it to be good. One marvels at it. Again, I don’t think I would enjoy Beethoven’s C# Minor Quartet as I do if I didn’t have my admiration of it to delight in, if I were not inclined to exclaim, “How marvelous! How wonderful!” The quartet doesn’t deliver up what it has to offer, not all of it anyway, unless we give the work the credit due to it. Its value consists in part in its propensity to induce observers to judge it valuable, and to enjoy doing so. The owner of a hoe or a car might, in addition to hoeing her crops or driving her car, appreciate and admire how marvelously suited the hoe or car is to its task. This gives her a certain enjoyment in using this tool (and perhaps just in owning it), on top of the assistance it provides in the cultivation of her crops and in getting herself from one place to another. It seems not unreasonable to describe this enjoyment as “aesthetic” appreciation. There is more than winning and losing in baseball. A team may win a game, but “win ugly.” This may amount to winning in a manner that does not elicit admiration. A fan rooting for the ugly winner may like the result, but her


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enjoyment will lack what we might call the “aesthetic” dimension of pleasurable admiration. To play a beautiful game of chess, whether one wins or loses, is to play in a way that does elicit admiration, and the delight that goes with it. In addition to laughing as a result of watching a comedian’s act, one may notice and admire the elegant, masterful means by which the laughs are elicited, the comedian’s superb balance of sense and absurdity, the exquisite timing of his delivery, his sheer cleverness, and so on. One appreciates the artistry of the comedian’s routine in a way that goes beyond merely finding the jokes funny. (It is likely that the appreciation of the comedian’s technique makes his jokes even funnier than they would otherwise be, however.) Reading a profoundly perceptive poem may benefit one cognitively. One may come to new understandings about life or even acquire bits of wisdom from one’s experience with the work, and one may enjoy achieving this illumination. But the reader may also appreciate, he may admire with pleasure, the poet’s perceptiveness and insightfulness and her skill in presenting profound truths in a vivid and convincing manner. Then the reader’s enjoyment is (in part at least) aesthetic. Another reader might enjoy the cognitive benefits but without admiring the poem (or the poet) and hence without the pleasure of admiration. He may not give the work (or the poet) credit for the wonderful new insights he obtains while reading. He may think he achieved them himself, that he came to his conclusions on his own while being stimulated only accidentally by the poem. (The poem might in fact have been designed to have exactly this effect, of course.) The reader acquires knowledge and enjoys doing so, but he does not experience the pleasure of admiration. He, arguably, does not benefit aesthetically from the experience. ( John Cage’s objective may be, in part, to deaestheticize our experiences, to get us to enjoy sounds themselves without admiring them or their creators.) People have a natural tendency to enjoy the experience of admiring things. An evolutionary explanation of why this is so would seem not hard to come by. But admiration is not necessarily pleasurable. Sometimes admiration is without delight, respect grudging. A disturbing but perceptive novel may benefit us cognitively, we may learn from it and realize that we do, but without taking pleasure in admiring it, without saying “How marvelous!” A person who reacts to a cartoon with hostility may know that she is getting medicine she needs; she may realize that the cartoonist is skillfully and perceptively forcing her to see a painful truth. But she may hate the cartoon for it. She may admire or at least approve of it, but without enjoyment. As a first stab, let’s define aesthetic pleasure as pleasure which has, as a component, pleasure taken in one’s admiration or positive evaluation of something;8 to be pleased aesthetically is to note something’s value with pleasure. This makes

8. My suggestion is that we regard pleasure taken in the object as part of one’s aesthetic pleasure if it is combined with pleasure taken in one’s admiration for the object.



aesthetic pleasure an intentional state, not just a buzz or a rush caused by experiencing a work of art. The pleasure of a hot shower or a walk around the block is presumably an intentional state also. One takes pleasure in something; the pleasure attaches in part to one’s awareness of something. But one is not pleased by the shower or the walk in the way I am pleased by Beethoven’s C# Minor Quartet, unless one takes pleasure not only in the shower or the walk or one’s experience of it, but also in one’s experience of admiring it, in one’s judging it to be good. Certain modifications of this account of aesthetic pleasure are in order. A person might take pleasure of a self-congratulatory sort in admiring something; one might pat oneself on the back, with delight, for one’s sophisticated and subtle taste in recognizing the thing’s merit. This pleasure would seem not to be aesthetic. The needed restriction is something like this: Aesthetic pleasure is not just pleasure taken in my admiration of something, but in its getting me to admire it. We may also want to broaden the definition considerably. As I will suggest shortly, we may want to count pleasure taken in certain attitudes other than admiration, as aesthetic. But let’s leave the proposal in its simple form for now: aesthetic pleasure is pleasure which has as a component pleasure taken in one’s admiration of something. Aesthetic value will no doubt have something to do with the capacity to produce aesthetic pleasure. But rather than defining it simply as a tendency to elicit aesthetic pleasure, or to do so in appropriately constituted and positioned observers, I would propose requiring that, for something to have aesthetic value, there must be a certain propriety in taking aesthetic pleasure in it; it must be reasonable or apt or make sense to do so. I leave aside the question of how to spell out this propriety.9 As a model, think of humor. If something makes all of us laugh, we might nevertheless deny that it is funny on the ground that we shouldn’t laugh at it—because it is in bad taste, or is racist, or whatever. We may sometimes be bamboozled or tricked or deceived into admiring something which does not merit our admiration, and take delight in admiring it. These may be cases in which our aesthetic pleasure is inappropriate, and hence the thing does not possess the aesthetic value it seems to possess. A close examination or analysis of the work might convince us that it is shallow and unworthy of our appreciation, and we may then prefer not to appreciate it, not to admire it, even if such admiration would be enjoyable. One might argue that the moral reprehensibility of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will makes it improper to admire it with pleasure, and so undercuts the aesthetic value it would otherwise have had.10 This gives us a way of understanding how moral and aesthetic value can interact, while still taking them to be distinct.

9. Allan Gibbard, Wise Choices, Apt Feelings (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990). 10. [Cf. “Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality,” chap. 3, this volume.]


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Understanding aesthetic value in this way enables us to accommodate its diversity while locating a common thread. The thread is the pleasure taken in admiring things. The diversity lies in what we admire things for. We may admire a work for the way it soothes us, or excites us, or provokes us, for the intellectual pleasures it affords, or the emotional ones, for the insight it provides or the manner in which it does so, for the way it enables us to escape the everyday cares of life, or the way it helps us to face life, and so on and on. But none of these grounds for admiration itself constitutes the work’s aesthetic value. If we take pleasure in admiring the work for whatever we admire it for, this pleasure is aesthetic. And if such pleasure is properly taken in the work, this constitutes the work’s aesthetic value. In this way aesthetic value is distinct from, yet dependent on, whatever value we admire the object for. If the value we admire it for is a practical one, this practical value underlies but does not constitute the aesthetic value.11

IV. SECOND-ORDER VALUES Let’s explore the diversity a little, the values for which one might enjoyably admire something. An appreciator’s enjoyable admiration, usually if not always, involves not only recognizing a thing’s value—recognizing the marvelous job it does of opening our eyes to important truths, for instance, or how wonderfully suited it is for providing safe and efficient transportation; one’s admiration also involves recognizing the creator’s accomplishment, the talent and skill a person demonstrated by producing something with this value. Admiration is paradigmatically, if not essentially, an attitude we have in part toward people. One can admire a person’s talent or skill in accomplishing an objective whether or not one thinks much of the objective. I may think that hitting, with a stick, a spherical missile traveling 90 mph, or winning a baseball game, is neither here nor there, that the world is not a better place for it (neither because winning or hitting a fastball is good in itself, nor because it has good consequences); yet

11. Kant asks “whether in the judgment of taste the feeling of pleasure precedes or follows the judging of the object” (Critique of Judgment, §9). On my account of aesthetic value, the answer is (with qualifications) both. If aesthetic pleasure is in part pleasurable admiration, pleasure taken in judging something highly, it comes (logically, if not temporally) after this judgment. The prior judgment is not a judgment of aesthetic value (not a “judgment of taste”) in the cases I have described so far, but in other cases it is, as we shall see shortly; sometimes we take pleasure in judging something to be excellent aesthetically. Such bootstrapping is typical of central instances of aesthetic value. Aesthetic judgments are, however, judgments of an object’s capacity to produce pleasure—pleasurable admiration—and it is normally by experiencing this pleasure that one detects the object’s capacity to provide it; thus does aesthetic judgment follow feelings of pleasure.



I may admire the athlete’s accomplishment—the skill and concentration and strategy that make for the win. And I may take pleasure in my admiration. (Maybe it helps if I somehow pretend that the result is desirable. I need not base my admiration on the thought that the abilities which enable the players to win are ones that would be genuinely useful in other contexts.) Of course, if I think baseball is a waste of time and energy, that it diverts attention and resources from the important problems of life, if I think that winning, or even playing, is undesirable, this may prevent me from admiring the player’s accomplishment, or from admiring it with pleasure. So among the values that can underlie aesthetic value are ones we might consider to be arbitrary, scare-quoted. We may take pleasure in admiring someone for the accomplishment of an arbitrarily chosen objective. The pleasure constitutes a real value, even if the result accomplished, in itself, does not. We might admire an artist’s skill in painting bubbles convincingly, and take pleasure in admiring it, whether or not we think convincingly painted bubbles are themselves a good thing (aesthetically good or good in some other way). We may admire with pleasure a composer’s accomplishment in producing intricate counterpoint, or a poet’s skill in satisfying the conditions of the pantoum, whether or not we think these feats have any merit themselves. Compare a photograph of a bubble with Jean-Siméon Chardin’s painting of a boy blowing soap bubbles. The convincing photographic portrayal might have some interest for us in itself. But we will not have the same pleasurable admiration for the photographer’s achievement that we have for Chardin’s—knowing, as we do, that it takes relatively little skill on the photographer’s part to capture convincingly the bubble’s transparency as well as its partial reflection of light, its perfectly rounded form, and so on. (One might be awestruck by the medium of photography—people were, when photography was invented—but that is different.) Consider also computer-generated counterpoint. Even if the values underlying aesthetic value are arbitrary and scare-quoted, it doesn’t follow that the work itself isn’t really valuable. It has the desirable capacity to induce in appreciators pleasurable admiration, although this capacity belongs not to the physical work itself, but to the work understood in a certain way—as an artist’s attempt to accomplish certain possibly arbitrary objectives. Don’t such demonstrations of skill sometimes conflict with aesthetic value? Don’t they sometimes make for academic and uninspired art, and doesn’t admiration of skill sometimes interfere with genuinely aesthetic appreciation? Yes, but this doesn’t prevent aesthetic value from consisting in a capacity to induce pleasurable admiration. Academicness in art sometimes amounts to the demonstration of a relatively mundane skill (perhaps one that has become mundane by the constant attention of artists in a certain tradition), a skill that any moderately talented and persevering artist might now accomplish, and one that does not induce much pleasurable respect or admiration. Sometimes technical virtuosity


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replaces inspiration, or the demonstration of insight or ingenuity, of a kind that we would admire more and with more pleasure than the most impressive technical abilities. Insofar as the values for which appreciators admire a work consist in the achievement of arbitrary goals, there is a clear sense in which aesthetic value is likely to be institutional, tradition bound. The arbitrary goals are set by the institution. There is nothing like a rule book specifying the “object of the game,” but there are understandings within an artistic tradition about what goals artists are expected to pursue. Only if the appreciator is familiar enough with the tradition to recognize the goals and goes along with them, only if she in this way “buys into” the institution, will she admire their achievement and take pleasure in doing so. One must also be familiar enough with the task to appreciate its difficulty, and this may come from familiarity with the institution. We may have here a partial explanation of the peculiar susceptibility of art to charges of fraudulence, and what can seem the fuzzy boundary between fraudulence and profundity. If we “buy into” the institution with its arbitrary objectives, we say “How marvelous!” If we focus on their arbitrariness, we call “Fraud!” The value underlying a work’s aesthetic value can itself be aesthetic. We may admire something for its capacity to elicit pleasurable admiration, and take pleasure in admiring it for this. Then we have aesthetic value which is not only distinct from practical or arbitrary values, but also independent of them. Bootstrapping of this sort amounts to art for art’s sake. Often bootstrapping is only partial. One may admire something, with pleasure, for its capacity to produce insight, for instance, and also admire it, with additional pleasure, for its capacity to elicit the former admiration. I have some temptation to define aesthetic value as necessarily involving an element of bootstrapping. This would help to exclude cases in which the pleasure one takes in one’s admiration is of a self-congratulatory sort. Bootstrapping requires that one admire the work for its capacity to elicit admiration; admiring oneself for one’s admiration doesn’t suffice.

V. PLEASURABLE ATTITUDES I have gradually been stretching the word “admiration” out of shape. I spoke of admiring things for their practical (e.g., cognitive) values and for their aesthetic value, and also of admiring people for the achievement of difficult even if arbitrary objectives. And there is more variety to come. I suggest replacing “admiration” with a family of related terms. What will remain is at least this: that aesthetic pleasure consists in pleasure taken not just in an object or person itself, but in an attitude one has toward an object or person, the attitude being either admiration or something else. Sometimes our attitude toward what we take to be aesthetically valuable is better described as one of awe or wonder than one of admiration. This is especially



true in the case of aesthetically regarded natural objects, things that are not the product of human activity and do not call for recognition of a person’s achievement. (One may of course respond to works of art with awe or wonder as well.) The aesthetic value of sunsets, alpine meadows, waterfalls, and flowers may consist (in part) in our taking pleasure in the awe or wonder we feel toward them. This enables us to explain the fact that aesthetic appreciation of natural objects seems, pretheoretically, to be similar to, but also significantly different from, much of our aesthetic appreciation of works of art. The difference lies in the fact that pleasure is taken, in one case, in admiration for a person’s accomplishment and, in the other case, in the rather different experience of awe or wonder, which need not involve recognition of a human accomplishment. The similarity lies in the fact that in both cases pleasure is taken in an attitude one has toward something (and in whatever similarity there is between the attitudes of awe or wonder, and admiration). In the case of both natural objects and works of art, one may be surprised by the object or by particular features of it, or one may experience feelings of familiarity and recognition, and one may take pleasure in these experiences, and in other as well. These responses may be components of one’s awe or wonder or admiration. Terrible events or activities may demand of us a certain respect or awe, if not admiration, and we sometimes delight in feeling this respect or awe, even while genuinely regretting the terrible occurrences. (This kind of case is to be distinguished from one of grudging admiration, when one does not take delight in one’s admiration.) Something like this may occur when we experience what has been called the sublime. One might also delight in judging something negatively, or in being revolted or annoyed by it or in finding it offensive or repugnant.12 Revulsion can coexist with delight in responding with revulsion. (“Things we love to hate.”) Some anti-art may be designed to elicit reactions of this sort. And they help to account for the attraction painful works of more traditional kinds sometimes have for us, works that provoke in us negative first-order responses. Revulsion is very different from admiration, although it might involve a certain awe or wonder. In any case, the pleasure is, again, pleasure in experiencing an attitude toward something.

12. Daniel Jacobson suggested this possibility. In an interesting paper on “The Pleasures of Tragedy” (American Philosophical Quarterly 20 [1983], pp. 95–104), Susan Feagin argues that the pleasure we derive from tragedies is “a meta-response, arising from our awareness of, and in response to, the fact that we do have unpleasant direct responses to unpleasant events as they occur in the performing and literary arts” (p. 98). Some of the metaresponses she has in mind are self-congratulatory pleasures (“We find ourselves to be the kind of people who respond negatively to villainy, treachery, and injustice” [p. 98]), and so might not be indications of aesthetic value. But they are still pleasures derived from tragedy. See also my Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), §7.3.


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Sometimes, of course, we are pained or displeased by the experience of judging something negatively. And we may judge it even more negatively as a result of this displeasure—and so be all the more displeased.13 Displeasure and disapproval may thus feed on and reinforce each other, as pleasure and admiration do in positive cases. It is as though the stakes for the artist are continually being multiplied. But whether or not one enjoys being revolted or judging a work negatively, one might at the same time admire it for its capacity to produce revulsion or to elicit a negative judgment, and one might enjoy admiring it for this. If we understand the artist’s objective to be to disgust the appreciator or to provoke negative judgments, we may admire with pleasure his achievement in accomplishing this end. The kind of aesthetic value that consists in a capacity to elicit pleasurable admiration—what I am inclined to regard as the central or paradigmatic variety of aesthetic value—can thus coexist with, and indeed depend on, a capacity to disgust or irritate or evoke negative judgments. And we may, accordingly, judge the work positively. We may or may not feel a conflict between the positive judgment and a negative one on which it depends. If we do, we will feel conflicted—as we sometimes do in any case, especially when we confront some of the more disturbing contemporary works.

VI. AESTHETIC VALUE It is an open question—and by no means an easy one—how the conception of aesthetic value I have outlined sorts with traditional ones, how close it comes to capturing what people have meant in speaking of “aesthetic value” (or “beauty,” or “elegance,” or “sublimity”) in contexts of one kind or another, whether critics have something like it in mind when they pronounce works of art to be good or bad, masterpieces or failures. I do not doubt that some entrenched notions of “aesthetic value” have little to do with the account I have offered. And the possession of what I am calling aesthetic value is certainly not our only reason for valuing paintings and plays and symphonies. But I, for one, am sure that a significant portion of the enjoyment I receive from many works of art derives from my admiring them or judging them to be valuable in one way or another. My enjoyment depends on my assessing the work positively, on my being moved to declare, “How marvelous!” The word “appreciation” fits this enjoyment nicely, suggesting as it does not just pleasure felt in response to the work but a recognition of its worth. If appreciation is understood to be central to the aesthetic, we might expect the capacity to elicit pleasurable admiration to qualify with little strain as aesthetic value. “Appreciation” may not be quite the right word for pleasure taken in one’s experiences of awe or wonder or, especially, shock or irritation or revulsion, and 13. I am indebted here to Arthur Danto.



capacities to induce these pleasures may strike us as constituting less than paradigmatic instances of aesthetic value. But such capacities are values, ones that are prevalent in works of art. And they are akin to paradigmatically aesthetic value in being capacities to induce pleasure in one’s attitudes toward things. Moreover, as we noted, they are values on which paradigmatically aesthetic value is sometimes based, values for which one pleasurably admires things. They may be reasons for declaring, “How marvelous!”14

POSTSCRIPTS TO “ ‘HOW MARVELOUS!’ ” A. THOMAS REID AND CLEMENT GREENBERG Since composing “ ‘How Marvelous!’ ” I have come across a number of observations by other writers which seem to me to point in the direction I took in that essay, or at least can be construed as doing so. Thomas Reid wrote, in 1785, that Beauty is found in things, so various, and so very different in nature, that it is difficult to say wherein it consists, or what there can be common to all the objects in which it is found. . . . What can it be that is common to the thought of a mind, and the form of a piece of matter, to an abstract theorem, and a stroke of wit? . . . There seems to be no identity, nor even similarity, between the beauty of a theorem and the beauty of a piece of music, though both may be beautiful. . . . If there be nothing common in the things themselves, they must have some common relation to us, or to something else, which leads us to give them the same name. All the objects we call beautiful agree in two things, which seem to concur in our sense of beauty. 1st, When they are perceived, or even imagined, they produce a certain agreeable emotion or feeling in the mind; and 2dly, this agreeable emotion is accompanied with an opinion or belief of their having some perfection or excellence belonging to them.1

14. This paper benefited from comments by Arthur Danto, David Hills, Peter Railton, Alicyn Warren, and Stephen Yablo, and from discussion at the 1991 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for Aesthetics and the Histories of Art. 1. Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1969), pp. 779–780. (Originally published 1785, Edinburgh.)



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Reid then asks “whether the pleasure we feel in contemplating beautiful objects may have any necessary connection with the belief of their excellence.” He leaves this question hanging, but seems inclined toward a positive answer. Much more recently, Clement Greenberg argued that “nothing can be experienced esthetically without a value judgment, nothing can be experienced esthetically except through a value judgment. Esthetic experience is constituted by evaluation.”2

B. GOOD BECAUSE BAD The notion of things being enjoyable because they are so bad, which my account helps to explain, is commonplace. Mozart’s Ein Musikalischer Spass is a paradigmatic instance in which pleasure is taken in the masterful accomplishment of otherwise negative ends: In the hands of a bad composer, lines in parallel thirds, sixths, and tenths can produce intolerable tonal ambiguities and cacophonous dissonances. This is especially true if, as sometimes happens, two linear progressions occur at once, each counterpointed in parallel motion. Mozart made use of this possibility in a wonderfully dreadful passage in the Musical Joke.3

The listener’s pleasure is in part the pleasure of admiration. We understand Mozart to have been aiming for dreadfulness, and admire his success in achieving it so splendidly. By contrast, the reviewer who declared the movie Bubble Boy to be “such a unique mess that its awfulness becomes weirdly enjoyable,” and described its theme as “spectacularly unsubtle,” probably was not admiring the skill and talent of the moviemakers, with pleasure or without; presumably the moviemakers were not aiming for awfulness. Rather, the reviewer enjoys something like awe or amazement at how awful the thing turned out to be despite the efforts of its creators.4

2. Clement Greenberg, “The Experience of Value,” in Homemade Esthetics: Observations on Art and Taste (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 59. But it is pretty clear that, for Greenberg, only judgments of aesthetic value make for aesthetic experience. And he appears to identify value judgments with liking and disliking. 3. Carl Schachter, “A Commentary on Schenker’s Free Composition,” in Schachter, Unfoldings: Essays in Schenkerian Theory and Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 204. My italics. 4. Bob Campbell (Newhouse News Service), “ ‘Bubble Boy’ So Awful, It’s Enjoyable,” Ann Arbor News, 25 August 2001.

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he test of time is a deeply ingrained tenet of folk wisdom. The works of art which last through the centuries, it is assumed, are those which are great. But why assume this? What does longevity have to do with greatness? What warrant is there for taking longevity as proof of greatness? These questions constitute the framework of Anthony Savile’s book. Once we reflect on it, plausible ways of justifying the test of time are easy to come by. Indeed, what is striking, and even embarrassing, is their abundance and diversity. This should make us suspect ourselves of confusion. “The” test of time may be several importantly different tests masquerading as one, not all of them equally defensible. Only if we have a clear grasp of the differences can we expect to use any of them intelligently. Is it simply that considered opinions are more to be trusted than snap judgments, and hence that we are better able to evaluate works which have been around for a while? Thus, if our assessment of a work remains favorable after many years or centuries it is an assessment we can be confident of. Or is it that in order to last, a work must remain alive through changes of local conditions? It must speak to different cultures, to people in different historical contexts, to people with different sensibilities and different concerns; it must have something to say to everyone? This multifacetedness, perhaps, is what constitutes greatness. Savile rejects these two suggestions, but argues that the test of time, properly construed, is legitimate and is an essential feature of art theory. He begins by noting Rostovtzeff’s observation concerning the Emperor Diocletian—that his reforms in administration, judicial proceedings, and financial In 1982 Anthony Savile published an important and richly fascinating study, The Test of Time: An Essay in Philosophical Aesthetics (Oxford University Press). The present essay, taken from a review of this book, originally appeared under the title “Degrees of Durability” (Times Literary Supplement, 18 February 1983).




and military organization “stood the test of time”—and later introduces more mundane examples such as that of a coat which is assessed highly because it wears well. Savile takes these tests of time to be relatively unproblematic, and directs his efforts towards exploring the analogies between them and tests of time in the arts. But the nonartistic cases need to be examined with some care. The coat analogy especially is rather seriously misleading when used as a model for understanding the test of time in the arts. Things which endure have the capacity to endure. Sometimes this capacity is itself a virtue, because longevity is desirable. A long-lived coat or bicycle or lawn mower doesn’t have to be replaced or repaired. That is an advantage, and the capacity to last—durability—is a virtue in such artefacts. The coat which survives years of use has proved itself to be durable; hence we judge it highly. Durability is a virtue of administrative and judicial procedures as well. Changes bring confusion, disruption, instability. The very fact that Diocletian’s reforms had the capacity to survive is one reason to think well of them. But it is not the only reason, and not the only one which their survival supports. Their endurance presumably demonstrates that they were reasonably fair and reasonably effective in achieving society’s goals; otherwise we might expect them to have been challenged and overthrown. So, the test of time can be construed very differently in this case from how it was in the case of the coat. The merit of the coat to which its survival attests would go unrealized if, because of fire or shipwreck or some other outside interference, it came to a premature demise. In that event a less durable coat would have served just as well. But fairness and effectiveness in achieving society’s goals are values quite apart from their contribution to longevity. Even if an administrative system is doomed to early destruction by invasions of Mongol hordes, it is desirable that it be fair and effective while it lasts. The survival of Diocletian’s reforms is evidence for qualities which are virtues independently of their survival value. The coat analogy suggests that durability in works of art is itself a virtue, and the one which the test of time tests for. But it becomes clear as the argument progresses that this is not Savile’s considered opinion. We will surely want to side with him here as against the analogy. The value of a great work is not unrealized if its life span is prematurely cut short. If, but for outside interference, a work would have lasted through the centuries it is presumed to have qualities which are to be valued even for the short time it actually endured. If durability is itself a virtue in works of art it is not the only one which the test of time is supposed to indicate. Indeed, it is not clear that durability is, in general, an aesthetic virtue at all, still less that it is constitutive of greatness. Glassware which is fragile is not thereby less good aesthetically than more hardy pieces; if anything, the reverse is true. To be sure, this is physical fragility, and Savile rightly insists that the durability relevant to the test of time in the arts is the ability to survive in our attention. But broken glasses are not likely to last long in our attention. It is a pity to break a glass; its survival is valued. But that doesn’t mean that the glass



itself is better aesthetically for having the capacity to survive, either physically or in our attention. The idea that great works are ones which accommodate very different sensibilities and that that is why they endure deserves especially close consideration. The fact that a work of one age accidentally fits well in later contexts, that it contains elements which, as it happens, can be reinterpreted in a way later appreciators will find interesting and valuable, is no credit to the work itself and no ground for judgments of greatness. Neither is ambiguity or multifacetedness designed into a work the essence of greatness. Adding a magnifying glass, saw, toothpick, tweezers, and corkscrew to a simple pocketknife does not elevate it toward greatness. Greatness is not a conglomeration of lesser merits. What is important is not the number of functions a work can perform but something more like how well it performs them. But then why don’t great works wither when, in a later age, the functions that they perform so well are no longer in demand? If endurance bespeaks mere multifacetedness, it loses its connection with greatness. To pass the test of time, Savile contends, is not to survive by opportunistically changing colors as changing cultural conditions require but to survive under a constant appropriate interpretation. But Savile needn’t deny that greatness involves a certain multifacetedness. What is important is that there be deep connections among the various faces of a great work. Perhaps a great work is one which at some very basic level has a single “meaning” which manifests itself in different ways in different cultural contexts. A work which on the surface speaks of Napoleon may on a deeper level speak of political power and, on a deeper level still, of power relationships in general. So, it may with equal force engage those whose interests are contemporary politics, or power struggles involved in interpersonal relationships, or even perhaps conflicts within a given person’s own psyche. Its underlying insight may be so abstract as to be scarcely formulable. Yet it is this which ties together the more obvious particular interpretations critics give to it in different ages and which is ultimately responsible for its ability to accommodate itself to changing climates. The fact that the work’s treatment of particular local issues is based on some such fundamental insight gives its treatment of them a kind of depth which is arguably the essence of greatness. This depth is to be valued even when it happens not to result in longevity.

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I Works of art from previous ages or from other cultures may contain or embody ideas that we find strange or disagree with. We take some differences in stride, but sometimes we object—the content we disagree with ruins our pleasure and we take it to be grounds for judging the work negatively. In the final five paragraphs of “Of the Standard of Taste,”1 David Hume attempts to locate this difference. We are not or shouldn’t be bothered by representations of out-of-date fashions, he says. “Where any innocent peculiarities of manners are represented”—like princesses carrying water from the spring, or ruffs and fardingales in pictures of our ancestors—“they ought certainly to be admitted; and a man who is shocked with them, gives an evident proof of false delicacy and refinement.” We are happy to overlook what we take to be factual mistakes. “Speculative errors . . . found in the polite writings of any age or country . . . detract but little from the value of those compositions.” But moral differences are quite another matter, according to Hume. We do not, and should not, tolerate in a work “ideas of morality and decency” that we find repugnant. “[Although] I may excuse the poet, on account of the manners of his age,” says Hume, “I never can relish the composition.” Morally reprehensible ideas constitute deformities in the work. Hume has a point here—actually more than one. That’s the trouble. Our first task will be to disentangle them. I will begin with the simpler and more obvious

1. David Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” in Essays Moral, Political and Literary (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1987), pp. 245–249.




strands and work toward the messier and more interesting ones. Some of the strands have clear affinities with the objections to painting and poetry that Plato expressed in the Republic, and have been much discussed since then; others are quite different from these. Questions will arise, as we sort things out, about what exactly Hume had in mind. Often there will be no clear answer. But there is a varied landscape richly deserving of exploration, in the general direction in which he gestured.

II If someone advocates a moral position we find reprehensible or tries to get us to feel or to act in a way that violates our moral convictions, naturally we object. We refuse to think or feel or act in the way we are asked to, and we are likely to respond to the assertion or request or demand with disgust. The assertion or request or demand may come in an ordinary statement or a lecture or sermon or newspaper editorial. But people also make reprehensible claims or demands by writing poems, by telling stories, by creating fictions.2 Hume says that “where vicious manners are described, without being marked with the proper characters of blame and disapprobation; this must be allowed to disfigure the poem, and to be a real deformity.” His thought is probably that such a work in effect condones the vicious manners, that it condones behaving viciously in real life. If a story has as its moral or message the idea that the practice of genocide or slavery is morally acceptable, or that it is evil to associate with people of other races, of course we object, just as we would to a newspaper editorial that advocates genocide or slavery or condemns interracial friendships. Works of either kind will arouse disgust, and we will judge them negatively. What kind of defect in the work is this? A moral one, obviously. But not, some would say, an aesthetic one. Hume doesn’t speak specifically of “aesthetic” value. But he appears to have in mind values that are not themselves narrowly speaking moral, which the presence of morally repugnant ideas in a work may undermine. Morally repugnant ideas may so distract or upset us that we are unable to appreciate whatever aesthetic value the work possesses. Disgust with the celebration of the Nazi Party and its values in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will may prevent us from appreciating or even noticing the film’s cinematic “beauty.” But maybe the beauty is there nonetheless; maybe the work’s moral failings merely interfere with the enjoyment of its beauty. (They might outweigh its aesthetic value, if the two kinds of value are commensurable.) If so, we should consider it unfortunate that we are psychologically unable to bracket our moral concerns in order to appreciate the work aesthetically. Given that the work exists and has the

2. Hume mentions poetry specifically in these paragraphs, but his essay concerns works of other sorts as well, especially other works of literary fiction.



moral deformities and aesthetic merits that it has, it is too bad that awareness of the former interferes with enjoyment of the latter. In many instances we do not take this attitude, however. Rather than regretting our inability to appreciate the work aesthetically, we may feel that we don’t want to; we may be unwilling even to try to look beyond our moral concerns in order to enjoy the work’s beauty, as though the beauty itself is tainted. Perhaps our thought, sometimes, is that we don’t want to profit (aesthetically) from moral depravity. (The realization that the pyramids were built by slave labor might ruin one’s enjoyment of them.) This thought will make more or less sense depending on the extent to which we think the depravity contributes to our potential aesthetic enjoyment. If a work’s “beauty” lies in the elegant manner in which it expresses certain thoughts, the thoughts provide the opportunity for the elegance, and to enjoy the beauty will be to profit from the expression of the thoughts.3 But the cinematic or formal “beauty” of the shots of Hitler’s airplane flying through the clouds, in Triumph of the Will, may be entirely independent of the film’s moral depravity. They would be no less beautiful if they were embedded in an unobjectionable context, and a viewer who is somehow unaware of the film’s message would have no difficulty appreciating them aesthetically. In either case, the way still seems open to regard the work as possessing aesthetic value. But that is something we seem sometimes to deny, precisely because of moral failings. Compare a racist joke or a political cartoon that makes a point we find offensive. We may declare pointedly that it is not funny—precisely because its message is offensive. To laugh at it, we may feel, would amount to endorsing its message, so we refuse to laugh. Even judging it to be funny may feel like expressing agreement. Perhaps it isn’t just that our disgust with the message of Triumph of the Will interferes with our ability to appreciate it aesthetically. To allow ourselves to enjoy even its cinematic or formal “beauty” may be to endorse or concur with its praise of Hitler and the Nazis, in this sense to “enter into” the sentiments Riefenstahl is expressing. We might express our unwillingness to do this by declaring that the film is not beautiful. We must not simply assume that this declaration is to be taken literally (although I doubt that much is to be gained by deciding this question). One might reasonably hold that the film is beautiful and the cartoon funny, but that admitting this, as well as allowing ourselves to enjoy the beauty or the humor, amounts to subscribing to the work’s evil message—so we don’t admit it. Even so, there is a closer connection between moral and aesthetic value than some would allow. No amount of squinting or compartmentalizing could make appreciation

3. See my “How Marvelous!: Toward a Theory of Aesthetic Value,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, special issue on “Philosophy and the Histories of the Arts,” 51(3), 1993. [Reprinted in this volume.]



of the aesthetic value morally acceptable. If the work’s obnoxious message does not destroy or lessen its aesthetic value, it nevertheless renders this value morally inaccessible. That may be counted as an aesthetic as well as a moral defect; it is a circumstance that is unfortunate from an aesthetic point of view. What about the contrast that Hume insisted on between ideas concerning morality and ideas of other kinds, in works of art? Maybe works serve less frequently as vehicles for assertions about “factual” matters than moral ones. To describe “vicious manners” in a story without “marking them with the proper characters of blame and disapprobation” is not always to condone them, of course, but in stories of some kinds it is likely to be. Stories about fairy godmothers or time travel, however, rarely have as their messages the claim that there actually are fairy godmothers or that time travel is a real possibility, even if the story does not mark such ideas as not to be believed. Perhaps readers are more in the habit of looking for moral messages than for nonmoral ones in literature. But fictions do sometimes serve to assert or convey information about nonmoral matters. An historical novel may be expected to get the historical events right, at least in broad outline, and it may have as one of its objectives informing readers about them. If it gets things wrong we may complain. And we will not necessarily object less strenuously than we would to a work we take to be advocating a moral attitude we disagree with. The assertion of “factual” falsehoods is sometimes a serious matter (sometimes for moral reasons, sometimes for reasons that are not clearly moral). And we won’t mind winking at what we take to be a relatively trivial moral claim with which we disagree. The assertion of “factual” falsehoods in a story, when it matters, may distract us from appreciating the work aesthetically. I am less confident that appreciating the work aesthetically or judging it to be aesthetically good will often be felt as endorsing whatever factual claims we take it to be making.

III Not all works have messages or morals (even on rather generous construals of these notions). Many contain or embody or express, in one way or another, ideas we may find morally repugnant, but without going so far as asserting or advocating them. The response some works call for is more one of imagining than one of acceptance or belief. A story might encourage or induce appreciators to imagine taking up a certain moral perspective or subscribing to certain moral principles without recommending that they actually do so. One obvious way to induce such imaginings is by portraying sympathetically and with understanding a character who accepts the perspective or principles in question. The story might at the same time encourage readers to disagree with the character; the author may make it clear in her story that she rejects the moral views her character subscribes to. If we find the perspective presented in a story offensive enough, we may object even to imagining taking it up. We might refuse to empathize with a character



who accepts it, to put ourselves imaginatively in her shoes. We usually don’t flinch at imagining accepting as true nonmoral propositions that we firmly believe to be false: the proposition that there is a ring that makes its wearer invisible, or that a village in Scotland appears and disappears every hundred years. But the difference is not as large as it appears to be. Why should we resist merely imagining subscribing to a moral perspective we consider offensive? One familiar explanation is that such imaginings may, subtly or otherwise, tend to encourage one actually to subscribe to it. I am sure there is some truth to this. Suppose I am taken to a cricket match. Finding the event disappointing as ballet, I think I would enjoy it more if I rooted for one team or the other. But I have no reason to prefer either team. Still I want to have a desire about the outcome. So I pick one of the teams arbitrarily, by flipping a coin, and then set out to imagine wanting it to win—pretending to myself that it matters. At first this isn’t very satisfying and it doesn’t help much to make the match exciting. My imaginings are too deliberate and artificial, and I am too vividly aware that I have no real reason for my imagined preference and that only a coin toss sent me in one direction rather than the other. But I follow the same team throughout the season, and my imaginings become less deliberate and seem more natural. Eventually, I find myself actually wanting my chosen team to win, and rather unaware of the fact that I have no good reason for wanting it to (although I may admit this if asked).4 If in an ordinary case like this, imagined experiences of believing, desiring, and feeling can, over time, lead to the real thing, one should expect that, whatever combination of beliefs, desires, and feelings, or dispositions thereto, constitute accepting certain moral principles or a certain moral perspective, imagining accepting them can have some tendency to induce one actually to do so. So if a story presents, even just for imaginative understanding, a moral perspective we consider repugnant, we may rightly be wary about entering into the imagining. We still do not have a very substantial difference between moral ideas in works of art that we disagree with and nonmoral ones, however. Advertisers and political propagandists know that getting people to imagine believing a factual proposition can nudge them toward believing it. We won’t resist much if the matter is of little importance to us. It won’t hurt me much to believe falsely that Brand A paper towels are softer and more absorbent than Brand X (if they are in fact comparable in quality and price). But when it does matter I do resist. I may want not to imagine that people of one race are genetically less capable in a certain respect than people of another. And I may object to a novel in which it is fictional that this is so, one that asks readers to imagine this. My objection in this case is based on moral considerations, although the proposition I avoid imagining is not itself a moral one. In other cases my concern is prudential. I might avoid

4. David Lewis suggested to me that he had an experience something like this.



reading a historical novel I know to be inaccurate, while preparing for a history examination, for fear it might confuse my knowledge of the historical events.

IV Concern about being influenced to believe what we want not to believe does not explain very much of the resistance we feel to imagining contrary to our beliefs. Even when our convictions are so secure that there can be no real danger to them, we may strenuously resist imagining them to be mistaken. Hume seems to suggest that it is when we are sure of our moral convictions that we reject works containing contrary ideas.5 Imaginings can have undesirable and even dangerous effects which, although cognitive in character, are not happily characterized, in ordinary folk psychological terms, as inducing false beliefs. Here is a distinctly nonmoral example. I am lost in the woods and mistaken about which direction is which. A look at my compass sets me straight. But I am still turned around; it still seems to me that that direction is north, even though I know it is not. Let’s say that I remain disoriented. In order to correct my orientation, to bring it into line with my knowledge and belief, I actively imagine north being the direction I know it to be, I picture to myself my house, New York, the Pacific Ocean where I know they are. Eventually my orientation, my “picture” of my surroundings, turns around to match reality. Although one’s orientation is distinct from one’s beliefs and can vary independently of them, it has a lot to do with the organization, salience, and accessibility of what one believes. It is much easier for me to figure out which road leads home when I am correctly oriented than when I am not, even while I am looking at my compass. And if I walk without thinking when I am disoriented, my feet may take me in the wrong direction. So it is important that my orientation, as well as my beliefs, be correct. Perhaps orientation is a matter of imagination, of possessing a certain imaginative picture or map of one’s surroundings. In any case, explicit imaginings can affect one’s orientation; it was by imagining things as they are that I corrected my orientation. Imagining what I know to be false can have the opposite effect. I may avoid imagining north to be where I think east is for fear doing so might disorient me, even if there is no danger to my knowledge of which direction is which. We may have similar reasons to resist imagining accepting moral principles or perspectives which we consider mistaken or wrong. Even if we are entirely confident in our judgment and see no real possibility that any imagining will

5. “Where a man is confident of the rectitude of that moral standard, by which he judges, he is justly jealous of it, and will not pervert the sentiments of his heart for a moment, in complaisance to any writer whatsoever” (Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” p. 247).



change our minds, we want our instincts to be in line with our convictions. That makes it easier to decide what actions accord with our convictions, and more likely that, when we act without thinking, we will do what we believe to be right. Adopting even in imagination a moral view that I reject in reality, allowing myself to think and feel in imagination as though my convictions were different from what they actually are, might change my moral orientation; it might in this sense “pervert the sentiments of my heart,” even if it doesn’t change my convictions. The more confident I am of my convictions, the more strenuously I will resist anything that might pry my moral orientation away from them. Works of art may evoke imaginings which can affect one’s orientation. If they threaten to induce an orientation that conflicts with what we believe concerning some matter we take to be important, we object. (We sometimes object to metaphors for similar reasons.)6 It is possible that this concern is especially important in the moral realm. I can certainly engage in a lot of imagining about fairies and goblins and time travel and magic rings without having to worry about my “orientation” with regard to these matters being distorted. (I suppose the child who finds himself afraid to walk home at night after watching a horror movie, though he knows full well that the monsters he saw are confined to the world of the movie, suffers such a distortion.) But the example of one’s sense of direction shows that it is not only in moral instances that concerns about orientation apply.

V It has not been hard to find explanations for appreciators’ objections to works of art that contain ideas about morality they consider repugnant; the reasons I have mentioned are neither surprising nor unfamiliar. But we have not made much progress in validating the asymmetry that Hume insisted on between the moral and the nonmoral content of works of fiction. In Mimesis as Make-Believe,7 I suggested that such an asymmetry obtains at the level of mere representation, that is, when it comes to ascertaining what is true-in-the-fictional-world, quite apart from what we might take to be the work’s message or moral or any ambition or tendency it might have to change or reorganize our beliefs or attitudes or behavior or instincts. My suggestion was, very briefly, that when we interpret literary and other representational works of art we are less willing to allow that the works’ fictional worlds deviate from the real world in moral respects than in

6. For an account of what a perspective induced by a metaphor might consist in, see my “Metaphor and Prop Oriented Make-Believe,” European Journal of Philosophy 1(1), April 1993. See also Richard Moran, “Seeing and Believing: Metaphor, Image and Force,” Critical Inquiry 16, Autumn 1989. 7. Kendall L. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 154–155.



nonmoral ones. I associated this point with Hume’s remarks in the paragraphs before us. But I have since come to think that, although some of what Hume says can be construed as aiming in this direction, my point in Mimesis is distinct from and independent of much of what Hume seems to be getting at. I suspect, however, that Hume had something like this point vaguely in mind when he constrasted objectionable moral ideas in literary works with nonmoral ones. We go about deciding what is fictional, or true-in-a-fictional-world, in many instances, in much the way we go about deciding what is the case in the real world. We make similar inferences, utilizing much the same background information and exercising similar sensitivities and intellectual abilities. We often judge characters’ feelings, motivations, and personalities on the basis of what they do and say, for instance, as though they were real people. We make use of whatever knowledge of human nature we may think we possess, and any relevant life experiences we have had. We sometimes put ourselves into characters’ shoes to understand from the inside what they may be feeling or thinking, as we do in the case of real people. This is what one would expect insofar as the construction of fictional worlds is governed by what I called the Reality Principle. Crudely glossed, the Reality Principle says that we are to construe fictional worlds as being as much like the real world as possible, consistent with what the work directly indicates about them. We are entitled to assume that fictional characters, like real people, have blood in their veins, that they are mortal, and so on—unless the story contains explicit indications to the contrary. On reading a story we note what it says explicitly about characters and events, and—insofar as the Reality Principle applies—ask what would be the case in the real world if all this were true. The Reality Principle applies much less frequently than one might have supposed, and it is easy to underestimate the extent to which considerations special to the interpretation of works of fiction or certain genres of fiction, considerations without analogues in investigations of the real world, come into play when we decide what is fictional. Some exceptions to the Reality Principle occur when the author held beliefs about reality which we know to be mistaken. A medieval storyteller describes a character as recovering from disease after being treated by bloodletting, and expects listeners or readers to assume that (fictionally) the treatment cured him. Shall we disagree, since we know bloodletting to be ineffectual? I think we may well prefer to go along, to understand the story as we know the teller meant it to be understood. Otherwise it may lose its point. We may allow that, in the fictional world, bloodletting cures disease (even though the story does not directly or explicitly establish that this is so), despite our certainty that this is not so in the real world.8 8. One might in this case prefer what I called the Mutual Belief Principle (which follows suggestions of David Lewis and Nicholas Wolterstorff). There is an enormous range of cases in which nothing even approximating either of these principles seems to apply. See Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 161–169.



When it comes to moral matters (moral principles anyway), however, I am more inclined to stick to my guns, and it seems to me that most interpreters are also. I judge characters by the moral standards I myself use in real life. I condemn characters who abandon their children or engage in genocide, and I don’t change my mind if I learn that the author (and the society he was writing for) considered genocide or abandoning one’s children morally acceptable, and expected readers to think this is so in the world of the story. If the author is wrong about life, he is wrong about the world of his story. I don’t easily give up the Reality Principle, as far as moral judgments (moral principles) are concerned. Can an author simply stipulate in the text of a story what moral principles apply in the fictional world, just as she specifies what actions characters perform? If the text includes the sentence “In killing her baby, Giselda did the right thing; after all, it was a girl” or “The village elders did their duty before God by forcing the widow onto her husband’s funeral pyre,” are readers obliged to accept it as fictional that, in doing what they did, Giselda or the elders behaved in morally proper ways? Why shouldn’t storytellers be allowed to experiment explicitly with worlds of morally different kinds, including ones even they regard as morally obnoxious? There is science fiction; why not morality fiction? I am skeptical—skeptical about whether fictional worlds can ever differ morally from the real world. Of course people in fictional worlds can subscribe to moral principles we recognize as repugnant. Evil characters—characters who by our lights have twisted notions of morality—abound in the pages of fiction. An entire society in the world of a novel, the entire population of a planet, might accept the practice of genocide as legitimate or condemn interracial marriage as “contrary to nature.” But can it be fictional that they are right? Can we reasonably judge it to be fictional that genocide is legitimate or interracial marriage a sin, while insisting that the real world is different? Can we accept that what would be virtue in the real world is, in a fictional world, vice, or vice versa?9, 10 I have learned never to say never about such things. Writers of fiction are a clever

9. Some may take the position that one has no right to pass judgment on the moral principles accepted in another society, that anthropologists, for instance, should not condemn practices that accord with the moral code of the agents’ culture even if they conflict with the anthropologist’s own moral code. Extending this tolerance to fictional as well as actual societies does not make the fictional world different morally from the real one. 10. I am using the language of moral realism here, but I do not mean to beg any questions in its favor. Antirealists may insist on reformulating the problem, but that won’t make it disappear. If there are no such things as moral propositions, it won’t be fictional either that slavery is just, or that it is unjust. But antirealists will have to explain what look like judgments readers make about the moral qualities of the actions of fictional characters. And they will have to make sense of the embedding of sentences expressing moral judgments in larger contexts, including “In the story . . . ” contexts, as well as conditionals, etc. I do have hope that some variety of antirealism will make the problem more tractable.



and cantankerous lot who usually manage to do whatever anyone suggests can’t be done, and philosophers are quick with counterexamples. But in this instance counterexamples are surprisingly difficult to come by. A reader’s likely response on encountering in a story the words, “In killing her baby, Giselda did the right thing; after all, it was a girl,” is to be appalled by the moral depravity of the narrator.11 The sentence probably serves to express the narrator’s moral sentiments, not the moral reality of the fictional world. If it were fictional that infanticide for the purpose of sexual selection is morally acceptable, readers would be called on to imagine that the sentiment expressed is proper, that Giselda did indeed do the right thing. They would be barred from imaginatively condemning either her or the narrator, although they might be aware of the repulsion they would feel concerning such practices in the real world. (A reader of science fiction may remind herself that demonic geniuses from outer space are not actually invading the earth and that travel in time is not possible, while imagining otherwise.) This strikes me as a seriously inadequate characterization of the experience a reader would be likely to have. The reader will imaginatively condemn the narrator’s endorsement of infanticide, not allowing that he is right even in the fictional world in which he exists. Some narrators are said to be “omniscient.” This usually means that whatever, fictionally, they say is, fictionally, true. (It is usually not fictional that they are omniscient.)12 Why shouldn’t narrators sometimes be omniscient, in this sense, about morality? Then from the fact that fictionally the narrator declares infanticide or ethnic cleansing to be permissible we could conclude that, fictionally, it is permissible. In real life some people do sometimes accept another person’s judgments about morality—children believe their parents, occasionally, the faithful trust religious leaders, disciples follow gurus. Why shouldn’t there be conventions allowing a narrator this authority in certain instances? I am happy to go along with an “omniscient” narrator who informs me that there are griffins or fairies or that someone travels in time. But I jealously guard my right to decide questions of virtue and vice for myself, even in a fictional world. It is as though I would be compromising my actual moral principles, should I allow that different moral principles hold in a fictional world. The moral sentiments expressed by narrators are just that, it seems: their own personal moral sentiments. We are free to disagree, even though it is the moral nature of the fictional world, not the real one, that is in question. Is there always a narrator to take the rap? If a literary fiction containing a statement in praise of ethnic cleansing has no narrator whose sentiments it can be understood to express, will there be any alternative to understanding 11. By “narrator” I mean a character in the work world who, fictionally, utters the words of the text. I have in mind what in Mimesis as Make-Believe I called reporting narrators, as distinguished from storytelling narrators. 12. See Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, §9.3.



it to characterize the fictional world itself? I do not rule out the possibility of narrator-less literary fictions, but it is not easy to find clear instances, even hypothetical ones. And the very fact that a text expresses a definite moral attitude may give us reason to recognize a narrator. Words expressive of praise or blame cry out to be attached to a (possibly fictional) person—anything, it seems, to avoid allowing them to characterize the moral nature of a fictional world. A better place to look for narrator-less fictions is in pictorial representations. Pictures do not generally present someone’s (fictional) report about events or states of affairs; they portray the events or states of affairs themselves. The spectator, typically, imagines perceiving the events or states of affairs for herself, not being told about them (or even shown them) by someone. (There are exceptions, of course.) But how can a picture portray moral facts, the obtaining of certain moral principles, explicitly or directly? These aren’t the sorts of states of affairs one perceives. A picture may depict a mixed race couple walking arm in arm, or a slave master beating a slave. But then it is up to us, the spectators, to decide on the moral attributes of these actions. I go by my own moral sense, the one I use in real life. I take it to be fictional that there is nothing wrong with the interracial friendship, and that the beating of the slave is abhorrent. Suppose the picture of the interracial couple is titled “Shame!” or “Sin!” Here, finally, we have words in a work which probably are not to be attributed to a (reporting) narrator. The words of the title are not themselves part of the fictional world; it probably isn’t fictional that anyone is using them to characterize the behavior of the couple. But there is a tradition of allowing titles to contribute to what is fictional in the world of a picture. Paul Klee’s Singer of Comic Opera (1923) depicts a woman, but the image itself doesn’t establish that she is a singer, let alone a singer of comic opera. Only the title makes this fictional. Does the title of the picture of the interracial couple establish that it is fictional that the couple’s behavior is shameful or sinful? I doubt it. Maybe the artist, in giving the picture its title, intended or expected this to be fictional.13 Even so, I will insist that it is not, that fictionally there is nothing shameful or sinful in what the couple is doing. The title amounts to an interpretation of the picture which we are free to disagree with, not an authoritative pronouncement establishing a feature of the fictional world. The disgusting sentiment expressed in the title can be attributed to the artist who chose it, or possibly to an implied or apparent or fictional artist (a storytelling narrator), rather than taking it to establish the moral reality of the fictional world. 13. This may be clear even if there is no title. Activities may be depicted in a glorified manner indicating the artist’s approval, her belief that it is fictional that they are admirable, and her approval of similar behavior in the real world. (Compare social realistic styles of depiction.)



VI If fictional worlds ever differ morally from the real world, I suspect that this will be so when the moral character of the fictional world is presented implicitly or indirectly rather than by explicit stipulation, and when it is part of the background rather than the focus of the work. I appreciate and value many works that in some way presuppose or are based on moral perspectives I don’t entirely share. I think all of us do; otherwise there would be little for us to appreciate. Unlike Triumph of the Will, whose obvious main purpose is to further an obnoxious moral and political agenda and cannot but inspire disgust, some works merely presuppose or take for granted certain moral perspectives without in any way advocating them, or even addressing or intending to raise the question of their propriety. These moral perspectives then serve as a resource, as part of the setting in which the author pursues other, more specifically aesthetic objectives. If we disagree with the perspective, we might consider reliance on it to be a defect in the work, even an aesthetic defect, but this doesn’t always prevent us from recognizing and appreciating the aesthetic qualities that result.14 I may understand a fictional event to be tragic, or ironic, or absurd, or poignant. I may think of a character as noble, or as ridiculous. The ending of a story may strike me as a happy one,15 or as one of unmitigated tragedy, or as uncomfortably ambiguous, or as constituting a fitting denouement to the events that preceded it. I may think that a character does, or does not, in the end, get her comeuppance. Such aesthetically important perceptions are inevitably linked to certain values, often certain moral principles or perspectives; it is in light of a particular moral attitude that an event strikes me as tragic, or a character ridiculous, or an ending fitting. The nature of the link is hard to pin down. Does it have to be fictional that the relevant moral principles are true in order for it to be fictional that certain events are tragic or ironic? Does appreciating the tragedy or irony commit us to recognizing the fictionality of those principles? If so, when we disagree with the principles we may have to judge that the fictional world differs morally from the real one. But there are other possibilities. The tragic or ironic nature of fictional events might derive from the fact that fictionally some or all of the characters (perhaps including the narrator) accept moral principles with which we disagree, without its being fictional that they are true. Appreciation might require respect or sympathy for the characters’ moral attitudes. It might even require that we imagine agreeing with them, that we imagine sharing these attitudes ourselves without requiring us to judge it to be fictional that they are true. Perhaps we needn’t even take it to be fictional that the events are tragic or ironic; it may be

14. I am indebted here to David Hills. 15. This doesn’t mean simply that the characters end up happy. An unhappy villain doesn’t prevent the story from ending happily.



enough to realize that the author (or storytelling narrator) meant them to be so taken, and to respect or sympathize with him. These are subtle and difficult questions which call for careful critical attention to examples of many different kinds. But we have a mystery on our hands in any case. Whether or not fictional worlds can ever differ morally from the real world, it seems clear that they don’t as easily or as often as one might expect. We recognize the fictionality of ordinary empirical propositions and even propositions stating scientific laws, which we consider false, far more readily than we do that of moral principles which we reject. Authors just do not have the same freedom to manipulate moral characteristics of their fictional worlds that they have to manipulate other aspects of them. Why is this? The reader will not find a definitive answer in this essay. But progress can be made by ruling out some kinds of explanations which might initially seem plausible, and we will come to understand the puzzle better in the process.

VII Propositions that are “true-in-the-world-of-a-story,” ones I call fictional, are (in a nutshell) propositions readers of the story are to imagine.16 We may find it distasteful, morally objectionable, to imagine that interracial friendships are sinful or that slavery is morally acceptable. I noted our resistance to imagining accepting moral principles we disagree with or disapprove of. Surely we would resist imagining those moral principles themselves, imagining them to be true. So we are unwilling to imagine what we are called upon to imagine, if it is fictional that interracial friendships are sinful or slavery acceptable. This doesn’t help. It does not explain why anyone should resist allowing that these propositions are fictional. To recognize it to be fictional in a story that slavery is morally acceptable would be merely to recognize that the story calls for imagining this. We don’t have to go ahead and actually do the imagining. We might decide not to go along with the story, or not even to read it, precisely because it does ask us to imagine that slavery is acceptable, because it makes this fictional. A person who objects to imagining that the Holocaust was a hoax, or that Abraham Lincoln was secretly a slave trader, may be unable or unwilling to appreciate a story in which this is so. But this won’t prevent her from recognizing that it is fictional in the story that the Holocaust didn’t occur or that Lincoln traded in slaves. We might as well suppose that one cannot allow that a newspaper editorial advocates ethnic cleansing if one finds the practice of ethnic cleansing disgusting. It is not clear that moral objections to imagining moral principles we find repugnant have anything to do with the resistance I think most of us feel to recognizing such principles to be fictional.

16. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, §1.5.



VIII Is this resistance essentially moral in character at all? Do we object morally to recognizing it to be fictional that slavery is morally acceptable? The resistance is of a piece, it seems to me, with an unwillingness to recognize the fictionality of certain propositions about matters we don’t feel strongly about, including ones that do not involve morality. Consider a really dumb joke, like this one: “Knock, Knock. Who’s there? Robin. Robin who? Robbin’ you! Stick ’em up!”17 It is not easy to see how it could be fictional that this joke is hilariously funny (in circumstances just like ones in which, in the real world, it would be dumb), how one could reasonably allow it to be hilarious in a fictional world, while thinking that it is actually dumb. The same goes for a nonjoke such as “A maple leaf fell from a tree” (said in no special context). This isn’t funny in the real world, and it is not clear how one could create a fictional world in which it is funny (without supplying a special context which would make it funny in the real world as well). If in a story a comedian tells one or the other of these jokes and the author simply writes explicitly in the text that it is hilariously funny, I expect that I would attribute a juvenile or an incomprehensible sense of humor to the narrator, and stick with my own judgment that the joke is not funny. I insist on applying my own sense of humor, the one I use in the real world, to the fictional world, as I do my own standards of morality. It may be fictional that the comedian’s audience and other characters in the fiction are amused, of course; they may be rolling in the aisles. I can admit that it is funny for them while judging that their reaction is inappropriate. I don’t rule out the possibility of fancy counterexamples, cases in which there are special reasons for allowing fictional worlds to differ from the real one with respect to what makes for humor, but the fact that the counterexamples would have to be fancy needs explaining. Whether either the dumb joke or the nonjoke is funny is hardly a question that arouses the passions or that we much care about, and it needn’t have anything much to do with morality (although some jokes do). It is not passion, moral passion or any other kind, that drives my reluctance to let it be fictional that it is funny. I have no moral objection to recognizing this to be fictional. What is crucial, I believe, is that being funny or not funny supervenes or depends in a certain way on the “natural” characteristics determine what is funny and what is not. I suspect that it is particular relations of dependence, which properties determine in the relevant manner which others, that cannot easily be different in fictional worlds and in the real one. Why this is so, and what kind of determination or dependence is involved, is still a mystery. I invite readers to experiment with their intuitions about various other examples. Can different “aesthetic” principles obtain in fictional worlds as compared to the real one? Can what counts in the real world as a jagged or angular or awkward 17. Thanks to Jenefer Robinson.



line be flowing or graceful in a fictional world (when relevant aspects of background and context are the same)? Can what in the real world makes for elegance or profundity or unity or bombast or delicacy be different in a fictional world? Those who take the mental to supervene on the physical may consider whether one might judge it to be fictional that a given mental state supervenes on certain physical ones, if one does not think it actually does. Moral properties depend or supervene on “natural” ones and, I believe, in the relevant manner (whatever that is); being evil rests on, for instance, the actions constituting the practices of slavery and genocide. This, I suggest, is what accounts (somehow) for the resistance to allowing it to be fictional that slavery and genocide are not evil. If I am right about this, the present point is very different from those I discussed earlier. We may judge a work to be morally defective if it advocates moral principles we find repugnant, or if it invites or has a tendency to induce us to imagine accepting them. (This moral failing might constitute or contribute to an aesthetic one.) If a novel endorses slavery or encourages even imaginative acceptance of it we will loathe it with something of the loathing we have for the institution of slavery. The more we abhor moral principles which a work promotes, the more objectionable we find it. Refusing to understand it to be fictional that slavery is morally acceptable is not in itself to find the work defective. But if the author meant this to be fictional, her failure to make it so may be responsible for failings in the work. The very fact that an author tries to do something she can’t bring off, if the attempt is evident in the work, can be disturbing or disconcerting to the appreciator. And insofar as other objectives the author meant to accomplish in the work depend on its being fictional that slavery is legitimate, she will have been unsuccessful in accomplishing them. We may be unable to regard the hero of the story as heroic or his downfall tragic if, contrary to the author’s intentions, we judge him to be morally despicable.18 This may not only destroy the story’s excitement and dull our interest in it, it may also ruin the story’s formal properties, the shape of the plot. These are not moral defects in the work, however, but aesthetic ones, and we don’t loathe it for failing to make it fictional that slavery is legitimate, with the loathing we direct toward slavery. Indeed, this failure is if anything a point in the work’s favor, from a moral perspective. (But we may condemn the author for attempting to make this fictional in the work.) Our negative feelings about slavery do play an indirect role in the recognition of these aesthetic failings; it is because we find slavery repugnant that we judge it to be evil, that we recognize being evil to supervene on the practice of slavery. And that, I am suggesting, is why we disallow its being fictional that slavery is not evil. 18. “We are not interested in the fortunes and sentiments of such rough heroes: . . . And . . . we cannot prevail on ourselves to . . . bear an affection to characters, which we plainly discover to be blameable.” Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” p. 246.



Where do we stand in the attempt to find something special about our reaction to moral ideas that we disagree with in works of art? Our reluctance to allow moral principles we disagree with to be fictional is just an instance of a more general point concerning dependence relations of a certain kind. But it does distinguish moral principles from propositions about ordinary empirical matters of fact and also from scientific laws, which (usually) do not state dependence relations of the relevant kind.

IX We still need an explanation of why we should resist allowing fictional worlds to differ from the real world with respect to the relevant kind of dependence relations. My best suspicion, at the moment, is that it has something to do with an inability to imagine these relations being different from how we think they are, perhaps an inability to understand fully what it would be like for them to be different. This seems, initially, a most unpromising proposal. Some say that contradictions, logical or conceptual impossibilities, are unimaginable. Imaginability is supposed to be a test for possibility. But the propositions that slavery is just, and that the two jokes mentioned earlier are hilariously funny, are surely not contradictions. Moreover, even contradictions can apparently be fictional, although it takes some doing to make them so. The time travel portrayed in some science fiction stories is contradictory; there are pictorial contradictions in William Hogarth’s False Perspective, in etchings of M. C. Escher, and in an assortment of familiar puzzle pictures. How can contradictions be fictional? Sometimes a work makes it fictional that p (prescribes the imagining of p), and also makes it fictional that not-p. Then the conjunction, p and not-p, may be fictional by virtue of the fictionality of its conjuncts.19 It is not clear that a similar strategy will work for the proposition that the institution of slavery is just and proper, that this can be separated into distinct components, each of which can unproblematically be made fictional. It might be fictional that a person’s behavior on a given occasion was morally acceptable, and also that her behavior on that occasion consisted in beating a slave (just as it might be fictional that a person was simultaneously living in twentieth-century Chicago and in sixteenth-century Italy). But this doesn’t make it fictional that she was behaving morally by virtue of the fact that her behavior consisted in beating a slave. It still may be difficult or impossible for that to be fictional, because it is difficult or impossible to imagine its being true. 19. There may then be a prescription to imagine the conjuction, even if that can’t be done. Some might prefer not to regard the conjunction as fictional at all, but the fictional world will still be contradictory in the sense that the conjunction of what is fictional is a contradiction.



Do contradictions or obvious conceptual impossibilities get to be fictional in other ways? If a work portrays Philip II of Spain and the Guises as a three-headed monster, or fascism as an octopus, it would not seem that the fictionality of these impossibilities derives from the fictionality of their components. But are these conceptual impossibilities fictional at all; are we to imagine that Philip and the Guises are (literally) a three-headed monster, or that fascism is an octopus? Perhaps what is fictional is merely that there is a three-headed monster, or an octopus, and in making this fictional the work expresses a thought about Philip and the Guises, or fascism—a thought one would express in uttering the obvious metaphor. Is it difficult or impossible, for those of us who abhor slavery and genocide, to imagine engaging in these activities to be morally proper? We are capable of imagining accepting or subscribing to moral principles that in fact we reject, it seems. And we can imagine experiencing the feelings—feelings of disgust, or approval—that go with judging in ways we think mistaken. Most of us remember holding moral views we have since come to renounce. We know what it is like to subscribe to them, and we can still imagine doing so. A person who has undergone a conversion from one moral perspective to another may not want to put herself in her previous shoes; she may find it painful even to imagine thinking and feeling in the ways she previously did. She may be unable to bring herself to imagine this; it may require a “great effort” in this sense, just as sticking pins into a photograph of a loved one does. But certainly she could imagine this if she wanted to; otherwise why would she dread doing so? Sometimes we are able to understand and empathize with people who hold moral views we have never held or even been seriously tempted by, and this empathy is likely to involve imagining subscribing to these moral views ourselves. An important function of literary works is to facilitate such empathy by presenting characters with various moral perspectives in a sympathetic light. But there are limits to our imaginative abilities. It is not clear that I can, in a full-blooded manner, imagine accepting just any moral principle I am capable of articulating. I can’t very well imagine subscribing to the principle that nutmeg is the summum bonum and that one’s highest obligation is to maximize the quantity of nutmeg in the universe. (Some will put this by saying that I don’t know what it would be like to hold this moral view.) I can entertain the supposition that I accept this principle, as one would in thinking about conditional propositions or in using reductio ad adsurdum arguments. But I have argued that fictionality involves a more substantial sense of imagining than this.20 I have no difficulty imagining finding the “Knock Knock” joke related earlier funny. It is the sort of joke I once appreciated, and I know and empathize with people now who would appreciate it. But I have trouble with the nonjoke about the maple

20. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 19–21.



leaf. Perhaps with effort and ingenuity I could dream up a way of thinking about it in which it would strike one as funny. But there is a sense in which I can’t now imagine finding it funny. People who do laugh at it would mystify me in a way that people who laugh at the “Knock Knock” joke do not. I know what it is to be amused. Can’t I just put that notion together in imagination with the idea of the story about the maple leaf, and imagine being amused by the story? I am suggesting that full-blooded imagining of this may require not just conjoining these two thoughts but imagining a way in which the story amuses me. (Compare: a person may be incapable of imagining an instance of justified true belief which is not an instance of knowledge—until having read the Gettier literature he learns how this can be so, how to imagine it. And he might know, on authority, that this is possible and still not be able to imagine it. A contemporary of Columbus may be unable to imagine traveling west and arriving in the east, until she thinks of the possibility that the earth is round.) We are still very far from the explanation we are after. For it is not only those propositions concerning morality or humor I have difficulty imagining accepting, that I am reluctant to recognize as fictional. I resist allowing it to be fictional that the “Knock Knock” joke is funny, or that moral principles I can, apparently, imagine accepting are true. But can I imagine not only accepting or believing a moral principle which I actually disagree with and feeling appropriately—can I imagine being justified in accepting or believing it? Can I imagine its being true?21 A work in which it is fictional that genocide is morally permissible would be one that calls for imagining that genocide is morally permissible, not just imagining accepting this to be so. I find myself strangely tempted by the thought that although I might imagine the latter, I cannot imagine the former.22 Alternatively, we might reconsider the idea that I can imagine believing, accepting as true, moral propositions I now reject. Maybe the attitude I imagine having, when I remember my earlier moral self or empathize with others, falls short of belief or acceptance. A sensitive portrayal of the Mafia or of colonial plantation owners might enable me to imagine desiring and feeling in many respects as they do. And I can imagine being amused by the “Knock Knock” joke. (This already distinguishes it from the maple leaf story.) But (first-order) desires and feelings don’t constitute moral commitments, and being amused does not itself amount to understanding the joke to be funny. On some accounts one needs to take a certain attitude toward one’s desires or feelings or amusement, to endorse or desire

21. Again, I am not committed to the propriety of this realist formulation. 22. Richard Moran raised this possibility in “Art, Imagination, and Resistance,” a talk he presented at the meetings of the American Society for Aesthetics in 1992. Maybe it isn’t quite as strange as it seems. It is arguable that I can imagine believing that Ortcutt is not identical with Ortcutt, or that water is not H2O, but that, knowing what I know, I can’t imagine either of these propositions being true.



them or regard them as proper or appropriate.23 Perhaps one must also take an attitude of endorsement toward the second-order attitudes, or at least not take a negative attitude toward them. At some point in the series one may find oneself able to imagine refusing to endorse an attitude but unable to imagine endorsing it; maybe this happens when I in fact reject the moral principles in question or consider the joke not to be funny. This inability may be akin to my inability to imagine being amused by the tale of the maple leaf. And perhaps it amounts to an inability to imagine accepting a moral position that I actually reject. There are loose ends in this sketchy story, and insecure links. I don’t know whether it can be made to work. And even if it were to succeed in establishing that people are, always or sometimes, unable to imagine, in a significant sense, accepting moral positions they reject, it may not be obvious how this explains our—or anyway my—reluctance to allow moral principles I disagree with to be fictional. The line of thought I have just outlined is worth pursuing, I believe, but I won’t be too surprised if we find ourselves back at square one. Hume had no idea how many worms lived in the can he opened. I have left most of them dangling, but at least I have begun to count them. That, I hope, is progress.24 23. See for instance Harry Frankfurt, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person,” Journal of Philosophy 68(1), January 14 1971; Allan Gibbard, Wise Choices, Apt Feelings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990); and David Lewis, “Dispositional Theories of Value,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, supplementary volume 63, 1989. 24. I am grateful for conversations with Allan Gibbard, Daniel Jacobson, Eileen John, Richard Moran, Peter Railton, Gideon Rosen, Alicyn Warren, and especially David Hills. Richard Moran’s “Art, Imagination, and Resistance,” on which I commented, was also very helpful, in addition to renewing my interest in this topic. [In response to helpful conversations with Daniel Jacobson, I have made a couple of clarifying corrections in the text of this paper. Jacobson’s “In Praise of Immoral Art” [Philosophical Topics 25(1), Spring 1997, David Hills, editor] explores perceptively, and more thoroughly than I do, the cluster of issues concerning relations between art and morality that occupy sections 1–4 of the present essay. See also the discussions by Noël Carroll, Berys Gaut, and Matthew Kieran that Jacobson cites. An important recent examination of the question which is the main focus of the present essay, whether fictional worlds can differ morally, that is, with respect to what moral principles obtain, from the real world, is Tamar Szabó Gendler’s “The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance,” Journal of Philosophy 2 1997.]

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n Mimesis as Make-Believe, I happened upon a surprising peculiarity in interpretive practice, a curious reluctance to allow fictional worlds to differ in fundamental moral respects from the real world as we understand it.1 It seemed to me that this might have been what David Hume was getting at in the final five paragraphs of “On the Standard of Taste,” although this attribution now strikes me as highly questionable. Revisiting the topic in a later essay, “Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality,”2 I emphasized that there is actually a tangled nest of importantly distinct but easily confused puzzles in the vicinity, several of which can be traced uncertainly to Hume’s observations.3 My strategy in addressing them was disentangle-and-conquer. I do not claim to have successfully completed the conquest in my previous forays, nor will I do so now. But I did do

This essay began as a postscript to “Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality” (see note 2 below), but got out of hand. Thanks to Tamar Gendler and Shaun Nichols for very helpful comments. 1. Kendall L. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 154–155. In the terms of my discussion in Mimesis, the peculiarity consisted in a strange insistence on the Reality Principle of implication, for deciding whether moral propositions of certain sorts are fictional. 2. Kendall L. Walton, “Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 68 (1994): 27–50. [Reprinted as chapter 3 of this volume; page references are to this volume.] 3. Tamar Gendler examines Hume’s comments in some detail. Gendler, “Imaginative Resistance Revisited,” in The Architecture of the Imagination: New Essays on Pretense, Possibility, and Fiction, ed. Shaun Nichols (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 149–173.




some untangling, and without that there is no hope of conquest. I now see that there are even more strands to separate than I recognized previously. So more untangling is in order. Several of the puzzles, and amalgamations of them, travel together in the recent literature under the name the puzzle of imaginative resistance.4 This unfortunate appellation ignores the puzzles’ multiplicity, and is misleading in other respects as well. There are perceptive and illuminating discussions in the literature nonetheless, with some promising suggestions about solutions. One contributor who is careful to distinguish the main strands of the tangle is Brian Weatherson. Weatherson recognizes four related puzzles, and examines three of them.5 The differences between the three are small, he says—I disagree about that—but he separates them clearly and gives them useful labels. I will look at two of these three—the imaginative puzzle and what he calls the alethic one, which I will rename the fictionality puzzle. But I will begin with the one he doesn’t examine, the aesthetic puzzle.

THE AESTHETIC PUZZLE The first several sections of “Morals in Fiction” survey, briefly, the neighborhood of the aesthetic puzzle.6 If a work of art is objectionable on moral grounds, does this diminish or destroy its aesthetic value? 4. Of those who use this name, Gregory Currie, Ian Ravenscroft, and Shaun Nichols address only the imaginative puzzle; Stephen Yablo focuses on the fictionality one; Tamar Gendler, Derek Matravers, and Richard Moran have some of both in mind. See Currie, “Desire in Imagination,” in Conceivability and Possibility, ed. Tamar Gendler and John Hawthorne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 201–222; Currie and Ravenscroft, Recreative Minds: Imagination in Philosophy and Psychology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Nichols, “Just the Imagination: Why Imagining Doesn’t Behave Like Believing,” Mind and Language 21, no. 4 (2006): 459–474; Yablo, “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda,” in Conceivability and Possibility, pp. 441–492; Gendler, “The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance,” Journal of Philosophy 2 (2000): 55–81; Matravers, “Fictional Assent and the (so-called) ‘Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance,’ ” in Imagination, Philosophy, and the Arts, ed. Matthew Kieran and Dominic Lopes (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 91–106; and Moran, “The Expression of Feeling in Imagination,” Philosophical Review 103, no. 1 (1994): 75–106. In his response to my “Morals in Fiction,” Michael Tanner touches only on the aesthetic puzzle; see “Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 68 (1994): 51–66. 5. Brian Weatherson, “Morality, Fiction and Possibility,” Philosophers’ Imprint 4, no. 3 (2004): 1–27. 6. This issue has enjoyed a flurry of discussion recently, although it is certainly not new. Cf. Noël Carroll, “Moderate Moralism,” British Journal of Aeshtetics 36 (1996): 223– 237; Mary Devereaux, “Beauty and Evil: The Case of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will,” in Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection, ed. Jerrold Levinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 227–256; Berys Gaut, “The Ethical Criticism of Art,” in Aesthetics and Ethics, 182–203; Daniel Jacobson, “In Praise of Immoral Art,”





I did not say nearly enough about the various kinds of moral objections one might have to a work (or a joke, or a cartoon, or a metaphor), and much of the literature on this topic is lacking in this respect as well. Two broad categories are obvious: (a) Some works are vehicles by virtue of which the artist expresses sentiments or advocates a moral point of view that we may find objectionable. People sometimes “make reprehensible claims or demands by writing poems, by telling stories, by creating fictions,” I observed.7 We may condemn the sentiments or point of view and their expression whether or not we think the artist has any chance of making converts or persuading anyone. (b) Alternatively, we may worry, as Plato did, that a work will have morally deleterious effects, whether or not they were intended or envisaged by the artist. We may criticize a work for encouraging immoral attitudes or behavior or unwanted feelings in audiences; one might even fear succumbing oneself. And we may complain about a work’s likely indirect consequences; its sales might line the pockets of a distributor who will bankroll evil causes, for instance. Other moral objections are of neither of the above kinds. One who objects to the Egyptian pyramids because of their construction by slave labor, or to European high art on the grounds that it was made possible by an obscene concentration of wealth among the royalty or the clergy, needn’t presume either that their creators were advocating morally obnoxious views or that the works might have unfortunate consequences. According to H. L. Mencken, the last movement of Beethoven’s Eroica is “not only voluptuous to the last degree; it is also Bolshevistic. Try to play it with your eyes on a portrait of Dr. Coolidge. You will find the thing as impossible as eating ice-cream on roast beef.”8 Mencken need not have supposed that Beethoven was endorsing Bolshivism, or that the Eroica finale stands any chance of promoting it. My own intuitions about these sketchily characterized examples, as to whether their (presumed) moral faults affect their aesthetic merit, are fuzzy, but insofar as I do have inclinations, they go in different directions. I am less inclined to think that morally undesirable consequences, especially relatively indirect ones, detract from a work’s aesthetic value than that serving as a vehicle whereby the artist advances morally obnoxious claims (at least if this is evident in the work) does. And—supposing that the Bolshevism that Mencken hears in the Eroica is really there, and is morally objectionable—I am more inclined to accept that it lessens the work’s aesthetic value than that the construction of the pyramids by slave labor does. A single answer to the question of what if any bearing moral failings have on aesthetic value is not in the offing.

Philosophical Topics 25, no. 1 (1997): 155–199; Eileen John, “Artistic Value and Opportunistic Moralism,” in Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Art, ed. Matthew Kieran (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 331–341; Matthew Kieran, “Art, Imagination, and the Cultivation of Morals,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 54, no. 4 (1996): 337–351. 7. Walton, “Morals in Fiction,” p. 28. 8. H. L. Mencken, “Music and Sin,” in Prejudices: Fifth Series (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926), p. 295.



I did not mean to propose any such answer in “Morals in Fiction,” or even to decide at all definitely about any particular case. My main purpose in discussing the aesthetic puzzle, beyond providing an overview of the issues involved, was to clarify its relation to, and distinctness from, the others. What I called an “aesthetic defect,” in connection with Triumph of the Will, is simply a circumstance that is unfortunate from an aesthetic point of view, namely the fact that the film’s moral reprehensibility is likely to prevent people from appreciating it aesthetically.9 It remains an open question whether or not the film possesses aesthetic merit, whether its moral faults destroy or lessen its aesthetic value, or merely render its aesthetic value unavailable or inaccessible.10 This question is not itself, I think, a very interesting or important one. Likewise for the question whether a racist joke which, let’s suppose, ought not to be laughed at, is in fact funny, or whether the complaint “That isn’t funny!” should be taken as the literal truth. What is important and interesting is the fact that moral failings in works of art do sometimes (not always) impede aesthetic appreciation, and the various ways in which they do. All of the varieties of moral defects I mentioned may do this, although the interference takes different forms in different cases. We may be unwilling to appreciate a work, or even experience it, because we think that doing so would itself be morally objectionable: in appreciating it we would be profiting from slave labor, or letting ourselves in for temptation, or (in effect) declaring allegiance to or openness to an obnoxious moral perspective, or contributing to the work’s undesirable indirect consequences. Sometimes a work’s negative moral qualities may be so overwhelming or painful or guilt inducing or distracting that we are simply unable to appreciate it even if we are willing. It is also important to recognize that—as Plato famously observed—immoral works of many varieties often are exceedingly powerful despite—maybe even because of—their immorality; they may mesmerize or move us, even against our will. Of course, if authorities censor them or if we refuse even to experience them, their moral flaws will have prevented their being appreciated. How and why and when moral failings have inhibiting effects, as well as when, why, and how they are effective nevertheless, are rich areas for empirical investigation. I barely touched on them in “Morals in Fiction.” And I didn’t even approach the important normative questions about whether, in various instances, one ought to avoid enjoying a work, whether, for instance, it is wrong to laugh at a racist joke or to marvel at the pyramids. None of these questions requires that we decide whether moral defects lessen a work’s actual aesthetic merit. When moral considerations prevent us from appreciating a work of fiction, this is often, though not always, because we are unable or unwilling to imagine 9. Walton, “Morals in Fiction,” p. 30. 10. Thanks to Daniel Jacobson for insisting that I clarify this point. Cf. his “In Praise of Immoral Art.” He also makes a good case for the idea that moral flaws are sometimes aesthetic merits.





in the way the work calls for. This is the link between the aesthetic puzzle and the imaginative one. But insufficient attention to the distinction between them may make it seem that the imaginative puzzle concerns only matters having to do with morality. It doesn’t. And neither does the fictionality puzzle.11 It is worth pointing out, also, that the aesthetic puzzle itself has nonmoral analogues. I borrow an example from Frank Sibley: An apparently abstract photograph which strikes us as beautiful may be impossible to appreciate once we learn that it is a photograph of lesions on a human body, or gangrene, or ulcers. Or we may not want to enjoy it then, even if we can. It is less likely that we will think we ought not let ourselves appreciate it, that doing so would be morally objectionable. Sibley suggests that it may true to say that such a photograph is beautiful, nevertheless, that it possesses one kind of beauty anyway (“predicative beauty,” as opposed to beauty as a photograph of gangrene, i.e., “attributive gangrene-beauty”).12

THE IMAGINATIVE AND FICTIONALITY PUZZLES ENTANGLED The most easily confused of the several tangled strands are the fictionality and the imaginative puzzles. The fictionality one, the focus of my observations in Mimesis, is the most perplexing of the bunch. We easily accept that princes become frogs or that people travel in time, in the world of a story, even, sometimes, that blatant contradictions are fictional. But we balk—I do anyway, in some instances, and it is evident from the literature that I am not alone—at interpretations of stories or other fictions on which it is fictional that (absent extraordinary circumstances) female infanticide is right and proper, or that nutmeg is the summum bonum, or that a dumb “Knock Knock” joke is actually hilarious. Why the difference? This is the fictionality puzzle. The imaginative puzzle concerns not what is or isn’t fictional, but what we do or do not imagine. These are different; I may recognize that something is fictional, true in the world of a story, without actually imagining it, or imagine something that I take not to be fictional.13 People are sometimes unwilling or unable to engage in certain imaginings. Why? This is the imaginative puzzle. 11. Section 8 of Walton, “Morals in Fiction” aims to establish that the fictionality puzzle extends to nonmoral propositions. My concentration on moral matters earlier in the essay may have, misleadingly, suggested the contrary, however. Weatherson (“Morality, Fiction and Possibility”) and Yablo (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”) have much more to say about the scope of the fictionality puzzle. 12. Frank Sibley, “Aesthetic Judgments: Pebbles, Faces, and Fields of Litter,” in Approach to Aesthetics, ed. John Benson, Betty Redfern, and Jeremy Roxbee Cox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 176–190. 13. Walton, “Morals in Fiction,” p. 39. Imagining a proposition is more than merely recognizing or entertaining or understanding or formulating it or supposing it to be so. Cf. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 19–21; also Gendler, “Imaginative Resistance Revisited,” in Nichols, Architecture of the Imagination.



Tamar Gendler has contributed a rich and interesting essay treating the fictionality and imaginative puzzles. She slides back and forth between them, however, characterizing what needs explanation sometimes as a failure to imagine, sometimes as resistance to taking something to be fictional. In several places she writes of resistance to “making-believe,” which might be construed either way.14 She acknowledges the ambiguity but contends that conflating the two readings is legitimate (at least in some contexts) on the grounds that “what is true in a story is what the author gets the (appropriate) reader to imagine, if (appropriate) readers are unable or unwilling to [imagine that p], they will be unwilling or unable to [accept that p is fictional].”15 This will be so if an “appropriate” reader is simply one who imagines what is fictional. But then a reader may resist reading appropriately, while acknowledging that that is what he is resisting; he may refuse to or fail to imagine what he recognizes to be fictional. Alternatively, a reader may deny that the proposition in question is fictional, resist the notion that to read appropriately is to imagine it. These resistances or failures are different, and demand different explanations. Shaun Nichols has pointed out to me that there may be an epistemological link between imaginings and judgments of fictionality; a person who is unable or unwilling to imagine something may be a poor judge of whether it is to be imagined, whether it is fictional. It is largely because a work induces us to imagine something, in many instances, that we judge it to be fictional. (What I find myself imagining seeing when I look at a picture, for example, what I see “in” it, is likely to be what it depicts—assuming that I am a “normal” or properly qualified observer.) If I am incapable of imagining a particular proposition or don’t allow myself to imagine it, this test for fictionality will not be available to me.

THE IMAGINATIVE PUZZLE To avoid begging questions, let’s formulate the imaginative puzzle as neutrally as possible: Sometimes people do not engage in imaginings that one might expect them to. These may be imaginings of propositions that are fictional in a given work, or were clearly meant to be fictional, or imaginings a work seems apt for inducing, or ones that appear to be appropriate or called for or likely in situations not involving a work of fiction. When people fail to imagine as expected, is this because they are unable to do so, or because they are unwilling to or refuse? Both answers have been proposed

14. Gendler, “Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance,” pp. 62–63, 66, 75, 79. But see her more recent reflections in “Imaginative Resistance Revisited.” I avoid using “makebelieve” as a verb in my own writings because of its ambiguity. Other expressions in the literature which are susceptible to a similar ambiguity include “what we accept and imagine as fictionally true,” “fictionally assenting to,” and “imagining a fictional world.” 15. Gendler, “Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance,” p. 58n6.





in the literature on “imaginative resistance,” and there are instances of both kinds. Sometimes we refuse, for any of a variety of reasons. And some imaginings are difficult or impossible to bring off, the difficulty or impossibility having different explanations in different cases. The imaginative puzzle—itself only part of the tangled nest we are addressing—divides into many. I mentioned some reasons people may have for declining to engage in an imagining; there are others as well, not all of them moral reasons. Imagining can sometimes lead to belief or acceptance, so one may avoid imagining subscribing to a moral perspective that one considers pernicious or reprehensible (or to a false factual claim), for fear of succumbing to it.16 The danger, I should add, may be merely that the person will take it more seriously than she thinks she should, or regard it as less than utterly absurd, as an alternative to be considered; even that, she may think, would be bad enough. My orientation example suggests that imaginings can encourage behavior in accordance with a point of view one rejects, even if one continues to reject it.17 It is likely that the more confident a person is of her convictions, the more she will want not to be “oriented” differently, not to be induced by imagining to act contrary to them. But the less confident she is the more susceptible she might feel, the more danger she might think there is of her being corrupted. Some of the other reasons one may have for eschewing imaginings are related to these, but some are rather different. Imaginings not connected at all with a point of view or an attitude one is intent on rejecting—reliving a terrifying experience, for instance, or imaginatively anticipating one that one greatly fears—may be just too painful to endure. Many of us find imaginative experiences elicited by some violent movies or tragic literature unpleasant or intolerable. What makes the experience painful may be not so much what is imagined as the manner in which it is, the vividness of one’s imaginative experience, induced by a vividly realistic portrayal. But there may be certain horrendous scenarios that one simply cannot imagine in a tolerably detached manner. Bernard Williams presents the possibility of a person who regards certain courses of action as unthinkable, or who thinks it insane to consider what one ought to do in some hypothetical bizarre and monstrous situation: 16. Walton, “Morals in Fiction,” p. 31. A number of empirical studies bear this out. See Robert Cialdini, “Systematic Opportunism: An Approach to the Study of Tactical Social Influence,” in Social Influence: Direct and Indirect Processes, ed. Joseph P. Forgas and Kipling D. Williams (Philadelphia, Pa.: Psychology Press, 2001), pp. 25–39, and the studies he refers to; Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, “Availability: A Heuristic for Judging Frequency and Probability,” Cognitive Psychology 5:207–232; and Frederick Bacon, “Credibility of Repeated Statements: Memory for Trivia,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory 5 (1979): 241–252. Gregory Currie and Tamar Gendler both cite relevant empirical work. See Currie, “The Moral Psychology of Fiction,” Australian Journal of Philosophy 73, no. 2 (1995): 250–159; and Gendler, “The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance.” 17. Walton, “Morals in Fiction,” pp. 32–33.



It could be a feature of a man’s moral outlook that he regarded certain courses of action as unthinkable. . . . Entertaining certain alternatives, regarding them indeed as alternatives, is itself something that he regards as dishonourable or morally absurd. But, further, he might equally find it unacceptable to consider what to do in certain conceivable situations. Logically, or indeed empirically conceivable they may be, but they are not to him morally conceivable. . . . For him, there are certain situations so monstrous that the idea that the processes of moral rationality could yield an answer in them is insane: they are situations which so transcend in enormity the human business of moral deliberation that from a moral point of view it cannot matter any more what happens. Equally, for him, to spend time thinking what one would decide if one were in such a situation is also insane, if not merely frivolous.18

If a work of fiction encourages readers to imagine performing actions of certain kinds (by encouraging them to empathize with a character who performs them, for instance), the person Williams has in mind may put it down. And one may refuse to read a novel if it demands simply having to choose, in imagination, between monstrous alternatives in a bizarre situation. It need not be part of Williams’s suggestions that, in either instance, the person fears being lured to adopt, in real life, a point of view or to take on an attitude she wants to avoid, or to behave as though she did. Faced, in imagination, with a dreadful choice, one can and probably will imagine deciding, as best one can, in accordance with one’s actual moral principles. If, as might happen, all of the alternatives would be wrong on one’s actual moral principles, there may be pressure to revise one’s principles, though not necessarily to adopt principles contrary to one’s better judgment. Gendler “wants to trace the source of [our unwillingness to imagine morally deviant situations] to a general desire not to be manipulated into taking on points of view that we would not reflectively endorse as authentically our own.”19 The impression of being manipulated may increase one’s aversion, no doubt. But a susceptible person might worry that the imagining itself, regardless of how it is induced, will tempt him to adopt a point of view he wishes to avoid or to give it more credence than he thinks it deserves. My aversion to sticking pins into a portrait of a loved one and so, inevitably, imagining harming her does not depend on an impression that someone is directing my imagining. And my aversion need not (though it might) involve a worry that imagining thus will encourage or nourish a desire actually to harm the person. These armchair observations about instances in which one might refuse to imagine in certain ways are, of course, subject to empirical confirmation or disconfirmation, 18. Bernard Williams, “A Critique of Utilitarianism,” in Utilitarianism, For and Against, by J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), p. 92. Emphasis in the original. 19. Gendler, “Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance,” p. 56. See also p. 79.





although I don’t think they are likely to be very controversial. They are claims only about what sometimes happens, and they are not very specific. In any case, it seems to me obvious and unsurprising that people do, in various kinds of situations and for a variety of understandable reasons, resist engaging in certain imaginings, however much there is to learn about the details of when and how and why this is so. This branch of the imaginative puzzle is not very puzzling. There is considerably more mystery, not to mention confusion, about what might be difficult or impossible to imagine and why. Much has been written about whether logical or metaphysical impossibilities can be imagined, whether imaginability is a good test for possibility, and also about the prospects for imaginings that go beyond one’s prior experiences—imagining something blue or the taste of vegemite, if one hasn’t seen anything blue or tasted vegemite, or imagining what it is like to be a bat.20 I am not prepared to deny that impossibilities can be imagined.21 And I take no stand on whether, or how far, a person’s imaginings might transcend her prior experience. Gregory Currie offered the intriguing suggestion that what he calls desire-like imaginings, in contrast to belief-like ones, are especially difficult to bring off when they do not accord with one’s actual desires.22 I am not yet convinced that these are fundamentally different kinds of imaginings. We need to understand how this difference sorts with the difference, which I and others recognize (though I don’t understand it as well as I would like to), between imagining that . . . (including imagining that I desire such-and-such) and imagining X-ing (e.g., imagining desiring . . . , imagining feeling . . . , and also imagining believing . . . ). Also, we need an explanation of why desire-like imaginings should be difficult. If asked to imagine experiencing a series of tones descending in pitch while remaining at the same pitch, we are likely to be stumped. We cannot imagine such an experience, one might suppose, because the experience itself is impossible. But it is not impossible. “Shepard tones” are series of tones that seem to descend in pitch while remaining at the same pitch.23 And once one has heard Shepard tones, one is likely to be able to imagine the experience, to call up an auditory image of the Shepard tones from memory. (What seems impossible initially is an instance of imagining X-ing, in a sense that doesn’t reduce to propositional imagining. There is no difficulty at all in imagining that one 20. Cf., e.g., the essays collected in Gendler and Hawthorne, Conceivability and Possibility. 21. Cf. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 32–34, 64. 22. Currie, “Desire in Imagination,” in Gendler and Hawthorne, Conceivability and Possibility. Peter Carruthers raises objections to Currie, in “Review of Currie and Ravenscroft, Recreative Minds,” Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 11, no. 12 (2003). Currie considers a different suggestion in “The Capacities That Enable Us to Produce and Consume Art,” in Kieran and Lopes, Imagination, Philosophy, and the Arts, pp. 293–304. 23. Roger Shepard, “Circularity in Judgments of Relative Pitch,” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 36, no. 12 (1964): 2346–2353.



enjoys an experience as of a tone descending in pitch while remaining at the same pitch.)

THE FICTIONALITY PUZZLE It would be surprising if the fictionality and imaginative puzzles were not linked in some important way, since fictionality is defined in terms of imagining. That they are is claimed or assumed in much of the literature on “imaginative resistance,” even (or especially) when the two puzzles are not clearly differentiated. But it is not easy to say what the link is, and there is disagreement about which branch of the imaginative puzzle connects with the fictionality one. A proposition is fictional if it is to be imagined, if a story or other work of fiction prescribes imagining it. We might think of what is fictional as what appreciators, qua appreciators of the work in question, ought to imagine. But this encourages a misconception about how the puzzles are related: Since ought implies can, one might suppose, we ought to imagine something only if it is possible to do so; so we will rightly refuse to judge a proposition to be fictional if we are unable to imagine it. But this ought is a conditional one, which does not imply can. One ought to imagine p if one is to fully appreciate the work in question, that is, full appreciation requires imagining p. But imagining p and full appreciation might not be possible. Those who think we cannot imagine metaphysical impossibilities or blatant contradictions needn’t deny that they can be fictional, that some works enjoin imagining them.24 It is generally agreed that (at least some) blatant contradictions and metaphysical impossibilities can be fictional. In arguing against what she calls the impossibility hypothesis—the hypothesis that “imaginative resistance” is explained by the fact that the relevant scenarios are conceptually impossible and hence unimaginable—Gendler claims that impossibilities can be imagined. She may well be right. But if by “imaginative resistance” here she means resistance to accepting the scenarios in question as fictional, as she seems to, this claim is unnecessary. “Imaginative resistance,” Gendler thinks, is due primarily to our unwillingness to imagine certain propositions, not an inability to do so.25 Assuming, again, that it is the fictionality puzzle she has in mind here, this is unsatisfactory; unwillingness to imagine something does not account for resistance to judging it to be fictional. A person who refuses to imagine that Mother Teresa is a drug dealer, or that the holocaust is a hoax, may accept with no hesitation whatever that this is true in the world of a story; she might condemn the story or refuse to read it 24. Kathleen Stock concurs that what is fictional need not be imaginable. See Stock, “The Tower of Goldbach and Other Impossible Tales,” in Kieran and Lopes, Imagination, Philosophy, and the Arts, p. 108. 25. Gendler, “Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance,” pp. 56, 74, 79. But see also 73n25.





just because it does make this fictional. To use one of Gendler’s examples: I may be unwilling to imagine that my beloved Aunt Ruth looks like a walrus; “I may simply not want to notice the way in which her forehead juts forward . . . or the way that her eyes bug out, or the fact that . . . lines beneath her nose . . . look a bit like tusks.”26 Yet I may recognize all too well that an unflattering portrait depicts her as looking thus, or that someone might or did write a story in which, fictionally, she was locked up in a zoo because she was virtually indistinguishable from an escaped walrus. I may refuse to look at the picture or read the story, given that it does make this fictional, so as to escape the invitation or inducement to engage in the uncomfortable imaginings. “My best suspicion” as to why we resist allowing fictional worlds to differ from the real world when we do, I said, is that it “has something to do with an inability to imagine [certain kinds of dependence relations] being different from how we think they are, perhaps an inability to understand fully what it would be like for them to be different.”27 This is not an endorsement of the impossibility hypothesis Gendler objects to, since I hold neither that conceptual impossibilities in general are unimaginable, nor that what is unimaginable cannot in general be fictional. What seems to me to be important is a very particular kind of imaginative inability, one that attaches to propositions expressing certain sorts of supervenience relations, which the imaginer rejects. This is barely a beginning. But both Brian Weatherson and Steven Yablo suggest plausible ways of developing this line of thought.28

WHY “THE PUZZLE OF IMAGINATIVE RESISTANCE” IS UNFORTUNATELY SO CALLED The untangling I have undertaken above and in “Morals in Fiction” should make evident how misleading it is to apply this label to the nest of issues treated in that essay. Pluralization—“the puzzles of imaginative resistance”—would bring out the multiplicity of the strands, but its mischaracterization of most of them would be glaring. The aesthetic puzzle, which concerns the relation between aesthetic and moral values, involves resistance to imagining only very indirectly. The resistance constituting the fictionality puzzle is not imaginative resistance, resistance to imagining, but resistance to accepting that something is fictional. Among the imaginative puzzles, those concerning what we cannot imagine are not puzzles of imaginative resistance; inability is not resistance. This leaves only our unwillingness to engage in certain imaginings in certain circumstances, which 26. Gendler, “Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance,” p. 380. 27. Walton, “Morals in Fiction,” p. 42. 28. Weatherson, “Morality, Fiction and Possibility,” pp. 16–18, 21–24. Yablo proposes that the fictionality puzzle applies to propositions involving response enabled, or “grokking” predicates (e.g., “oval”). See Yablo, “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda.”



is aptly described as “imaginative resistance.” But although this unwillingness is important and is surrounded by important unanswered questions, it is not itself particularly puzzling. The fictionality puzzle, especially, certainly is puzzling; indeed it is much more than a puzzle. Calling it that (as I have done) suggests that it is relatively superficial, subject perhaps to a quick and definitive solution, if not an easy one. This is far from the case. As anyone immersed in it can testify, to wrestle with the fictionality puzzle is to enter, by a side door, absolutely fundamental mysteries about the nature of concepts, supervenience relations, response dependence, normative judgments and the imagination. I have no complaints about the word “of ” in “the puzzle of imaginative resistance.” Bibliography Bacon, F. T. 1979. “Credibility of Repeated Statements: Memory for Trivia.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory 5:241–252. Carroll, N. 1996. “Moderate Moralism.” British Journal of Aeshtetics 36:223–237. Carruthers, P. 2003. “Review of Currie and Ravenscroft, Recreative Minds.” Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 11(12). Cialdini, R. B. 2001. “Systematic Opportunism: An Approach to the Study of Tactical Social Influence.” In Social Influence: Direct and Indirect Processes, edited by J. P. Forgas and K. D. Williams, pp. 25–39. Philadelphia, Pa.: Psychology Press. Currie, G. 2003. “The Capacities That Enable Us to Produce and Consume Art.” In Imagination, Philosophy, and the Arts, edited by M. Kieran and D. Lopes, pp. 293–304. London: Routledge. —— . 2002. “Desire in Imagination.” In Conceivability and Possibility, edited by T. S. Gendler and J. Hawthorne, pp. 201–222. Oxford: Oxford University Press. —— . 1995. “The Moral Psychology of Fiction.” Australian Journal of Philosophy 73(2): 250–159. Currie, G., and I. Ravenscroft. 2002. Recreative Minds: Imagination in Philosophy and Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Devereaux, M. (1998). “Beauty and Evil: The Case of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.” In Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection, edited by J. Levinson, pp. 227–256. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gaut, B. (1998). “The Ethical Criticism of Art.” In Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection, edited by J. Levinson, 182–203. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gendler, T. S. 2000. “The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance.” Journal of Philosophy 2:55–81. —— . 2006. “Imaginative Resistance Revisited.” In The Architecture of the Imagination: New Essays on Pretense, Possibility, and Fiction, edited by S. Nichols, pp. 149–173. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gendler, T. S., and J. Hawthorne, eds. 2002. Conceivability and Possibility. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hume, D. 1965. “Of the Standard of Taste.” In Of the Standard of Taste and Other Essays, pp. 3–24. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. Jacobson, D. 1997. “In Praise of Immoral Art.” Philosophical Topics 25(1): 155–199. John, E. 2005. “Artistic Value and Opportunistic Moralism.” In Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Art, edited by M. Kieran, pp. 331–341. Oxford: Blackwell.





Kieran, M. 1996. “Art, Imagination, and the Cultivation of Morals.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 54(4): 337–351. Matravers, D. 2003. “Fictional Assent and the (so-called) ‘Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance.’ ” In Imagination, Philosophy, and the Arts, edited by M. Kieran and D. Lopes, pp. 91–106. London: Routledge. Mencken, H. L. 1926. “Music and Sin.” In Prejudices: Fifth Series, pp. 293–296. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Moran, R. 1994. “The Expression of Feeling in Imagination.” Philosophical Review 103(1): 75–106. Nichols, S. 2006. “Just the Imagination: Why Imagining Doesn’t Behave Like Believing.” Mind and Language 21(4): 459–474. Shepard, R. N. 1964. “Circularity in Judgments of Relative Pitch.” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 36(12): 2346–2353. Sibley, F. 2001. “Aesthetic Judgments: Pebbles, Faces, and Fields of Litter.” In Approach to Aesthetics, edited by J. Benson, B. Redfern, and J. R. Cox, pp. 176–190. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Stock, K. 2003. “The Tower of Goldbach and Other Impossible Tales.” In Imagination, Philosophy, and the Arts, edited by M. Kieran and D. Lopes, pp. 107–124. London: Routledge,. Tanner, M. 1994. “Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 68:51–66. Tversky, A., and D. Kahneman. 1973. “Availability: A Heuristic for Judging Frequency and Probability.” Cognitive Psychology 5:207–232. Walton, K. L. 1990. Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. —— . 1994. “Morals in Fiction and Fictional Morality.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 68:27–50. [Reprinted as chapter 3 of this volume.] Weatherson, B. 2004. “Morality, Fiction and Possibility.” Philosophers’ Imprint 4(3): 1–27. Williams, B. 1973. “A Critique of Utilitarianism.” In Utilitarianism, For and Against, by J. J. C. Smart and B. Williams, pp. 75–150. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Yablo, S. 2001. “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda.” In Conceivability and Possibility, edited by T. S. Gendler and J. Hawthorne, pp. 441–492. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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5 P IC T UR ES A ND H OB B Y H O R S ES Make-Believe beyond Childhood


ake-believe is not just for children. Many adult activities are best understood as continuations of children’s make-believe, and can be illuminated by comparing them with games of dolls, cops and robbers, and hobby horses. One adult activity that involves make-believe is that of making and looking at pictures. Verbal texts also involve make-believe, in some instances. But to be a picture is essentially, I claim, to have a role of a certain kind in certain sorts of games of make-believe. What are pictures? How does a picture of a man differ from the word “man”? In a nutshell, pictures are props in visual games of make-believe.1 In “Meditations on a Hobby Horse,” Ernst Gombrich compared pictures to a simple hobby horse, a stick—perhaps with a wooden “head” attached, but This essay is a version of a lecture which I presented in various forms on various occasions, initially as part of the Stieren Distinguished Lecture in the Arts at Trinity University in 1991. A drastic abbreviation of it appeared in Art Issues 21 ( January/February 1992), as “Make-Believe, and its Role in Pictorial Representation,” pp. 22–27. A somewhat longer variant was published in Philosophic Exchange (1994) under the title “MakeBelieve, and its Role in Pictorial Representation and the Acquisition of Knowledge.” A different short version, “Make-Believe and the Arts,” appeared in Aesthetics, by Susan Feagin and Patrick Maynard (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 288–296, but with only one of the illustrations. The present essay differs substantially from these previously published ones, but it combines most of what I consider worthwhile in each of them. I have retained the informal lecture style in all the printed versions, including this one. 1. The theory of make-believe that I sketch here is developed much more thoroughly in Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990). For a more complete statement of my count of depiction, see esp. chap. 8. [See also the other essays on depiction in this volume.]




perhaps just a plain stick—on which a child “rides” around the house. Gombrich considered and rejected describing this stick as an image of a horse, an “imitation of [a horse’s] external form.” He also considered and rejected thinking of it as a sign that signifies or stands for or refers to a horse, or to the concept horse. Pictures also, he suggested, are not to be thought of in either of these ways. He proposed thinking of pictures and hobby horses, rather, as substitutes. A hobby horse substitutes for a horse; a picture of a man substitutes for a man.2 “Meditations on a Hobby Horse,” famous though it is, has been largely ignored. It is fair to say that most discussions of pictorial representation during the last forty years have proceeded in one or the other of the two directions Gombrich advised against. There are resemblance theories of representation (some more sophisticated than others). And there are semiotic theories, such as that of Nelson Goodman, who declares flatly that “denotation is the core of representation.”3 Even Gombrich’s own later work, including Art and Illusion, has been understood by some to advance the idea that pictures are imitations of the external forms of objects. Others find in it the conception of pictures as symbols or signs that signify or stand for what they are pictures of.4 Neither interpretation is entirely without justice. But Gombrich’s original characterization of pictures as substitutes, and his comparison of pictures with hobby horses, was on the right track. Two central thoughts stand out in Gombrich’s reflections on pictures and the hobby horse. First, he emphasizes that “art is ‘creation’ rather than ‘imitation.’ ” “The child ‘makes’ a train either of a few blocks or with pencil on paper,” he observes—she doesn’t imitate or refer to a train; she makes one.5 “All art is ‘imagemaking’ and all image-making is rooted in the creation of substitutes.”6 But is it mere substitutes that the image maker creates? Gombrich described the child as making a train out of blocks or on paper, not a substitute for a train. To cement the uncertainty he states: “By its capacity to serve as a ‘substitute’ the stick becomes a horse in its own right, it belongs in the class of ‘gee-gees’ and may even merit a proper name of its own.”7 What is it that the artist creates when she draws a man—a man or a substitute for a man? The second central idea that Gombrich derives from the association of pictures with hobby horses is an emphasis on function rather than form. “The ‘first’ hobby horse was . . . just a stick which qualified as a horse because one could ride on it.” 2. Ernst Gombrich, “Meditations on a Hobby Horse,” in Meditations on a Hobby Horse and Other Essays (London: Phaidon Press, 1963), pp. 1–3. 3. Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art, 2d ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1976), p. 5. 4. See David Summers, “Real Metaphor: Towards a Redefinition of the ‘Conceptual’ Image,” in Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly, and Keith Moxey, eds., Visual Theory: Painting and Interpretation (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), pp. 234–235. 5. Gombrich, “Hobby Horse,” p. 3. 6. Gombrich, “Hobby Horse,” p. 9. 7. Gombrich, “Hobby Horse,” p. 2.



“Any ridable object could serve as a horse.” A ball represents a mouse to a cat, he says. And to a baby, who sucks its thumb as if it were a breast, the thumb represents a breast. “The ball has nothing in common with the mouse except that it is chasable. The thumb nothing with the breast except that it is suckable.”8 Function rather than form. But the distinction between function and form may seem to be just where hobby horses and pictures diverge. Yes, a mere stick with hardly any of the form of a horse, just enough to be “ridable,” serves as a horse. But pictures capture the appearance of the things they picture. One doesn’t ride a picture of a horse; one looks at it. A single object can have more than one function, however. One function of a horse is to be ridden, but another function, which some horses have for some people, is to be looked at. Maybe pictures of horses substitute for horses as objects of vision. But I am getting ahead of myself. Much of what Gombrich said in spelling out the analogy between hobby horses and pictures is blatantly and straightforwardly false. (This might be one reason why his early essay was ignored.) The notion that the stick is (literally) a horse, or that a picture of a man is (literally) a man, is as blatant a falsehood as one can find. The stick is a stick; the picture is a picture. Nevertheless, as Gombrich observes, it is perfectly ordinary for perfectly sane people to point to a picture of a man and say, in all seriousness, “That is a man.” It is also perfectly natural for a perfectly normal child to point to the stick and say, “This is a horse.” Are these just short ways of saying, “That is a substitute man” or “This is a substitute horse,” it being understood that substitutes are not the real thing? But the hobby horse is not much of a substitute for a horse. Had Paul Revere’s horse been sick the night of the British attack, he could hardly have made do with a hobby horse borrowed from a neighborhood child. Not even a wonderfully realistic hobby horse with a carved head and carpet tacks for eyes would have enabled him to beat the British to Concord. Hobby horses are not ridable, not really; so they can’t really substitute for actual horses. And if someone wants to look at a horse, a picture of a horse is not a very satisfactory replacement. To see a picture of a horse is not to see a horse, not really. And the viewer of the picture does not even enjoy an illusion of seeing a horse. In all but the rarest of cases it is perfectly obvious that what one is seeing is a flat surface with marks on it, not a horse. The children in Jonathan Eastman Johnson’s The Old Stagecoach (figure 5.1) have something better than sticks to use for horses; some of them play the parts themselves. But children are not really horses any more than sticks are. They are not much better than sticks for riding—Paul Revere couldn’t have replaced his sick horse with a neighbor’s child any more successfully than with the child’s hobby horse. And even four children can’t pull a stagecoach very far. Not really.

8. Gombrich, “Hobby Horse,” p. 4.



Figure 5.1 Jonathan Eastman Johnson (American, 1824–1906), The Old Stagecoach, 1871. Oil on canvas, 36 1/4" × 60 1/9". Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Gift of Frederick Layton, L1888.22.

But the children in this picture have created a fictional world—the world of their game of make-believe. Within this world there are horses—real ones, not substitutes; and they really do pull the stagecoach. Let’s say that it is fictional, fictional in the world of the game of make-believe, that real horses are really pulling the stagecoach. Speaking in the real world, I must say that the horses are merely real-in-the-world-of-the-game, that it is only fictional that they are real. But if I could get inside the fictional world myself and speak there, I could say that the horses are real, period. The children you see are in the fictional world. It is fictional, true-in-theworld-of-the-game, that some of them are riding in a coach pulled by real horses. And they can say, within the game, “Those are real horses” (if they feel it necessary to belabor the obvious). It is only when we stand outside the game, when parents are talking about the fun their children are having with the old broken down stage coach, for instance, that saying “That is a horse” is a blatant falsehood. Yes, Paul Revere cannot replace an ailing real horse with either a hobby horse or a child. But that is because the British attack comes in the real world. If the British attacked in the world of make-believe, a child might ride off on his hobby horse or on another child—on whatever in the world of the game counts as a real horse—to spread the alarm. Pictures have worlds also. There is a ship in the world of Stanfield’s On the Dogger Bank (figure 5.2)—a real ship, not a substitute. From my position in the real world I have to tell you that this isn’t really a real ship. Here in the real world we have nothing but a picture consisting of colored marks on a flat surface, a picture of a



Figure 5.2 Clarkson Stanfield (English, 1793–1867), On the Dogger Bank, 1846. Oil on canvas. Reproduced by permission of V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum.

ship; it is only fictional that there is a real ship here. But if I could somehow get inside the picture, inside the picture world, I could then say “That is a real ship.” Gombrich’s analogy between pictures and hobby horses now seems in jeopardy. A child playing with a hobby horse belongs to the world of her game of make-believe. But the spectator of a picture does not belong to the world of the picture. Real people can and do get inside make-believe worlds. But all we can do with picture worlds is observe them from outside. Maybe cartoon characters can get into pictures. The character in figure 5.3 does. Cartoon characters are not always bound by the laws of logic and metaphysics. But logic or metaphysics seems to bar real people like you and me from entering picture worlds.



Figure 5.3 Mischa Richter. © The New Yorker Collection 1965. From cartoonbank. com. All rights reserved.

But wait! How did the ship get into Stanfield’s picture? Maybe I can get in by the same way (figure 5.4). I brought my son along to help me paddle. It really is me in the picture world. It is fictional, “true in the world of the picture,” that I, Kendall Walton, am paddling a canoe in heavy seas close to a small sailing ship. I got into the picture world in almost the same way the ship did. It was painted in; I was pasted in, and that is just as good.9 While I am in the picture world I can with perfect appropriateness declare the ship to be real—as I do. But this is disappointing, and not just because I ruined a nice picture. I am not present in the picture world in the way a child playing hobby horses is present in the Wild West world of her game of make-believe. The trouble is that I am still here in the real world, giving a lecture on the nature of pictorial representation. And I am looking not at a ship, but just at a picture, a picture of myself looking at a ship. The difference in the two ways of being in fictional worlds is partly this: What is in the picture world depends on the picture, on a pattern of shapes and colors on a flat surface. But what exists in a game of make-believe depends on the children who are playing the game, as well as on properties of the stick and other props. It is because of the pattern of colored shapes on the page, because of the extra shapes caused by doctoring the picture, that my son and I are paddling a canoe in the picture world; where I really am and what I am actually doing now are irrelevant. But it is because of what the child is actually doing, because she is straddling the stick and jumping around the house, that she belongs to the world of her game and, in that world, rides a horse. Another difference is this: I could be mistaken, when I look at the picture, about whether it is really me in the picture world. I might have to look closely to recognize myself. And even if I think I do, the picture might portray, not me but someone who looks exactly like me. I could trace the history of the photograph that was pasted onto the reproduction of Stanfield’s painting: Who was the camera aimed at when the photograph was taken? Obviously I could make a mistake about that. If the picture has a title that includes my name, it is still possible that the name in the title refers to someone else with the same name. By contrast, it 9. Actually, I am not in the world of Stanfield’s picture; we now have a different picture. But I am in a fictional world, the world of this new picture.



Figure 5.4 Clarkson Stanfield (English, 1793–1867), On the Dogger Bank, 1846. Oil on canvas. Reproduced by permission of V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum. Permission to digitally alter this image has been granted by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

does not seem possible for the child playing hobby horses to be mistaken about the fact that it is she herself, not someone else, who, in the world of the game, is riding a big black stallion. Maybe instead of trying to squeeze myself into a picture, I can make the picture world bigger, big enough to include me where I am. It will have to expand in the third dimension, like this (figure 5.5): This gentleman is not in the picture world proper, inside the frame, but there is a larger world extending in front of the picture that includes both him and the saguaro cactuses in the picture. He has the right kind of presence in this world:



Figure 5.5 Drawing by F. B. Modell. © 1951, 1979, The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.

it is by virtue of his actually standing in front of the painting that it is fictional in the expansion of the picture world that the desert sun casts a shadow behind him. And he can hardly be wrong in identifying himself as the person who, in the larger fictional world, is looking at the cactus. This may, however, seem as fantastic as the earlier cartoon, beyond the capacity of real world mortals. Most painted suns aren’t brilliant enough to cast actual shadows into the real world. But the idea was not to make fictional things real; our thought was to get the actual spectator into a fictional world, to expand the picture world around the spectator. Caravaggio’s Bacchus (figure 5.6) is a real-life picture whose world really does expand to include you and me. Bacchus offers you a drink. You may not be able to take the glass of wine from his hand, but even before you do he has you in a fictional world—not the world of the painting proper, but a larger world that includes both you and what is in the picture. It is fictional in this larger world that Bacchus offers you a glass of wine. What makes this fictional is the fact that you are actually looking at the image on the page. And you will have no doubt that it is you, not someone else, to whom Bacchus offers the wine. By placing yourself in front of the picture you put yourself in position to be the recipient of Bacchus’s offer. Think of this larger world as the world of a game of make-believe in which the picture is a prop. There is a parallel with the child’s hobby horse. When the hobby horse leans unused in the corner of a room, we can think of it as, by itself, establishing a fictional world something like the world of a picture (or



Figure 5.6 Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Bacchus. Scala/Art Resource, New York.

a sculpture). There is a real horse in that world, but a child playing checkers on the other side of the room does not belong to it. When the child takes the stick and uses it as a prop in a game, the world of the hobby horse expands into a world of a game of make-believe, and in this world the child rides the horse. The larger world is established by the prop, the stick, together with what the child does with it. Normally, spectators don’t do anything with pictures as physical as riding them; museums have rules about not touching paintings. But we do look at pictures, and looking at Caravaggio’s Bacchus in the normal manner lets one in for an offer of a drink—in the world of the game of make-believe. (We are tempted sometimes to



play more physical games with pictures. A portrait of a despised politician makes a wonderful prop in a game in which we, fictionally, throw darts at him.) Bacchus is a special case. Looking at most pictures does not make it fictional that one is offered a drink. But it is fictional not only that Bacchus offers you a drink but also that you see him. And depending on the manner in which you examine the picture, it may be fictional that you look into his eyes, or that you avert your gaze; that you identify and count the fruit in front of him, or that you fail to notice the fruit—all this in the world of the game with the picture.10 In looking at Stanfield’s seascape we expand the picture world, which itself contains a ship floundering in the sea, into a larger world of make-believe in which we see the ship. We use the picture as a prop in a game in which it is fictional, by virtue of our actually looking at it in the way we do, that we see a ship. It may be fictional also that we examine the rigging, or watch the sailor in the stern trying to retrieve the broken spar from the sea, or stare apprehensively at the wave in the background that is about to lift the ship’s bow high in the air. So I can, after all, while examining the picture as I speak in a lecture hall, say “See that ship? It’s a real one!”—provided that in saying this I am participating in the game of make-believe, speaking within the world of my game. Just as straddling a stick and jumping around establishes a fictional world in which one rides a horse, looking at a picture establishes a fictional world in which one observes things of the kind the picture depicts. We now have a better way of understanding what it means to call the stick or a picture a substitute. The stick is neither a real horse nor can it really be used as a horse; one can’t ride it. But it can be used in a game of make-believe within which it is real and is really ridable. The picture is used in games in which it is fictional that one really does see a real ship. Games of make-believe are imaginative activities. As they climb on and in and around the old stage coach, the children do not just observe that it is fictional that the stage is moving at high speed, drawn by four horses, that one of them— let’s call him Rodney—is handling the reins, and so forth. They also imagine all this to be true. A mere spectator of the game may imagine this as well, of course. So what is the advantage of participating in the game? In part, it is the fact that participants imagine about themselves. Rodney imagines that he, Rodney, is driving a stage. But this is not all. He also imagines driving a stage. Imagining doing something or experiencing something is not the same as imagining that one is doing or experiencing it. Remember the canoe expedition my son and I took into the Stanfield painting. As I looked at the doctored picture noting within its frame the photographic image taken on a canoe trip on the Mississagi River, I imagined that I, Kendall Walton, was paddling a canoe with my son in dangerously heavy seas

10. [But see “Still Photographs,” chap. 10, this volume.]



near a battered sailing ship. But I did not imagine paddling a canoe in dangerously heavy seas. What I imagined doing was watching myself paddle a canoe in heavy seas. This is the main reason why my excursion into the picture world was disappointing, why my presence there was less satisfying than the presence of children in their games of make-believe. The child playing with his hobby horse does not merely imagine that he is riding a horse; he imagines riding one.11 Besides the overt physical participation I have considered so far, children participate verbally and psychologically in games of make-believe. Rodney “shouts directions to the horses”: He really does shout—he does make loud vocal noises— and in doing so he makes it fictional that he shouts to the horses. He imagines shouting to the horses, and he imagines of the noises he actually emits that they are his shouts to the horses. Psychological participation is especially important. It is fictional that Rodney is thrilled and a little nervous as he strains to control the team, and maybe it is fictional that he swells with pride at the momentous responsibility entrusted to him of taking the stage safely to its destination. He really is tense and excited. And it is in virtue of this that fictionally he is tense and excited. He is not really proud of his responsibility for the stage; he realizes perfectly well that he doesn’t actually have that responsibility, that he is only playing a game. But he does really experience a swelling sensation as he imagines bearing this responsibility. It is partly this sensation that makes it fictional that he swells with pride in the importance of his position. Aware of his swelling sensations, he (spontaneously) imagines them to be swellings of pride in his responsibility for the safety of the journey. Where do the swelling sensations come from? What causes Rodney’s feelings of tension and excitement? These actual feelings result from his imaginings, from his imagining, vividly, driving the stage, looking out for bandits, bearing the responsibility for the safety of the stage and its passengers. There is a complex interplay between Rodney’s actual feelings or sensations and his imaginings; they interact with and feed each other. His vivid imagining of his momentous responsibility stimulates actual swelling sensations, which he imagines to be feelings of pride in his responsibilities. Spectators of paintings participate psychologically, as well as visually and verbally, in games of make-believe in which the pictures are props. I feel tension as I notice the enormous waves in Stanfield’s seascape and the ship’s disarray, and I “interpret” this tension as a combination of fear for the safety of the ship and awe at the power of the sea. I really do feel a certain tension, as I look at the picture. I don’t really fear for the ship, since I know that what is before me is not a ship but a painting. But it is fictional in my game that I see a real ship and see the difficulty it is having in high seas. I imagine seeing this, and I imagine

11. I examine these two varieties of self imagining in Mimesis, section 1.4.



fearing for the ship’s safety. My actual feelings of tension are incorporated into my imaginative experience: I imagine these actual feelings to be feelings of a combination of fear for the ship and awe at the power of nature. Compare a dream in which you are on your way to school, and the school bell rings while you are still two blocks away. This means a tardy slip and half an hour of detention at the end of the day. On waking from the dream, you realize that the school bell was really the sound of your alarm clock, and that you still have an hour before classes begin. The sound of the alarm was actual and you really did hear it while you were dreaming, but you “interpreted” it in your dream as the school bell. You imagined hearing the school bell, and you imagined what actually was the hearing of the alarm to be your hearing of the school bell. Pictures, as I said, are props in visual games of make-believe. A picture of a turtle is a prop in games in which viewers imagine seeing a turtle, and imagine their actual visual experience of the picture to be their seeing of a turtle. It is fictional, in the world of the game, that a turtle is an object of their vision. Most accounts of pictorial representation recognize only the world of the picture, and have the viewer standing outside that world and observing it. Theories differ as to the manner in which a picture picks out the propositions constituting its world. Some say it does so by virtue of resemblance or similarity; the picture resembles states of affairs of the kind the propositions it picks out express—a picture of a turtle resembles or looks like a turtle. Others say conventions of some sort are involved. (These correspond roughly to Gombrich’s two rejected alternatives.) In either case, the viewer’s job is to ascertain what propositions the picture picks out, what is “true in the world of the picture,” by noting the relevant resemblances or by adducing the relevant conventions. Here is an example to demonstrate the inadequacy of understanding picture perception as simply a matter of ascertaining what is “true in the picture,” however that is done. Consider two films of a roller coaster ride. Both were made by a camera attached to the last car of the roller coaster. In one case, the camera is hung from a support in such a way that it remains aligned with the horizon even when the car rolls from side to side. In the other case the camera is attached rigidly to the roller coaster so as to tip back and forth as the car does. In the first film, the horizon remains horizontal on the screen, and one sees the roller coaster sway to the right and the left. In the second film, the image of the roller coaster remains upright on the screen, while the horizon tilts. Let’s add that both films have circular rather than rectangular images on the screen. The two films contain exactly the same information; the world of the picture is the same in both cases. We could make a showing of one indistinguishable from a showing of the other just by rotating the projected image at the appropriate times. But the viewer’s experiences of the two films will surely be very different. The viewer of the one made by the rigidly attached camera has the impression of riding in the roller coaster, of swaying dangerously right and left as the car



goes around turns. The viewer of the other film has the impression of watching the swaying roller coaster from a stable position outside of it. The viewer of the former is more likely than the viewer of the latter to feel sick. The difference lies in the spectators’ games of make-believe and their experiences of imagining seeing. The spectator of one film imagines seeing the roller coaster from a perspective fixed relative to the careening roller coaster. The spectator of the other film imagines seeing the same roller coaster careening in the same manner, but from a perspective fixed relative to the earth and detached from the roller coaster. Words are not pictures. And the difference is much more fundamental than is suggested by saying that words and pictures are simply symbols or signs of different kinds. Words do not necessarily have anything to do with make-believe at all. If you tell me that San Antonio is the site of the battle of the Alamo, you are just conveying to me a piece of information. Your words do not call for imaginings on my part at all like the imaginings a child engages in when she “rides” a hobby horse or the imaginings of spectators when they look at pictures. Some words do elicit visual imaginings, and they may be designed to do so. But this doesn’t amount to their serving as props in visual games of the relevant kind; it doesn’t make them pictures. A vivid description in a travel brochure of mountains in New Zealand might induce me to form images of enormous snow covered peaks, flowing glaciers, mountain meadows and streams, spring wildflowers. But I probably do not imagine of my actual perception of the text that it is a perception of mountains, glaciers, and meadows. Language used fictionally—in novels and stories and theater, for instance—is used as a prop in games of make-believe, though (in the case of novels and stories) not generally visual games. Spectators at a performance of Romeo and Juliet engage in make-believe in which, fictionally, they not only watch Juliet and Romeo but also listen to their words. Novels and stories are props in games in which readers learn about adventures of various kinds. They don’t (in the makebelieve world) observe these adventures, but, typically, learn of them from the testimony of a narrator. The words of many novels and stories are “substitutes” not for people and events of the kinds they describe but for serious reports about them. The text of Gulliver’s Travels is, fictionally, the text of the journal of a ship’s physician, a certain Lemuel Gulliver. We imagine, of our actual reading of the novel, that it is a reading of such a journal, and we imagine learning from it about Gulliver’s adventures in exotic lands. The make-believe games involving literary fictions, like those in which pictures serve as props, have psychological dimensions. The reader of Anna Karenina does not merely note that it is fictional that Anna is unfaithful to her husband, suffers the disapproval of society, and is finally driven to throw herself under the wheels of a train. It is fictional in the reader’s game that he learns about all this, that he sympathizes with Anna, and suffers with her. He imagines learning about an actual Anna, and imagines sympathizing with and grieving for her.



Spectators of Romeo and Juliet who shed actual tears as they watch the play, “interpret” them, in their game, as tears of grief for the characters; they grieve for Romeo and Juliet, in imagination, and imagine their actual tears to be tears of grief. Where did the tears come from in the first place? They result from the spectators’ vivid imaginings of the tragedy and of the sufferings endured by Romeo and Juliet. The vivacity of the imaginings depends to a considerable extent on the skill with which the actors portray the tragedy, of course. A bad performance will fail to elicit vivid imaginings and actual tears that can be imagined to be tears of grief. What is the point of all this make-believe? It consists largely in the imaginings that props elicit in participants, in their imagining seeing, or reading about, or learning about, or knowing about, events of this or that sort, and imagining feeling one way or another about them. By engaging in these imaginings we enrich our understanding of the kinds of experiences we are undergoing, in imagination, and of the situations we imagine experiencing.12 It is usually characters, people inside pictures and novels, who have the interesting experiences. Appreciators just watch. It is a character who must choose between love and duty, or who is shipwrecked alone on a desert island, or who suffers bereavement, or is condemned to die. Appreciators, in the worlds of the games they play with the work, observe or read about or learn about the character’s dilemma or his experiences on the desert island. In reading Yukio Mishima’s “Death in Midsummer,” I imagine learning about the tragic drowning of three children and about how their parents respond to it. But the experience of reading the story does not help me to understand only what it is or might be like to learn about such tragedies befalling other people; it is likely to give me insight into what it is or might be like to suffer such a tragedy oneself, to lose one’s own children. How does this happen? A quick answer is that I empathize with the parents in the story. This involves imagining myself in their shoes, imagining suffering bereavement myself, and responding as they do. But I imagine this, I empathize with them, as a result of imagining learning about their tragedy and noting how they deal with it. Van Gogh’s lithograph Sorrow (figure 5.7) is, in obvious respects, much less explicit and detailed than Mishima’s story. We have no way of knowing why the woman is sorrowful. And the picture is more suggestive than explicit concerning her expressive behavior. We don’t even see her face. All we have to go on is

12. Imaginings serve cognitive ends in a wide variety of more mundane instances as well. Here is one kind of case: If you have two right-hand gloves whose mates are lost, can you make a right into a left by turning it inside out? Try it in imagination. Imagine peeling the glove off your right hand so that it turns inside out, and then fitting it onto your left hand. Yes, it fits! It is crucial to the success of this experiment that one imagine seeing or feeling the glove turned inside out and then fitting onto your left hand. Just imagining that it has been turned inside out, or that one sees or feels it, doesn’t do the trick.



Figure 5.7 Vincent van Gogh, Sorrow. Lithograph. Reproduced by permission of Van Gogh Museum Enterprises B.V.

her hunched posture. Perhaps we empathize with her, imagining ourselves to be sorrowful in the way we take her (fictionally) to be. But perhaps not. I am not sure that I actually imagine being sorrowful myself, when I contemplate the picture. I do imaginatively respond to the woman, however, in ways that are not easy to articulate. By imagining feeling as I do toward the woman,



I imaginatively understand her. And this imaginative experience gains for me an understanding of what a particular kind of sorrow is like. All this began with the expansion of the picture world into a world of makebelieve big enough to include the perceiver as well as the contents of the picture world. Rather than merely standing outside Van Gogh’s lithograph and imagining what it depicts, imagining a sorrowful woman sitting hunched with her head and arms resting on her knees, I imagine seeing her and observing her sorrow. This leads to imagining feeling about her and for her, and perhaps with her, in ways that enable me imaginatively to understand her sorrow. Thus I come to understand what it is like to feel this way. None of this would be possible if pictures were simply imitations of visual forms, or if they were just signs signifying or standing for things of the kind they represent. None of this would be possible if pictures were not, like hobby horses, props in games of make-believe in which people participate visually, and also psychologically.

6 T R A N S PA R ENT P I C T U R ES On the Nature of Photographic Realism

Photography and the cinema . . . satisfy, once and for all and in its very essence, our obsession with realism. . . . The photographic image is the object itself. —André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” Every photograph is a fake from start to finish. —Edward Steichen, “Ye Fakers”

I Photographs and pictures of other kinds have various strengths and weaknesses. But photography is commonly thought to excel in one dimension especially, that of realism. André Bazin and many others consider photographs to be extraordinarily realistic, realistic in a way or to an extent which is beyond the reach of paintings, drawings, and other “handmade” pictures. This attitude is encouraged by a rich assortment of familiar observations. Photographs of a crime are more likely to be admitted as evidence in court than paintings or drawings are. Some courts allow reporters to sketch their proceedings but not to photograph them. Photographs are more useful for extortion; a

Work on this paper was aided by fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Stanford Humanities Center. I wish to thank audiences at a number of universities for helpful criticisms of earlier versions. Those whose observations had particular influence on the shape of the result include John G. Bennett, Robert Howell, David Lewis, Patrick Maynard, Christopher Peacocke, and Stephen White. 79



Figure 6.1 Francisco Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746–1828), Tanto y más (All this and more); Fatales consequencias de la sangrienta guerra en España con Buonaparte. Y otros caprichos enfaticos (Disasters of War), plate 22. Etched 1810; whole series first published posthumously 1863. Etching, lavis, and burin; working proof. Catalogue Raisonné: Harris 142, I, 3; Delteil 141. Platemark: 16.2 × 25.3 cm (6 3/8" × 9 15/16"). Sheet: 21.8 × 31.7 cm (8 9/16" × 12 1/2"). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 1951 Purchase Fund, 51.1648. Photograph © 2004 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

sketch of Mr. X in bed with Mrs. Y—even a full color oil painting—would cause little consternation. Photographic pornography is more potent than the painted variety. Published photographs of disaster victims or the private lives of public figures understandably provoke charges of invasion of privacy; similar complaints against the publication of drawings or paintings have less credibility. I expect that most of us will acknowledge that, in general, photographs and paintings (and comparable nonphotographic pictures) affect us very differently. Compare Francisco Goya’s etchings The Disasters of War with the Civil War photographs by Mathew Brady and his associates (see, for example, figures 6.1 and 6.2). It is hard to resist describing the difference by saying that the photographs have a kind of immediacy or realism which the etchings lack. (This is not to deny that the etchings might equal or surpass the photographs in realism of some other sort, and it is certainly not to claim that the photographs are better.) That photography is a supremely realistic medium may be the commonsense view, but—as Edward Steichen reminds us—it is by no means universal. Dissenters note how unlike reality a photograph is and how unlikely we are



Figure 6.2 Timothy H. O’Sullivan, “Death on a Misty Morning,” 1883. Photograph. Library of Congress.

to confuse the one with the other. They point to “distortions” engendered by the photographic process and to the control which the photographer exercises over the finished product, the opportunities he enjoys for interpretation and falsification. Many emphasize the expressive nature of the medium, observing that photographs are inevitably colored by the photographer’s personal interests, attitudes, and prejudices.1 Whether any of these various considerations really do collide with photography’s claim of extraordinary realism depends, of course, on how that claim is to be understood. Those who find photographs especially realistic sometimes think of photography as a further advance in a direction which many picture makers have taken during the last several centuries, as a continuation or culmination of the postRenaissance quest for realism.2 There is some truth in this. Such earlier advances 1. Perhaps the best recent defense of this dissenting view is that of Joel Snyder and Neil Walsh Allen, “Photography, Vision, and Representation,” Critical Inquiry 2 (Autumn 1975): 143–169; all further references to this work, abbreviated “PVR,” will be included in the text. 2. See André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” What Is Cinema? trans. Hugh Gray, vol. 1 (Berkely and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967), p. 12; all further references to this work, abbreviated “OPI,” will be included in the text. See also Rudolf Arnheim, “Melancholy Unshaped,” Toward a Psychology of Art: Collected Essays (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967), p. 186.



toward realism include the development of perspective and modeling techniques, the portrayal of ordinary and incidental details, attention to the effects of light, and so on. From its very beginning, photography mastered perspective (a system of perspective that works, anyway, if not the only one). Subtleties of shading, gradations of brightness nearly impossible to achieve with the brush, became commonplace. Photographs include as a matter of course the most mundane details of the scenes they portray—stray chickens, facial warts, clutters of dirty dishes. Photographic images easily can seem to be what painters striving for realism have always been after. But “photographic realism” is not very special if this is all there is to it: photographs merely enjoy more of something which other pictures possess in smaller quantities. These differences of degree, moreover, are not differences between photographs as such and paintings and drawings as such. Paintings can be as realistic as the most realistic photographs, if realism resides in subtleties of shading, skillful perspective, and so forth; some indeed are virtually indistinguishable from photographs. When a painter fails to achieve such realism up to photographic standards, the difficulty is merely technological, one which, in principle, can be overcome—by more attention to details, more skill with the brush, a better grasp of the “rules of perspective.” Likewise, photographs aren’t necessarily very realistic in these sort of ways. Some are blurred and badly exposed. Perspective “distortions” can be introduced and subtleties of shading eliminated by choice of lens or manipulation of contrast. Photographic realism is not essentially unavailable to the painter, it seems, nor are photographs automatically endowed with it. It is just easier to achieve with the camera than with the brush. Bazin and others see a much deeper gap between photographs and pictures of other kinds. This is evident from the marvelously exotic pronouncements they have sometimes resorted to in attempting to characterize the difference. Bazin’s claim that the photographic image is identical with the object photographed is no isolated anomaly. He elaborates it at considerable length; it is echoed by Christian Metz; and it has resonances in the writings of many others.3 Such wild allegations might well be dismissed out of hand. It is simply and obviously false that a photographic image of Half Dome, for example, is Half 3. Here is more from Bazin: Only a photographic lens can give us the kind of image of the object that is capable of satisfying the deep need man has to substitute for it something more than a mere approximation, a kind of decal or transfer. The photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it. (“OPI,” p. 14) The photograph as such and the object in itself share a common being, after the fashion of a fingerprint. Wherefore, photography actually contributes something to the order of natural creation instead of providing a substitute for it. (“OPI,” p. 15)



Dome. Perhaps we shouldn’t interpret Bazin’s words literally.4 But there is no readily apparent nonliteral reading of them on which they are even plausible. Is Bazin describing what seems to the viewer to be the case rather than what actually is the case? Is he saying that, in looking at photographs, one has the impression, is under an illusion, of actually seeing the world, that a photographic image of Half Dome appears to be Half Dome? There is no such illusion. Only in the most exotic circumstances would one mistake a photograph for the objects photographed. The flatness of photographs, their frames, the walls on which they are hung are virtually always obvious and unmistakable. Still photographs of moving objects are motionless. Many photographs are black-and-white. Even photographic motion pictures in “living color” are manifestly mere projections on a flat surface and easily distinguished from “reality.” Photographs look like what they are: photographs. Does our experience of a photograph approach that of having an illusion more closely than our experiences of paintings do, even though not closely enough to qualify as an illusion? Possibly. But this is not what Bazin means. If it were, theater would qualify as even more realistic than photography. Theater comes as close or closer to providing genuine illusions than film does, it would seem. There are real flesh-and-blood persons on stage, and they look more like the

And see Christian Metz, Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema, trans. Michael Taylor (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974): “The cinema is the ‘phenomenological’ art par excellence, the signifier is coextensive with the whole of the significate, the spectacle its own signification, thus shortcircuiting the sign itself ” (p. 43). The claim that the photographic image is identical with the object photographed has resonances in Helmut Gernsheim’s observation that “the camera intercepts images, the paintbrush reconstructs them” (quoted by Charles Barr, “Cinemascope: Before and After,” in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ed. Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen, 2nd ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1979], p. 144); in Erwin Panofsky’s dictum, “The medium of the movies is physical reality as such” (“Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures,” in Film Theory and Criticism, p. 263); and in the frequent characterization of photographs as “duplicates” or “doubles” or “reproductions” or “substitutes” or “surrogates” (see, e.g., Roger Scruton, “Photography and Representation,” Critical Inquiry 7 [Spring 1981]: 577–603). 4. Stanley Cavell prefers not to take Bazin and Panofsky literally. The truth in what they say, he suggests, is that “a photograph is of the world” (“of reality or nature”), whereas “[a] painting is a world.” In explanation, he observes that one “can always ask, of an area photographed, what lies adjacent to that area, beyond the frame. This generally makes no sense asked of a painting” (The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film, enlarged ed. [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979], pp. 24, 16, 24, 23). But photographs typically have their own (fictional) worlds, as do paintings. And since paintings frequently portray actual scenes, they, like photographs, are often of the real world. We can ask, concerning a painting of an actual scene as well as a photograph, what there is in reality outside the portion depicted. Indeed we can also ask, in both cases, what the fictional world is like beyond the frame. Smoke within a frame may indicate (fictional) fire outside it.



people portrayed than do plays of light and dark on a flat screen. But Bazin regards the fact that photographs are produced “mechanically” as crucial to their special realism—and theatrical portrayals are not produced “mechanically” (see “OPI,” pp. 12 and 14). (Erwin Panofsky explicitly contrasts film with theater, as well as with painting.)5 Bazin seems to hold that photographs enjoy their special status just by virtue of being photographs, by virtue of their mechanical origins, regardless of what they look like. “No matter how fuzzy, distorted, or discolored, no matter how lacking in documentary value the [photographic] image may be, it shares, by virtue of the very process of its becoming, the being of the model of which it is the reproduction; it is the model” (“OPI,” p. 15). To add to the confusion, let us note that claims strikingly similar to Bazin’s observations about photography, and equally paradoxical, have been made concerning painting and other “handmade” representations, the very things Bazin and others mean to be distinguishing photography from! When we point to [a painted] image and say “this is a man” [s]trictly speaking that statement may be interpreted to mean that the image itself is a member of the class “man”. . . . [A stick which a child calls a horse] becomes a horse in its own right, it belongs in the class of “gee-gees” and may even merit a proper name of its own.6 [A wooden robin poised on a bird-feeding station] does not say: Such is a robin! It is a robin, although a somewhat incomplete one. It adds a robin to the inventory of nature, just as in Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition the uniformed guards, made of wax, are . . . intended . . . to weirdly increase the staff of the institution.7

What, then, is special about photography? There is one clear difference between photography and painting. A photograph is always a photograph of something which actually exists. Even when photographs portray such nonentities as werewolves and Martians, they are nonetheless photographs of actual things: actors, stage sets, costumes. Paintings needn’t picture actual things. A painting of Aphrodite, executed without the use of a model, depicts nothing real.8 But this is by no means the whole story. Those

5. See Panofsky, “Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures,” pp. 248 and 260. 6. E. H. Gombrich, “Meditations on a Hobby Horse or the Roots of Artistic Form,” “Meditations on a Hobby Horse,” and Other Essays on the Theory of Art (London: Phaidon Press, 1963), p. 2. 7. Arnheim, “The Robin and the Saint,” Toward a Psychology of Art, p. 325. Italics in original. 8. See Scruton, “Photography and Representation,” p. 579.



who see a sharp contrast between photographs and paintings clearly think that it obtains no less when paintings depict actual things than when they do not, and even when viewers fully realize that they do. Let’s limit our examples to pictures of this kind. The claim before us is that photographs of Abraham Lincoln, for instance, are in some fundamental manner more realistic than painted portraits of him. I shall argue that there is indeed a fundamental difference between photographs and painted portraits of Lincoln, that photography is indeed special, and that it deserves to be called a supremely realistic medium. But the kind of realism most distinctive of photography is not an ordinary one. It has little to do either with the post-Renaissance quest for realism in painting or with standard theoretical accounts of realism. It is enormously important, however. Without a clear understanding of it, we cannot hope to explain the power and effectiveness of photography.

II Painting and drawing are techniques for producing pictures. So is photography. But the special nature of photography will remain obscure unless we think of it in another way as well—as a contribution to the enterprise of seeing. The invention of the camera gave us not just a new method of making pictures and not just pictures of a new kind: it gave us a new way of seeing. Amid Bazin’s assorted declarations about photography is a comparison of the cinema to mirrors. This points in the right direction.9 Mirrors are aids to vision, allowing us to see things in circumstances in which we would not otherwise be able to; with their help we can see around corners. Telescopes and microscopes 9. But Bazin was fuzzy about what direction this is. The screen, he says, puts us in the presence of ” the actor. It does so in the same way as a mirror—one must agree that the mirror relays the presence of the person reflected in it—but it is a mirror with a delayed reflection, the tin foil of which retains the image. . . . In the film about Manolete . . . we are present at the actual death of the famous matador. (“Theater and Cinema—Part Two,” What Is Cinema? pp. 97–98)

Obviously, spectators of a film of a matador are not in the presence of the matador, nor does it seem to them that they are. Indeed, Bazin himself apparently agrees, as he continues: While our emotion may not be as deep as if we were actually present in the arena at that historic moment, its nature is the same. What we lose by way of direct witness do we not recapture thanks to the artificial proximity provided by photographic enlargement? (“Theater and Cinema,” p. 98; my emphasis)

Cavell also suggests comparing photographs with mirrors (see The World Viewed, p. 213). E. M. Zemach discusses aids to vision more generally (see “Seeing, ‘Seeing,’ and Feeling,” Review of Metaphysics 23 [Sept. 1969]: 3–24).



extend our visual powers in other ways, enabling us to see things that are too far away or too small to be seen with the naked eye. Photography is an aid to vision also, and an especially versatile one. With the assistance of the camera, we can see not only around corners and what is distant or small; we can also see into the past. We see long deceased ancestors when we look at dusty snapshots of them. To view a screening of Frederic Wiseman’s Titicut Follies (1967) in San Francisco in 1984 is to watch events which occurred in 1967 at the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Photographs are transparent. We see the world through them. I must warn against watering down this suggestion, against taking it to be a colorful, or exaggerated, or not quite literal way of making a relatively mundane point. I am not saying that the person looking at the dusty photographs has the impression of seeing his ancestors—in fact, he doesn’t have the impression of seeing them “in the flesh,” with the unaided eye. I am not saying that photography supplements vision by helping us to discover things that we can’t discover by seeing.10 Painted portraits and linguistic reports also supplement vision in this way. Nor is my point that what we see—photographs—are duplicates or doubles or reproductions of objects, or substitutes or surrogates for them. My claim is that we see, quite literally, our dead relatives themselves when we look at photographs of them. Does this constitute an extension of the ordinary English sense of the word “see”? I don’t know; the evidence is mixed.11 But if it is an extension, it is a very natural one. Our theory needs, in any case, a term which applies both to my “seeing” my great-grandfather when I look at his snapshot and to my seeing my father when he is in front of me. What is important is that we recognize a fundamental commonality between the two cases, a single natural kind to which both belong. We could say that I perceive my great-grandfather but do not see him, recognizing a mode of perception (“seeing-through-photographs”) distinct from vision—if the idea that I do perceive my great-grandfather is taken seriously. Or one might make the point in some other way. I prefer the bold formulation: the viewer of a photograph sees, literally, the scene that was photographed. Slippery slope considerations give this claim an initial plausibility. No one will deny that we see through eyeglasses, mirrors, and telescopes. How, then, would one justify denying that a security guard sees via a closed circuit television 10. Siegfried Kracauer’s talk of photography’s revealing reality could be taken as making this point (see Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality [London: Oxford University Press, 1960], p. 28). And so could Arnheim’s claim that “by its very nature . . . the motion picture tends to satisfy the desire for faithful reports about curious, characteristic, exciting things going on in this world of ours” (Film as Art [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1957], p. 34). 11. We speak naturally enough of seeing Johnny Carson on television, of seeing Charlie Chaplin in the movies, and of hearing people over the telephone and in recordings. We may also, naturally enough, deny that a person has seen Johnny Carson if he has “seen” him only on television, for example.



monitor a burglar breaking a window or that fans watch athletic events when they watch live television broadcasts of them? And after going this far, why not speak of watching athletic events via delayed broadcasts or of seeing the Bridgewater inmates via Wiseman’s film? These last examples do introduce a new element: they have us seeing past events. But its importance isn’t obvious. We also find ourselves speaking of observing through a telescope the explosion of a star which occurred millions of years ago.12 We encounter various other differences also, of course, as we slide down the slope. The question is whether any of them are significant enough to justify digging in our heels and recognizing a basic theoretical distinction, one which we might describe as the difference between “seeing” (or “perceiving”) things and not doing so.13

12. Some find the notion of seeing the past too much to swallow and dismiss talk of seeing long concluded events through telescopes as deviant or somehow to be explained away (see Alvin I. Goldman, “Perceptual Objects,” Synthese 35 [ July 1977]: 269, and David Lewis, “Veridical Hallucination and Prosthetic Vision,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 58 [Sept. 1980]: 241–242). If seeing the past is allowed, one might worry that having a memory image of something will qualify as seeing it. Zemach accepts this consequence (see “Seeing, ‘Seeing,’ and Feeling,” pp. 15–16). But it probably can be avoided, at least for most memory images. Many, if not all, memory images are based on one’s own earlier beliefs about the object, in a manner relevantly similar to the way in which the visual experiences of the viewers of a painting are based on the painter’s beliefs about the object. So one does not see through the memory image for the same reason that one does not see through paintings. But, if we are to speak of “seeing-through-photographs,” we may have to allow that when an image of something one saw previously, but did not notice, pops into one’s head, one sees it again. I do not find this result distressing. For any who do, however, or for any who reject the possibility of seeing the past, there is another way out. Suppose we agree that what I call “seeing-through-photographs” is not a mode of perception. We can always find a different term. The sharp break between photography and other pictures remains. We still can say that one sees present occurrences via a television monitor but not through, for instance, a system of simultaneous sketching. This is a significant difference. And one’s access to past events via photographs of them differs in the same way from one’s access to them via paintings. 13. The slippery slope may make it hard to avoid sliding farther in another direction than some would like. When we look at fossils or footprints, do we see or perceive ancient marine organisms or ancient animals’ feet? I repeat that my point needn’t be made in terms of vision or perception. One might prefer to introduce a new notion, to speak of being “in contact with” things, for instance, when one either sees them with the naked eye or sees mirror images or photographs or fossils or footprints of them—but not when one sees drawings of them (see Patrick Maynard, “The Secular Icon: Photography and the Functions of Images,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 42 [Winter 1983]: 155–169). It may not be desirable for our theory to recognize, in addition, a more restricted notion of perceiving or seeing, one which better fits the cases in which we use these everyday expressions; there simply may be no such natural kind. We should be prepared for the possibility that there is no very important distinction which even approximates the difference between perceiving things, in any everyday sense, and not perceiving them—that what we need is a radical reorganization of our concepts in this area.



Mechanical aids to vision don’t necessarily involve pictures at all. Eyeglasses, mirrors, and telescopes don’t give us pictures. To think of the camera as another tool of vision is to de-emphasize its role in producing pictures. Photographs are pictures, to be sure, but not ordinary ones. They are pictures through which we see the world. To be transparent is not necessarily to be invisible. We see photographs themselves when we see through them; indeed it is by looking at Titicut Follies that we see the Bridgewater inmates. There is nothing strange about this: one hears both a bell and the sounds that it makes, and one hears the one by hearing the other. (Bazin’s remarkable identity claim might derive from failure to recognize that we can be seeing both the photograph and the object: what we see are photographs, but we do see the photographed objects; so the photographs and the objects must be somehow identical.) I don’t mind allowing that we see photographed objects only indirectly, though one could maintain that perception is equally indirect in many other cases as well: we see objects by seeing mirror images of them, or images produced by lenses, or light reflected or emitted from them; we hear things and events by hearing the sounds that they make. One is reminded of the familiar claim that we see directly only our own sense-data or images on our retinas. What I would object to is the suggestion that indirect seeing, in any of these cases, is not really seeing, that all we actually see are sense-data or images or photographs. One can see through sense-data or mirror images without specifically noticing them (even if, in the latter case, one notices the mirror); in this sense they can be invisible. One may pay no attention to photographic images themselves, concentrating instead on the things photographed. But even if one does attend especially to the photographic image, one may at the same time be seeing, and attending to, the objects photographed. Seeing is often a way of finding out about the world. This is as true of seeing through photographs as it is of seeing in other ways. But sometimes we learn little if anything about what we see, and sometimes we value the seeing quite apart from what we might learn. This is so, frequently, when we see departed loved ones through photographs. We can’t expect to acquire any particularly important information by looking at photographs which we have studied many times before. But we can see our loved ones again, and that is important to us.

III What about paintings? They are not transparent. We do not see Henry VIII when we look at his portrait; we see only a representation of him. There is a sharp break, a difference of kind, between painting and photography. Granted, it is perfectly natural to say of a person contemplating the portrait that he “sees” Henry VIII. But this is not to be taken literally. It is fictional, not



true, that the viewer sees Henry VIII.14 It is equally natural to say that spectators of the Unicorn Tapestries see unicorns. But there are no unicorns; so they aren’t really seeing any. Our use of the word “see,” by itself, proves nothing. A photograph purporting to be of the Loch Ness monster was widely published some years ago. If we think the monster really exists and was captured by the photograph, we will speak comfortably of seeing it when we look at the photograph. But the photograph turned out not to be of the monster but (as I recall) of a model, dredged up from the bottom of the lake, which was once used in making a movie about it. With this information we change our tune: what we see when we look at the photograph is not the monster but the model. This sort of seeing is like the ordinary variety in that only what exists can be seen. What about viewers of the movie (which, let us assume, was a straightforward work of fiction)? They may speak of seeing the monster, even if they don’t believe for a moment that there is such a beast. It is fictional that they see it; they actually see, with photographic assistance, the model used in the making of the film. It is fictional also that they see Loch Ness, the lake. And since the movie was made on location at Loch Ness, they really do see it as well. Even when one looks at photographs which are not straightforward works of fiction, it can be fictional that one sees. On seeing a photograph of a long forgotten family reunion, I might remark that Aunt Mabel is grimacing. She is not grimacing now of course; perhaps she is long deceased. My use of the present tense suggests that it is fictional that she is grimacing (now). And it is fictional that I see her grimacing. In addition, I actually see, through the photograph, the grimace that she effected on the long past occasion of the reunion. We should add that it is fictional that I see Aunt Mabel directly, without photographic assistance. Apart from very special cases, when in looking at a picture it is fictional that one sees something, it is fictional that one sees it not through a photograph or a mirror or a telescope but with the naked eye. Fictionally, one is in the presence of what one sees. One such special case is Richard Shirley’s beautiful film Resonant (1969), which was made by filming still photographs (of an elderly woman, her house, her belongings). Sometimes this is obvious: sometimes, for example, we see the edges of the filmed photographs. When we do, it is fictional that we see the house or whatever through the photographs. But much of Resonant is fascinatingly ambiguous. The photographs are not always apparent. Sometimes when they are not, it is probably best to say that fictionally we see things directly. Sometimes we have the impression of fictionally seeing things directly, only to realize later that fictionally we saw them via still photographs. Sometimes, probably, there is no fact of the matter. Throughout, the viewer actually sees

14. The reader can get a better idea of what I mean by “fictionality” from my “Fearing Fictions,” Journal of Philosophy 75 ( Jan. 1978): 5–27.



still photographs, via the film, whether or not he realizes that he does. And he actually sees the woman and the house through the photographs which he sees through the film. We now have uncovered a major source of the confusion which infects writings about photography and film: failure to recognize and distinguish clearly between the special kind of seeing which actually occurs and the ordinary kind of seeing which only fictionally takes place, between a viewer’s really seeing something through a photograph and his fictionally seeing something directly. A vague awareness of both, stirred together in a witches’ cauldron, could conceivably tempt one toward the absurdity that the viewer is really in the presence of the object.

IV Let’s look now at some familiar challenges to the idea that photography differs essentially from painting and that there is something especially realistic about photographs. Some have merit when directed against some versions of the thesis. They are irrelevant when the thesis is cashed out in terms of transparency. The objection that a photograph doesn’t look much like the actual scene, and that the experience of looking at a photograph is not much like the experience of observing the scene in ordinary circumstances, is easily dismissed. Seeing directly and seeing with photographic assistance are different modes of perception. There is no reason to expect the experiences of seeing in the two ways to be similar. Seeing something through a microscope, or through a distorting mirror, or under water, or in peculiar lighting conditions, is not much like seeing it directly or in normal circumstances—but that is no reason to deny that seeing in these other ways is seeing. The point is not that “a photograph shows us . . . ‘what we would have seen if we had been there ourselves.’ ” Joel Snyder and Neil Allen’s objections to this view are well taken but beside the point (“PVR,” p. 149, and see pp. 151–152). It may be fictional not that viewers of the photographs are shown what they would have seen but that they are actually there and see for themselves. Here, again, the confusion is caused by not distinguishing this from the fact that they actually do see via the photograph. If the point concerned how photographs look, there would be no essential difference between photographs and paintings. For paintings can be virtually indistinguishable from photographs. Suppose we see Chuck Close’s superrealist Self-Portrait (figure 6.3) thinking it is a photograph and learn later that it is a painting. The discovery jolts us. Our experience of the picture and our attitude toward it undergo a profound transformation, one which is much deeper and more significant than the change which occurs when we discover that what we



Figure 6.3 Chuck Close, Self-Portrait, 1968. Acrylic on canvas. Collection, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minn. Art Center Acquisition Fund, 1969. Photo courtesy of Art Center.

first took to be an etching, for example, is actually a pen-and-ink drawing. It is more like discovering a guard in a wax museum to be just another wax figure. We feel somehow less “in contact with” Close when we learn that the portrayal of him is not photographic. If the painting is of a nude and if we find nudity embarrassing, our embarrassment may be relieved somewhat by realizing that



the nudity was captured in paint rather than on film. My theory accounts for the jolt. At first we think we are (really) seeing the person portrayed; then we realize that we are not, that it is only fictional that we see him. However, even after this realization it may well continue to seem to us as though we are really seeing the person (with photographic assistance), if the picture continues to look to us to be a photograph. (In the case of the nude, this may account for the continuation of some of our original feelings of embarrassment.)15 We have here a case of genuine illusion. It really does look to us as though we are seeing someone via the medium of photography, and at first we are fooled. This is not the sort of illusion which so often is attributed to viewers despite overwhelming evidence that it almost never occurs. It does not appear to us that we see a person directly, one standing right in front of us. We have genuine illusions also when we do see through a photograph but what we see through it is not what it seems to be. Figure 6.4 is a photograph through which we see not people but a life-sized sculpture. Illusions of this kind are commonplace in film, and they contribute importantly to viewers’ experiences. A detective in a movie surprises two thugs, pulls a gun, fires, and they drop. The viewer seems to be seeing these events via the film. He does see one man, an actor, approach two others, draw a gun, and pull the trigger. But he doesn’t see the one kill the others, since what was photographed was not an actual killing—the bullets were blanks, and the blood, ketchup. Still, the scene looks as though it were an actual killing which was filmed. The obvious considerations against the idea that a killing occurs in the viewer’s presence are irrelevant to the illusion I have described. The sharp edges of the illuminated rectangle, the obvious flatness of the screen, the fuzziness of some images, the lack of color do nothing to keep it from seeming to the viewer that he is seeing an actual killing via a photographic film of it. There are some superrealist paintings—Douglas Bond’s Ace I (Figure 6.5), for instance—which have distinctly photographic stylistic traits but are rather obviously not photographs. Their photographic character is more pretense than illusion. It doesn’t seem to the viewer that he sees through the photographs, but it may be fictional that he does. It may be fictional that Ace I is a photograph through which one sees a group of men walking in front of Pasadena City Hall. The debate about whether photography is special sometimes revolves around the question of whether photographs are especially accurate. Some contend that photographs regularly falsify colors and distort spatial relationships, that a photograph of a running horse will portray it either as a blur, which it is not, or as frozen, which it also is not—and of course there is the possibility of retouching in the darkroom. It remains to be seen in what sense photographs can be inaccurate. 15. Here is an analogous example: suppose a proud parent hears what he takes to be a recording of Johnny playing the piano and then learns that it is actually someone else mimicking Johnny’s piano playing. He thought he was hearing Johnny play, via the recording, but he wasn’t. Initially he swells with pride in little Johnny, then is deflated.

Figure 6.4 John deAndrea, Man with Arms around Woman, vinyl polychrome, 1976. Photo Courtesy O. K. Harris Works of Art, New York.

Figure 6.5 Douglas Bond, Ace I, acrylic on canvas, 1967. Gallerina La Medusa, Rome: Photo courtesy of Gallerina.




Yet misleading they certainly can be, especially to viewers unfamiliar with them or with photographs of a given kind. But why should this matter? We can be deceived when we see things directly. If cameras can lie, so can our eyes. To see something through a distorting mirror is still to see it, even if we are misled about it. We also see through fog, through tinted windshields, and through out-of-focus microscopes. The “distortions” or “inaccuracies” of photographs are no reason to deny that we see through them (see, for example, Figure 6.6). To underscore the independence of accuracy and transparency, consider a theatrical portrayal of actual events, an acting out in a courtroom of events that led to a crime, for example. The portrayal might be perfectly accurate. Jurors might gain from it much correct information and no misinformation. Yet they certainly do not see the incident via the portrayal. Is the difference between photographs and other pictures simply that photographs are generally more accurate (or less misleading), despite occasional lapses, that the photographic process is a “more reliable mechanism” than that of drawing or painting, and that therefore there is better prima facie reason to trust photographs? I doubt it. Consider a world in which mirrors are so flexible that their shapes change constantly and drastically and unpredictably.16 There seems no reason to deny that people see through these mirrors, notwithstanding the unreliability of the mechanism. Perhaps the mechanism is not a knowledge-producing one.17 If a person looks into a mirror and forms beliefs, on the basis of what he sees, about the things reflected in it and if those beliefs happen to be true, perhaps his beliefs do not constitute knowledge. But this does not mean that he does not see the reflected things. Some objections focus on the idea that photographs owe their special status to their “mechanical,” “automatic” origins, whereas paintings are “handmade.” What is crucial is supposed to be the involvement of a person in the process. Several writers have managed to imply that people don’t make photographs.18 In any

16. This example is a relative of Lewis’s case of the loose wire (see Lewis, “Veridical Hallucination and Prosthetic Vision,” p. 244). 17. See Goldman, “Discrimination and Perceptual Knowledge,” Journal of Philosophy 73 (18 Nov. 1976): 771–791. 18. William Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the calotype, claimed for the Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire the distinction of being the first building “that was ever yet known to have drawn its own picture” (The Pencil of Nature [London: Longmans, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1844 – 46], n. to pl. 15). Bazin credits photography with “completely satisfying our appetite for illusion by a mechanical reproduction in the making of which man plays no part. . . . For the first time an image of the world is formed automatically, without the creative intervention of man” (“OPI,” pp. 12, 13). “The fundamental peculiarity of the photographic medium,” says Arnheim, is the fact that “the physical objects themselves print their image by means of the optical and chemical action of light” (“On the Nature of Photography,” Critical Inquiry 1 [Sept. 1974]: 155).

Figure 6.6 André Kertész, “Distortion # 157,” 1933. © André Kertész. Photo courtesy of the artist.




case the remarkable realism of photographs is considered to derive not from what they look like but from how they come about. On this point I agree. Why is it that we see Lincoln when we look at photographs of him but not when we look at his painted portrait? The answer requires an account of seeing (or better, an account of perception in general). I would subscribe to some variety of causal theory: to see something is to have visual experiences which are caused, in a certain manner, by what is seen. Lincoln (together with other circumstances) caused his photograph and, thus, the visual experiences of those who view it. This does not yet answer our question. For Lincoln caused his portrait as well as his photograph. The difference lies in the manner of the causation. Putting things together, we get this: part of what it is to see something is to have visual experiences which are caused by it in a purely mechanical manner. Objects cause their photographs and the visual experiences of viewers mechanically; so we see the objects through the photographs. By contrast, objects cause paintings not mechanically but in a more “human” way, a way involving the artist; so we don’t see through paintings. Objections leap to the fore. Photographs are made by people: “The [photographic] image is a crafted, not a natural, thing” (“PVR,” p. 151). Photographers and painters just use different tools in making their pictures, it seems—one uses a camera and the other a brush. In what sense, then, are our visual experiences caused mechanically when we look at photographs and not when we look at paintings? Objectors frequently add that photographs do not present us with things as they really are but rather with the photographer’s conception or interpretation of them, that what we get from a photograph is not our own view of the world but his. A photograph, no less than a painting, has a subjective point of view.19 All this is beside the point. The manner in which things cause my visual experiences when I see them is not one which rules out a causal role for human beings. People often show me things and in other ways induce me to look this way or that. They affect what I can see or how I see it—by turning the lights on or off, by blowing smoke in my eyes, by constructing and making available eyeglasses, mirrors, and telescopes. Why not say that photographers, by making photographs, show me things and also enable me to see them? Surely that does not mean that I don’t really see them.

19. See H. Gene Blocker, “Pictures and Photographs,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 36 (Winter 1977): Photographs most certainly do not escape subjectivity. . . . Through the selection of subject, angle, amount, and direction of light, background, sharpness of focus, and light-dark contrast—in all these ways the photographer represents the object from a subjective point of view, expressive of feeling and mood. (p. 158)



When I see, I may well get a sense of someone else’s conception or interpretation of what I see. If you point out something to me, I know that you consider it worth pointing out. I learn by seeing, when others affect my vision, what things are objects of their fears and fetishes, what they value, and what they deplore. It may not be inappropriate to speak of seeing things “through their eyes.” Yet I do see those things myself. Photography can be an enormously expressive medium— André Kertész’s “Distortion # 157” (Figure 6.6) is certainly expressive—but this expressiveness does not render photographs opaque. If expressiveness is the mark of art, photography’s credentials are beyond question. In Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl, by careful selection and editing, “interprets” for us the Nazi Party Congress of 1934; she presents it as she construes it. It does not follow that we ourselves do not see Hitler’s airplane descending through the clouds, the thousands of marching troops and cheering spectators, and Hitler delivering tirades, even if the film fosters misconceptions about the things we see, inducing us to believe, for example, that the people we see were more enthusiastic about Hitler than they actually were. We can be aware, even vividly aware, of both the medium and the maker without either blocking our view of the object. A final worry is that photography makes use of “conventions,” conventions which are built into the construction of the camera and our photographic processing techniques.20 There is nothing sacrosanct about the system of perspective used in photography, it is argued; we just happen to have incorporated the one we did into the photographic process. Doesn’t this mean that the conventions of photography get between the viewer and the objects photographed, that the viewer must know the “language” of photography and “read” its symbols, and that therefore he cannot be said to see the objects through the photographs? Not at all. We could have a convention to the effect that mirrors used in certain contexts are to be warped in a certain manner (for example, convex mirrors which enable drivers to see around dangerous corners). The convention must be understood or internalized for one to “read” properly the mirror images. Nevertheless, one sees things through the mirrors.

V With these objections laid to rest, it is time to tackle directly the question of what it is about photographs that makes them transparent. The reason why we see through photographs but not paintings is related to a difference in how we acquire information from pictures of the two kinds. Suppose an explorer emerges from a central African jungle with a batch of photographic dinosaur-pictures, purportedly shot in the bush and processed straightforwardly. The pictures (together with background information) may convince us that there is a dinosaur 20. See Blocker, “Pictures and Photographs,” p. 161, and “PVR,” pp. 156 and 164–165.



lurking in the jungle. Alternatively, suppose that he emerges with a sheaf of dinosaur-sketches, purportedly drawn from life in the field. Again, we may be convinced of the existence of a dinosaur. Perhaps the photographs are more convincing than the drawings, but they needn’t be. That is not the crucial difference between them; we might have better reason to trust the drawings than the photographs. The important difference is that, in the case of the sketches, we rely on the picture maker’s belief that there is a dinosaur in a way in which we don’t in the case of the photographs. The drawings indicate to us what was in the jungle by indicating what the artist thought was there. We have reason to believe that the artist set out to draw what he saw and that he is a competent draftsman. Since the sketches show a dinosaur, we judge that he thought he saw one. Taking him to be a reliable observer, we judge that the dinosaur he thought he saw was actually there. We trust his judgment—our information about the dinosaur is secondhand. We don’t need to rely on the photographer’s judgment in the same way. We may infer that he believes in the dinosaur, knowing that he was looking through the viewfinder when the pictures were taken. We might even assume that it is because he believed there was a dinosaur that the photographs exist or are as they are—we may assume that he aimed the camera where he did and snapped the shutter when he did because he thought he spotted a dinosaur. But no such inferences or assumptions are required for our judgment of the dinosaur’s existence. Even if we know or suspect that he didn’t see the dinosaur, that he left the camera on a tripod with an automatic triggering device, for instance, we may still infer the existence of the dinosaur from the photographs. In fact, if the photographs do convince us that he believed in the dinosaur, they do so because they convince us that there was a dinosaur, not the other way around. We do need to make certain assumptions if we are going to trust the photographs: that the camera was of a certain sort, that no monkey business was involved in the processing, and so on. These may require our accepting the say-so of the photographer; we may have to trust him. And it could be that we are being taken for a ride. It is easy to see that this sort of reliance on the photographer does not mean that we do not see through his photographs. In order to trust the evidence of my senses, I must always make certain assumptions about them and the circumstances in which they operate: that they are not influenced by hallucination-inducing drugs, that they are not being fed misinformation by an evil neurosurgeon, and so forth. I might rely on someone else’s word in making these assumptions; I might consult a beneficent doctor. If he assures me that the system is operating normally, and it is, then I am seeing (or perceiving), notwithstanding my reliance on him. The manner in which we trust the photographer when his photographs convince us of the existence of the dinosaur differs significantly from the manner in which we rely on the artist when we are persuaded by his sketches. Both sets of pictures have a counterfactual dependence on the scene in the jungle.



In both cases, if the scene had been different—if there had been no dinosaur, for example—the pictures would have been different (and so would our visual experiences when we look at them). This is why, in both cases, given that the pictures are as they are, we can judge that the scene was as it was. But why are these counterfactuals true? A difference in the scene would have made a difference in the sketches because it would have made a difference in the artist’s beliefs (and hence in the way he sketched or whether he sketched at all). But that is not why a difference in the scene would have made a difference in the photographs. They would have been different had the scene been different even if the photographer believed, and so aimed and snapped his camera, as he actually did. Suppose that the picture maker—artist or photographer—is hallucinating the dinosaur which he attempts to portray. The artist’s sketches will show a dinosaur nonetheless, but the photographs will not. What the sketches show depends on what the artist thinks he sees, whether or not he is right; the actual scene in the jungle is, in this way, irrelevant to how his pictures turn out. But if the photographer thinks he sees a dinosaur and acts accordingly, what his photographs show is determined by what is really there before him, regardless of what he thinks. The artist draws his hallucination; the camera bypasses the photographer’s hallucination and captures what is in the jungle. A person’s belief can be relevantly based on someone else’s even if he doesn’t realize that it is. If what convinces me of the dinosaur’s existence is a painting which I take to be a photograph, I may suppose mistakenly that my belief is independent of the picture maker’s and that I see the dinosaur. My grounds for my belief do not include his belief. But still, the absence of the dinosaur would have made a difference in the picture only because it would have made a difference in the artist’s belief. Unbeknown to me, my belief is (relevantly) dependent on his, and I am wrong in thinking I see the dinosaur. Not all theories of perception postulate a strong link between perceiving and believing.21 We needn’t assume such a link. The essential difference between paintings and photographs is the difference in the manner in which they, not the beliefs of those who see them, are based on beliefs of their makers. Photographs are counterfactually dependent on the photographed scene even if the beliefs (and other intentional attitudes) of the photographer are held fixed.22 Paintings which have a counterfactual dependence on the scene portrayed lose it when the beliefs (and other intentional attitudes) of the painter are held fixed. Both the beliefs and the visual experiences which the viewer derives from a picture are dependent on the picture maker’s beliefs in whichever manner the picture itself 21. See Fred I. Dretske, Seeing and Knowing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), chap. 2. 22. In some cases the important conditional counterfactual dependence which distinguishes opaque pictures from transparent ones may be not so much on the picture maker’s beliefs as on his visual experience, or his thoughts, or possibly his intentions.



is. In order to see through the picture to the scene depicted, the viewer must have visual experiences which do not depend on the picture maker’s beliefs in the way that paintings do. We can leave open the question of whether, to be seeing the scene, the viewer must have beliefs about it and what connection there may be between his visual experiences and his beliefs.23 A familiar pair of science fiction examples may help to convince some that I am on the right track.24 Suppose that a neurosurgeon disconnects Helen’s eyes from her optic nerves and rigs up a device whereby he can stimulate the optic nerves at will. The doctor then stimulate Helen’s nerves in ways corresponding to what he sees, with the result that she has “visual” experiences like ones she would have normally if she were using her own eyes. Let us add the assumption that the doctor is conscientious about feeding Helen correct information and that she has every reason to trust him. Helen seems to be seeing things, and her visual experiences are caused by the things which she seems to see. But she doesn’t really see them; the doctor is seeing for her. This is because her visual experiences are based on his in the way I described. It is only because differences in scenes make for differences in the doctor’s beliefs that they make for differences in her visual experiences. Contrast a patient who receives a double eye transplant or a patient who is fitted with artificial prosthetic eyes. This patient does see. He is not relying in the relevant manner on anyone’s beliefs about the things he sees, although his visual experiences do depend on the work of the surgeon and on the donor of the transplanted eyes or the manufacturer of the prosthetic ones. In real life, cataract patients owe their visual experiences to others. All of our visual experiences depend on acts of omission by those who have refrained from altering or destroying our visual organs. Obviously these facts do not blind us.

VI The intuitions I have been appealing to are of a piece with those underlying H. P. Grice’s distinction between natural and nonnatural meaning.25 Spots meanN (mean naturally) measles, he says, and the ringing of the bell of a bus meansNN (means nonnaturally) that the bus is full. Grice would say, no doubt, that if the explorer did indeed capture an actual dinosaur on film, his photographs meanN 23. In special cases photographs may be causally but not counterfactually dependent on the scene. Then there may be no hope of learning about the scene from the photograph: the photograph would have been as it is even if the scene had been different. But one still sees the scene through the photograph. Perception is to be understood in terms of causation rather than counterfactuals, if the former doesn’t reduce to the latter (see William K. Goosens, “Causal Chains and Counterfactuals,” Journal of Philosophy 76 [Sept. 1979]: 489–495). 24. These examples are adapted from Lewis, “Veridical Hallucination and Prosthetic Vision,” pp. 243–244. But Lewis does not see a sharp difference between the two cases. 25. See H. P. Grice, “Meaning,” Philosophical Review 66 ( July 1957): 377–388.



that there is a dinosaur. One characteristic of natural meaning is this: the fact that something meansN that p entails p.26 Black clouds mean (meanN) rain only if they are in fact followed by rain. If the rain doesn’t come, that isn’t what the clouds meant. This gives us a sense in which photographs are necessarily perfectly accurate. If there was no dinosaur, then the photograph does not meanN that there was one, no matter what it looks like. One who knew enough about the camera used in making a photograph, how the film was processed, and other relevant circumstances could infer with perfect accuracy about the objects photographed. This alone does not distinguish photographs from other pictures. Presumably, if I know enough about an artist—about his beliefs, desires, attitudes, capacities, and such, or his physiological makeup—I could infer accurately, from his drawings, about what was in front of him when he drew (see “PVR,” pp. 159–162). But Grice’s distinction brings out a difference between the two cases. A sketch of a dinosaur does not meanN that there was a dinosaur, even if there was one. The sketch is not necessarily accurate in this way. The essential accuracy of photographs obviously does not prevent them from being misleading. It affects instead how we describe our mistakes and how we think of them. Consider a photographic portrait of Twiggy, made with the help of a bowed mirror, which appears to show her with a huge paunch. If viewers are misled, it is not because of a divergence between what the pictures meansN and reality. Their mistake is about what the picture meansN. It meansN not that Twiggy is fat but that she is skinny, as one who knew about the mirror could ascertain. To think of photographs as necessarily accurate is to think of them as especially close to the facts. It is not to think of them as intermediaries between us and the facts, as things that have their own meanings which may or may not correspond to the facts and which we have to decide whether or not to trust. To interpret a photograph properly is to get the facts. Synder and Allen claim that the way in which a photograph is made “has little to do with the way we normally interpret it” (“PVR,” p. 159). Presumably, they would say that we interpret the photograph of Twiggy as “meaning” that she is fat, regardless of the fact that it was made with a distorting mirror. There is some truth in this. We may take the photograph to meanN that Twiggy is fat; it may look to us as though it meansN that; Twiggy may appear to us to be fat when we see her through the photograph. Perhaps, also, the photograph makes it fictional that she is fat, and it might even meanNN that she is. None of these facts force us to deny that the picture meansN not that Twiggy is fat but that she is skinny. Photographs, as bearers of natural meaning, are necessarily accurate. And our realization that they are—even when we are unsure of or mistaken about what they meanN—profoundly affects our experience of them. The fact that something meansNN p does not entail p. It is connected instead with the notion of someone’s meaning p by it. Nonnatural symbols are thought of 26. See Grice, “Meaning,” p. 377.



as intermediaries which stand between us and the facts. We ascertain what the symbols mean, from which we learn what was meant by them (which needn’t be the same as what the symbols mean), and we must judge whether what is meant by them is true. Our access to things via nonnatural symbols is thought of as less direct than our access via natural ones. Drawings and paintings are sometimes nonnatural symbols—but not always. Pieter Brueghel probably did not intend viewers of Children’s Games to learn what games were played in the sixteenth century by recognizing his intention that they do so. Still, the meaning of the picture is enough like nonnatural meaning for us to see its difference from photographs. The beliefs about children’s games in the sixteenth century which the painting induces are based on the beliefs of the painter, if not on his communicative intentions.

VII The distinction between transparent and opaque pictures will provoke a variety of intriguing examples. Some of them show that this distinction does not coincide neatly with our usual differentiation between photographs and nonphotographic pictures. Some suggest that there are degrees of transparency, while others suggest that a picture can be transparent in certain respects and opaque in other respects. In some instances the question of whether a picture is transparent probably has no determinate answer. There are pictures which are drawn or painted by people but in a mechanical manner of one sort or another. One may attach a piece of transparent paper to a window and trace the outlines of the objects seen through it. One may copy a photograph, conceivably without even recognizing what it is a photograph of, or paint over a photograph, matching the brightness of each spot of the original.27 One might use a directional light meter and fill in the squares of a grid with shades of gray corresponding to the readings it gives of the various parts of a scene, or one might dispense with the light meter and estimate the brightnesses by eye. There are also doodles done automatically, while the doodler’s mind is on other things.28 Some such mechanically executed drawings are probably transparent.29 27. It was not uncommon in the mid-nineteenth century to paint portraits over photographs (see Aaron Scharf, Art and Photography [Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd., 1968], p. 44). 28. I owe the last two examples, respectively, to Robert Howell and to George Wilson. 29. It is time to confess that the Chuck Close example (Figure 6.3) is not as clear-cut as I implied. Close made many of his works by projecting a photograph on the canvas and painting over it. If this is how his Self-Portrait was executed, its opacity may be questionable. My point, of course, is unaffected. If Self-Portrait had been painted in the usual manner, it would definitely be opaque, and the viewer who comes to believe that it was so painted after having assumed it to be a photograph experiences the jolt I described.



Figure 6.7 Jerry N. Uelsmann, “Symbolic Mutation,” 1961. © Jerry N. Uelsmann. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Are any photographs opaque? What about ones which are devised largely in the darkroom—by combining negatives, retouching, burning out unwanted images, manipulating exposure and contrast, using filters, and so on (see, for example, Figure 6.7)? Some have maintained that such photographic constructions are essentially similar to paintings.30 The darkroom artist exercises as much control over the finished product as painters do; his work seems no more mechanical or less human, although his tools and materials are different. The paradigms of transparent pictures would seem to be not the work of professional photographers but casual snapshots and home movies made by doting parents and wide-eyed tourists with assists from Kodak. Photographic constructions do differ importantly from snapshots, but to lump them with paintings would be a big mistake. There is the extreme case of a “photograph” made by exposing photographic paper, dot by dot, with a flashlight,

30. Scruton remarks that if a photographer proceeds “to paint things out or in, to touch up, alter, or pasticher as he pleases, . . . he has now become a painter” (“Photography and Representation,” pp. 593–594).



to make a pointillist-style rendition of Lincoln, for example. This is drawing with a flashlight; one doesn’t see Lincoln through the picture. But consider more common darkroom techniques such as combining negatives and manipulating contrast. We see a person through a photograph of him no matter how lightly or darkly it is printed—even if it “falsifies” the brightness of the person or the brightness relations of his parts—although we may not see the state of affairs of his being illuminated in a certain way. If a photograph apparently showing Deng Xiaoping conversing with Yasir Arafat was made by combining negatives of each, the viewer does not see the event of their conversing, even if they were conversing when the two photographs were taken. But he does see Deng, and he does see Arafat. Most photographic constructions are transparent in some of their parts or in certain respects. If a viewer doesn’t know how a photograph was made, he won’t know what he is seeing through it and what he isn’t. But he will probably realize that he is seeing some of the things or events or states of affairs which the picture portrays, even if he does not know which ones, and this realization significantly colors his experience. His experience is not unlike that of seeing a white shape and wondering whether one is seeing a ghost. It may seem to the viewer, moreover, that he is seeing everything that the photograph portrays even if he is not and even if he knows that he is not. Many photographic constructions appear to be transparent even in respects in which they are not, and this gives them a sort of realism which obviously nonphotographic pictures lack. The viewer of Jerry Uelsmann’s “Symbolic Mutation” (Figure 6.7) hardly has the impression of seeing a hand fused with a face, however; it is too obvious that the picture was made from two negatives. In other cases sophisticated viewers may judge simply from the slickness of a photograph that it is likely to have been manipulated in one way or another in the darkroom, even if they don’t spot the seams. As a result, their impression of seeing through the picture may be weakened. This is one reason why some filmmakers have deliberately tried to mimic the crudity of home movies, using hand-held cameras, purposefully bad focus, and so on (for example, John Cassavetes’s “Shadows” [1960]). These techniques sacrifice any possibility of producing the illusion that the viewers are face-to-face with the characters—which is hardly a live possibility anyway—in favor of a more convincing illusion of seeing the characters through the photographs. This reconciles the immediacy which is claimed for such techniques—the feeling they provide of intimacy with the objects portrayed—with the obvious sense of contrivance that they engender—their calling attention to the medium. Emphasizing the medium is usually regarded as a way of distancing appreciators from the world portrayed. In this case it has just the opposite effect.

VIII A certain conception of the nature of perception is beginning to emerge: to perceive things is to be in contact with them in a certain way. A mechanical



connection with something, like that of photography, counts as contact, whereas a humanly mediated one, like that of painting, does not. Perceptual contact with things has rather less to do with acquiring knowledge about them than has sometimes been supposed. We may be approaching a necessary condition for seeing through pictures and for perception in general, but we are far from having a sufficient condition. Imagine a machine that is sensitive to the light which emanates from a scene and that produces not pictures but accurate verbal descriptions of the scene. The machine’s printouts are surely not transparent; in looking at them, one does not see the scene which the machine translated into words. Yet the printouts are made just as mechanically as any photographs are. It is easy to say that the reason why we don’t see through such mechanically generated descriptions is that we don’t see them as the scene they describe; perhaps we are incapable of seeing them this way. If one fails to see a photograph as Dwight Eisenhower, or as a person, or as anything but a collection of blotches on a flat surface, we might deny that one sees Eisenhower through the photograph. One doesn’t see Eisenhower, perhaps, unless one notices him, in some appropriate sense (although it isn’t necessary to recognize him as Eisenhower or even as a person). But this doesn’t help without an account of seeing-as and an explanation of why our not seeing the descriptions as the scene should make a difference. Nor will it help to declare that only pictures, not representations of other kinds, can be transparent. We need to know why the machine’s printouts don’t qualify as pictures and why nonpictures can’t be transparent. Investigating things by examining pictures of them (either photographs or drawings) is strikingly analogous to investigating them by looking at them directly and disanalogous to investigating them by examining descriptions of them. One such analogy concerns what is easy and what is difficult to ascertain and what mistakes the investigator is susceptible to. The numerals “3” and “8” are sometimes easily mistaken for each other. So when reading about a tree which is actually 85 feet high, one might easily take it to be 35 feet high. This mistake is much more likely than that of thinking it is 85.00001 rather than 85 feet high. The reverse is true when we look at the tree directly or examine a picture of it. A house is easily confused with a horse or a hearse, when our information comes from a verbal description, as is a cat with a cot, a madam with a madman, intellectuality with ineffectuality, and so on. When we confront things directly or via pictures, houses are more apt to be confused with barns or woodsheds, cats with puppies, and so forth. It would be much too hasty to conclude that it is simply differences of this sort which disqualify investigating a scene through mechanically generated descriptions as seeing it. Different mistakes are likely when we see under conditions of dim illumination from those that are likely with bright illumination. (Colors are especially hard to ascertain in dim light; outlines may be easier to distinguish then than in bright light.) If there were such a thing as “seeing-through-descriptions,”



we should expect that the mistakes one is susceptible to when seeing in that manner would differ from those one is susceptible to when seeing in other ways. There is a deeper point to be made—one about perception in general, not just vision. There are important correspondences between the way we perceive (whether directly or with photographic assistance) and the way the world really is (or the way we think of it as being, but I will postpone this caveat temporarily). I do not mean that the results of perception conform to facts about the world, that things have the properties we perceive them to have. Nor do I mean that our percepts or sense-data resemble what they are percepts or sense-data of. Rather, the structure of the enterprise of perceiving bears important analogies to the structure of reality. In this sense we perceive the world as it is. The mistakes a perceiver is susceptible to correspond to similarities among things themselves. Things which are easily confusable perceptually, difficult to discriminate, are things which really are similar to each other in some respect, more similar than things which are less easily confusable. An 85-foot tree resembles one which is 85.0001 feet high more closely than it does a 35-foot tree. Houses are more like barns and woodsheds than horses or hearses. Things with different shades of red are more like each other (in color) than they are like green things. In fact, the degree of similarity explains the likelihood of confusion. It is because of the similarity between 85- and 85.00001-foot trees that they are difficult to distinguish. The correspondence between similarity and perceptual confusability is intrinsic, I suggest, to the notion of perception. A process of discrimination counts as perceptual only if its structure is thus analogous to the structure of the world. When we perceive, we are, in this way, intimate with what is perceived. This goes a long way toward explaining our feeling of closeness to things which we see through photographs. We are not similarly intimate with the world when we investigate it through descriptions, even mechanically generated ones. Descriptions scramble the real similarity relations. Houses are not much like horses or hearses. The difficulty of distinguishing a house from a hearse when we are reading about it is due not to the nature of the house and hearses but to facts about the words used to describe them. So we think of the words as getting between us and what we are reading about, as blocking our view of it, in a way that photographs and sense-data do not block our view of what they are photographs or sense-data of. The structure of discrimination by means of mechanically generated descriptions does not correspond to the structure of the world and, so, does not qualify as perception. Are things easily confusable in perception really similar in some respect? Scientific investigation may suggest otherwise. Perceived colors don’t correlate precisely with wavelengths of reflected light. Environments which feel similarly or even indistinguishably cold may differ considerably in temperature, with compensating differences in humidity and wind. One might take this to mean that the correlation between how things affect us perceptually and how things are in themselves is



less than perfect. Or one might recognize properties—visible colors and perceived cold—which are distinct from wavelengths of reflected light and temperature and with respect to which the correlations do hold. In any case, we think of easily confusable objects as being similar, despite our awareness of the scientific facts. And perhaps it is this that is intrinsic to perception. If scientific research should uncover massive breakdowns in the presumed correlations and if, after reflecting on these results, we no longer even thought of easily confusable things as being similar, I doubt that we would or should continue to speak of perceiving them. Some question the very notion of real similarity. Resemblance is only a matter of how we think of things, it is argued; similarity is relative to one’s “conceptual scheme.” In that case it will have to be what we think of as similarities—what similarities there are relative to one’s conceptual scheme—which corresponds to difficulty of perceptual discrimination. But this will suffice. We don’t think of houses as being especially similar to horses or hearses; so discrimination by means of mechanically generated descriptions is not perceptual. Why do we regard the things we do as being similar? Sometimes, I suggest, precisely because they are easily confused (when examined in ways which otherwise count as perceptual). It is because visually discriminating among paint chips of various shades of pink is relatively difficult that we think of them as resembling each other. So facts about our discriminative capacities might be said to create similarities—similarities relative to our conceptual scheme, which on the present suggestion is the only kind that there is—thereby establishing the relevant correlations.31 It now looks as though mechanically generated descriptions could, in the right circumstances, be transparent. Suppose that we used description-generating devices regularly to investigate the world. Perhaps this would affect what we think of as similarities, thereby changing our conceptual scheme. We might recognize such properties as apparent-via-description-generating-devices houseness and apparent-via-description-generating-devices hearseness and regard these properties as analogous to visible colors, as characteristics of things themselves in virtue of which they can be alike, not just as capacities to affect us through the devices. In that case difficulty of discrimination by means of description-generating devices would be correlated with what we think of as similarities. So we might well think of ourselves as seeing through the descriptions, and—especially if there is nothing to “real” similarity among things except being thought of as similar—we

31. This seems to turn on its head our earlier suggestion that it is similarities among things that make them difficult to discriminate perceptually. But we can have it both ways. What count as similarities for us, what respects of resemblance there are relative to our conceptual scheme, is determined (partly, anyway) by which discriminations are easy to make and which are difficult, given our usual modes of (what otherwise count as) perception. The fact that certain things are similar in these respects explains the difficulty of discriminating them.



might really be seeing through them. Perhaps the mechanically generated descriptions would then be transparent. We are quickly becoming entangled in some of the deepest problems philosophy has to offer. Nevertheless, it should be clear from our recent speculations that there are fundamental differences between pictures and descriptions of a kind which plausibly allow mechanically generated pictures—photographs—to be transparent even though, apart from unusual circumstances like those just imagined, mechanically generated descriptions would not be. This challenge to the transparency of photographs is defused. We have learned that perceptual contact with the world is to be distinguished from two different sorts of nonperceptual access to it: access mediated by intervening descriptions as well as access via another person. The common contrast between seeing something and being told about it conflates the two. When someone describes a scene to us, we are doubly removed from it; contact is broken both by the intervention of the person, the teller, and by the verbal form of the telling. Perceptual contact can itself be mediated—by mirrors or television circuits or photographs. But this mediation is a means of maintaining contact. Viewers of photographs are in perceptual contact with the world.

IX What is photographic realism? Transparency is not the whole story. Realism is a concept with many faces, and photography wears more than one of them. We must not forget how adept photography is at portraying subtleties of texture, shadow, and reflection; how effortlessly it captures the jumbled trivia of ordinary life; how skillfully it uses perspective. The capacity of photography as it is now practiced to “reveal reality” is especially important. Photographic evidence is often very reliable—hence its usefulness in court proceedings and extortion plots. This is no automatic consequence of the “mechanicalness” of the photographic process, however. It derives rather from the fact that our photographic equipment and procedures happen to be standardized in certain respects. (They are not standardized in all respects, of course, so we have to be selective about what conclusions we draw from photographs. We can usually say little beyond gross approximations about the absolute illumination of a scene, for example, on the basis of a photograph, since shutter speeds, film speeds, and lens apertures are so variable.) But photography’s various other talents must not be confused with or allowed to obscure its remarkable ability to put us in perceptual contact with the world, an ability which can be claimed even by a fuzzy and badly exposed snapshot depicting few details and offering little information. It is this—photography’s transparency—which is most distinctively photographic and which constitutes the most important justification for speaking of “photographic realism.”



POSTSCRIPTS TO “TRANSPARENT PICTURES” Clarifications and To Do’s A. THEORY CONSTRUCTION, NOT LINGUISTIC ANALYSIS Some commentators find my transparency claim seriously “counterintuitive,” and take this to be a substantial or even decisive count against it. I do not find it counterintuitive at all.1 So shall we argue about whether it really is counterintuitive? It would be better simply to recognize that intuitions are largely reflections of one’s currently internalized theoretical commitments (there being no such thing as entirely pretheoretical intuitions), and that whatever authority one accords them amounts to resistance to theory change simply because it is theory change.2 Then we can look at the theory in question, the transparency thesis, and assess it on its merits. Confusion or uncertainty about the content of the theory is partly responsible for the divergence of intuitions. Clarification is in order. Reliance on intuition is especially tempting if one takes the transparency thesis to be about the current meaning of the English word “see.”3 But it isn’t.

1. Not after thinking through the reasons I offered in favor of it, and I don’t think I found it especially counterintuitive initially. Dominic Lopes and Eddy Zemach hold that we see things by looking at paintings as well as photographs of them. See Lopes, Understanding Pictures (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 179–193; Zemach, Real Beauty (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), pp. 195–196. 2. A certain minimal dose of this resistance is reasonable. Theories that we have internalized can be expected to have something going for them. 3. The thesis would be, presumably, that the current meaning of “see” is such that “I see a frog” (for example) is literally true when I observe a photograph of one, true in the same sense in which it is true that people see frogs directly or through mirrors or telescopes. (Call this the linguistic thesis.) Speakers’ intuitions about what it is appropriate to say in what circumstances, as well as what they do say when, are among the data that the theory of which this thesis is a part must accommodate. (This doesn’t require the theory to accept their intuitions as true.) But ordinary speakers can hardly be expected to have intuitions, let alone reliable ones, about the truth or falsity of the linguistic thesis, involving as it does the esoteric notions of literalness and sameness of meaning. Fluency in the language doesn’t require an explicit grasp of these notions, however useful they might be to linguists and philosophers of language in understanding, constructing theories about, the practices of speakers and hearers. Nor is an assessment of the thesis to be read off in any simple way from what speakers say when and what they judge to be appropriate utterances in what circumstances. People do say things like “I see a frog” when looking at a photograph (or a painting, for that matter) of a frog, and they sometimes characterize what is said (or meant, or expressed) as “true.” Whether “I see a frog” is to be understood literally, in such cases, and in the same literal sense in which people “see” frogs directly, is quite another matter.



My project is theory construction, not conceptual or linguistic analysis.4 At the heart of the transparency theory is recognition of a fundamental respect in which observing a photograph of something is like seeing it directly or in a mirror or through a telescope, and unlike observing a painting of it. I can think of no more natural way of expressing these relations than to say that we see things through photographs, as well as through mirrors and telescopes and directly, and to deny (in the same breath and the same spirit) that we see things through paintings of them. This is how I expect the “person in the street” would express the point I am making, leaving it to linguistic theory to decide, if it can and wants to, whether she is thereby adjusting the meaning of “see.” But as I insisted in “Transparent Pictures,” I don’t mind at all if one prefers to express the transparency claim differently, to say that we perceive, or schmee, or perschmeive, or whatever, things through photographs and in the other ways, but not through paintings and drawings. I may have sown confusion by insisting that “we see, quite literally, our dead relatives themselves when we look at photographs of them” (p. 86). This might encourage the impression that my claim is about the current (literal) meaning of the English word, although in the very next paragraph I explicitly deny that it is. The point of this insistence, as I explained, was to rule out construing the thesis as a claim that we see things through photographs only in a derivative sense, one different from the sense in which we see things directly, that, for example, we merely seem to see objects when we look at photographs of them. To avoid thus watering down the thesis, I say that we see things through photographs, and see things directly, as well as through mirrors and telescopes, in a (single) literal sense of “see,” without worrying about whether this is a new sense of the word.

B. TWO CLAIMS I made two different, independent claims in “Transparent Pictures,” both of which can be stated without deciding whether to describe viewers of photographs as “seeing” the photographed objects. One of them is what I just characterized as the heart of the transparency theory: (I) There is a natural kind which includes seeing photographs of things as well as seeing them directly and through mirrors and telescopes, and so forth, but not seeing handmade pictures of them.

4. I emphasized this especially in “Looking Again through Photographs: A Response to Edwin Martin,” Critical Inquiry 12, pp. 805–806. For more on these methodological issues, see my “Aesthetics—What? Why? and Wherefore?” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65, no. 2 (April 2007), 147–161.



There are other natural kinds in the neighborhood as well, of course, some of them overlapping this one. (I) does not rule out the possibility that there is a smaller natural kind, like the above except that it excludes seeing through photographs. I expressed scepticism about this possibility, suggesting that the “slope” descending from direct, face to face seeing is “slippery” all the way to (what I call) seeing through photographs; hence my challenge to readers to find a significant stopping place before the photography cases. My second claim, less important than the first, is: (II) There is not a natural kind, not a very significant one anyway, comprising seeing things directly and through mirrors and telescopes, and so on, but excluding seeing photographs as well as handmade pictures of them.

Most critics of “Transparent Pictures” target (II), leaving (I) untouched.5 They attempt to meet my challenge, to find grounds for classifying direct and mirrorand telescope-assisted seeing together which do not apply to seeing photographs. Most of them also restrict the word “see” to the former cases, preferring to say that we do not “see” things when we see photographs of them. But this terminological preference is irrelevant to the issue at hand, since the claim they are objecting to is not about the word “see.” I am not convinced that any of these attempts succeed.6 But if one or another does, we will want our theory to mark the natural kind in question. One way to mark it would be to say, as critics do, that we “see” things directly and through mirrors and telescopes, but not through photographs. If this is our choice, we will need another way of characterizing the larger natural kind specified in (I); that would be just fine with me. But if (II) is right, it isn’t clear what place “see” might have in our theory (if we use it at all) except to mark this larger kind. So, although neither (I) nor (II) needs to be stated in terms of “seeing,” both together make it exceedingly natural to use “see” in the way I prefer. Hence my decision to express (I), in conjunction with (II), by saying that we “see” things when we see photographs of them. I did not, however, emphasize sufficiently the distinctness and independence of (I) and (II). Whatever the fate of (II), (I) stands. (I) by itself suffices to defeat the pervasive and sometimes passionately defended idea that there is no fundamental difference between photographs and handmade pictures, that photographers and painters

5. This includes the arguments of Carroll and Currie that I discuss in “On Pictures and Photographs: Objections Answered” (this volume). Currie recognizes the distinction between (I) and (II), and in effect endorses (I). 6. Some probably or certainly succumb to counterexamples (not always very obvious ones)—uncontroversial instances of direct or assisted seeing which turn out, on a given proposal, to be classified with seeing photographs of things. Some have a distinct ad hoc flavor, fixing on relatively unimportant grounds for separating seeing photographs of things from uncontroversial ways of seeing them.



simply use different tools and techniques in creating their pictures. As I demonstrated in section 4 of “Transparent Pictures,” (I) is entirely consistent with the obvious fact that both photographs and handmade pictures (most of them anyway) are created deliberately by persons and portray things in ways that express the interests and attitudes of their makers. “Transparent Pictures” does an end run around these and other considerations typically adduced in efforts to debunk the natural impression that photographs differ fundamentally from paintings and drawings. It accounts for and defends this impression by showing that seeing photographs of things, in contrast to seeing handmade pictures of them, is very much like ordinary instances of seeing things—however we choose to express this fact, and whether or not (I) is true.

C. TRANSPARENCY AND EVIDENCE The transparency of photographs is not essentially connected to any thesis about their epistemological value. In attributing this special kind of realism to them I was not aiming to explain the supposed value of photographic evidence. A contrary impression may have been derived, on hasty reading, from my observation early in “Transparent Pictures” that photographs are commonly thought to be superior to other pictures as sources of information. And I did argue that the way photographs inform viewers about photographed objects, when they do, is different from the way other pictures inform viewers about depicted objects when they do. But nothing follows about which kind of picture is more informative or more reliably so. Depending on the circumstances, either may be better evidence for propositions of one kind or another than the other is. What is particularly important, however, is that the special interest we have in photographs, their putting us in what I called “perceptual contact” with objects, does not depend on their providing us much if any information about them. Remembering that transparency concerns direct object seeing, not seeing that such and such is the case, may help keep it properly separated from epistemological matters.

D. TRANSPARENCY AND DEPICTION We must not forget that photographs are pictures, depictions in my sense, as well as being transparent.7 A rich area for further investigation that I addressed only briefly concerns the relations and interactions between the depictive nature of photographs and their transparency, between their service as props in visual games 7. Most photographs, anyway. Given Patrick Maynard’s useful definition of photography as a technology for marking surfaces, some photographs are not pictures. Cf. Maynard The Engine of Visualization: Thinking Through Photography (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997), pp. 3, 20–21. “Transparent Pictures” is concerned only with photographs that are pictures.



of make-believe and their role as aids to vision. This requires keeping clearly in mind the fact that what viewers of a photograph imagine seeing is sometimes, but not always, what they actually see through it. As Patrick Maynard puts it, a photograph may be a photograph of one thing, but a depiction of something else.8 There is another twist that I did not mention in “Transparent Pictures.” Observing a family photograph of Judy Garland, one imagines seeing her directly, face to face, while actually seeing her indirectly, via the photograph. The viewer of The Wizard of Oz imagines seeing Dorothy in the magical kingdom of Oz directly, while actually seeing Judy Garland and the movie set via the photographic film. But the moviegoer is likely also to imagine seeing Garland and the movie set directly, face to face, as the viewer of the photograph does. (Imagining this requires, I presume, that the thought of seeing them occurs to him, that he not be absorbed exclusively in the world of Dorothy and Oz. His actual indirect seeing of Garland and the movie set does not depend on his entertaining any such thought; a person might see something even if she has no idea that that is what she is seeing.) So the spectator may imagine seeing Garland and the movie set face to face, and also imagine seeing Dorothy and the Land of Oz face to face. These two imaginings are not, of course, acts of participation in the same game of make-believe; the spectator doesn’t recognize a single fictional world in which Dorothy searches for the Wizard of Oz and Garland acts in a movie. Salman Rushdie indicates a special case with further complications: Staring at a photograph [a still from The Wizard of Oz], I realized I was not looking at the stars at all, but at their stunt doubles, their stand-ins.9

Rushdie was actually seeing the stand-ins via the photograph, even before he realized that he was. Once he realized this, he probably imagined seeing the stand-ins directly. I suspect that he also imagined seeing the stars directly, after his realization as well as before. (The stand-ins can be understood to be representing the stars representing the characters.) All along, I presume, Rushdie imagined seeing Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion (directly).

E. DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY Another topic eagerly waiting to be explored in light of the transparency thesis is that of digital photography. As digital technologies increasingly replace

8. Maynard, The Engine of Visualization, p. 114. 9. Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz (London: British Film Institute, 1992), p. 45. Incidentally, it does not seem at all obvious to me that Rushdie doesn’t mean that he is literally looking at, and seeing, the stand-ins, in perfectly ordinary senses of these terms. And it would strike me as much less natural to speak this way if Rushdie were looking at a painting or drawing of the scene on the movie set, rather than the photograph.



film, readers should be aware that “Transparent Pictures” focuses entirely on the latter. Whether and in what respects a digital image is transparent will depend on what if any manipulation occurred in its processing, as it does in the case of film photographs. The important difference between the two technologies, for our purposes, is the fact that electronic manipulation is vastly easier (and easier to disguise in the final product) than darkroom doctoring, and so is far more common and far more likely in particular cases. Digital images, then, are ordinarily more likely to be opaque, or opaque in a given respect, than film photographs. What is perhaps even more significant is that digital technology makes it relatively easy to create illusions of transparency like that of Chuck Close’s Self Portrait, to fool viewers—at least viewers whose experience is informed primarily by familiarity with film media—into thinking they see things via images when they don’t, or to make it seem to them that they do even when they know better. But viewers catch on. Familiarity with digital techniques—especially, I think, practice digitally manipulating images ourselves—alters our experience. Not only do we, on a cognitive level, become properly skeptical about the transparency of the images we see, our perceptual experiences of them change as well. The illusion tends to vanish. It no longer seems to us, at least not as robustly as it did, that we see objects through the images, even when we do. Our experience of digital images becomes more like that of paintings. The pervasiveness of digital techniques and our familiarity with them transforms our understanding and experience of traditional film photographs as well as digital ones, especially since we often can’t tell and may not know which method was used in a particular instance. Mathew Brady’s Civil War photographs are obviously old, having begun with exposures of reflected light on light sensitive surfaces more than a century before the development of digital photography. But a print of a Brady photograph on display today may have been made by scanning an original to produce a digitized version, then reproducing it on film and printing it in a darkroom. Observing a given photographic print, we may have no idea whether there was a digital stage in its processing, a stage in which it was highly susceptible to transparency-limiting manipulation. Informed by implicit or explicit awareness of this possibility, a viewer’s impression of seeing battlefield scenes via the photograph is likely to be substantially diminished, compared to her impression of the same print prior to the digital age. There are also, of course, obvious but important effects—contingent ones, largely independent of transparency—that the easy alterability of digital images has on their reliability as evidence and their powers of persuasion. Digitization may either undermine a picture’s credibility or enhance it, depending on the circumstances. Manipulation can correct for misleading features of freshly downloaded images, and we may sometimes have good reason to think that



the manipulator tried to do just that, and succeeded, even if the manipulation renders the image opaque in certain respects. Again, the presence and prevalence of digital images affect our experience and understanding of traditional photographs as well. In deciding what we might or might not learn from the latter, we must now take into account the possibility that their processing included a digital stage.

7 O N P IC T URES A ND P H OTO G RA P H S Objections Answered


early all films are representational; more specifically, they are visual or depictive representations, pictures. And the vast majority of films are photographic depictions. The depictive and the photographic are two of the most fundamental categories that need to be explained if we are to understand the medium of film. I have elsewhere offered an account of depiction: pictures—both still pictures and moving ones—are props in visual games of make-believe. By this I mean, in part, that in looking at a picture the spectator imagines seeing what it portrays.1 I have also argued that photographs are special among pictures in that they are transparent: to look at a photograph is actually to see, indirectly but genuinely, whatever it is a photograph of.2 Both of these claims have elicited a wide variety of reactions, some sympathetic and some sceptical. Noël Carroll and Gregory Currie are among the more thoughtful sceptics, and have discussed these matters with special attention to the medium of film. In what follows I consider their objections and examine alternatives that they propose. I should add that Currie endorses the main features of my theory of representation and incorporates them in his own. My focus now is on points of disagreement.

I. PICTURES The question of what pictures are, and in particular how they differ from descriptions, is a lot more difficult than it seems. Given how obvious it is that a picture 1. Kendall L. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990). 2. Kendall L. Walton, “Transparent Pictures,” Critical Inquiry 11: 2 (1984), 246–277 [reprinted as chapter 6 of this volume]. See also “Looking Again through Photographs: A Response to Edwin Martin,” Critical Inquiry 12 (Summer 1986), 801–880. 117



of a mountain and the word “mountain” are animals of very different kinds, the nature of the difference is disconcertingly elusive. Many attempts to account for it manage to do little more than point to the fact that there is a difference.3 This much seems clear, however: there is something especially visual about pictorial representation and depiction of other kinds. Currie observes that painting, theater, and film are visual media.4 But how so? Pictures are to be looked at. But so are written words, and we use our eyes on graphs and diagrams as well. The answer lies in the particular nature of the visual experiences that pictures provide. What is distinctive about these experiences shows in our ways of talking about them. We speak of “seeing an ox” when we look at a picture of an ox. We may point to the area of the canvas that our eyes are fixed on and say, “There is an ox there,” or, “That is an ox.” Remarks like these are not appropriate when we look at the word “ox” or at a written description of an ox—the Blue Ox in the Paul Bunyan stories, for instance. Such remarks, when one is observing a picture, are not to be taken literally. To look at a picture of an ox is not actually to see an ox, and it is (virtually always) obvious to the viewer that he is not seeing one.5 The person who points to the canvas saying “that is an ox” knows that there is only a piece of canvas there. Nevertheless, seeing a picture of an ox involves thinking of oneself as looking at an ox. We can put this by saying that one imagines seeing an ox, as one looks at the picture.6 I do not mean that one deliberately undertakes to imagine this. Rather, one finds oneself imagining it, more or less automatically, as a result of perceiving the picture. In watching a film, the images on the screen induce spectators to imagine seeing the characters and events that are portrayed. And we imagine seeing them from a certain perspective or point of view, one determined

3. This is true of many traditional attempts to define depiction in terms of visual resemblance. The point is not that visual resemblance is not part of what makes pictures pictures, but that the main work of devising an informative account consists in specifying what kind of resemblance is involved and how it is involved. I hold that the relevant kind of resemblance is to be explained in terms of imagining or make-believe. And nothing is lost by simply explaining depiction in terms of imagining or make-believe, without mentioning “resemblance.” 4. Gregory Currie, Image and Mind: Film, Philosophy and Cognitive Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 169, 181. 5. Unless it is a photograph of an ox (as well as a photographic picture of one). But “I see an ox” said while observing such a photograph, understood in one natural way, is not literally true. 6. Imagining seeing an ox is not reducible to imagining that one sees an ox. Cf. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, § 1.4 “Imagining about Oneself.” Carroll neglects this distinction, and Currie explicitly collapses it: “I take it to be a distinctive thesis of classical film theory that cinema encourages a certain kind of imagining which I have called imagining seeing: imagining that you are seeing the fictional events of the film, and seeing them from the point of view of the camera.” (Image and Mind, 168)



by the position of the camera, or rather by features of the screen images that result from the position the camera was in when the film was photographed. This is not the whole story. Words sometimes stimulate readers to imagine seeing. A reader of the Paul Bunyan stories might call up a visual image, and might describe his experience by saying, “I see an ox.” But this comment (taken in a non-literal way, of course) does not characterize an aspect of the reader’s visual experience of the text, as it does one’s experience of a picture of an ox; the reader’s eyes might be closed when he calls up the image. And it will not be appropriate for the reader to point to the words on the page and say (in the same spirit that one does while pointing to the picture), “An ox is there,” or, “That is an ox.” One’s perception of the text is merely a cause of an experience involving the thought of seeing an ox. In the case of picture perception, not only does looking at the picture induce us to imagine seeing an ox, we also imagine our actual visual experience, our perceiving the relevant part of the canvas, to be an experience of seeing an ox. Carroll and Currie are concerned with the first part of my account, the idea that the perception of pictures—moving pictures in particular—involves imagining seeing. Currie claims that if viewers were to imagine themselves to be seeing the things and events portrayed by a film, they would have to imagine being in various bizarre situations, undergoing strange and unlikely transformations, and enjoying magical modes of access to the fictional happenings.7 We do not ordinarily engage in these latter imaginings when we watch movies, he thinks, so we cannot ordinarily be imagining seeing what they portray. In watching a sequence of shots from different points of view we will imagine seeing from different points of view. According to Currie, this means that the spectator will have to imagine jumping around from one place to another. In the scene in Hitchcock’s The Birds in which Melanie Daniels crosses Bodega Bay in a hired boat, “the transitions between the first three shots would require [the spectator] to imagine her position shifted instantly through ninety degrees twice, around the edge of the bay. . . . The transitions between 5 and 14 would then have her imagine herself shifting back and forth nine times between Melanie’s own position . . . and different points on the shore, all within the space of a minute or two.”8 This is simply not so. Nothing is easier than, first, to imagine watching a boat from the shore, and then to imagine observing it from on board, without ever imagining moving or being transported somehow from the shore to the boat. One just imagines the one visual experience, and then imagines the other. In deciding where to go to observe a launching of a space shuttle you might imagine watching the moment of blast-off from one vantage point, and then imagine 7. Currie, Image and Mind, 172. 8. Currie, Image and Mind, 177.



watching it from another. There is no requirement that you imagine being in both places at once. The principle here is simple: one need not imagine the conjunction of other things that one imagines. Imagining p and imagining q does not have to involve imagining that both are true. If viewers of The Birds imagine watching the boat in Bodega Bay from the shore, and then, in the next shot, imagine being on the boat, it does not follow that they must ever have imagined even having been in both places, let alone moving from one place to the other. Even if the spectator does imagine being on shore at one moment and on board the boat a moment later, this does not require imagining moving or being transported from the shore to the boat, imagining changing locations. One need not, in one’s imaginative experience, follow out the implications of what one imagines.9 This is especially obvious if, as Currie thinks, imaginings are necessarily occurrent mental events, if there is no such thing as dispositional imagining.10 Obviously, when thoughts occur to us, many of their consequences do not. Currie concedes that one needn’t imagine the logical consequences of what one imagines,11 effectively undercutting many of his objections to the idea that in watching a film one imagines seeing what is portrayed. He contends that if in watching The Birds the viewer imagines seeing from the perspective of the camera, one of the shots would require her “to imagine herself suddenly in the water by the boat.” This wrongly assumes that she is required to work out the consequences of what she imagines. The viewer is likely not even to consider the question of where one would have to be in order to see the boat from the point of view she imagines seeing it from.12 (Also, the fact that a sudden change in the images on the screen induce spectators suddenly to imagine a certain event does not mean that they must imagine the event occurring suddenly.) “Do I imagine myself on the battlefield, mysteriously immune to the violence around me?” Currie asks rhetorically. The answer is: probably not. One just imagines seeing the violence of the battle from a particular perspective, if that is what the film portrays. In the case of “subjective” shots, shots portraying the view of a character in the fiction, Currie thinks that on the imagining seeing hypothesis the spectator would have to identify himself with the character, to imagine that he is the character.13 This is not so. We imagine seeing things from a certain point of

9. Cf. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, especially ch. 4. 10. Currie, “Imagination and Simulation,” in Martin Davies and Tony Stone (eds.), Mental Simulation: Evaluations and Applications (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 160. 11. Currie, Image and Mind, 177. 12. Given the propositions that a work initially induces us to imagine, which of their consequences are we also to imagine and which of them can we ignore? The answer varies from medium to medium and genre to genre. We should not expect a simple systematic formula. Cf. Mimesis as Make-Believe, 165–166. 13. Currie, Image and Mind, 174–176.



view, noticing certain aspects of them, and so forth. And we understand that what we imagine seeing is what fictionally the character sees; we imagine that that is what the character sees. The film thus shows us what the character’s visual experience is like. This need not involve identifying with the character, imagining ourselves to be him. Nevertheless, we do, sometimes, identify in one sense or another with characters, empathize with them, and subjective shots often encourage such identification.14 I leave open the question of whether this involves imagining oneself to be the character. It certainly involves simulating the experience of characters, including their visual experience. And even when we do not empathize with the “prominent attitudes and objectives” of a character (when in watching subjective shots from the point of view of a homicidal maniac our sympathies are with the victim, for instance15), there is no reason why we shouldn’t simulate their visual experiences. Subjective shots induce exactly this kind of simulation.16 “If we are to imagine ourselves seeing fictional things and events when we watch a film, we shall have to imagine that our visual powers are strangely restricted, and that what I see depends in no way on our own decisions. The camera is often placed to restrict our view of the action for dramatic purposes, and in these cases one would often like to see more or see differently. But if we are imagining ourselves to be seeing the fiction itself, what are we to imagine concerning the source of this restriction?”17 There is a confusion here between restrictions on what one imagines seeing, and imagining there to be restrictions on what one sees.18 If what I imagine seeing depends not on my decisions but on the images projected on the screen, this does not force me to imagine that my decisions have nothing to do with what I see. Nothing prevents me from imagining that I could see something different by looking in a different direction or stepping around an obstruction, even if the screen images guiding my imaginings do not allow me to imagine actually doing so. And if I should imagine that my vision is restricted, I needn’t imagine anything at all about why or how this is so, about the source of the restriction. Nor must I imagine that the restriction is a strange one. Currie argues for one exception to the idea that one need not imagine the logical consequences of what one imagines: “You cannot imagine, of a certain scene represented to you onscreen, that you are seeing it, but not that you are seeing it from any point of view.” This is so, he says, because “the concepts of seeing

14. Cf. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, 32–34, 255. 15. Currie, Image and Mind, 176. 16. Currie himself says that in watching Stagecoach “we see Dallas the prostitute from Lucy’s point of view” (Image and Mind, 175, my italics). 17. Currie, Image and Mind, 172–173. 18. Cf. Walton, Mimesis and Make-Believe, 359, and § 6.4 “Restrictions on Participation.” The restrictions I discuss obviously do not make it fictional that one is restricted.



and of point of view are linked more intimately than by entailment alone.” His point is obscure. “To see is to see from a point of view,” he says; “there is no such thing as nonperspectival seeing.”19 Let’s agree. And let us grant, for the sake of argument, that the connection is so “intimate” that one cannot imagine seeing without imagining that there is a point of view from which one is seeing, that one’s seeing is perspectival. This is innocuous.20 But Currie seems to mean something much stronger: that to imagine seeing is necessarily to imagine seeing from some particular perspective, that is, that there must be a particular perspective such that one imagines seeing from that perspective. This is certainly not so—not at least if, as Currie seems to think, to imagine seeing is just to imagine that one sees. I can easily imagine that I see something without there being a particular point of view which I imagine that I see it from. I need not imagine that I see from above, or that I see it from the side, or that I see it from nearby, or from afar. I argued that imagining seeing does not reduce to imagining that I see.21 And perhaps imagining seeing, or the kind of imagining seeing depictions provoke, is imagining seeing from one or another particular perspective.22 Even so, there is no paradox. What Currie finds strange is not the idea that spectators of films imagine seeing from a given perspective, but the idea that they imagine certain consequences of their seeing from the perspective in question: their being in the water, being immune to bullets, changing position, and so on. Imagining seeing from the relevant perspective does not require imagining these consequences. The perspective might be defined simply as being a certain approximate distance and direction from the object seen. And it is likely that the imaginer, or a person who actually sees something from a certain perspective, cannot specify in words even the distance and direction from which he sees or imagines seeing.23 19. Currie, Image and Mind, 178. Italics in original. 20. It is also questionable, especially if Currie is right in assuming that all imagining is occurrent. Must one who imagines seeing be imagining occurrently that his seeing is perspectival? (Not imagining that one’s seeing is perspectival is not the same as imagining that one’s seeing is not perspectival, of course.) 21. See note 6. 22. But I am skeptical. See Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, § 8.7. 23. Currie’s claim of a more-intimate-than-entailment connection between seeing and points of view is part of an argument against an Imagined Observer Hypothesis weaker than the one he attributes to the “classical” film theorists, Panofsky and Balázs in particular. The weaker alternative postulates “a kind of purely visual imagining, unconnected with any imaginings about where we are seeing from or how it is that we are able to see,” one that does not involve imagining ourselves “placed anywhere in the scene, or as undergoing any changes of position” (Image and Mind, 177). The mistake here is in thinking that an alternative that is weaker in the ways mentioned would have to postulate an incoherent ‘imagined nonperspectival seeing’ (169). It is not clear that, on a charitable reading, Belasz and Panofsky have to be understood as holding the strong view he outlines, rather than a more reasonable one of the kind I have been defending.



Currie presents another objection: “Suppose I am watching a movie in which the murderer enters unseen.” On the imagining seeing hypothesis, he thinks, it would have to be true that “I imagine that there is an unseen murderer which I see.” But “it is implausible to suppose that in the case described the audience is called on to imagine something contradictory.” I refer the reader to Mimesis as Make-Believe, where I considered exactly this objection.24 What I say here will be brief, and is not meant to replace my discussion there. In the first place, it is simply a mistake to suppose that if the spectator imagines seeing something and also imagines that that thing is not seen by anyone, he must be imagining a contradiction. Imagining p and imagining not-p do not entail imagining the conjunction, p and not-p. Currie’s hypothetical movie might be understood to induce viewers to imagine seeing a murderer creeping silently into a building, and to induce this imagining as a way of indicating what the viewers are to imagine occurring without being seen. If, understanding this, they do imagine that the murderer is unseen, they needn’t ever have imagined that the murderer is both seen and unseen. The main point to be noticed, however, is that appreciators regularly are required to imagine incompatible and otherwise conflicting propositions, in any case, even apart from any imagining seeing, and that they do imagine these propositions, ordinarily, without feeling any particular tension or sense of paradox.25 The idea that the spectator imagines seeing things which he also imagines to be unseen introduces no special difficulties, and constitutes no reason to reject the imagining seeing hypothesis. It is a commonplace that dreams often contain paradoxes—what on reflection, on awakening, we recognize as paradoxes—which are not felt as such while we are dreaming. Here is one example: Last night I had a dream . . . Mrs. Terry . . . told us that Marion and Florence were at the theatre, “the Walter House,” where they had a good engagement. “In that case,” I said, “I’ll go on there at once, and see the performance—and may I take Polly with me?” “Certainly,” said Mrs. Terry. And there was Polly, the child, seated in the room, and looking about nine or ten years old: and I was distinctly conscious of the fact, yet without any feeling of surprise at its incongruity, that I was going to take the child Polly with me to the theatre, to see the grown-up Polly act! Both pictures—Polly as a child, and Polly as a woman, are, I suppose,

24. See especially § 6.6 “Seeing the Unseen,” which relies on principles developed in § 4.5 “Silly Questions,” and elaborated elsewhere in Mimesis. My discussion in Mimesis was in response to an early statement of the objection by Nicholas Wolterstorff, directed to an earlier presentation of my account of depiction. 25. It is not hard to nurture a sense of paradox, however, even cases like that of the unseen murderer. One can make them feel like M. C. Escher’s prints and some absurdist stories which emphasize the conflicts in what they ask us to imagine.



equally clear in my ordinary waking memory: and it seems that in sleep I had contrived to give the two pictures separate individualities.26

In Mimesis I described numerous incongruities in what we imagine in appreciating the most ordinary representational works of art and discussed various ways of treating them, incongruities that involve only imaginings that Currie will surely allow. What is important is that no additional theoretical resources are needed to accommodate (apparent) incongruities arising from viewers’ imagining seeing, and we should be neither surprised nor dismayed that there are such. If imagining seeing is not the key to the notion of depiction, what is? Noël Carroll thinks there is an easy way of understanding pictorial representation, without invoking make-believe or imagining seeing. “Pictorial or depictive representations are those whose subjects we recognize by looking (rather than by reading or decoding).”27 This is not a solution. It is by looking that we recognize what (written) names and descriptions refer to. Yes, we read them, so this must not be the kind of “recognition by looking” Carroll has in mind. But what is the difference? This is itself the heart of the problem. What is it to perceive pictures and how does picture perception differ from reading? (It is not a matter of ascertaining what is portrayed immediately or noninferentially or automatically. Reading is often immediate, noninferential, and automatic. Nor is it a matter of how much or what kind of training is required; we want to know how picture perception and reading themselves differ, regardless of how they or the capacities for them may have come about.) Gregory Currie’s answer is more elaborate, but no more successful. “What makes the experience of cinema, painting and the other pictorial media an essentially visual one is that it gives rise to perceptual imaginings. Poetry and the novel, on the other hand, give rise to symbolic imaginings”28 What are “perceptual imaginings”? We imagine that things have a certain appearance, when we see a film or picture of them, he says. But of course we will imagine this on reading a novelist’s description of their appearance as well. Three further characteristics are supposed to make the imaginings elicited by paintings and films “perceptual”: (a) We imagine things’ possessing certain clusters or bunches of features, corresponding to those we might perceive something as possessing— both color and shape, for instance, rather than just one or the other. By contrast, “if we had been reading a novel we might, at a certain point, have read something that prompted us to imagine that the character’s eyes were blue. [But] we

26. Lewis Carroll, quoted in S. D. Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll. (1899). From Stephen Brook, The Oxford Book of Dreams, 202–203. Italics in original. 27. Noël Carroll, “Critical Study: Kendall L. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe,” Philosophical Quarterly 45: 178 ( Jan. 1995), 97. 28. Currie, Image and Mind, 184.



would be in no position to imagine anything about their shape, because we are told nothing about shape.” (b) We imagine very specific features. “When we see the screen we imagine that the character’s eyes are exactly that shape, that colour, and that size in relation to the character’s other features,” whereas if we were reading a novel we “would be in no position . . . to imagine that the [character’s] eyes are some specific shade of blue.” And (c) our imaginings are sensitive to fine variations in the perceptual qualities of the stimulus (e.g., the film image). “If what we saw on the screen were shaped or coloured in a slightly different way, what we would then have imagined about the character’s features would have been correspondingly different.” Written descriptions are not similarly sensitive, he says. And some features are irrelevant: “It would be a matter of indifference to our imaginings, moreover, whether the text was composed in this type face (or size, or colour) or that one.”29 The imaginings elicited by novels and stories do not differ as sharply as Currie suggests from those elicited by pictures. And differences of the kinds he describes do not begin to account for the distinctively perceptual nature of our experiences of pictures. A monochrome drawing or print will prompt us to imagine the shape of a person’s eyes but tells us nothing about their color. Novels often do describe both the shape and color of a character’s eyes, and we could introduce words specifying both shape and color (e.g., “blare” = blue square) without making descriptions containing them the least bit pictorial. There are words and phrases specifying particular shades of color (“burnt sienna,” “the color of x”), and a description of a character as being “exactly five feet eleven and one-quarter inches tall” requires the reader to imagine his height more precisely than a picture is likely to. If typefaces, sizes, or colors of linguistic symbols, or fine differences in their shapes, were semantically significant and so affected what appearance the reader of a novel is supposed to imagine a character having, it is hard to believe that the experience of reading would thereby be even slightly more like the experience we describe as “seeing a man,” which perceivers of a picture of a man enjoy.30 The inadequacy of Currie’s account of depiction is especially apparent when he tries to explain the fact that pictures depict things from certain points of view or perspectives, without endorsing what is surely the most natural way of doing this: understanding a picture to induce an experience one thinks of as seeing them from that point of view. Currie thinks that a picture, a cinematic image of a man, for instance, induces “perspectival” imaginings, but he means by this no more than that it induces spectators to imagine that the man has a

29. Currie, Image and Mind, 184. See also pp. 182–183. 30. Currie’s account fails for much the same reasons that Nelson Goodman’s does, with which it has considerable affinity. But Goodman doesn’t claim to be defining a distinctively visual or perceptual notion of representation.



certain appearance from a certain perspective.31 Beliefs can be perspectival in the same sense, as Currie insists. One may believe that Uncle Albert “appears thus and so from a certain perspective.” Holding this belief is nothing like the kind of perspectival perceptual experiences we have when we look at pictures and other depictions, and neither does imagining that Uncle Albert has a particular appearance from a certain perspective. Perspectival imagining, in Currie’s weak sense, doesn’t begin to account for these experiences.

II. PHOTOGRAPHY I turn now to photography, and to my claim that photographic pictures are transparent. The idea that photographs have a “mechanical” connection with what they are photographs of, that they differ fundamentally in this respect from drawings, sketches, and paintings, which are humanly mediated, and that because of this photographs somehow put us in closer contact with the world than “handmade” pictures do, has been a constantly recurring theme in discussions of photography. It persists in the face of determined objections, and despite the difficulty of spelling it out coherently. We hardly need to be reminded that most photographs, like pictures of other kinds, are made by people, and that they reflect the photographer’s interests, desires, vision, and so on. Don’t photographs, like other pictures, put us in contact, in the first instance, with a human being’s conception of reality, rather than reality itself? Isn’t photography just another method people have of making pictures, one that merely uses different tools and materials—cameras, photosensitive paper, darkroom equipment, rather than canvas, paint, and brushes? And don’t the results differ only contingently and in degree, not fundamentally, from pictures of other kinds? I answered that the difference is indeed fundamental, that (with some qualifications) photographs are transparent and handmade pictures are not, and that this difference is entirely compatible with the fact that photographs, like paintings, result from human activity and reflect the picture maker’s interests, intentions, beliefs, and so on. Noël Carroll and Gregory Currie misconstrue the transparency thesis in one important respect. Both take transparency to be incompatible with representation. According to Carroll: “[Walton denies] that [documentary] photographs are representations, preferring to think of them as prosthetic devices, like binoculars, that enhance our ability to see whatever they are photographs of. So for Walton there is no imagining seeing when it comes to this sort of photograph.”32 My position is that photographs, documentary photographs included, induce imagining seeing and are representations (depictions, pictures), in addition to

31. Currie, Image and Mind, 188. 32. Noël Carroll, “Critical Study,” 97. See Currie, Image and Mind, 50–51, 71, 72.



being transparent.33 In viewing a photograph of a class reunion, for instance, one actually sees the members of the class, albeit indirectly via the photograph, but at the same time one imagines seeing them (directly without photographic assistance). In the case of non-documentary films, what we actually see (the actors and the movie set) may be different from what we imagine seeing (the characters, a murder, a chariot race). As I emphasized in “Transparent Pictures,” the combination of actual and imagined seeing, and interaction between the role of photographs as aids to vision and their role as representations, is one of photography’s most important and intriguing characteristics. To construe transparency as excluding imagining seeing is to miss out on it completely. The question, then, is not whether photographs are representations, pictures, but whether they are pictures of a special kind. Currie agrees with most of what I said on this score. He agrees that photographs differ from other pictures in the respect which, I hold, prevents the latter from being transparent. Photographs are counterfactually dependent on the scenes they portray: if the scene had been different the photograph would have been different. The same is often true of paintings, in particular when the artist painted from life aiming to portray accurately what he saw. But—this was my main point—a painting from life depends counterfactually on the scene because the beliefs of the painter depend counterfactually on it. The counterfactual dependence of a photograph on the photographed scene, by contrast, is independent of the photographer’s beliefs. It is because a difference in the scene would have affected the painter’s beliefs about what is there, that it would have made the painting different. But a difference in what is in front of the camera would have made the photograph different even if it didn’t affect the photographer’s beliefs. The painter paints what he thinks he sees. The photographer captures with his camera whatever is in front of it, regardless of what he thinks is there.34 Currie concurs with all of this. As he puts it, photographs have “natural” counterfactual dependence on the photographed scenes, whereas handmade paintings possess only “intentional” counterfactual dependence on what they portray. He also agrees that this makes for a significant similarity between seeing a photograph of something and seeing the thing itself in the ordinary

33. See Walton, “Transparent Pictures,” 85, 88 (this volume), and Mimesis as MakeBelieve, 88, 330, 331 n. Patrick Maynard makes a good case for regarding certain things as photographs but not pictures. Cf. The Engine of Visualization: Thinking Through Photography (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, forthcoming [1997]). I was concerned only with what he calls photographic pictures. 34. This paragraph is a gloss on my more precise formulation in “Transparent Pictures,” 262–265. Carroll missed the point about counterfactual dependence. Paintings are not counterfactually dependent on the objects they depict, he says. (Noël Carroll, “Towards an Ontology of the Moving Image,” in Cynthia A. Freeland and Thomas E. Wartenberg [eds.], Philosophy and Film [New York: Routledge, 1995], 70).



manner, and a respect in which both differ from seeing a painting of the thing. One’s visual experience is naturally counterfactually dependent on the thing when one either sees it directly or sees a photograph of it, but not when one sees a painting of it.35 What Currie disagrees with is my decision to bring out this similarity by regarding viewers as actually seeing things when they see photographs of them. In saying this I was not especially concerned to be faithful to the ordinary sense of the word “see” (if there is such a thing). So I could almost declare victory at this point, as far as Currie is concerned, and dismiss the remaining disagreement as terminological rather than substantive. But my transparency claim reflects more than just the natural counterfactual dependence of photographs on photographed scenes. I did not settle on an account of what it is to see something.36 But even without such an account, comparisons with other aids to vision show how natural it is to think of seeing a photograph as a way of seeing the thing, as akin to seeing it directly. In “Transparent Pictures” I presented a challenge: we see things in (through) mirrors. We also see them with the aid of telescopes and microscopes. Why not regard live television as an aid to vision as well? And if we do, it is hard to see why we should not regard photography similarly. There are differences among these various means of access to things, of course. The challenge is to specify a difference that justifies denying that we see via some of these devices but not others, one that allows mirrors, telescopes, and microscopes, at least, to be transparent, as surely we must, while excluding photography. I gave reasons in “Transparent Pictures” for taking the difference just outlined between photographs and handmade pictures as a reason to draw the line between them, to deny that the latter are transparent while allowing that the former are. I have not seen a compelling rationale for drawing the line earlier, somewhere between mirrors and photography. Carroll and Currie take up the challenge. “With ordinary seeing we get information about the spatial and temporal relations between the object seen and ourselves. . . . Call this kind of information ‘egocentric information’. . . . Photographs, on the other hand, do not convey egocentric information.”37 I can “orient my body” spatially to what I see, either with the naked eye or through a telescope

35. Currie also reiterates my reasons for dismissing as irrelevant several considerations that are often adduced against the transparency thesis and the idea that photographs are special (Image and Mind, 56–58). 36. Neither the natural counterfactual dependence of one’s visual experiences on objects, nor that plus a correspondence between similiarity relations and the likelihood of discriminatory errors, is sufficient for seeing an object. So I do not subscribe to the account of transparency Currie outlines in Image and Mind, 63. I did make some tentative suggestions about what else is required. Cf. “Looking Again through Photographs,” 804. 37. Currie, Image and Mind, 66.



or microscope. But when I see a photograph I cannot orient my body to the photographed objects. The space of the objects is “disconnected phenomenologically from the space I live in.”38 There can be no doubt that an important function of vision in human beings is to provide information about how things we see are related temporally and spatially to us. The ability to see evolved in humans and other animals primarily, no doubt, because such information is so important for survival.39 But why suppose that seeing occurs only when this function is actually served? If the capacity to feel pain evolved in humans and other animals mainly as an indicator of damage to the body and as a device to prevent behavior that would exacerbate the damage, it certainly does not follow that pain felt when there is no bodily damage (e.g., when neural pain receptors are stimulated artificially) is not really pain. And the egocentric information that is important to survival is primarily information about an organism’s immediate surroundings, yet the capacity that has evolved allows us to see stars and other remote objects. An account of what it is to see should explain how seeing enables organisms to acquire information about their environment. There is no reason to assume that it must limit seeing to cases in which that is done. Carroll and Currie agree that mirrors are aids to vision, that we literally see an object when we see it in or through a mirror. Consider an array of mirrors relaying the reflection of a carnation to a perceiver. Suppose that it is not evident to the perceiver how many mirrors are involved or how they are positioned, so he has no idea what direction the carnation is from him or how far away it is. Does he see the carnation through the mirrors? Surely he does. Currie bravely bites the bullet. Although we normally see through mirrors, Currie claims, when there is a confusing iteration of mirrors, such that egocentric spatial information is lost, we do not.40 Carroll will have to agree. “I do not speak of literally seeing the objects in question,” he says, “unless I can perspicuously relate myself spatially to them—unless I know where they are in the space I inhabit.”41 If this result is not bad enough, consider a variation of the example. Suppose I see a carnation in the ordinary way, right in front of my eyes. But suppose that there are lots of mirrors around, or I suspect that there are. None of them actually affects my perception of the carnation, but I cannot tell that they do not; I think I may be seeing the image of a carnation reflected in one or many mirrors.

38. Noël Carroll, “Ontology,” 71. See also Noël Carroll, “Critical Study,” 97–98. Nigel Warburton made a similar point in “Seeing through ‘Seeing through Photographs,’ ” Ratio, ns 1 ( June 1988), 64–74. 39. See Noël Carroll, Theorizing the Moving Image (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 62–63. 40. Currie, Image and Mind, 70. 41. Noël Carroll, “Ontology,” 71.



So I have no idea where the carnation is in relation to me. Currie and Carroll are forced to deny that I see the carnation at all! This does not exhaust the peculiar blindness that the Carroll-Currie conception of seeing would induce in us. Currie’s blanket contention that photographs supply no egocentric information at all goes too far. He does acknowledge, in a footnote, that “photographs can serve, along with information from other sources, in an inference to egocentric information.”42 But he insists that this doesn’t count, that it doesn’t render the photographs in question transparent. Now, however, it will be hard for him to make room for the fact—a fact he endorses—that single, simple mirrors are transparent, in normal instances. The person who sees something in a mirror is likely to know where the reflected object is in relation to him, but only by relying on information from other sources. He must take into account facts about the reflective properties of mirrors. The spatial orientation of the mirror through which he sees is crucial, and this may not be apparent from his current visual experience. He may not be able to see even that there is a mirror; he may not see its edges or any other sign of it. And if the mirror’s edges are visible, their significance is clear only in light of other background information, information he acquired from previous experience. Moreover, when no mirrors are involved or even suspected, when, in the most ordinary of cases, I see a carnation in front of my eyes, my egocentric knowledge that it is there depends on the realization that I am not seeing it through a mirror. It is a commonplace that what we learn from perception, in general, egocentric information included, depends on a wealth of background information not available from the perception itself, information by means of which we interpret perceptual cues. Yes, the background information may be internalized, rather than consciously appealed to; the perceiver may not need to pay attention to the cues and explicitly draw the inference.43 But this is true in the case of photographs, as well as those of mirrors and ordinary unassisted seeing. And it doesn’t matter whether or not conscious inferences are made, anyway. If I must consciously figure out that an object I see is in front of me, or behind me, using the information that there is or is not a mediating mirror, I am not seeing that it is where it is. But I am still seeing it. The transparency thesis is a thesis about direct object seeing, not about seeing that something is the case. When I see a photograph of a carnation I see the carnation, whether or not I see that it bears such and such spatial relations to me. (Seeing an object may require seeing that something is true of it; this may follow from a requirement that to see something is in a relevant sense to recognize it.44 But it does not require seeing that egocentric facts obtain—facts about its spatial relation to oneself.)

42. Currie, Image and Mind, 66. 43. See Walton, “The Dispensability of Perceptual Inferences,” Mind (1963), 357–67. 44. Walton, Looking Again through “Photographs,” 804.



The Carroll-Currie proposal amounts to ad hoc linguistic legislation, although it was not intended that way. So understood it is not pointless. “See,” in Carroll’s and Currie’s unusual sense, does at least mark out an important class of cases (not a sharply delineated one, and not one that separates photographs neatly from other pictures). But the same is true of “see” as I understand it. Carroll and Currie have provided no reason for preferring their construal of the word to one on which (most) photographs are transparent. My proposal may or may not be a departure from “ordinary language,” but if it is it is an especially natural one. We do speak of “seeing” Uncle Fred when we see a photograph of him. Sometimes we say things like this in the same spirit in which we speak (nonliterally) of seeing Fred while looking at his painted portrait. (Both are pictorial representations.) But sometimes the spirit is very different. In explaning why the Star tabloid planted a photographer on a neighboring rooftop to catch political operative Richard Morris with a call girl, news editor Dick Belsky remarked, “We wanted to see it with our own eyes.”45 A sketch of the liaison, even by the most credible artist-reporter, would surely not have satisfied the desire Belsky expressed. Who is to have proprietary rights to the word “see” is not the issue, however. My proposal was meant to bring out the important similarities and differences that I sketched above (and explained more fully in “Transparent Pictures”)— especially the kinship which seeing a photograph of something bears to other ways of seeing it, and seeing a painting of it does not. Other terminology might serve this purpose. But the restricted notion of seeing that Carroll and Currie recommend risks losing sight of these similarities and differences. Carroll himself, following a suggestion of Francis Sparshott, mentions an alternative to his special sense of “see” which does not run this risk. We might describe our experience of film, when we have no clear sense of the spatial relations the photographed objects bear to us, as “alienated vision.”46 In calling this vision Sparshott allows that what Carroll and Currie count as seeing—“unalienated” vision—is only one variety. Seeing through photographs and through confusing batteries of mirrors, notwithstanding any “alienation,” is another. In their discussion of transparency, Carroll and Currie focus almost entirely on the role of perception in acquiring information. One of the larger objectives of “Transparent Pictures” was to show that information gathering is not the only important function of perception. We sometimes have an interest in seeing things, in being in perceptual contact with them, apart from any expectations of learning about them. This interest helps to explain why we sometimes display and cherish a photograph of a loved one (or a movie star or athelete or personal hero), even a fuzzy and badly exposed photograph, long after we have extracted

45. Newsweek, 9 Sept. 1996, p. 36. 46. Noël Carroll, “Ontology,” 71; Theorizing, 62.



any interesting or important information it might contain, and why we may sometimes prefer such a photograph to a realistic painting or drawing that is loaded with information. We value the experience of seeing the loved one (even indirectly), the experience of being in perceptual contact with him or her, for its own sake, not just as a means of adding to our knowledge.47

47. Some readers may be interested in how I would treat several examples that Currie thinks make trouble for the transparency thesis: (a) Suppose scenes cause visual experiences not directly, but only with the mediation of a Malebranchian God, who in his benevolence acts ‘to maintain [the] counterfactual dependence’ we observe (Image and Mind, 62). Currie thinks we would still see things, in this case, and hence that natural counterfactual dependence is not necessary for perception. I think it is at least as plausible that, in the situation imagined, “see” would pick out a different natural kind from the one it actually picks out, and that there would then be instances of the former but not the latter. Also, it is not easy to be sure that any inclination to say that seeing occurs, in this exotic example, does not depend on thinking of the Malebranchian God as something more like a force of nature than a human intentional agent, even if we describe it in intentional terms (as we do computers). (b) Suppose two clocks are linked mechanically, so their hands always move in tandem. Do I see one of the clocks by looking at the other? (Image and Mind, 65) No, and for a reason that Currie himself endorses in connection with another example. Suppose a person’s eyes lack lenses, and unfocused light stimulates his retinas. He sees mere homogeneous fields of white or black or grey, depending on the intensity of the incident light. Does he see the objects that reflect light to his eyes? No. The reason, I argued, is that his visual experiences are not richly enough counterfactually dependent on the reflecting objects, and Currie concurs (“Looking Again through Photographs,” 803–804; Image and Mind, 57). Only the intensity of light reflected by the scene affects his visual experience. Likewise in the clock example: Only the position and/or movement of the hands of the second clock affects the visual experiences of the person looking at the first one. This is not enough for him to qualify as seeing the second clock (or even its hands). If the example is changed so that the first clock is dependent in many respects on the second one (and other conditions are met), I would recommend speaking of seeing the second by looking at the first. Even so, the perceiver will not know he is seeing the second clock, and may not even have the impression of seeing it, unless he realizes that the rich counterfactual dependence obtains. (c) Do I see heat, by looking at the column of mercury in a thermometer? (Image and Mind, 63–64.) Not, I think, if I explicitly infer how hot it is from the length of the column. (In that case there would seem to be nothing that I see to be true of the heat. I could not be said to recognize or notice it, in a sense that, arguably, is required for perceiving it. Cf. “Looking Again through Photographs,” 804.) And not if, as is plausible, heat is by definition something that can only be felt, not perceived in other ways. Currie thinks that seeing heat is not ruled out by definition. He thinks we might see heat if things looked darker the hotter they were. I am skeptical. In any case, we would not see heat if we have to infer, explicitly, how hot things are from how bright or dark they appear. Suppose we don’t have to, suppose the lightness or darkness functions simply as a perceptual cue. If this counts as seeing heat, then surely we would be seeing heat if the height of the mercury in a thermometer serves as the cue instead.



ichard Wollheim’s writings on pictorial representation combine philosophical enquiry into the nature of the medium—enquiry involving issues of philosophy of mind and language, as well as aesthetics—with examination of the place that painting and other visual arts have in our lives and critical observations about individual works and particular artistic styles. He brings to this multifaceted enterprise a rare combination of philosophical sophistication and aesthetic perceptiveness. The philosophical side of Wollheim’s work is dominant in Art and Its Objects; aesthetic and critical considerations come to the fore in Painting as an Art.1 But both are evident in both books, and all of his work on the visual arts is sensitive in both directions. It is not surprising that an aesthetically sensitive theory of pictorial representation, of what it is for something to be a picture, should emphasize the phenomenology of the experience of looking at and appreciating pictures. At the heart of Wollheim’s theory is a special kind of visual experience that he calls “seeing-in.”2 One sees a woman in a drawing of a woman, and Henry VIII in Holbein’s portrait.

1. Richard Wollheim, Art and Its Objects, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980); hereafter cited in text as AO. Richard Wollheim, Painting as an Art: The Andrew W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987); hereafter cited in text as PA. 2. Wollheim also makes use of a notion of a ‘standard of correctness’ in his account of depiction, though I will not discuss it here. In place of this, my own account employs the idea of a work’s possessing a certain function in a given social context. The artist’s intentions have a less essential role in my theory than they do in Wollheim’s. See my Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 52.




By according a central place to this visual experience, Wollheim accounts for the special visual nature of the medium, and accommodates the intuitively evident contrast between pictorial representations and verbal symbols, between depiction and description. In emphasizing this contrast, Wollheim follows in the spirit of Peirce’s distinction between “icons” and “symbols,” signs that are linked to their objects by virtue of, respectively, resemblances and conventions. Wollheim explains depiction in terms of seeing-in, rather than resemblance (although some resemblance theorists might utilize the notion of seeing-in in specifying a special kind of resemblance relevant to depiction); but his account of depiction shares the intuitive plausibility of resemblance theories, while avoiding their most glaring difficulties. I heartily endorse the basic motivation of Wollheim’s project. A primary objective of my own account of depiction, which treats pictures as props in visual games of make-believe, is to clarify and give proper weight to the idea that pictorial representation is a genuinely visual medium. Although my theory and Wollheim’s are very different, their central tenets are more complementary than conflicting, and they are better regarded as allies than as rivals. The make-believe theory can be understood to provide a way of explaining Wollheim’s fundamental notion of seeing-in, which, to my mind, he leaves seriously underexplained. I shall not argue for the make-believe theory here or spell it out in any detail.3 But I shall examine several features of Wollheim’s discussion and suggest how the two theories can be made to mesh. What is seeing-in? Wollheim describes it as an experience characterized by the “distinctive phenomenology” of twofoldness: an experience with two aspects, a “recognitional” aspect and a “configurational” one. The viewer attends simultaneously to what is seen and to features of the medium. “When I look at the representation of a woman, . . . on the one hand, I recognize or identify a woman, and, on the other hand, I am aware of the marked surface.”4 Wollheim insists that these are not two distinct experiences occurring simultaneously, but rather, two aspects of a single experience.5 It is not entirely clear how in general experiences are to be individuated, or what the difference is between two experiences and two aspects of a single experience. Wollheim describes the two aspects as “distinguishable but inseparable” (PA, p. 46). But the point cannot be that neither can occur without the other. The configurational aspect, at least, can occur without the recognitional one; a viewer might be aware of the lines of a drawing of a woman without recognizing the woman. Whether the

3. I develop my account of depiction most fully in Mimesis as Make-Believe, esp. ch. 8. 4. Wollheim, “Imagination and Pictorial Understanding,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 60 (1986), p. 46. See also Painting as an Art, p. 73. 5. Wollheim, “Imagination and Pictorial Understanding,” pp. 46–47; Painting as an Art, p. 46.

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kind of recognizing involved in seeing-in can occur without the configurational aspect is harder to decide, pending clarification of what kind of recognizing it is. (One certainly need not pay attention to the configuration of lines and shapes in a picture in order to recognize a woman, any more than one must pay attention to a friend’s facial features in order to recognize him in the flesh.) The important point may be that, when one looks at the picture in the expected manner, in addition to recognizing the woman and also observing the painted surface, one experiences relations between the features of the painting and what is seen in it. “In Titian, in Vermeer, in Manet we are led to marvel endlessly at the way in which line or brushstroke or expanse of colour is exploited to render effects or establish analogies that can only be identified representationally” (AO, p. 216).6 I would urge that the viewer does not merely come to realize, as a result of perceiving both the marks on the surface and the image of a woman, how the marks work to produce the image (indeed, one may not be explicitly aware of this); rather, the viewer sees how they do. And seeing this involves both seeing the marks and recognizing the woman. Twofoldness is important. I am sure that it has a lot to do with the interest that visual representations have for us. But the experience of seeing-in is hardly explained by pointing out that it involves the phenomenology of twofoldness. An explanation in terms of the two aspects of twofoldness is only as good as our understanding of the aspects, and the recognitional one is mysterious. In what sense does a spectator, on viewing a painting of a woman, recognize or identify a woman? One does not literally do so, of course, there being no actual woman there to recognize or identify. Neither does there appear to be a woman there; it does not seem to the viewer that he is recognizing an actual woman. Wollheim rightly denies that in viewing pictures we experience illusions, and he emphasizes the discontinuity between recognizing a boy in a picture and recognizing one in the flesh (PA, pp. 46–47). Until we understand better what the recognitional aspect of seeing-in amounts to, we will not have explained what pictures are. In Painting as an Art, Wollheim associates the recognitional aspect of seeing-in with the experience of seeing depth in a flat surface. “When seeing-in occurs, two things happen: I am visually aware of the surface I look at, and I discern something standing out in front of, or (in certain cases) receding behind, something else” (PA, pp. 46–47).7 The experience of seeing depth in a flat surface is familiar enough, as is that of seeing a woman in a design, but being familiar with a phenomenon is not the same as understanding it. Again, it is not that one actually observes one thing to be in front of another, nor does it seem to one that one does. Except in unusual cases, the surface is and appears to be flat.

6. Wollheim speaks of a particular kind of “reciprocity” between the two aspects, to account for “naturalistic” representation (PA, p. 73). 7. See also Wollheim, Painting as an Art, pp. 60, 62.



Wollheim’s purpose in connecting seeing-in with seeing depth in flat surfaces is not so much to clarify seeing-in as to indicate the range of cases in which it occurs. In viewing many paintings often regarded as nonrepresentational, one sees one plane or shape or line in front of another. Many of the works of such artists as Hans Hoffmann, Piet Mondrian, and Mark Rothko demand seeingin, Wollheim claims, and qualify as representational along with portraits and landscapes, although the former are not “figurative” as the latter are. I think Wollheim is right about this.8 My worries concern the idea that seeing depth is necessary for seeing-in. If seeing-in is limited to cases in which one sees depth in a flat surface, our perception of sculptures, of theatrical performances, and of the flag and target paintings of Jasper Johns (which portray flat things on flat surfaces) would appear not to qualify.9 Wollheim seems willing to exclude sculpture, theater, and Jasper John’s paintings from the class of representations in his sense (AO, pp. 225–226). It is his right to use “representation” in a narrower sense than others might, of course. But surely what he calls representations are instances also of a larger genus which includes many sculptures, most theatre, and Jasper John’s works, and in addition such nonvisual but perceptual representations as musical portrayals of the sounds of galloping horses and birdsong. Whatever one’s terminological preferences, we need a theory that will clarify what representational pictures have in common with depictions (as I prefer to call them) of these other sorts, as well as the ways in which they differ. In all these cases appreciators participate in what I call perceptual games of make-believe: visual games in the case of paintings, sculptures, and Jasper John’s canvases, auditory ones in the case of representational music,10 and games that are both visual and auditory in the case of theatre. It is fictional, in one’s game, that one sees a woman or one plane in front of another or a target or flag, or that one hears galloping horses or the singing of birds, or that one watches Lear pacing the floor and listens to his ragings. Depictions are (to put it very briefly) things whose function in a given social setting is to serve as props in sufficiently rich and vivid perceptual games of make-believe. Participation in these games involves (actually) perceiving the work in a special way, a way imbued with certain imaginings. It is crucial that we understand clearly the nature of the imaginings. The idea that one simply imagines a horse upon seeing a picture of a horse is a non-starter. As Anthony Savile notes, “There is a world of difference between being brought to imagine something by seeing

8. But I propose a more substantial way of distinguishing, among representational paintings, those that are “figurative” from those that are not than he does. See Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 54–57. 9. At least it would appear that one does not see flags and targets in Jasper Johns’s paintings. 10. More narrowly, in the case of what I call depictive music. See Mimesis as MakeBelieve, pp. 333–7.

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this mark or that [on the canvas] and being brought to see something in a picture by seeing this mark or that.”11 A vivid description of a horse may induce a reader to imagine a horse, without her seeing a horse in the letters on the page. Seeing-in is a perceptual experience, one that goes beyond perceiving the marks on the canvas. Imagining a horse is not itself a perceptual experience, even if it is a result of perceiving the marks, and perceiving the marks is just that, even if it causes one to imagine a horse. Is it that, rather than merely imagining a horse, one imagines the brown mass of color that one perceives on the canvas to be a horse? Savile says that the viewer does not do this, and surely he is right again.12 But the viewer does, in addition to imagining a horse, imagine seeing a horse. And she imagines her actual perceiving of the canvas to be an act of perceiving a horse. (She does not imagine her perceiving to be both a perceiving of the canvas and also a perceiving of a horse, of course; she imagines of the perceiving which is in fact a perceiving of the canvas that it is a perceiving not of the canvas but of a horse.) Imagining seeing a horse is imagining in a “first-person manner” (not just imagining that one sees a horse). In addition, the perceiver imagines this “from the inside.”13 Engaging even in this special kind of imagining is not sufficient for seeing a horse in the picture, however. One could look at the picture and then, in a separate (nonperceptual) act, imagine in the manner I have just described. This would not be seeing a horse in the picture. We should note, in the first place, that there is no good reason to insist that imaginative acts must be deliberate or under the subject’s control.14 Dreams are obvious counterexamples, and so are many of the imaginings that make up daydreams. The imagining of a viewer who sees a horse in a picture is not deliberate, but a spontaneous response to the marks on the canvas; she just finds herself imagining in a certain manner as she looks at the picture. And she is best regarded not as seeing the picture and also engaging in this spontaneous imagining, but as enjoying a single experience that

11. Anthony Savile, “Imagination and Pictorial Understanding,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 60 (1986), p. 21. In attempting to show that imagining is not an essential ingredient of normal picture perception, Savile argues that we fully understand trompe l’œil works and see in them what they are pictures of, even in the rare cases in which we are deceived by them. But since “imagining something to be thus and so is incompatible with my experiencing it to be thus and so and also with my taking myself so to experience it,” imagining can’t be involved in these cases (ibid., pp. 21–22). I find the assumption that the perceiver who is fooled by a trompe l’œil painting sees in it what it portrays and the assumption that imagining is incompatible with being fooled or experiencing a hallucination both highly questionable. 12. Savile, “Imagination and Pictorial Understanding,” p. 21. 13. I discuss what it is to imagine in a first-person manner and from the inside in Mimesis as Make-Believe, § 1.4. 14. See Savile, “Imagination and Pictorial Understanding,” p. 23.



is both perceptual and imaginative, her perception of the picture is colored by the imagining. (Probably she enjoys a succession of experiences, each of which is both perceptual and imaginative.) The experience of recognizing an (actual) tree as a tree is not a combination of a pure perception and a judgment that what one perceives is a tree. It is rather a perceptual experience that is also a cognitive one, one colored by the belief that what one is experiencing is a tree. Likewise, to see a horse in a design is to have a perceptual experience colored by imagining one’s perception to be of a horse, a perceptual experience that is also an imaginative one. If we call this experience of imaginative perception one of seeing a horse in the picture, it is seeing-in of a kind that occurs also when one sees busts of emperors, theatrical productions, Jasper Johns’s paintings, and Hoffmann’s Pompeii. In an analogous sense one hears Lear’s ravings in the voice of the actor portraying him and birdsong in the notes of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. This gives us a broad notion of perceiving-in, on which one might base the inclusive notion of depiction or (perceptual) representation that we want. One can then proceed to investigate differences among the many varieties of depictions. For instance, in some cases—sculptures and works like Hoffmann’s Pompeii—it is plausible that the representational work itself or part of it is an object of one’s imagining. Perhaps we imagine one portion of Hoffmann’s canvas to be in front of another or a block of marble to be an emperor’s head, whereas we do not imagine a stretch of painted canvas to be a woman or a horse. Our perceptual games of make-believe and the imaginative perceptual experiences that participation in them involves vary in many other ways as well. Thinking of seeing-in in the way I have sketched is the key to understanding the twofoldness that Wollheim rightly stresses. The recognitional aspect of seeing a woman in a picture consists, roughly, in the viewer’s perception of the picture being bound up with his imagining, in the manner I described, seeing a woman. The configurational aspect comes into play not just because perceiving the marks on the surface induces this imagining, but because the imagining is about that perceiving; one imagines of one’s perceiving of the marks that it is a perceiving of a woman. Thus the two aspects of the experience are intertwined: the imagining partially constitutive of the recognitional aspect has as an object the perception that constitutes the configurational aspect. Of course, the viewer imagines also of his perceptions of particular features of the design (particular lines, patches of color) that they are perceptions of particular features of a woman (tousled hair, penetrating eyes). Thus one observes connections between the marks and the “image” of a woman. In “Imagination and Pictorial Understanding” Wollheim claims that (leaving aside a certain “vapid” sense of imagination) “imagination has no necessary part to play in the perception of what is represented.” His “principle reason for holding this . . . is that we have a perfectly good explanation of how we perceive representations without invoking imagination,” an explanation in terms of

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“a very specific visual capacity,” namely, seeing-in.15 It is true that one can give an explanation, of a sort, of depiction without saying anything about imagining. One can point to the familiar phenomenon of seeing-in, and then characterize depiction in terms of it. But that ignores the question of what seeing-in is. We have no right to assume that seeing-in does not involve imagining; that in order to explain it, rather than merely point it out, and hence to give a full account of the perception of pictures, one would not have to bring in imagining. That, I argue, is indeed the case. Even some of Wollheim’s own observations seem to point in this direction. He associates an experience in which the recognitional aspect of seeing a boy in a stained wall is emphasized to the extent that the configurational aspect—and hence twofoldness—is lost with the experience of “visualizing the boy in the mind’s eye” (PA, p. 47). Isn’t visualizing a boy engaging in a certain kind of imagining? Wollheim considers it “plausible” that “the most primitive instances of the perceptual capacity with which seeing-in is connected . . . are to be found in dreams, daydreams, and hallucinations” (AO, p. 217). Surely dreams and daydreams, in any case, are exercises of the imagination. Wollheim points out that although dreams and daydreams may anticipate seeing-in or be continuous with it, they lack a crucial element. Actual seeing-in occurs when “the relevant visual experiences cease to arise simply in the mind’s eye: visions of things not present now come about through looking at things present” (AO, pp. 217–218), as when one follows Leonardo’s advice “to look at damp-stained walls . . . and discern there scenes of battle or violent action and mysterious landscapes” (AO, p. 218). To do this is to engage in the kind of visual game of make-believe that I described, one in which actual things serve as props; and this involves imagining one’s perceptions of various features of the stained wall to be perceivings of, for instance, various parts of a battlefield. Wollheim’s idea seems to be that seeing-in is a sui generis kind of experience which does not admit of explanation in other terms (beyond pointing out the phenomenology of twofoldness). That this is so cannot be assumed without argument, and it is in any case an unsatisfying conclusion. We would like to be able to understand seeing-in by relating it to other phenomena if we can. My proposal not only links the kind of seeing-in that Wollheim recognizes, that which occurs in the perception of pictures, to our experiences of sculpture and theatre and to the “hearing-in” that listeners of music occasionally engage in; it also links seeing-in, in explicitly specified ways, to other imaginative experiences: to visualizing, dreaming, day-dreaming, and children’s games of make-believe. This does not involve denying that seeing-in is an experience of a very special kind. Seeing-in differs significantly from other exercises of the imagination, as well as from other perceptual experiences. But it need not remain mysterious. We can

15. Wollheim, “Imagination and Pictorial Understanding,” p. 46.



say what is special about it; we can specify how it differs from, as well as how it is similar to, other imaginative experiences and other perceptual ones. “One consequence of holding to [a psychological account of pictorial representation],” Wollheim observes, “is that it sets me against all those schools of contemporary thinking which propose to explain pictorial meaning in terms like rule, convention, symbol system, or which in effect assimilate pictorial meaning to something very different, which is linguistic meaning” (PA, p. 44). “Pictorial meaning” and linguistic meaning are indeed very different. Depiction is not just another language like English or Hungarian or Tagalog. Nor is it merely a language (or symbol system) with conventions satisfying certain special conditions like Goodman’s density and repleteness requirements. No such conditions will themselves account for the perceptual nature of depiction. On this Wollheim and I are in full agreement. But Wollheim apparently holds that the perceptualness of depiction is incompatible with pictorial meaning being conventional or involving conventions or rules (PA, p. 361, n. 21). This is highly questionable. A lot depends on what is meant by “conventions” or “rules,” of course. If the conventionalists’ idea is supposed to be that one first observes the picture and then, in a separate act, figures out what it depicts by applying a rule or convention, then there is no special visual experience involved beyond merely ascertaining the relevant features of the canvas; one does not see something in the picture,16 nor does one participate appropriately in a visual game of make-believe. But this is not even how linguistic conventions normally work. We automatically recognize a word in a familiar language as meaning what it does; we do not first ascertain the shapes of the letters and then apply the relevant convention to figure out what it means. One’s visual experience of a swastika may be conditioned by the conventional associations determining its meaning. It looks terrifying, ominous, horrible. Yet there is clearly an important sense in which its meaning is “conventional.” This, of course, does not constitute the special kind of perceptualness peculiar to depictions. Swastikas are not pictures. My point is merely that if it is true that one’s responses to pictures are conditioned by conventions, this fact is not incompatible with one’s responses being thoroughly perceptual experiences. In “Imagination and Pictorial Understanding” Wollheim holds that the visual experience of seeing-in is “conditioned by the cognitive stock that the spectator holds,” and speaks of perception being “permeated” by cognition.17 One’s internalized awareness of rules or conventions may be among the cognitions that permeate one’s perception of a symbol. This does not make the experience, colored by this cognition, any less a perceptual one.

16. Wollheim made essentially this point in “On Drawing an Object,” in On Art and the Mind (1973), p. 25. 17. Wollheim, “Imagination and Pictorial Understanding,” p. 48.

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Do people have to learn to perceive pictures, or are we born with the capacity to do so? If this nature/nurture question is what the issue of the conventionality or naturalness of pictures comes down to, its answer is irrelevant to the issue at hand. Wollheim emphasizes nature; Goodman nurture. Surely the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I have no doubt that our ability to “read” pictures depends in part on natural, inborn propensities, and in part on abilities acquired as a result of experience, but I have little idea how much is nurture and how much nature. Picture perception is a visual experience in any case—one involving participation, of the kind I have described, in visual games of make-believe— regardless of how much learning went into our capacity to enjoy that experience. The imaginings that infect our perception of the picture are no less intimately a part of it if we had to acquire through experience the ability to perceive in a way colored by those imaginings. Much of my argument has amounted to applications of the familiar idea that there is no such thing as an “innocent eye,” pure perception unsullied by other cognitions. If we were to understand ‘visual experience’ in so narrow a sense that participating in games of make-believe in the ways I claim viewers of pictures do will not count as such, we might as well declare ourselves blind, for it is likely that on such a narrow conception nothing would count as visual experience. On a more reasonable construal of “visual experience,” the fact that our experience of pictures is bound up with imaginings and possibly conditioned by internalized conventions will not count against their qualifying as fully visual. Painting is a visual art, and depiction is a visual medium. The make-believe theory explains how this is so. There are analogies between the issues I have been discussing regarding the perception of pictures and questions about appreciators’ emotional responses to fiction. I have argued elsewhere that when Charles, a typical filmgoer, watches a horror film in which a ferocious green slime attacks the camera (the spectator), he is not genuinely afraid of the slime, but rather is participating in a game of make-believe in which it is fictional that he is afraid.18 Some commentators (not Wollheim) have attributed to me the astonishing thesis that Charles’s reaction to the film is not a genuinely emotional one, or even that, in general, appreciators are not genuinely moved by fiction.19 That Charles does not experience genuine emotion follows only if fear of the slime is the only emotion he could

18. See Mimesis as Make-Believe, §§5.2 and 7.1, which supersede my earlier discussion in “Fearing Fictions,” Journal of Philosophy 75 (1978), pp. 5–26. 19. See Bijoy Boruah, Fiction and Emotion: Rationality, Belief and Emotional Response to Fiction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 66; Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 69–79; and David Novitz, “Fiction, Imagination, and Emotion,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 38, no. 3 (Spring 1980), esp. p. 288, n. 2.



be experiencing, and it obviously is not. Perhaps some think that the fact that Charles is engaging in an imaginative activity or that he is doing so because of certain conventions would be somehow inconsistent with his feeling genuine emotion.20 But there is no need to saddle ourselves with such exotic assumptions. (It is helpful to remember that appreciators’ imaginings are likely not to be deliberate, even if they imagine in accordance with internalized conventions, just as the experiencing of emotions is not, straightforwardly, something that one deliberately does.) I see no reason why we should not count the experience I describe of fictionally fearing the slime—or the experience of fictionally grieving for Anna Karenina, for instance—as an emotional as well as an imaginative one; it may be intensely emotional. The heart is no more innocent than the eye, and there is no more justification for thinking that imagination or the functioning of internalized conventions is incompatible with or dilutes emotional experiences than that it is incompatible with or dilutes perceptual ones. The appreciator’s response to fiction may involve other genuine emotions as well. Charles may be genuinely disgusted by the film, or even fear it, while and possibly as a result of undergoing the experience of fictionally fearing the slime. And the work may induce or revive genuine emotions in the appreciator directed toward other things: fear of dangers the appreciator thinks might exist in the real world, pity for real people in situations perceived as analogous to Anna Karenina’s. The make-believe theory is designed to explain the experience of being caught up emotionally in a story and the special visual nature of pictorial representation; it certainly does not deny that there is such an experience or that depiction is especially visual. In claiming it to be fictional but not true that Charles fears the slime, I open the way to understanding his experience to be a genuinely emotional one, notwithstanding his full realization that there is no slime and no danger, and I explain why it is so natural to describe him as being “afraid of the slime.” In arguing that, on viewing a picture of a woman, it is fictional that one sees a woman, I make it possible for us to understand the viewer’s experience as being a genuinely perceptual one which is richer than merely perceiving the marks on the canvas. And I explain why it is so natural to speak of the spectator’s “seeing” or “recognizing” or “identifying” a woman, despite the fact that there neither is a woman there nor does there appear to be one. 20. I do not claim without qualification that there are “conventions” involved. See Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 38, 40–1, 301–2.

9 D E P I C T I O N, PE R C E P T IO N, A ND IMAG I NAT I O N Responses to Richard Wollheim


ichard Wollheim holds, famously, that pictorial representation is to be understood in terms of a visual experience of a special kind, which he calls “seeing-in,” an experience that suitable spectators enjoy when they look at pictures. On viewing a picture of a fire engine, one sees a fire engine in the marks on the surface of the picture. I have argued that pictures are essentially props in visual games of make-believe of a certain kind, and that the crucial perceptual experience—which I am happy to call “seeing-in”—is an imaginative as well as a perceptual one. The viewer imagines seeing a fire engine as she looks at a picture of one, imagining her actual visual experience to be of a fire engine. Wollheim and I have carried on an intermittent dialogue in the course of developing and explaining our respective theories of depiction, commenting on one another’s views and on the relations between them. I continue the dialogue in this essay, concentrating now on Wollheim’s “On Pictorial Representation,” the most recent statement and defense of his theory, as well as his Painting as an Art.1

I Wollheim endorses (with minor reservations) Alberti’s observation that “the painter is concerned solely with representing what can be seen,” which he takes 1. Richard Wollheim, “On Pictorial Representation,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56 (1998): 217–233; Richard Wollheim, Painting as an Art: The Andrew W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1987). My main contributions to the discussion are Kendall L. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), chap. 8; Kendall L. Walton, “Seeing-In and Seeing Fictionally” [chap. 8, this volume]; and Kendall L. Walton, “On Pictures and Photographs: Objections Answered” [chap. 7, this volume].




to express a constraint on the scope of representation: only what is visible can be represented.2 The seeing that Alberti has in mind is, surely, ordinary visual perception of particular existing objects (or events), what we might call seeing things “face-to-face.” The things that can be seen and so can be represented, Wollheim observes, include both objects and events. Some of them are particular objects or events, while others are “objects or events merely of a particular kind.” “So we can have a representation of Madame Moitessier [Ingres’s 1851 portrait], or a representation of a young woman behind a bar, perhaps a young woman of some specificity—but no particular young woman” (Eduard Manet’s La Prune, ca. 1877).3 Is what is represented, in the latter case, something that can be seen? I would expect Alberti to point out that it is possible to see particular existing things of this kind, actual young women behind bars, even though nothing would count as seeing (face-to-face) “the woman in the picture,” the woman the picture represents. And I expect that he would take this to satisfy the principle that painters are “concerned solely with representing what can be seen.” What cannot be represented (pictured) are presumably things such as the average price of oil in the 1970s, magnetic fields, and Cartesian egos.4 Wollheim chooses not to understand the constraint on what can be represented in this manner. There are two different ways of seeing things, he explains: one can see things “face-to-face,” and one can see things “in a marked surface.” Some things can be seen only in the second manner, but that is all that is required for them to be representable. “Representation does not have to limit itself to what can be seen face-to-face: what it has to limit itself to is what can be seen in a marked surface.”5 Objects or events that are “merely of a particular kind” are among the things that can be seen in a marked surface but not face-to-face, Wollheim claims. So the nonparticular woman represented by La Prune is representable not because particular things of that sort can (could) be seen face-to-face, but because this nonparticular one can be seen “in a marked surface.” Wollheim appears committed to the view that there really are nonparticular women (and nonparticular battles, etc.)—special kinds of things that can be seen in a special way. It is not clear how serious he means this commitment to be.6 2. Wollheim, “On Pictorial Representation,” p. 223. 3. Wollheim, “On Pictorial Representation,” p. 223; cf. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, p. 69. 4. There is room for skepticism about this. Perhaps such things can be depicted, misrepresented, as being visible. Robert Hopkins has interesting things to say about this in “Explaining Depiction,” Philosophical Review 104 (1995): 429–431, and Picture, Image and Experience: A Philosophical Inquiry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 168. Cf. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 229–330. 5. Wollheim, “On Pictorial Representation,” p. 223. 6. Perhaps Wollheim means to be avoiding this commitment when he says, “Representations that are of things merely of some particular kind” cannot “sustain answers to

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But it is not clear, either, what alternative he would endorse, or what alternatives are open to him. People do sometimes speak of “seeing pink elephants,” arguably without implying that there are any such. (One might question whether this is a literal use of “see”; I prefer to think of it as short for “seem to see.”) But Wollheim obviously does not regard seeing-in as hallucinating, as a kind of visual illusion, and he is obviously right not to do so.7 Are his nonparticular women fictional entities? If so, the puzzles about their ontological status are familiar, at least (even more familiar than those concerning objects of hallucinations). And some, I among them, would argue that we need not suppose that there really are such things while acknowledging, indeed insisting on, the convenience of speaking as though there are. I would expect Wollheim to be unsympathetic to this suggestion, as it encourages regarding imagination as more central to depiction than he seems willing to allow. But in Painting as an Art he is amenable to construing “There are peasants there” uttered in front of a picture of haymakers as an “exercise in make-believe.”8 He sharply contrasts “There are peasants there” with “I see peasants” (also uttered in front of the picture of haymakers), however, insisting that the latter expresses “a genuine perceptual judgment” not involving make-believe.9 This sharp contrast is intuitively unattractive, to say the least, especially since the peasants that one “sees” are surely (as it were) none other than the ones that are “there.” It is not clear how Wollheim will account for the naturalness of comments such as “There are peasants there, whom I see” and “There are peasants there; I can see them.” He wants to insist on the fact that the viewer enjoys a genuine visual experience, which grounds the visual nature of depiction, not just an imaginary or make-believe one. But this fact is in no danger, not on my account in any case. For although I deny that the viewer’s experience is, literally,

the question, Which object? Which event? or, Which woman? Which battle?” (“On Pictorial Representation,” p. 223). But the sense in which they cannot is very unclear. These questions invite any number of reasonable answers: “That one,” “The one in the picture,” “The one so-and-so is now looking at,” “The one wearing the fancy hat,” “The one looking over her shoulder.” Which if any of these answers is informative will of course depend on the context. Whether they are true when taken literally depends on one’s theory of fiction. In Painting as an Art, Wollheim notes that “of course, ‘This is a picture of Venus’ does not admit of existential generalization” (p. 361, n.16). 7. The representational content of a painting is “often, and totally misleadingly, referred to as its ‘illusionistic’ content,” Wollheim remarks. And he speaks of “the unjustified assimilation of the representational to the illusionistic or the imitative” (Richard Wollheim, “On Formalism and Pictorial Organization,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59 [2001]: 131–132). 8. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, p. 361, n.21. 9. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, p. 361, n.21. On my theory, it is fictional in the world of the picture that there are peasants but not that I see them. Both statements express fictional truths in the spectator’s game world. Cf. my Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 293–304.



one of seeing peasants, I do not for a minute deny that it is an actual visual experience. What is merely imagined is that this visual experience has peasants as its object. So why not allow that “There are peasants there” and “I see peasants” both involve make-believe? To return to Manet’s La Prune, we imagine seeing a woman whom we imagine to be there. This makes life a lot easier. For the seeing that I merely imagine being engaged in is perfectly ordinary, face-to-face seeing, and it is seeing of a perfectly ordinary, particular woman, indeed an existing one—that being the only kind of woman there can be. There is no need to recognize seeing of a special kind, directed on a peculiar and otherwise unseeable object.10 I do (genuinely) enjoy a special kind of visual experience, but it is one that is understood in familiar terms—in terms of really seeing the picture surface (face-to-face) and imagining this seeing to be of a woman (an ordinary one). Viewers of the portrait of Madame Moitessier enjoy an experience of just this kind also, the only difference being that in that case there is a woman whom one imagines seeing. The reader will have noticed that, although Wollheim takes La Prune to represent a woman “merely of a particular kind,” there is an obvious sense in which it represents a perfectly ordinary, particular woman, or (this may or may not amount to the same thing) it represents a woman as being perfectly ordinary and particular. Put differently, the woman “in the world of the picture” is, in that world, an ordinary particular woman—indeed an existent one. This observation is awkward for the proponent of seeing-in as Wollheim characterizes it. Conceivably, he might stick to his guns, reiterating that what is represented, what a (suitable) perceiver sees in the marked surface, is actually a woman “merely of a particular kind,” while allowing that the perceiver sees this nonparticular woman (in the marked surface) as a particular one. The picture would thus be understood to misrepresent a woman merely of a particular kind as being a particular woman. We need not dwell on the unattractiveness of this suggestion. I claim a further advantage for my way of dealing with what Wollheim calls depictions of things “merely of a certain kind”: it generalizes readily to works other than pictures. Stories and novels often portray “nonparticular” persons and “nonparticular” objects and events of other sorts, in whatever sense La Prune does. There is no special visual experience, “seeing-in,” which takes such things as objects. Are they objects of a special experience of reading, one we might call “reading-in,” or “reading about–in,” even though they cannot be read about in the ordinary manner—presumably the manner in which we read about actual people in newspapers?

10. Those who think that there really is something (the woman in the picture) that I imagine seeing still have the problem of saying what sort of thing this is, although they needn’t say that it is something that can actually be seen.

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It is far better to say that readers of novels and stories imagine ordinary particular people. Sometimes they imagine reading, in an ordinary newspaper manner, about such people. Often (depending on the nature of the story or novel) they imagine hearing verbal reports of them, or learning about them, or anyway knowing about them. What is imagined is in any case (exotic examples aside) ordinary things cognized in ordinary ways.11

II In his marvelously rich and perceptive explorations of pictorial representation, Wollheim has surprisingly little to say about the perspectives or points of view from which things are depicted. He distinguishes between the foreground and the background of various paintings, this being, of course, a matter of the pictures’ perspectives.12 He describes the fundamental experience of seeing-in as seeing one thing in front of another.13 He notes that in Nicolas Poussin’s Rinaldo and Armida, Rinaldo’s “face is some-what turned towards us.”14 But he does not, so far as I know, spell out what it is for a depiction to be from one point of view rather than another, or as we sometimes put it, what it is to depict something as seen from a certain perspective. How might he do this? It is safe to assume that he would want to account for this in terms of the visual experiences of suitable observers; so do I. His comment about Rinaldo’s face being turned toward us comes in a paragraph describing “what we see” in the picture. So perhaps a picture’s depictive point of view consists in what the suitable spectator sees in it.15 How can this be? What we see in the picture is Rinaldo and various of his properties—the position of his head and arm relative to his body, his being asleep, and so on. The perspective is not among his properties. He does have relational properties that we see—his head being turned away from Armida, for instance, whom we also see in the picture, a property that is not constitutive of the picture’s perspective. Wollheim says that Rinaldo’s head is turned slightly toward us. Do we see this relational property in the picture surface? We do not see ourselves in it, obviously. Do we see Rinaldo turned toward observers (ourselves?) who, although not themselves

11. In some cases, there is no specific mode of cognitive access such that readers imagine knowing about a person in that manner. Nevertheless, they probably imagine that their cognitive access to the person is in some ordinary manner or other. 12. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, pp. 210, 215, 218, 223, and 234–235. 13. Wollheim, “On Pictorial Representation,” p. 221; Paintings as an Art, p. 46. 14. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, p. 195. 15. In other places, Wollheim might be taken to suggest that perspective is a matter of how things are depicted, although he does not explain what this amounts to. He refers to the “point of origin” from which something is painted (Painting as an Art, p. 130). And he speaks of what the picture represents “as it represents it” (ibid.).



seen in the picture, are understood to be “there”? Wollheim does allow that certain paintings have “a representational content in excess of what they represent,” of what can be seen in them; there may be a figure “in the represented space [but] not the part of it which is represented.”16 In some cases there are unrepresented spectators, what he calls the “spectator in the picture,” whom the viewer, the spectator of the picture, identifies with, imagines from the inside.17 But even in these cases the viewer is not part of the representational content of the picture, not in the represented space;18 she merely identifies, imaginatively, with someone who is. And most pictures do not contain a spectator in the picture anyway.19 Yet most or all pictures depict things “from a certain point of view.”20 I do not see how this can be explained in terms of what is seen in the picture.21 The perspective from which one sees something, in cases of ordinary visual perception, is a matter of the point in space, relative to the object seen, from which one sees it. (This usually has consequences for what is seen, of course. But it would be a mistake to identify the experience of seeing from a particular perspective with the properties of the thing that one sees.) The viewer of Rinaldo and Armida is actually at a certain place relative to the picture—seven feet from it and slightly to the left of center, for instance. It is from this position that one sees Rinaldo in the picture surface. But this location in space does not correlate with one’s perspective on Rinaldo in the sense in which “his face is turned toward us,” the sense in which it is the perspective from which he is depicted. To change one’s position relative to the canvas, to move closer to it, for instance, or farther to the left, does not affect one’s point of view in the latter sense. (This is why we can say that the picture depicts Rinaldo from a certain point of view; we cannot normally say this about freestanding sculpture.) Shall we say that the markings on the canvas are such that, from wherever the viewer is actually positioned, what she sees in the picture surface is Rinaldofrom-a-certain-angle-and-distance? It is not clear what this might mean. And the angle and distance from which (in some sense) she sees Rinaldo, in the picture,

16. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, p. 101; cf. “On Pictorial Representation,” p. 225. 17. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, chap. 3. 18. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, p. 102. 19. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, p. 103. 20. Robert Hopkins (among others) has argued for the plausible thesis that depiction is necessarily from a point of view (“Explaining Depiction,” p. 428; Picture, Image and Experience, p. 36), while noting that there can be significant indeterminacies in a picture’s perspective. (Ambiguities also, I would add.) Dominic Lopes observes rightly that a picture need not represent things from a single point of view (Understanding Pictures [New York: Oxford University Press, 1996], p. 120). I think a picture might conceivably lack a point of view entirely but that this virtually never happens. 21. My point here is essentially the same as that of my roller coaster example, in “Pictures and Hobby Horses: Make-Believe Beyond Childhood,” [chap. 5, this volume].

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is in any case not her actual perspective or point of view—not in anything like the sense of perspective that applies to ordinary vision. Wollheim insists that the viewer actually sees Rinaldo, but it is unclear how this seeing-in can actually be from a certain perspective, apart from the ordinary perspective one actually has on the picture itself. The solution is staring us in the face: on looking at the picture one imagines seeing Rinaldo from a certain (approximate) angle and distance.22 This, curiously, is what Wollheim seems to be saying about the special case of pictures that possess a “spectator in the picture.” The viewer identifies with this personage, and so imagines seeing what he sees from his perspective. Why cannot the viewer imagine seeing the depicted objects from a given perspective without having such a spectator to identify with? Otherwise, the obvious fact that most or all pictures depict things “from a perspective or point of view” remains mysterious.

III The upshot of these several worries is that Wollheim’s characterization of seeingin, of the experience of picture perception, is seriously incomplete. One way to indicate what is missing, while sidestepping any misunderstandings that may arise from different conceptions of the imagination, is to observe that there is no place, or no obvious place, in his account of the content of the viewer’s experience for anything like the thought or idea or impression or awareness or conception or notion of an ordinary seeing of an ordinary woman.23 Instead, he has perceivers seeing objects of a different kind, in a special way. Perhaps if pressed, he would acknowledge some such thought or idea or impression. That would be a big step toward my way of understanding his notion of seeing-in, whether or not he agreed to speak of “imagining.” He does say that the recognitional aspect of seeing-in, when one sees a boy in a stained wall, for instance, is “capable of being described as analogous to” the experience of seeing a boy face-to-face. But he insists that the two sorts of experience are “phenomenologically incommensurate,” and that it is a confusion to ask “how experientially like or unlike” the one is to the other. “We get lost once we start comparing the phenomenology of our perception of the boy when we see him in the wall . . . with that of our perception of [the] boy seen face-to-face.”24

22. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 337–348. 23. The thought, if we call it that, need not be involved in a sense that entails that the person articulate it, or say to himself, “I see a woman.” But the naturalness of describing one’s experience in this way, one’s readiness to do so, suggests that the thought, in an unarticulated form, is already there. Robert Hopkins appears to recognize part of what is needed. When you see a horse in a picture, he says, “the thought (or some such) of a horse enters your experience of the picture” (Picture, Image and Experience, p. 16). 24. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, pp. 46–47. Cf. “On Pictorial Representation,” p. 221.



Insofar as I understand this, I think I agree. I take it to mean, roughly, that the two experiences differ not in “degree,” but in “kind,” that it is wrong or misleading to describe the experience of seeing-in or its recognitional aspect as an experience somewhat like that of face-to-face seeing (as some resemblance theories of depiction might have it). Wollheim constantly refers to seeing-in as a distinct kind of perception, or a visual experience with a distinctive phenomenology. Agreeing with this does not require excluding the thought or impression of face-to-face seeing of a boy from the phenomenology of seeing a boy in the marks. Rather than being somewhat like engaging in face-to-face seeing, seeing-in is a visual experience that involves (as I choose to put it) imagining—merely imagining—doing so. And what is imagined is not just somewhat like face-to-face seeing, but the real thing. The difference between imagining seeing and actually doing so is, I take it, a difference in “kind.” Malcolm Budd argues that if the two phenomenologies are incommensurate, the recognitional aspect of seeing-in cannot be understood on the analogy of face-to-face seeing. Hence, the “recognitional aspect of seeing-in . . . is revealed as having no nature of its own.”25 Understanding the recognitional aspect to involve imagining seeing makes sense of the claim that it is both analogous to and incommensurate with face-to-face seeing. Wollheim urges that “there is an important causal traffic between seeing-in and seeing face-to-face. Children learn to recognize many familiar and unfamiliar objects through first seeing them in the pages of books.”26 This is no surprise on the imagining seeing account. It is a familiar fact of experience, confirmed by empirical research, that doing things in imagination can often improve one’s ability to do them in fact.27 Imagining (visualizing) a face from a verbal description may help me to recognize it in the flesh.28 Jerrold Levinson has, inadvertently, provided support for my claim about the lacuna in Wollheim’s notion of seeing-in. He claims to agree with Wollheim that “seeing-in is generally prior to, and not to be analyzed in terms of, imagined

25. Malcolm Budd, “On Looking at a Picture,” in Psychoanalysis, Mind and Art: Perspectives on Richard Wollheim, ed. Jim Hopkins and Anthony Savile (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), p. 271. 26. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, p. 47. 27. Cf., for example, the studies described by Lien B. Pham and Shelley E. Taylor, “From Thought to Action: Effects of Process- Versus Outcome-Based Mental Simulations on Performance,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 25 (1999): 250–260; Roger N. Shepard, “The Mental Image,” American Psychologist 33 (1978): 125–137; and Shelley E. Taylor, Lien B. Pham, Inna D. Rivkin, and David A. Armor, “Harnessing the Imagination: Mental Simulation, Self-Regulation, and Coping,” American Psychologist 53 (1998): 429–439. Shepard takes some of his experiments to provide evidence that “the very same mechanisms are operative in imagery as in perception” (“The Mental Image,” p. 134). Thanks to Gregory Walton for these references. 28. Wollheim claimed that the make-believe theory has “grave difficulties” in accounting for this phenomenon (Paintings as an Art, p. 360, n.8).

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seeing.”29 But his discussion (sketchy though it is) suggests that he is thinking of this experience very differently from the way Wollheim does, and points strongly in the direction of the kind of imagining seeing I take to be central.30 He makes a stab at clarifying the recognitional aspect of seeing-in: “In looking at a picture of a woman,” he proposes, “it seems to you as if you are seeing a woman (alternatively, you have an impression of seeing a woman), in virtue of attending visually to portions of the canvas. The core of seeing-in . . . is a kind of as-if seeing that is both occasioned by and inextricably bound up with such registering.”31 To say that it “seems as if” something is the case often implies, perhaps even entails, that it is not the case; Levinson’s stab thus appears to conflict with Wollheim’s insistence that to see a woman in a picture really is to see a woman, though in a special manner. The kind of seeing of a woman Levinson has in mind, the seeing it “seems as if” one engages in, is surely ordinary face-to-face seeing of an ordinary woman. Levinson thus brings on board exactly what I claim, most fundamentally, to be missing from Wollheim’s account of seeing-in, the (unarticulated) thought or impression or idea of seeing an ordinary woman in an ordinary manner. Why does Levinson deny that seeing a woman in a picture involves imagining seeing a woman face-to-face? In one discussion he simply declares that he finds it “odd” to say this,32 but a footnote to his essay on Wollheim reveals more: “On my conception of it, imagining is necessarily active or contributory. . . . By contrast, seeming to one as if . . . is passive or receptive, not something one brings about and actively sustains, but something that . . . simply occurs. Seeing X in Y is something that happens to one.”33 Since I have always insisted that the kind of imagining central to my theory can be and frequently is nondeliberate, something that happens to us (often as a result of prompting by a picture or other prop), his disagreement with my account turns out to be verbal rather than substantive. Understanding as if seeing as imagining seeing (in my sense), it is not hard to construe Levinson’s suggestion that the viewer imagines seeing a woman “in virtue of attending

29. Jerrold Levinson, “Wollheim on Pictorial Representation,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56 (1998): 227. 30. I will not examine the most obvious difference between Levinson and Wollheim: Levinson rejects the necessity of “twofoldness,” which Wollheim has always taken to be at the very heart of his conception of seeing-in. 31. Levinson, “Wollheim on Pictorial Representation,” p. 229, emphasis in original. 32. Jerrold Levinson, “Making Believe,” in The Pleasures of Aesthetics (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996), p. 294. 33. Levinson, “Wollheim on Pictorial Representation,” p. 232, n.3, emphasis in original. Wollheim expressly allows for imaginings being involuntary or passive rather than active, and so does not share Levinson’s conception of imagining. Cf. Wollheim, “Imagination and Identification,” in On Art and the Mind (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974), pp. 69 ff.



visually to portions of the canvas” as the claim that the viewer imagines his seeing of the canvas to be a seeing of a woman. (Other construals are possible as well.) Levinson does offer another reason for resisting analyzing seeing-in in terms of imagining seeing, but it backfires. If all seeing-in involves imagined seeing, he claims, “we lose a resource for explaining some of the special character, whether of immediacy, intimacy, absorbingness, or emotional impact, of some pictures as opposed to others.”34 I have identified enormous resources available to my theory for making distinctions of these kinds within the class of things serving as props in visual games of make-believe—for accounting for differences of “realism,” in several senses, among depictions, and for understanding different styles of depiction. The visual games in which pictures are props vary greatly in richness and vivacity. They are more or less indeterminate, in various respects. The principles of make-believe may or may not be linked to resemblances of one sort or another, and they may be internalized to different degrees. Some pictures restrict viewers’ participation in the game, in one dimension or another. And so on.35 Levinson would forgo all of these resources for the sake of a simple crude contrast between inducing or not inducing perceivers to imagine seeing the object represented. I claim support for my account of depiction, also, in a recent discussion by Catherine Abell and Gregory Currie. “Pictures aid the simulated seeing of their objects,” they propose. “A depiction is an input to the simulation of seeing something.” And they speak of simulations as involving “pretend perceptions.”36

IV I turn now to objections Wollheim has raised to my theory of depiction. In Painting as an Art, Wollheim claimed that my make-believe theory “holds that there is a conventional link between the appearance of the picture and what we are led to make-believedly see” and so fails to “ground what a painting represents in the kind of visual experience that the representation will cause” in suitable spectators.37 My reply is that (what I call) principles of generation or principles

34. Levinson, “Wollheim on Pictorial Representation,” p. 227. 35. See Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 293–352. 36. Catherine Abell and Gregory Currie, “Internal and External Pictures,” Philosophical Psychology 12 (1999): 440–441. I do not know how Currie will square this suggestion with his skeptical remarks in Image and Mind: Film, Philosophy and Cognitive Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), which I discuss in “On Pictures and Photographs: Objections Answered,” in Film Theory and Philosophy, ed. Richard Allen and Murray Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 60–75 [chap. 7, this volume]. 37. Wollheim, Painting as an Art, pp. 77 and 361, n.21. I responded to this objection in Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 301–302. Cf. my exchange with Wollheim in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 51 (1991), Symposium on Mimesis as Make-Believe,

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of make-believe are not in general “conventional” in any robust sense. In Mimesis as Make-Believe I warned against characterizing them thus.38 Also, although the principles specify what imaginings are appropriate, given the nature of the props, appreciators do not usually consult them, or even have them in mind, in deciding what to imagine. Indeed, they usually do not decide what to imagine, but simply find themselves imagining in a certain manner, prompted by properties of the work before them.39 The role of the principles of make-believe in my account is exactly analogous to that of Wollheim’s own “standard of correctness” in his. Neither compromises the visual nature of depiction: While a standard of correctness applies to the seeing appropriate to representations, it is not necessary that a given spectator should, in order to see a given representation appropriately, actually draw upon, rather than merely conform to, that standard of correctness. He does not, in other words, in seeing what the picture represents, have to do so through first recognizing that this is or was the artist’s intention. On the contrary he may—and art historians frequently do—infer the correct way of seeing the representation from the way he actually sees it . . . and, for a spectator reasonably confident that he possesses the relevant skills and information, this is perfectly legitimate.40

An entirely different objection, which Wollheim has advanced more recently, focuses on my claim that on viewing a picture of a fire engine, for instance, one imagines one’s actual perceiving of the picture to be a perceiving of a fire engine. His argument consists of rhetorical questions: My difficulty . . . is how to understand the core project, or imagining one perceptual experience to be another. For if we succeed, in what way does the original experience retain its content? For, what is left of the experience of seeing the surface when I successfully imagine it to be some other experience? However,

pp. 401–406 and 423–427; and Walton, “Seeing-In and Seeing Fictionally” [chap. 8, this volume]. More recently, Wollheim described me as “the major contemporary advocate of the theory that we relate to the content of pictures through the imagination rather than perceptually” (“A Passionate Sightseer,” review of Michael Podro, Depiction, in Times Literary Supplement 23 [April 1999], p. 20). I decline the honor, having designed my theory to establish and explain the fundamentally perceptual nature of pictorial representation. 38. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 38 and 40–41. 39. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 13–16, 23, 68, 139, 185–186, 216, 311, 351–352, and especially 217, 301–302. 40. Richard Wollheim, Art and Its Objects, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 207. My principles are not tied essentially to artists’ intentions, as his standards of correctness are.



if I do continue to see the surface, or this experience retains its content, how have I succeeded in imagining it, the experience, to be an experience of seeing a face?41

He sees no difficulty, in general, in imagining one action or experience to be a different one. One may move one’s hands in a jerky and irregular fashion, imagining this to be an action of conducting an orchestra. What he claims to find problematic is imagining of a perceptual experience of one kind that it is a perceptual experience of a different kind. This does not seem to me to be a problem at all. Why should imagining a perceptual experience to have one content while recognizing that it actually has a different one be any more difficult than imagining an object to have properties different from those one realizes it really possesses—imagining a glob of mud to be a pie, for instance? I listen to a Glenn Gould recording of Bach’s Art of the Fugue. My actual perceptual experience is of sounds emanating from a speaker in my living room, but I imagine my experience to be of a live performance in a concert hall.42 Attending a performance of Die Zauberflöte, I hear the sounds produced by the flutist in the pit orchestra, imagining my experience to be of sounds produced by Papageno with his crude wooden instrument. Patrick Maynard reminded me that Scottie, in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, dresses up Judy precisely in order to enjoy a vivid imaginative experience of perceiving the now deceased woman he knew as Madeleine. Surely Scottie’s actual experience remains one of perceiving the dressed-up Judy; and surely he imagines this experience to be one of perceiving Madeleine. Never mind that Judy turns out to be Scottie’s Madeleine. Scottie’s imaginative project as he conceived it, believing Judy and Madeleine to be different persons, is perfectly coherent. It is surely coherent, also, to suggest that in interacting with her husband or her boss a person might, perhaps unconsciously, imagine herself to be interacting with her father or her mother. Of course this suggestion includes the hypothesis that she imagines her perceptions of the husband or boss to be perceptions of her father or mother. In all of these cases, not only is the actual object of a person’s perceptual experience in fact different from what she imagines it to be and not only does she know this to be so, it is likely that the actual intentional content of her experience is different from what she imagines it to be, that is, the “original experience retains its content” even as she imagines it to have a different content. The sounds produced by the flutist performing Die Zauberflöte seem to the listeners to be just that, while they imagine themselves to be hearing Papageno’s playing. 41. Wollheim, “On Pictorial Representation,” p. 224. 42. If the recording is of an actual concert performance (as many of Gould’s recordings are not), in hearing (directly) the sounds from the speakers, I am hearing, indirectly, the actual performance. I imagine my experience to be one of hearing the performance directly. (Cf. my “Transparent Pictures” [chap. 6, this volume].)

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Wollheim notes that “imagining one experience to be another is something more experiential than simply imagining that one experience is the other.”43 This seems right (or rather it seems right that a more experiential imagining is involved in picture perception). It is not easy to say what “experiential” means here. But the examples of imagining one experience to be another, presented above, seem to me to be appropriately experiential. If there is some sort of incompatibility between the two intentional contents, why is this not a problem for Wollheim’s own notion of seeing-in? Seeing-in is an experience characterized by what he calls “twofoldness”: one sees the marked picture surface, and one sees the subject of the picture. These are not two independent experiences, he insists, but two aspects of a single one. It is hard to know what this means, and Wollheim offers little explanation. But he clearly says that we have a “single perceptual experience” involving two different intentional contents. Why doesn’t he think the one content interferes with the other? How can the perception of the surface “retain its content” if one succeeds in making the subject of the painting the content of one’s perceptual experience? Well, the experience has two different “aspects.” But what does this mean? Wollheim rejects the duck-rabbit analogy, precisely on the grounds that it suggests an incompatibility; one cannot presumably see the figure as a duck and as a rabbit simultaneously. I propose that my theory goes some way toward showing how two different intentional contents can be combined. The experience is a perception of the pictorial surface imagined to be a perception of a fire engine, or of whatever is depicted.

V More needs to be said about this experience. I have not fully specified, either here or previously, the nature of the imaginings involved or how they are related to one’s actual seeing of the picture surface. But I hope to have shown that imaginings (or whatever one chooses to call them) along the lines I have suggested are an essential ingredient of picture perception, and that Wollheim’s worries about supposing this to be so are unfounded.44 43. Wollheim, “On Pictorial Representation,” p. 225. 44. I am indebted to Malcolm Budd, David Hills, Jerrold Levinson, Patrick Maynard, and Richard Wollheim for discussions of the ideas in this essay.

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10 EXP E R IE N C IN G S T I L L P H OTO G RA P H S What Do You See and How Long Do You See It?

How often have we experienced a day when the light was so crystalline, when every object within our vision was etched with such clarity, that we longed for the moment to be preserved forever? The purpose of art since the days of the cave dwellers has been to arrest the passage of time in order that the moment may be contemplated at leisure. —James Borcoman, Magicians of Light: Photographs from the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada What the camera does . . . is to fix the appearance of [an] event. It removes its appearance from the flow of appearances and it preserves it, not perhaps for ever but for as long as the film exists. . . . The camera saves a set of appearances from the otherwise inevitable supercession of further appearances. It holds them unchanging. . . . [The ratio of the life of a photograph to the instant appearance it preserves may be 20,000,000,000:1.] Perhaps that can serve as a reminder of the violence of the fission whereby appearances are separated by the camera from their function. —John Berger, About Looking

I. STILL PICTURES Pictures—still pictures—have been around forever. That they are still was hardly noticed, probably, during the millennia before photography. For until approximately then pictures of no other kind, nothing anyone might want to call motion 157



pictures, were available.1 The first photographic pictures were stills, of course, although they were made from moving images—the images of the camera obscura, for instance, which move with the motion of the objects reflecting light through the pinhole. The problem for picture makers, for the inventors of photography, was how to fix the image, how to preserve it. And fixing—the only kind of fixing they could envision at first, no doubt—sacrificed the image’s motion. They arrested the image, froze it, in order to preserve it, thus creating a still picture. The pictures produced by this new method are remarkable in several respects. They are nonetheless entirely unambiguous members of the ancient category of still pictures. Later inventors figured out how to preserve images without arresting their motion, and produced pictures of a radically new kind, moving pictures. These constitute an exciting new medium, but they also call attention to the still-ness of still pictures, and put us in a better position to appreciate what is special about them. Still pictures are perfectly capable of depicting motion; this capacity was not new with motion pictures. But it is by moving or changing themselves that moving pictures depict movement or change. What is remarkable about stills in contrast to their dynamic cousins is their ability to depict motion while remaining static. Much has been written about the portrayal of three-dimensional objects on a flat surface—which both still and moving pictures do—about the development of perspective, modeling techniques, and so on. An equally astonishing but infrequently examined trick is that of depicting movement or change by means of unmoving marks on an inert picture surface.2 This is my topic in section 2 of this essay. Three very different but equally “convincing” photographic examples, figures 10.1–10.3, illustrate several of the many devices picture makers use in

This essay originated as a talk for “The Light Symposium” in St. Johns, Newfoundland, in 2002, but has since gone through many transformations, with the assistance of audiences on that first and many other occasions. A version of section 3 was published separately as “Landscape and Still Life: Static Representations of Static Scenes,” in Rivista d’Estetica (1995), and reprinted in Photography and Philosophy: Essays on the Pencil of Nature, edited by Scott Walden (Oxford: Blackwell, forthcoming). My warm thanks, for invaluable suggestions, to Alon Chasid, Herb Clark, Stephen Davies, Stacie Friend, Robert Gordon, Daniel Herwitz, David Hills, Thomas Hofweber, Daniel Jacobson, Eileen John, John Kulvicki, Peter Ludlow, Patrick Maynard, Mike Martin, Bence Nanay, Ian Proops, Barbara Savedoff, Murray Smith, Scott Walden, Alicyn Warren, Jessica Wilson, Stephen Yablo, and Gideon Yaffe. 1. The first “motion pictures,” plausibly so-called, were not photographic, however, but what one saw using devices like Joseph Plateau’s phenakistoscope (1832). 2. There has been some examination of this topic. See Ernst Gombrich, “Standards of Truth: The Arrested Image and the Moving Eye,” Critical Inquiry 7, no. 2 (1980): 237–273; Ernst Gombrich, “Moment and Movement in Art,” in The Image and the Eye: Further Studies in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, pp. 40–62; James Cutting, “Representing Motion in a Static Image: Constraints and Parallels in Art, Science, and Popular Culture,” Perception 31 (2002): 1165–1193; and Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (New York: Harper, 1993), p. 95. See also

Figure 10.1 Ron Chapman, “Bicycles,” 1981. Photograph.




Figure 10.2 Erwin von Dessauer, “Children on the Beach,” ca. 1933. Gelatin silver print, 28 × 25.3 cm. ML/F 1983/182.

accomplishing this trick.3 But I will be interested primarily in the experiences viewers enjoy when they look at still depictions of motion or change, however the depiction is accomplished. There would seem to be no trick at all in making motionless marks depict motionless scenes, as in figure 10.4, just as there is no mystery about how sculptures, themselves solid chunks of stone or steel or clay, manage to portray solid three dimensional objects, or how flat paintings can portray flat surfaces (as

various psychological studies of motion perception by Jennifer J. Freyd and collaborators, e.g., “The Mental Representation of Movement when Static Stimuli Are Viewed,” Perception and Psychophysics 33, no. 6 (1983): 575–581; and “Five Hunches about Perceptual Processes and Dynamic Representations,” in Attention and Performance 14, ed. David Meyer and Sylvan Kornblum (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993), pp. 99–119. Robin Le Poidevin develops an account of how static images depict change and movement, using a notion of depiction different from mine, in The Images of Time: An Essay on Temporal Representation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming). See also Robin Le Poidevin, “Time and the Static Image,” Philosophy 72, no. 280 (1997): 175–188. 3. For an interesting discussion of some important techniques, and their strengths and weaknesses for various purposes, see Cutting, “Representing Motion.”

Figure 10.3 Udo Ernst Block, “Ewiger Kreislauf.” Photo courtesy of the artist.




Figure 10.4 Kendall L. Walton, “Mt. Geryon.” © Kendall L. Walton. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jasper Johns’s paintings of targets and flags do). But the portrayal of static scenes in the medium of still pictures, which I will examine in section 3, is much more problematic than one would expect, and viewers’ experiences of stasis-depicting still pictures are, if anything, even more puzzling and more fascinating than their experiences of motion-depicting ones. Most of my discussion of both topics applies equally to photographic pictures and to hand-made ones (paintings, drawings, etc.), and I will use examples of both kinds. There are some extra wrinkles in the case of photographs, however, and photographs will be especially useful when it comes to comparing still pictures with moving ones.

Still and Moving Pictures What are still pictures? How do they differ from moving ones? The answer is not as easy as it seems. Moving pictures do not necessarily move. Andy Warhol’s Empire (1964)—a film consisting of a single eight-hour, dawn-to-dusk shot of the Empire State Building—is nearly motionless, and may be entirely so during periods when nothing in the scene before the camera changed.4 And still pictures need not be still: paintings fade over time, a picture drawn in sand erodes, an 4. Arthur Danto once wrote that “moving pictures are just that: pictures which move, not just (or even necessarily at all) pictures of moving things” (“Moving Pictures,” Quarterly



artist touches up his canvas or a restorer cleans it, pigeons deposit droppings on it. Still pictures can depict either motion or stasis, as we noted, and moving pictures can do so as well.5 The essential difference between still and motion pictures consists neither in temporal properties of the images themselves nor in their representational content, but in the relation between the two, the relation between changes or lack of them in pictures, and changes or lack of them in picture worlds. What is it about images of the two kinds by virtue of which they depict movement or stasis? In the case of motion pictures, temporal properties of the images do the job.6 Absent camera mobility, movement of the image of a horse on a movie screen depicts the horse as running; when the image stops, it depicts the horse as stopped. With carefully arranged camera movement, a stationary horse image on a changing background might depict the horse in motion, or a changing image might depict it as stationary. But it remains true that temporal properties of the screen image are responsible for the depiction of the horse’s temporal properties. Still pictures work differently. Whether they depict movement or stasis depends not on what happens to the image over time but on features of the image that are present all at once. Blurred images, or marks depicting unstable configurations of objects serve to portray motion or change, as in our recent examples; other all-at-once properties such as motion lines and multiple images do the job in other cases, as we shall see. This is why stills can depict motion or change without moving or changing themselves. If a still picture—the configuration of marks on its surface—does change, the process of change does not have the representational significance it would have in film. Fading paint or restoration work or pigeon droppings may alter a picture’s depictive content; what the picture depicts after the change may be different from what it depicted before. But a change in what something depicts is not necessarily a depiction of change. If a prankster or exceptionally clever pigeons transform the surface of “Mt. Geryon” (figure 10.4) so that it depicts a monster instead of a mountain, it has not thereby depicted the transformation of a mountain into a monster, nor

Review of Film Studies 2 [1979]: 15; italics in original). He can hardly have meant the former claim, for he introduces, as a hypothetical example, eight hours of Warhol-inspired film footage of the title page of War and Peace. 5. Both can depict the absence of visible motion or change. Motion pictures are no better than still ones at depicting imperceptible motion or change. See the section below titled “Static Depictions of Static Scenes: Mt. Geryon.” 6. As Gregory Currie and Gideon Yaffe put it, films represent time by means of time. See Currie, Image and Mind: Film, Philosophy and Cognitive Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); and Yaffe, “Time in the Movies,” in Midwest Studies in Philosophy: Meaning in the Arts, ed. Peter A. French and Howard K. Wettstein (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003).



has it depicted a mountain being replaced by a monster. We just have a picture which, at one time, depicts a mountain and later a monster; the mountain and the monster need not be understood to belong to the same fictional world.7 And at any or all particular moments in a changing image’s history, it may depict things as unchanging.8 What features of still pictures, of the Mt. Geryon photograph for instance, are responsible for depicting things as unchanging? Most obvious is the fact that the marks on the photographic surface are such as to depict something we would expect not to change—nothing like the kids on the beach with their limbs in the air. Also, the image is not blurred, as the bicycle picture is, nor does the picture contain anything like motion lines or multiple images. Again, each of these features (or absences thereof ) is present in the picture all at once. Freeze frames in film—still pictures, in effect, inserted in the midst of moving ones—demonstrate dramatically the difference between still and moving pictures. For a moment, until she realizes that it is a freeze frame, the viewer may read the frozen image as portraying a frozen scene—an athlete or dancer stuck in midair, for instance. Once it is evident that the image is a still picture, once she understands it as such, all-at-once features of the unmoving image may induce her to see the athlete or dancer as in motion. These examples suggest a general account of the difference between still and moving pictures: A picture is a still one if temporal properties of the image are representationally inert, if what happens or doesn’t happen to the image over time has no bearing on its representational content. Motion pictures are pictures whose temporal properties do contribute to their representational content.

Picture Perception The issues concerning temporality that I am interested in cannot be addressed or even formulated very well without saying something about what pictures are and what it is to perceive pictures as such. I will treat these issues in the framework of an account of picture perception that I have developed elsewhere, and utilize its resources in resolving them.9 This is not a neutral decision. The problems look

7. We may prefer to say that, if the marks on the surface of a picture change, “it” becomes a numerically different picture, especially if the changes alter the picture’s representational content. If this is so, it is even more obvious that the changes effected by the prankster or pigeons do not depict change. We have a succession of two pictures on the same surface, the first depicting a mountain and the second a monster. 8. As undergoing no visible changes, anyway. 9. Kendall L. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), chap. 8. See also “On Pictures and Photographs: Objections Answered,” chap. 7, this volume; and “Depiction, Perception,



Figure 10.5 Peter Paul Rubens, An Autumn Landscape with a View of Het Steen in the Early Morning. Reproduced by permission of the National Gallery.

somewhat different against the background of other theories, and on some—very implausible ones in my opinion—they would disappear almost entirely.10 Here are the bare outlines of the account of picture perception that I favor. I will say nothing now in its defense. When a person views Rubens’s An Autumn Landscape with a View of Het Steen in the Early Morning (figure 10.5), (a) she sees the picture, the pattern of colored marks on the picture surface; (b) she imagines seeing the depicted scene: trees and fields, a horse cart and a hunter, clouds in the background, and buildings on the left; (c) she imagines her actual perceiving of the picture surface to be a perceiving of the trees and fields, clouds, horse cart, and so on.

These imaginings are rarely undertaken deliberately, of course. The viewer doesn’t decide to imagine seeing trees and fields, and so on, set out to imagine them, and then do it. The marks on the canvas are such as to trigger the imaginings more or less automatically. She might, however, choose which part of the picture to look at when, knowing that this will affect which particular imaginings she will find herself engaged in as a result, in partly foreseeable ways. and Imagination,” chap. 9, this volume. My claims in the present essay require only that, in perceiving pictures, the imaginatively colored perceptual experiences that I think constitute pictorial perception are ones we usually or typically enjoy; we needn’t agree that they are sufficient or even necessary for such perception. 10. On Nelson Goodman’s account of pictorial representation, there would seem to be no room for the puzzles I address here. See Goodman, Languages of Art (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968).



(a), (b), and (c) are necessary for seeing the painting as a picture of trees and fields and buildings, and so on, for seeing them “in” the visual design (as Richard Wollheim would put it). But the viewer is likely to engage in further, more detailed imaginings as well, as her eyes scan the picture surface. She may imagine surveying the scene for an extended period of time, noticing first this, then that, looking for this or that, and so forth. A typical viewer leisurely contemplating Rubens’s canvas in a typical manner might describe her experience as follows: Looking out on a vast landscape, I see a hunter and his dog in the shadows near me, as a farm wagon passes by, then catch sight of a small footbridge crossing a stream, and beyond that a group of grazing cattle. I look to see what the hunter’s quarry might be, and notice several birds in the field. Examining them more carefully I identify them as partridges. I pick out a blackberry bush in the foreground. I watch the clouds drifting lazily across the sky, and several birds circling above. Finally I catch sight of a village on the horizon, the town of Malines.

These words could describe a person’s experience as he looks out on an actual rural scene. The viewer of the painting uses them to report her imaginative experience, what she imagines seeing as she scans the canvas. It is as though she is surveying an actual landscape for several or many minutes, for as long as she continues to look at the painting. All of the above applies to photographs as well as paintings, and also to motion pictures, not to mention other depictive representations such as sculptures and theater. It may seem pretty innocuous, but qualms will set in soon enough.

II. MOTION-DEPICTING STILL PICTURES The techniques that picture makers use to depict motion and change are even more varied than our three initial examples (figures 10.1–10.3) suggest.11 Scott McCloud has demonstrated some of the tricks of the cartoonist’s trade—several varieties of motion lines and multiple images (figure 10.6). Multiple images are used occasionally in other media as well, in this photograph by Harold Edgerton (figure 10.7), for instance, and in a famous painted example (figure 10.8). The multiple image technique has been tried even in sculpture (figure 10.9). Some of the devices our several examples employ are less obvious than others. The overall diagonal composition of “Children on the Beach” (figure 10.2)

11. The various devices well illustrate Patrick Maynard’s notion of “tools” in picture makers’ “toolkit.” See Maynard, Drawing Distinctions (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005).

Figure 10.6 Scott McCloud, Drama, 1994. Courtesy of the artist. 167

Figure 10.7 Harold E. Edgerton, “Gussie Moran Tennis Multiflash,” 1949. © The Harold E. Edgerton Foundation, 2004. Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.


Figure 10.8 Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912. © 2004 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York /ADAGP, Paris/Succession Marcel Duchamp.

Figure 10.9 Kendall L. Walton, photograph of Terry Allen’s Shaking Man, 1993. © Kendall L. Walton. Photo courtesy of the artist.




Figure 10.10 George Booth. Dog and Vase (New Yorker, 8 September 2003). © The New Yorker Collection 2003. From All rights reserved.

enhances its sense of motion, reinforcing the unstable attitudes of the children’s bodies. Nude Descending a Staircase (figure 10.8) works especially well partly because steps—on a staircase, and those taken by a person—are discrete stages, corresponding to the more or less discrete images on the canvas. I would expect multiple images to be less successful in portraying bicycles rolling smoothly around a corner or the smooth motions of a tennis serve; blurred images are likely to serve better in these cases. Pictures can represent movement without depicting it. The distinction is nicely illustrated by figure 10.10. Viewers “see” the dog scratching itself and the vase jiggling, and “infer” that the vase will fall, probably on the dog. The picture represents this entire unfortunate sequence of events—everything that occurs in the world of the picture. But it depicts, in my sense, only what viewers (properly) imagine seeing—the scratching and the jiggling, not the vase’s falling. It is the depictive content of pictures that I am primarily interested in, although what a picture merely represents sometimes affects what it depicts.12

A Puzzle Each of the motion-depicting still pictures before us depicts a momentary state of affairs, a very short time slice of a changing world. That is what we imagine seeing

12. I distinguished between depiction and nondepictive representation in Mimesis as Make-Believe, p. 297. The line between seeing and inferring, and, hence, that between depicting and mere representing, is not sharp, especially if we allow for nonconscious inferences, and there is room for disagreement about where best to draw it.



when we look at it. Yet we may observe the picture, we may continue “seeing” the momentary state of affairs, for five minutes or an hour or all day. How can this be? How can we observe or even imagine observing a fleeting moment of reality for an indefinitely extended period of time? Does the viewer imagine her prolonged visual experience of “Children on the Beach” or “Bicycles” to be a mere glimpse of the kids running toward the surf, or the bicycles rounding the corner? Most (not all) motion-depicting still pictures present this puzzle. Depicting objects in a particular configuration but as undergoing change, they depict the configuration as lasting only a moment; yet the picture is there to be seen for as long as we care to look. Pictures may represent much longer sequences of events than they depict, of course. It is fictional in “Children on the Beach” that the left foot of the guy on the right will very shortly touch the sand, that the kids came from somewhere farther up on the beach, and that they will soon be in the surf. But we don’t “see” these earlier and later states of affairs; we “infer” them from the one moment of the race to the water that we do “see.” The puzzle consists of the fact that we can continue “looking at it” indefinitely. By a moment I do not mean a mathematical instant, an extensionless point of time. That would make it hard to understand how viewers imagine seeing things move—or for that matter, how they see things, in imagination, at all. The momentary event depicted in “Bicycles,” what viewers imagine seeing, arguably lasts for one-fifteenth of a second, the duration of the film’s exposure when the photograph was taken. Other depicted moments may be somewhat longer or shorter, although there will usually be no definite answer as to exactly how long they are. Motion lines and multiple images, like the blurs in “Bicycles,” extend the space moving objects are depicted as traversing, and so the duration of the time they spend traversing it. Figures 10.7 and 10.8 depict events lasting several seconds—the entire execution of a tennis serve, and several steps of a person’s progression down a stairway. I caution against regarding Nude Descending, for instance, as a combination of several different (overlapping) pictures within a single frame, each depicting a single short momentary state of affairs. That would ignore the importance of attending to the several images all at once, and it would risk assimilating Nude Descending to very different uses of multiple images in renaissance narrative paintings and story-telling scrolls. Masolino’s fresco Healing of Cripple and the Raising of Tabitha (figure 10.11) depicts St. Peter twice—once healing a cripple and again raising Tabitha from the dead, two distinct moments in St. Peter’s life—but it doesn’t depict his moving from one task to the other. Observing the two images together does not induce viewers to imagine seeing movement. On viewing Nude Descending, by contrast, one does see, in imagination, the person taking several steps down the stairs. (I at least find this an apt way of describing my experience. If the reader does not, he still must recognize and describe somehow the enormous difference between



Figure 10.11 Masolino da Panicale, Healing of Cripple and the Raising of Tabitha, 1424–1425). Photo credit: Scala / Art Resource, New York.

one’s experiences of Nude Descending and of the twice-depicted St. Peter in Masolino’s fresco.) Figure 10.12 is more complicated. It represents an extended series of events, but I will leave to the reader the intriguing task of figuring out what it depicts, what the viewer imagines seeing. (Keep in mind that reading the text in the balloons can affect one’s imaginative visual experience.) The duration of depicted events varies from case to case, as we have seen. Nevertheless, their duration, in all the motion-depicting pictures we have looked at, is likely to be far shorter than the time one spends contemplating the picture.

Figure 10.12 Scott McCloud, Smile, 1994. Courtesy of the artist.



What is depicted, what the viewer imagines seeing, has a more or less definite, limited duration, yet there is no theoretical limit to how long one can look at the picture. This paradox (if that is what it is) doesn’t often bother viewers when they look at still pictures. It is easy enough to nurture a sense of wonder once we start thinking about our experiences, but enduring depictions of momentary states of affairs do not ordinarily strike us as strange or puzzling or mysterious. It is surprising that they don’t; this is part of what needs to be explained.

Possibilities A. “Mt. Geryon” The puzzle demands that we examine more carefully the imaginative experiences motion that depicting pictures induce in viewers. This is best done against a contrasting background. So let’s take a preliminary look at figure 10.4, which does not depict motion and seems not to generate the puzzle. Lingering before this photograph—for five minutes, let’s say—I might describe my experience in a narrative like the one I placed in the mouth of a hypothetical spectator of Rubens’s Autumn Landscape, a narrative worthy of reporting an extended visual examination of the Tasmanian mountain scene “in the flesh”: Looking toward the forbidding hulk of Mt. Geryon, I notice that it is almost entirely without vegetation. My eye is drawn to the jagged ridge line. Then I focus on the vertical fissures, looking for a climbing route to the top. Eventually, I notice the mountains far in the background.

So I imagine spending five minutes looking at the scene; I imagine my five minute visual experience of the picture to be a five minute visual experience of the mountain. If this is right then, surely, I imagine what I see of the mountain to persist for five minutes; I imagine seeing a certain five minute stretch of its history, a five-minute-thick time slice of it. Moreover, I see, in imagination, the observed slice of the mountain lasting for five minutes; it appears to me to remain for as long as I see it. I imagine what I see of the mountain to appear to me to persist for five minutes. So each of the following is five minutes long (cf. row A in table 10.1): (1) The duration of my (actual) seeing of the picture, which I imagine to be a seeing of the mountain. (2) What I imagine to be the duration of my seeing of the mountain. (3) What I imagine to be the apparent duration of the time slice of the mountain that I see. (4) What I imagine to be the duration of the time slice of the mountain that I see.

Table 10.1 What the viewer imagines to be:

(1) The duration of the viewer’s seeing(s) of the picture, which she imagines to be of the scene/event

(2) the duration of the viewer’s seeing(s) of the scene/event

(3) the apparent duration of the seen time slice of the scene/event

(4) the (actual) duration of the seen time slice of the scene/event

A “Mt. Geryon”?; Film of Mt. Geryon

5 minutes

5 minutes

5 minutes

5 minutes

B “Empty Box”

5 minutes

5 minutes

5 minutes


C “Beach” and “Bicycles”: 1st try.

5 minutes

5 minutes



D (slow motion) “Beach” and “Bicycles”: 2nd try

5 minutes




E “Beach” and “Bicycles”: 3rd try. “Mt. Geryon”?





F (fast motion) “Gussie Moran”; Nude Descending


a long “moment”: 3 seconds

a long “moment”: 3 seconds

a long “moment”: 3 seconds



There is no puzzle or paradox or mystery here, if this is right. I will assume for now, that it is, although we will reconsider in section 3. B. “Empty Box” In Ryoji Akiyama’s “Empty Box on Its Way to a Reclamation Area” (figure 10.13), the camera “freezes” the action, as we say, in a way that it doesn’t in our previous examples of motion depictions. Do I imagine the box stuck in midair? In any case arguably it appears to me, in my imaginative experience, to be stuck in midair; I seem to see it stuck there—for the five minutes that I spend observing it. The box looks much like the sphere in a surrealistic photograph by Jerry Uelsmann (figure 10.14). But I figure out that the box in Akiyama’s photograph is actually falling rather quickly. (The title helps, and that influences my imaginative experience.) Once I do, I imagine what I see to be moving, not remaining in the position I see it in for more than a moment. It still appears to me (in imagination) to be stuck there for five minutes, however, if I observe the picture for that long. So columns (3) and (4) in table 10.1 come apart. What I imagine to be the (actual) duration of the time slice of the box that I see is only a moment. But what I imagine to be its apparent duration will still be five minutes (row B). The picture represents but doesn’t depict the box’s motion, since I don’t (in imagination) see the box move. But the box is unlike the falling vase in Dog and Vase in one respect: I do imagine seeing the box as it falls; I imagine that it is moving while I am seeing it, while it appears to me to be suspended indefinitely in midair. I imagine suffering from a peculiar visual illusion, an illusion of a kind that I am not susceptible to in any ordinary, real life circumstances. (This explains the weirdness of the picture.) If column (4) is momentary, how can (2) be five minutes? If (in my imagination) the time slice of the box that I see lasts only a moment, how can I be seeing it for five minutes? We will address this question shortly. C. “Beach” and “Bicycles”: First Try What about our more ordinary puzzle cases? Unlike “Empty Box,” “Children on the Beach” and “Bicycles” offer a “vivid sense of motion”; the objects in these pictures don’t seem frozen in the way the box does. We don’t have to figure out that the children and bicycles are in motion, and imagine accordingly; we see them moving (in imagination, of course).13 So, in my imaginative experience, it appears to me that what I see of the bicyclists and the kids, the position I see 13. “The region [of the brain] specialized for visual motion processing is activated by implied motion from static images.” Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Jean Decety, summarizing findings of Jennifer J. Freyd (“Five Hunches”), in “From the Perception of Action to the Understanding of Intention,” Nature Reviews/Neuroscience 2 (2001): 562.

Figure 10.13 Ryoji Akiyama, “Empty Box on Its Way to a Reclamation Area,” 1969. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the artist.




Figure 10.14 Jerry N. Uelsmann, “Untitled,” 1979. © Jerry N. Uelsmann. Photo courtesy of the artist.

them in, lasts only a moment. (3) changes to “momentary.”14 But my imaginative experience extends for five minutes, the time I spend looking at the picture (1). For five minutes I imagine seeing the children or the bicyclists in a certain position, and in motion! This seems to mean that, in my imagination, the duration of my seeing of the kids or the bicyclists is five minutes (2). So I imagine spending five minutes observing something that lasts only a moment (row C). 14. Arthur Danto writes that “we see things move” when we watch moving pictures, but we merely see that things are in motion, where this involves inference, in the case of still representations such as Michelangelo’s David (“Moving Pictures,” p. 17). This leaves unexplained the difference between stills like “Empty Box” and ones like “Children on the Beach” and “Bicycles.” (David, I take it, is more like the latter than the former.)



This is strange, but not because there is anything incoherent, in general, about the idea that perceiving an event might last longer than the event perceived. This can happen in real life, let alone in imagination. One’s visual impression of a flash of light may outlast the flash, by a fraction of a second; arguably one continues seeing the flash after it stops existing.15 One can hear a shot (almost) when it happens, when the sound arrives at one’s ears, and also hear it a little later, when an echo arrives. One possibility is that what viewers of “Children on the Beach” and “Bicycles” imagine is like the flash of light, except that they imagine the “impression” of the event continuing for a full five minutes. And unlike the flash of light, they can, in imagination, continue seeing the momentary position of the bicyclists or the running children indefinitely, as long as they care to look at the picture. If we are willing to say that dogs can smell a person’s presence at a certain place (not just the smell of the person, something the person leaves behind when she moves on), they can presumably continue smelling the person not only long after she has left the scene, but more or less indefinitely—as long as the smell remains. But this is smelling, not seeing. I have no knockdown argument against this option. But it strikes me as implausible—mainly because it seems to me that what we imagine experiencing when we look at pictures like these is seeing of a very ordinary kind. One doesn’t, ordinarily, continue seeing a momentary slice of moving bicycles or running kids for as long as one likes.16 In any case, there are other ways of understanding the experience of these two photographs: another implausible one, and one (my third try) which has viewers imagining only garden-variety visual experiences. D. “Beach” and “Bicycles”: Second Try Could column (2) be momentary? Could it be that what I spend five minutes imagining is an instantaneous act of seeing, seeing for an instant something that lasts but an instant? This is not incoherent. There is no logical or conceptual reason why the duration of one’s imagining of an experience must be the same as the duration of the experience imagined. After all, lots of other features of imaginings are different from features of the imagined experiences. (An imagining

15. Thanks to Alex Byrne. 16. I claim that in looking at a photograph one actually sees, indirectly, what was photographed. A person who observes “Children on the Beach,” for five minutes or indefinitely, sees an instantaneous event for five minutes or indefinitely. (Thanks to Alon Chasid.) But this is seeing-via-photography, not direct seeing. Seeing-via-a-photograph is a special mode of perception that is unusual in other respects as well; with the help of photographs, one can also see the past and around corners. But what one imagines as one observes a photograph is not, it seems to me, the indirect seeing-via-the-photograph that one actually engages in but is, instead, direct, naked-eye seeing.



which occurs in a coffee shop in Ann Arbor may be of an experience in the jungles of Borneo.) Zenon Pylyshyn considers an example of the opposite kind: an imagining which supposedly is much shorter in duration than the experience imagined: “In discussing how he imaged his music, Mozart claimed: ‘Nor do I hear in the imagination, the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once . . .’ ”17 Mozart’s imagining is supposedly instantaneous, and what he imagines in that instant is having an extended auditory experience. Pylyshyn seems to think this is incoherent: If what [Mozart] claimed to be doing was that he imagined witnessing the real event of, say, . . . hearing his Symphony Number 40 being played . . . and if he imagined that it was actually happening before him in real time and in complete detail—including the most minute flourishes of the horns and the trills of the flute and oboe, all in the correct temporal relations and durations— he would have taken nearly 22 minutes for the task. If he had taken less time, it would signify only that Mozart had not been doing exactly what he said he was said he was doing, that is he would not have been imagining that he witnessed the actual event in which every note was played at its proper duration.18

But why suppose that it must take 22 minutes to imagine listening for 22 minutes to a musical performance? I understand that dream researchers have established, by means of studies of rapid eye movements, that a dream of a lengthy experience may occur in a very short period of time. There might be omissions in the dream, but even with some omissions, surely the imagined duration of the events that are included may exceed the few moments occupied by the dreaming. (Also, the order of dreaming can be the reverse of the order of the dreamed events. The actual sound of an alarm clock is dreamed to be the ringing of a school bell, guaranteeing a tardy slip after a series of mishaps prevented one from getting to school on time. Presumably the dreaming of the earlier events didn’t occur before the hearing of the alarm and the dreaming 17. Zenon Pylyshyn, “Scanning Visual Mental Images: The First Phase of the Debate,” in The Philosophy of Mind: Classical Problems/Contemporary Issues, ed. Brian Beakley and Peter Ludlow (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), p. 230. Whether Mozart actually claimed this and what exactly he meant by it do not matter for our purposes. 18. Pylyshyn “Scanning Visual Mental Images,” p. 230. Imagining that he witnessed the event is not at all problematic. Pylyshyn must mean imagining witnessing (hearing) the performance. Mozart’s claim, as quoted, is that he “hears” the parts of a piece simultaneously (possibly in a mathematical instant, although the simultaneity of the imaginings doesn’t entail that they are instantaneous). What Pylyshyn appears to think impossible is not just this but also imagining hearing the parts of the piece successively, imagining this in a period of time shorter than 22 minutes. I am interested now only in this weaker possibility.



of the school bell—how would the dreamer have “known” the sound would occur?)19 Consider experiencing slow motion in film. Here, the duration of imagining may be longer than the duration of the imagined experience. Suppose that a shot of a two-second event—a man running across a street—is slowed to six seconds. Viewers might imagine the man running very slowly, taking six seconds to cross the street, and they might imagine their observing of his crossing the street to occupy the entire six seconds that they spend watching the slow-motion shot. But it is likely, it seems to me, that viewers who are used to the device of slow motion sometimes imagine seeing a normally paced event and seeing it in the time it takes for it to happen, even though it takes them longer to imagine this. The duration of the imagining is greater than the duration of the imagined seeing. A viewer may imagine her six-second watching of the slow-motion shot to be a two-second observation of the man’s two-second dash across the street. There is perhaps some support for this suggestion in the fact that some viewers seem not even to notice that an event is portrayed in slow motion, and don’t remember the portrayed event as having occurred slowly.20 Should we regard “Children on the Beach” and “Bicycles” as extreme instances, limiting cases, of slow motion—as very, very slow-motion depictions, indefinitely long depictions, of momentary events? If I am right about slow-motion sequences in film, then, one may spend five minutes imagining seeing, for a moment, a momentary event. That would make (2) momentary (row D). This does not work. Still pictures are not instances of slow motion. Indeed, we will see that some of them are more like instances of fast motion! When I look at “Bicycles” or “Children on the Beach” for five minutes it doesn’t take me the entire five minutes to imagine engaging in a momentary act of seeing, to imagine seeing the momentary event that is depicted. I did it in the first minute, the first moment, of my five-minute observation of the picture. But it takes all six seconds of watching the slow-motion shot to imagine seeing the entire twosecond crossing of the street. After three seconds, I have imagined seeing only half the event; I will have followed the man only to the middle of the street. E. “Beach” and “Bicycles”: Third Try Here is a better account of my experience of “Bicycles” and “Children on the Beach”: At each individual moment during my five-minute observation of the photograph, I see (in imagination) the momentary occurrence that the picture depicts, a short time slice of the moving bicycles or the running kids, and see it in a moment. At each moment I imagine my visual experience of the picture, at that moment, to be a glimpse of this momentary event. I do not imagine 19. Thanks to Ian Proops. 20. Thanks to Alicyn Warren.



anything of my five-minute visual experience of the picture as a whole; only the momentary parts of this experience are objects of my imaginings. So column (1) is momentary—it being understood that there are lots of different moments strung together, all of them adding up to five minutes. Do I imagine seeing the event again and again? No. I imagine, again and again, seeing it just once. Compare the following: (1) If I attend two different performances of Hamlet, on each of the two occasions I will imagine Hamlet killing Polonius. But it is hardly likely that I should imagine Polonius dying twice at the hand of Hamlet. (2) At the climax of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriske Point (1970), a huge explosion destroys the desert retreat of an evil real estate tycoon. The explosion is shown again and again in the film (from different perspectives and sometimes in slow motion). The viewer repeatedly imagines seeing the explosion, but surely she does not imagine its occurring repeatedly, or imagine seeing it repeatedly. She imagine, repeatedly, observing a single explosion at a single moment. The experience of looking at “Bicycles” or “Children on the Beach” is similar to these experiences, except that the multiple successive imaginings are not discrete but continuous (separated only by other moments at which one also imagines seeing running children or moving bicycles). I don’t imagine my seeing of the children or bicycles to occupy multiple moments, nor do I imagine this seeing to continue for the five minutes that my succession of imaginings occupy. The following, then, are all momentary: my seeings of the picture which I imagine to be seeings of bicycles or kids, my imagined seeings of the bicycles or kids, and what I imagine to be the apparent and the actual time slices of bicycles and kids that I see (row E). If this is right, what am I doing when I scan the picture, my eyes roving from one part of it to another, during a five-minute viewing? I am scanning the picture. I am not, in imagination, surveying the scene, examining one part of it, then another, noticing first this (e.g., the kid on the left), then that (the small kid on the right, the surf in front of them, their reflections in the wet sand), looking for one or another feature (a toy boat in the water) and finding or not finding it. The duration of the imagined seeing, of any of the momentary imagined seeings, is too short for this to be possible. We can put this negative point by saying that I do not, in imagination, watch the kids as they run toward the water, although I do see them running. In focusing on different parts of the picture, I am arranging for my imaginings at various moments to be imagining the seeing of various particular features of the momentary event. First I imagine focusing on the kid on the left, as the four of them race to the surf; then I imagine seeing this instantaneous event with my eyes focused on the kid on the right. (Compare television reruns of a “play of the day.” First I watch to see whether the receiver catches the pass, then I watch the same play to see whether his feet are in bounds when he catches it.)



F. Fast Motion Let’s look again at still depictions of relatively thick time slices of objects in motion: Edgerton’s “Gussie Moran Tennis Multiflash” and Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (figures 10.7 and 10.8). The seen-in-imagination time slice is three seconds long, let’s say, in each of these cases. Suppose I look at the picture for five minutes. As in the previous examples, I don’t imagine watching this three second event for five minutes, nor do I imagine my five-minute visual experience of the picture to be a five-minute observation of the woman’s descent or Gussie Moran’s tennis serve. It doesn’t take me even three seconds to imagine seeing the event; I do it in an instant, in whatever tiny bit of time it takes for the picture and its content to register (one-tenth second?). I might blink my eyes open and shut, and between the blinks imagine observing the three-second event.21 This seems to be approximately what, according to Pylyshyn, Mozart claimed to have done when he imagined an entire symphony in an instant, except that perhaps Mozart did the imagining just once, in one moment, and then stopped, whereas I look at the picture for five minutes. At each moment of my five-minute perceiving of it, I imagine observing the three-second descent or the three-second tennis serve, and imagine my momentary perception of the picture to be a three-second observation of this three-second event. So column (1) is momentary, and (4) is three seconds. This makes for an instance not of slow motion but of fast motion—the depicted event is longer than the time of depiction. Assuming that (2) and (3) are also 3 seconds, we have row F. We might think of these examples as special cases of E, except that the “moments” in column (4), as well as (2) and (3), last three seconds, while the column (1) moment is shorter. Is there a limit to how long column (4) “moments” might be? What about a Nude Descending–like picture in which multiple images portray a person descending all the way to the bottom of the stairs, then going outside, across the street, and into a coffee shop—call it Nude Descending a Staircase and Going Out for Coffee. I doubt that I would, in the blink of an eye, imagine seeing all of this when I observe this picture, although it might take no longer than this for me to notice that all of it is depicted. More likely, I think, I would imagine observing the woman’s extended trek as my eye follows the images on the picture surface, focusing on different clusters of them in order. (The duration of this series of imaginings might be the same as, or longer or shorter than, the duration of the imagined trek.) This experience of Nude Descending a Staircase and Going Out for Coffee would be like that of an experience of Masolino’s fresco in some respects, and like that of a motion picture depiction of the woman’s excursion to the coffee shop in others.

21. Thanks to Eileen John.



Second Thoughts: “Children on the Beach” If what I have said so far is right, viewers experience still photographs in very different ways, depending (with some exceptions) on whether the photographs portray objects in motion or static states of affairs. “Mt. Geryon,” I suggested, is experienced in mode A (in the manner indicated in row A in table 10.1) and “Children on the Beach” in mode E. Skepticism is in order on both counts, though for very different reasons. There is more than a little to be said for the hypothesis that we experience “Mt. Geryon” in mode E. And an A-style experience of “Children on the Beach” is not out of the question. (It goes without saying that viewers need not be clearly aware of the nature of their experience, or able to articulate the content of the imaginings it involves.) I will save my second thoughts about “Mt. Geryon” for section 3. Let’s look more carefully, now, at “Children on the Beach.” There can be no doubt that—usually, normally—viewers of “Children on the Beach” do imagine seeing the kids running. Given that, their experience is bound to be in mode E. We can hardly (in imagination) spend five minutes watching the children running for five minutes, since at each moment of our experience we imagine seeing the kids in the same position. But this is probably not the whole story. I suspect that at some level or in some manner, we imagine seeing the kids frozen in a certain, admittedly unnatural, position, and experience the photograph in mode A. (Or perhaps in mode B—perhaps we imagine its merely appearing to us that the kids are frozen?) We certainly can imagine this without much effort, if we choose to. And we can imaginatively survey the frozen scene, scan it, in the way one might survey the Tasmanian mountain-scape. I suspect that we sometimes slip into experiencing the photograph in this way without quite realizing what we are doing.22 Or possibly we feel a tendency to imagine this, or are vaguely aware of such a tendency, or of the ease with which we could so imagine. I don’t rule out the possibility that the best explanation of our responses to the photograph will have it that we experience it (implicitly) in mode A (or B?) and mode E simultaneously. It is entirely obvious, I take it, that the picture is not properly understood to depict the children frozen in one position, or even as appearing to be motionless. This means that A- and B-style experiences of it are “unauthorized,” involving what I have called an “unofficial game of make-believe.” They may occur nonetheless, and may play an important part in our appreciation of the picture.23

22. Thanks to Daniel Herwitz. 23. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 405–411. Although I recognized, in Mimesis, the possibility of unofficial games of make-believe and their importance in what we say about works of fiction, as well as claims of existence and nonexistence, I did not then realize how important these games are in our appreciation of representational works. Also, in Mimesis I thought of unofficial make-believe as being primarily (as I later expressed it) prop oriented (“Metaphor and Prop Oriented Make-Believe,” European Journal of Philosophy 1, no. 1 [1993]: 39–57). But the unofficial games engaged in by appreciators are often largely content- rather than prop-oriented.



Complicated multifaceted experiences of this kind, ones that include imaginings which conflict with our judgments about what is depicted, are not uncommon. Barbara Savedoff observes that Walker Evans’s photograph “Torn Movie Poster” (1930) is grotesque at least in part because the two dimensionality of the photograph allows us to read the torn picture as a torn woman. . . . We see the woman as torn, but we also see the wall coming through—asserting the fact that, after all, what we see is a photograph of a poster peeling off a wall. . . . The photograph leads to a double vision: we know we are looking at a photograph of a poster, but we see it as a photograph of a woman.24

Photographs and other pictures whose frames “cut off” part of a person’s face or body are sometimes (not always) disturbing. The explanation of this reaction may be that we imagine, implicitly, the person as deformed or cut off, or are vaguely aware of a tendency so to imagine, even though it is clear that what the picture depicts, and what we primarily and most explicitly imagine, is an ordinary whole person of whom we see only part. That experiences of works of art are complicated and subtle is certainly not news. But our examination of several kinds of still photographs has identified and clarified a number of their likely ingredients. These include (a) the imaginings that we actually engage in—either deliberately or spontaneously, perhaps inadvertently, and either consciously or tacitly; (b) our impressions or judgments, explicit or not, about which imaginings are prescribed or called for or appropriate, given the nature of the work and the traditions it is embedded in; and (c) our impressions of what imaginings are possible or natural or easily engaged in, whether or not we actually engage in them, and whether or not we take them to be prescribed. The lesson to be learned from our consideration of “Children on the Beach” is that questions about (a)—what imaginings we actually engage in—may admit of no simple answer, let alone an introspectively accessible one. The same is true of (b) and (c), insofar as these are linked to (a). These second thoughts about “Children on the Beach” do not apply equally, if at all, to all motion depicting still pictures. It seems to me that viewers are much less likely to imagine the bicyclists in “Bicycles” frozen in one position, than the boys in “Children on the Beach.” This difference is a result of the very different devices the two pictures use for depicting motion, no doubt, the fact that the bicyclists are blurred and the children are not. “Gussie Moran” and Nude Descending a Staircase are different again. The unauthorized imaginings that might creep into one’s experience of them are, respectively, imagining a

24. Barbara Savedoff, Transforming Images: How Photography Complicates the Picture (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000), p. 53.



Figure 10.15 Kendall L. Walton, “Mississagi River Rapids,” 2006. © Kendall L. Walton. Photo courtesy of the artist.

many-armed tennis player, possibly frozen in a single position, and a parade of staircase descenders. Another variety of motion-depicting stills, which we have not yet considered, might be experienced in mode A without the dissonance “Children on the Beach” is likely to involve. The motion depicted in figure 10.15, raging rapids forming standing waves, is not such as to render the appearance of the scene much different as time passes. So imagining a five-minute observation of the picture to be a five-minute observation of a five-minute temporal chunk of the rapids does not require imagining the river to be, or appear to be, frozen. One can unproblematically imagine continuing to see the water in motion, watching it moving, for five minutes or indefinitely. Similar examples are common, including depictions of rising steam or smoke, and of turning wheels if they are sufficiently blurred. The motion lines in Dog and Vase (figure 10.10) are such as to allow viewers to imagine watching the dog scratching and the vase jiggling for an extended period of time, although after awhile this imagining will conflict with the fact that fictionally the scratching and jiggling continue only until the vase falls. If “Mt. Geryon” is properly experienced in mode A, there would seem to be no reason to deny that “Mississagi River Rapids” and other similar motiondepicting pictures are as well.



III. DEPICTING STASIS Static Depictions of Static Scenes: “Mt. Geryon” I turn now to still pictures of static scenes and viewers’ experiences of them— which I predicted may be even more interesting than their experiences of motiondepicting stills. “Mt. Geryon” (figure 10.4) will be my primary example, but its credentials as a depiction of stasis need clarification. The photograph depicts the mountain as severely eroded. Arguably it is fictional also, by implication, that it is currently in the process of eroding—very slowly, even on a bright sunny day. Viewers don’t imagine seeing the erosion occur, so the picture represents but doesn’t depict the process. But surely it does not depict the erosion as not occurring; if it did, its depictive content would conflict with its nondepictive representational content. So the photograph does not depict total stasis or absolute immobility. It does, presumably, depict the mountain as undergoing no visible changes, however (none visible from a certain perspective under certain conditions). I will count this as constituting a depiction of stasis, and this is what I will mean in what follows when I speak of depicting stasis or motionlessness. (It won’t matter for our purposes exactly how this is spelled out.) We can hardly expect viewers to imagine seeing the absence of imperceptible change; so we shouldn’t expect pictures to depict things as not changing or moving at all. But if any pictures do, what I say about “Mt. Geryon” will apply to them as well. Motion pictures of static scenes can (in principle, anyway) be visually indistinguishable from still pictures of the same scenes. Consider a filmed portrayal of the Tasmanian mountain scene, a five-minute unedited shot made by a fixed camera, with no panning or zooming. The motion picture image is likely to be motionless for as long as it lasts, and indistinguishable from the still photograph.25 If what I have said so far is right, we might expect one’s experience of the film to be no different from that of looking at the still photograph for five minutes. Observing the film image, one imagines seeing Mt. Geryon and imagines one’s actual perceiving of the image to be a perceiving of the mountain. And the film viewer surely imagines continuing to observe the mountain scene for the five minutes that the shot lasts—focusing first on one part of the scene, then another, looking for a climbing route, and so on. The extended narrative mentioned earlier is equally apt as a description of a viewer’s experience of either picture. We experience the film in mode A, just as (as I tentatively suggested) we do the still photograph.

25. “Peter Hutton’s [film] New York Near Sleep for Saskia (1972) consists of a series of beautifully photographed, deserted, mostly urban spaces. . . . The most remarkable feature of these images, other than their beauty, is their lack of movement. So still are these images that we might mistake some of them for photographs” James Peterson, Dreams of Chaos, Visions of Order: Understanding the American Avant-Garde Cinema (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1994), p. 34. Thanks to Murray Smith.



Something has gone wrong. For even if we are unable to tell the pictures apart, our experiences of them—our visual experiences of them—are likely to be very different (assuming that we realize that we are seeing a still picture in one case and a film, a motion picture, in the other). The two images of Mt. Geryon do not appear different, but they appear differently. They afford different visual experiences without giving the impression of being different.26 A plausible explanation of the difference is that the still photograph is experienced in mode E, whereas the motion picture is experienced in mode A. It may be that still pictures in general—stasis-depicting as well as motion-depicting ones—call for E style experiences, and motion pictures call for A style experiences. This hypothesis fits nicely with what I said earlier about how still pictures differ, in general, from motion pictures.

Experiencing Stasis-Depicting Stills Viewers imagine of their perceiving of a picture that it is a perceiving of the depicted object or event. Normally, of course, it is their perception of the particular features of the picture by virtue of which the object or event is depicted that they imagine to be their perceiving of the object or event. It is my perception of the marks on the surface of Rubens’s canvas that depict a cart, those that prescribe imagining a cart, that I imagine to be my perception of a cart. The Mt. Geryon film depicts the mountain as persisting for five minutes, as remaining motionless for five minutes. It does so by virtue of the persistence of the static image for the five-minute duration of the shot. So, naturally, viewers imagine their perception of the persisting image to be an observation of the mountain’s persistence for a period of five minutes. The still photograph depicts the mountain scene as motionless, unchanging. Does it depict the mountain as persisting unchanged for an extended period of time—for five minutes, or indefinitely, or more than a moment? If so, all-at-once features of the image, features viewers perceive in a moment, are responsible. And we would expect viewers to imagine their perception of these features to be their perceiving of the mountain’s extended persistence. This hardly seems likely (though it is not inconceivable). Do viewers, in their first glimpse of the picture, imagine watching the mountain remain for five minutes (or longer), imagine observing a five-minute time slice of its history? Surely it is more likely that, in their initial sighting of the picture, they imagine seeing merely that the mountain will last, or inferring that it will from what they see of it. What about the next moment of the viewer’s experience after the first one, and the next—the remainder of her five-minute observation of the picture? Does she, at each of these 26. On this distinction, see “Style and the Products and Processes of Art,” chap. 12, this volume; and Robert Hopkins, “Aesthetics, Experience, and Discrimination,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63, no. 2 (2005): 119–133.



moments, imagine spending five minutes (or longer) watching five minutes of the mountain’s history? Does she imagine this again and again, as she continues to look at the picture? The obvious suggestion is that her experience is in mode E. At each moment she imagines catching a momentary glimpse of a momentary state of the mountain, seeing that it is, at that moment, a massive, stable object, momentarily static, and that it won’t or is unlikely to change later. She does not, in imagination, continue watching the mountain for an extended period of time, and she does not, in imagination, observe a five minute stretch of its history. If this is right, if the viewer (properly) imagines seeing only a moment of the mountain’s history, that is all of it that the picture depicts. It may nevertheless represent the mountain as lasting longer; it may make it fictional that the mountain persists for five minutes or indefinitely. Some may propose that it is fictional only that the mountain is likely to remain for five minutes or indefinitely, not that it definitely will, nor for that matter, that it definitely won’t. I prefer to say that, fictionally, the mountain definitely does remain static more or less indefinitely (but not forever—see below), and that features of the still image present at each moment, including the very first moment of the picture’s existence, make this fictional. This accords with a common pattern in our understanding of many works of fiction: If it is fictional that p is probable, it is frequently understood to be fictional that p, absent any indication to the contrary.27 But no matter. Both positions are entirely compatible with the idea that the picture depicts only a momentary state of affairs, that viewers have E style experiences of it, and do not imagine observing the mountain for more than a moment. Now for some flip flops: We should not rush to endorse the hypothesis that viewers experience pictures like “Mt. Geryon” in mode E rather than mode A, or that this is the natural or appropriate way of experiencing them. If it is right, extended narrative accounts of one’s experience of still pictures, such as those I mentioned earlier, are problematic, as they appear to describe temporally extended imaginative surveys of depicted scenes.28 Such accounts certainly seem to be perfectly natural, and they seem to report experiences that are perfectly proper. Viewers of “Mt. Geryon” obviously can, if they choose, imagine catching much more than a glimpse of the mountain. As their eyes roam over the picture surface, they can imagine noticing first this and then that, looking for something and finding or not finding it, and so on. The photograph is visually indistinguishable from our hypothetical stasis-depicting motion picture, and one can simply experience it as though that is what it is—as though it is a film shot that continues indefinitely, or as long as one cares to look at it. Even if the viewer is well aware that the image is a still picture, that its persistence is not what makes it fictional that the mountain 27. Cf. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, 164. That the mountain is unchanging for an extended period of time is an implied fictional truth (section 4.2). 28. These narratives might conceivably be construed in some less straightforward way, on which they do not describe imaginative experiences of this kind.



persists, she might imagine her observation of the former to be an observation of the latter. I have no doubt that viewers of stasis depicting stills do (sometimes? often? to a considerable extent?) engage in such imaginings. And the idea that it is somehow illegitimate to do so is not attractive. But simply denying the hypothesis and insisting that viewers do (properly) imagine observing a stretch of the scene’s history lasting perhaps as long as they look at the picture, would also leave us in an uncomfortable position. We already know that it would complicate the task of explaining the difference between experiences of still- and motion-picture look-alikes. But the discomfort doesn’t end there. “Mt. Geryon” surely does not represent, let alone depict, the mountain as remaining forever the same. Signs of severe past erosion are evident, as we noted. It is fictional, presumably, that the erosion will continue and that eventually the mountain will look very different from how it does now. Indeed, we might reasonably understand it to be fictional—part of the picture’s representational content—that the appearance of the scene will be different very shortly, when the sun sets or moves across the sky. If a viewer should observe the picture for hours or months or years, will she have to imagine suffering from an illusion that the mountain and its appearance are always the same? Moreover, it is awkward to suppose that motion-depicting still pictures (except, presumably, ones like figure 10.15 [“Mississagi River Rapids”]) and stasis-depicting ones are experienced in radically different ways, the former in mode E and the latter in mode A. The awkwardness is especially evident when both motion-depicting and stasis-depicting images are included within the same frame, as they are in figure 10.16. Does the viewer (in imagination) catch but a glimpse of the moving horses, as they kick up a cloud of dust, but observe the equestrian statues continuously for as long as he cares to gaze at the picture? And what are we to say about the live horses temporarily at rest? What shall we conclude? Given the conflicts built into the medium of still pictures, we should not expect any simple account of viewers’ imaginative experiences to be fully adequate. Perhaps the most we can say, in general, is that people experience stasis depicting stills in a complicated combination of ways, alternating imperceptibly between, or subtly intertwining, imagined glimpses and prolonged visual surveys of depicted scenes. Viewers are not usually aware of these complexities or bothered by the conflicts. This is partly because, like so much of our mental lives, the imaginings our experiences of pictures involve, or some aspects of them, are implicit and not readily open to introspection—evident only, if at all, when we pay unusual attention or draw inferences from what we say and do. Viewers rarely if ever even have the alternatives we have considered clearly in mind. Also, some of the questions I recently left hanging, questions highlighting the complexities or confronting the conflicts, are silly in the (slightly) technical sense I introduced in Mimesis as Make-Believe: they do not appropriately arise in the course



Figure 10.16 Jacques Philippe Joseph de Saint-Quentin (b. 1738), The Entrance to the Tuileries from the Place Louis XV in Paris, c. 1775. Oil on canvas, 46 × 61 cm. Musee des Beaux-Arts et d’Archeologie, Besancon, France / Lauros / Giraudon / The Bridgeman Art Library Nationality / copyright status: French / out of copyright.

of appreciation, appreciators are advised to avoid them, and they are likely not to have definite answers.29 This goes for questions about the nature of viewer’s experiences as well as questions about what pictures represent or depict. What a picture depicts is (roughly) a matter of what viewers properly imagine seeing, when they experience it. If as I suspect there are no especially relevant propriety considerations affecting the kinds of experiences I have described, there will be complications and uncertainties about pictures’ depictive contents corresponding to those characterizing viewers’ imaginative experiences. We will have to be satisfied with the recognition that pictures like “Mt. Geryon” are ambiguous between depicting a momentary event and a longer period of the history of a scene, and with the realization that this is not a “clean” ambiguity; each of the readings interferes, potentially at least, with the other. Some may find these conclusions frustratingly messy and inconclusive. I think they reflect facts about pictures and our experiences of them which are messy and hard to pin down—facts which, partly for that very reason, may contribute to the immense fascination that many pictures have for us.

29. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, 174–183.



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False judgments enter art history if we judge from the impression which pictures of different epochs, placed side by side, make on us. . . . They speak a different language. Heinrich Wölfflin, Principles of Art History

I. INTRODUCTION Paintings and sculptures are to be looked at; sonatas and songs are to be heard. What is important about such works of art is what can be seen or heard in them.1 This apparent truism has inspired attempts by aesthetic theorists to purge from criticism of works of art supposedly extraneous excursions into matters not available to inspection of the works and to focus attention narrowly on the works themselves. Circumstances connected with a work’s origin, in particular, are frequently held to have no essential bearing on an assessment of its aesthetic nature. Thus, critics are advised to ignore how and when a work was created, the artist’s intentions in creating it, his philosophical views, psychological state and personal life, the artistic traditions and intellectual atmosphere of his society, and so forth. Once produced, it is argued, a work must stand or fall on its own; it must be judged for what it is, regardless of how it came to be as it is. Arguments for this position need not involve the claim that how and in what circumstances a work comes about is not of “aesthetic” interest or importance. 1. “We should all agree, I think, . . . that any quality that cannot even in principle be heard in it [a musical composition] does not belong to it as music.” Monroe Beardsley, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1958), pp. 31–32.




One might consider an artist’s action of producing a work to be aesthetically interesting, an “aesthetic object” in its own right, while vehemently denying its relevance to an aesthetic investigation of the work. Robert Rauschenberg once carefully obliterated a drawing by de Kooning, titled the bare canvas Erased de Kooning Drawing, framed it, and exhibited it.2 His doing this might be taken as symbolic or expressive (of an attitude toward art, or toward life in general, or whatever) in an “aesthetically” significant manner, and yet thought to have no bearing whatever on the aesthetic nature of the finished product. The issue I am here concerned with is how far critical questions about works of art can be separated from questions about their histories.3 One who wants to make a sharp separation here may regard the basic facts of art along the following lines. Works of art are simply objects with various properties, of which we are primarily interested in perceptual ones—visual properties of paintings, audible properties of music, and so forth.4 A work’s perceptual properties include “aesthetic” as well as “nonaesthetic” ones—the sense of mystery and tension of a painting as well as its dark coloring and diagonal composition; the energy, exuberance, and coherence of a sonata, as well as its meters, rhythms, pitches, timbres; the balance and serenity of a Gothic cathedral as well as its dimensions, lines, and symmetries.5 Aesthetic properties are features or characteristics of works of art just as much as nonaesthetic ones are.6 They are in the works, to be seen, heard, or otherwise perceived there. Seeing a painting’s sense of mystery or hearing a sonata’s coherence might require looking or listening longer or harder than does perceiving colors and shapes, rhythms and pitches; it may even require special training or a special kind of sensitivity. But these qualities must be discoverable simply be examining the works themselves

2. See Calvin Tompkins, The Bride and the Bachelors (New York: Viking Press, 1965), pp. 210–211. 3. Monroe Beardsley argues for a relatively strict separation (Aesthetics, pp. 17–34). Some of the strongest recent attempts to enforce this separation are to be found in discussions of the so-called “intentional fallacy,” beginning with William Wimsatt and Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy,” Sewanee Review 54 (1946), which has been widely cited and reprinted. Despite the name of the “fallacy” these discussions are not limited to consideration of the relevance of artists’ intentions. 4. The aesthetic properties of works of literature are not happily called “perceptual.” For reasons connected with this it is sometimes awkward to treat literature together with the visual arts and music. (The notion of perceiving a work in a category, to be introduced shortly, is not straightforwardly applicable to literary works.) Hence in this paper I will concentrate on visual and musical works, though I believe that the central points I make concerning them hold, with suitable modifications, for novels, plays, and poems as well. 5. Frank Sibley distinguishes between “aesthetic” and “nonaesthetic” terms and concepts in “Aesthetic Concepts,” Philosophical Review 68 (1959). 6. Cf. Paul Ziff, “Art and the ‘Object of Art,’ ” in Ziff, Philosophic Turnings (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1966), pp. 12–16 (originally published in Mind, N. S. LX [1951]).



if they are discoverable at all. It is never even partly in virtue of the circumstances of a work’s origin that it has a sense of mystery or is coherent or serene. Such circumstances sometimes provide hints concerning what to look for in a work, what we might reasonably expect to find by examining it. But these hints are always theoretically dispensable; a work’s aesthetic properties must “in principle” be ascertainable without their help. Surely (it seems) a Rembrandt portrait does not have (or lack) a sense of mystery in virtue of the fact that Rembrandt intended it to have (or to lack) that quality, any more than a contractor’s intention to make a roof leakproof makes it so; nor is the portrait mysterious in virtue of any other facts about what Rembrandt thought or how he went about painting the portrait or what his society happened to be like. Such circumstances are important to the result only insofar as they had an effect on the pattern of paint splotches that became attached to the canvas, and the canvas can be examined without in any way considering how the splotches got there. It would not matter in the least to the aesthetic properties of the portrait if the paint had been applied to the canvas not by Rembrandt at all, but by a chimpanzee or a cyclone in a paint shop. The view sketched above can easily seem very persuasive. But the tendency of critics to discuss the histories of works of art in the course of justifying aesthetic judgments about them has been remarkably persistent. This is partly because hints derived from facts about a work’s history, however dispensable they may be “in principle,” are often crucially important in practice. (One might not think to listen for a recurring series of intervals in a piece of music, until he learns that the composer meant the work to be structured around it.) No doubt it is partly due also to genuine confusions on the part of critics. But I will argue that certain facts about the origins of works of art have an essential role in criticism, that aesthetic judgments rest on them in an absolutely fundamental way. For this reason, and for another as well, the view that works of art should be judged simply by what can be perceived in them is seriously misleading. Nevertheless there is something right in the idea that what matters aesthetically about a painting or a sonata is just how it looks or sounds.

II. STANDARD, VARIABLE, AND CONTRA-STANDARD PROPERTIES I will continue to call tension, mystery, energy, coherence, balance, serenity, sentimentality, pallidness, disunity, grotesqueness, and so forth, as well as colors and shapes, pitches and timbres properties of works of art, though “property” is to be construed broadly enough not to beg any important questions. I will also, following Sibley, call properties of the former sort “aesthetic” properties, but purely for reasons of convenience I will include in this category “representational” and “resemblance” properties, which Sibley excludes—for example, the property of representing Napoleon, that of depicting an old man stooping over a fire, that of resembling, or merely suggesting, a human face, claws (the petals of



Van Gogh’s sunflowers), or (in music) footsteps or conversation. It is not essential for my purposes to delimit with any exactness the class of aesthetic properties (if indeed any such delimitation is possible), for I am more interested in discussing particular examples of such properties than in making generalizations about the class as a whole. It will be obvious, however, that what I say about the examples I deal with is also applicable to a great many other properties we would want to call aesthetic. Sibley points out that a work’s aesthetic properties depend on its nonaesthetic properties; the former are “emergent” or Gestalt properties based on the latter.7 I take this to be true of all the examples of aesthetic properties we will be dealing with, including representational and resemblance ones. It is because of the configuration of colors and shapes on a painting, perhaps in particular its dark colors and diagonal composition, that it has a sense of mystery and tension, if it does. The colors and shapes of a portrait are responsible for its resembling an old man and its depicting an old man. The coherence or unity of a piece of music (for example, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony) may be largely due to the frequent recurrence of a rhythmic motive, and the regular meter of a song plus the absence of harmonic modulation and of large intervals in the voice part may make it serene or peaceful. Moreover, a work seems or appears to us to have certain aesthetic properties because we observe in it, or it appears to us to have, certain nonaesthetic features (though it may not be necessary to notice consciously all the relevant nonaesthetic features). A painting depicting an old man may not look like an old man to someone who is color-blind, or when it is seen from an extreme angle or in bad lighting conditions which distort or obscure its colors or shapes. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony performed in such a sloppy manner that many occurrences of the four-note rhythmic motive do not sound similar may seem incoherent or disunified. I will argue, however, that a work’s aesthetic properties depend not only on its nonaesthetic ones but also on which of its nonaesthetic properties are “standard,” which “variable,” and which “contra-standard,” in senses to be explained. I will approach this thesis by way of the psychological point that what aesthetic properties a work seems to us to have depends not only on what nonaesthetic features we perceive in it but also on which of them are standard, which variable, and which contra-standard for us (in a sense also to be explained). It is necessary to introduce first a distinction between standard, variable, and contra-standard properties relative to perceptually distinguishable categories of works of art. A category is perceptually distinguishable if membership in it is determined solely by features of works that can be perceived in them when they are experienced in the normal manner. The categories of painting, cubist

7. “Aesthetic and Nonaesthetic,” Philosophical Review 72 (1965).



painting, Gothic architecture, classical sonatas, painting in the style of Cézanne, music in the style of late Beethoven, and most other media, genre, styles, and forms can be construced as perceptually distinguishable. If we do construe them this way we must, for example, regard whether a piece of music was written in the eighteenth century as irrelevant to whether it belongs to the category of classical sonatas, and we must take whether or not a work was produced by Cézanne or Beethoven to have nothing essential to do with whether or not it is in the style of Cézanne or late Beethoven. The category of etchings as normally understood is not perceptually distinguishable in the requisite sense, for to be an etching is, I take it, to have been produced in a particular manner. But the category of apparent etchings, works that look like etchings from the quality of their lines, whether or not they are etchings, is perceptually distinguishable.8 A feature of a work of art is standard with respect to a (perceptually distinguishable) category just in case it is among those in virtue of which works in that category belong to that category—that is, just in case the absence of that feature would disqualify, or tend to disqualify, a work from that category. A feature is variable with respect to a category just in case it has nothing to do with works’ belonging to that category; the possession or lack of the feature is irrelevant to whether a work qualifies for the category. Finally, a contra-standard feature with respect to a category is the absence of a standard feature with respect to that category—that is, a feature whose presence tends to disqualify works as members of the category. Needless to say, it will not be clear in all cases whether a feature of a work is standard, variable, or contra-standard relative to a given category, since the criteria for classifying works of art are far from precise. But clear examples are abundant. The flatness of a painting and the motionlessness of its markings are standard, and its particular shapes and colors are variable, relative to the category of painting. A protruding three-dimensional object or an electrically driven twitching of the canvas would be contra-standard relative to this category. The straight lines in stick-figure drawings and squarish shapes in cubist paintings are standard with respect to those categories respectively, though they are variable with respect to the categories of drawing and painting. The exposition-development-recapitulation form of a classical sonata is standard, and its thematic material is variable, relative to the category of sonatas. In order to explain what I mean by features being standard, variable, or contrastandard for a person on a particular occasion, I must introduce the notion of perceiving a work in, or as belonging to, a certain (perceptually distinguishable) category.

8. A category will not count as perceptually distinguishable in my sense if, in order to determine perceptually whether something belongs to it, it is necessary (in some or all cases) to determine, on the basis of nonperceptual considerations, which categories it is correctly perceived in. This prevents the category of serene things, for example, from being perceptually distinguishable.



To perceive a work in a certain category is to perceive the Gestalt of that category in the work. This needs some explanation. People familiar with Brahmsian music—music in the style of Brahms (notably, works of Johannes Brahms)—or impressionist paintings can frequently recognize members of these categories by recognizing the Brahmsian or impressionist Gestalt qualities. Such recognition is dependent on perception of particular features that are standard relative to these categories, but it is not a matter of inferring from the presence of such features that a work is Brahmsian or impressionist. One may not notice many of the relevant features, and he may be very vague about which ones are relevant. If I recognize a work as Brahmsian by first noting its lush textures, its basically traditional harmonic and formal structure, its superimposition and alternation of duple and triple meters, and so forth, and recalling that these characteristics are typical of Brahmsian works, I have not recognized it by hearing the Brahmsian Gestalt. To do that is simply to recognize it by its Brahmsian sound, without necessarily paying attention to the features (“cues”) responsible for it. Similarly, recognizing an impressionist painting by its impressionist Gestalt, is recognizing the impressionist look about it, which we are familiar with from other impressionist paintings; not applying a rule we have learned for recognizing it from its features. To perceive a Gestalt quality in a work—that is, to perceive it in a certain category—is not, or not merely, to recognize that Gestalt quality. Recognition is a momentary occurrence, whereas perceiving a quality is a continuous state which may last for a short or long time. (For the same reason, seeing the ambiguous duck-rabbit figure as a duck is not, or not merely, recognizing a property of it.) We perceive the Brahmsian or impressionist Gestalt in a work when, and as long as, it sounds Brahmsian or looks impressionist to us. This involves perceiving (not necessarily being aware of ) features standard relative to that category. But it is not just this, nor this plus the intellectual realization that these features make the work Brahmsian, or impressionist. These features are perceived combined into a single Gestalt quality. We can of course perceive a work in several or many different categories at once. A Brahms sonata might be heard simultaneously as a piece of music, a sonata, a romantic work, and a Brahmsian work. Some pairs of categories, however, seem to be such that one cannot perceive a work as belonging to both at once, much as one cannot see the duck-rabbit both as a duck and as a rabbit simultaneously. One cannot see a photographic image simultaneously as a still photograph and as (part of ) a film, nor can one see something both in the category of paintings and at the same time in the category (to be explained shortly) of guernicas. It will be useful to point out some of the causes of our perceiving works in certain categories. (a) In which categories we perceive a work depends in part, of course, on what other works we are familiar with. The more works of a certain sort we have experienced, the more likely it is that we will perceive a particular work in that category. (b) What we have heard critics and others say about works



we have experienced, how they have categorized them, and what resemblances they have pointed out to us are also important. If no one has ever explained to me what is distinctive about Schubert’s style (as opposed to the styles of, say, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Brahms, Hugo Wolf ), or even pointed out that there is such a distinctive style, I may never have learned to hear the Schubertian Gestalt quality, even if I have heard many of Schubert’s works, and so I may not hear his works as Schubertian. (c) How we are introduced to the particular work in question may be involved. If a Cézanne painting is exhibited in a collection of French Impressionist works, or if before seeing it we are told that it is French Impressionist, we are more likely to see it as French Impressionist than we would be if it is exhibited in a random collection and we are not told anything about it beforehand. I will say that a feature of a work is standard for a particular person on a particular occasion when, and only when, it is standard relative to some category in which he perceives it, and is not contra-standard relative to any category in which he perceives it. A feature is variable for a person just when it is variable relative to all of the categories in which he perceives it. And a feature is contrastandard for a person just when it is contra-standard relative to any of the categories in which he perceives it.9

III. A POINT ABOUT PERCEPTION I turn now to my psychological thesis that what aesthetic properties a work seems to have, what aesthetic effect it has on us, how it strikes us aesthetically often depends (in part) on which of its features are standard, which variable, and which contra-standard for us. I offer a series of examples in support of this thesis. (1) Representational and resemblance properties provide perhaps the most obvious illustration of this thesis. Many works of art look like or resemble other objects—people, buildings, mountains, bowls of fruit, and so forth. Rembrandt’s Titus Reading looks like a boy, and in particular like Rembrandt’s son; Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon looks like five women, four standing and one sitting 9. I am ignoring some considerations that might be important at a later stage of investigation. In particular, I think it would be important at some point to distinguish between different degrees or levels of standardness, variableness, and contra-standardness for a person; to speak, e.g., of features being more or less standard for him. At least two distinct sorts of grounds for such differences of degree should be recognized. (1) Distinctions between perceiving a work in a certain category to a greater and lesser extent should be allowed for, with corresponding differences of degree in the standardness for the perceiver of properties relative to that category. (2) A feature which is standard relative to more, and/or more specific, categories in which a person perceives the work should thereby count as more standard for him. Thus, if we see something as a painting and also as a French Impressionist painting, features standard relative to both categories are more standard for us than features standard relative only to the latter.



(though not especially like any particular women). A portrait may even be said to be a perfect likeness of the sitter, or to capture his image exactly. An important consideration in determining whether a work depicts or represents a particular object, or an object of a certain sort (for example, Rembrandt’s son, or simply a boy), in the sense of being a picture, sculpture, or whatever of it10 is whether the work resembles that object, or objects of that kind. A significant degree of resemblance is, I suggest, a necessary condition in most contexts for such representation or depiction,11 though the resemblance need not be obvious at first glance. If we are unable to see a similarity between a painting purportedly of a woman and women, I think we would have to suppose either that there is such a similarity which we have not yet discovered (as one might fail to see a face in a maze of lines), or that it simply is not a picture of a woman. Resemblance is of course not a sufficient condition for representation, since a portrait (containing only one figure) might resemble both the sitter and his twin brother equally but is not a portrait of both of them. (The title might determine which of them it depicts.)12 It takes only a touch of perversity, however, to find much of our talk about resemblances between works of art and other things preposterous. Paintings and people are very different sorts of things. Paintings are pieces of canvas supporting splotches of paint, while people are live, three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood animals. Moreover, except rarely and under special conditions of observation paintings and people look very different. Paintings look like pieces of canvas (or anyway flat surfaces) covered with paint and people look like flesh-and-blood animals.

10. This excludes, e.g., the sense of “represent” in which a picture might represent justice or courage, and probably other senses as well. 11. This does not hold for the special case of photography. A photograph is a photograph of a woman no matter what it looks like, I take it, if a woman was in front of the lens when it was produced. [“Categories of Art” was written before I developed my make-believe account of pictorial representation. I no longer understand resemblance to have as much to do with depiction as I did then (unless “resemblance” is understood in a very special sense). See the several essays on depiction in this volume, and especially Mimesis as Make-Believe, pp. 298, 302–315, 350. As for photographs, I should have distinguished between what a photograph is a picture of, and what it is a photograph of. See Postscript C to “Transparent Pictures,” this volume.] 12. Nelson Goodman denies that resemblance is necessary for representation—and obviously not merely because of isolated or marginal examples of non-resembling representations (p. 5). I cannot treat his arguments here, but rather than reject en masse the common-sense beliefs that pictures do resemble significantly what they depict and that they depict what they do partly because of such resemblances, if Goodman advocates rejecting them, I prefer to recognize a sense of “resemblance” in which these beliefs are true. My disagreement with him is perhaps less sharp than it appears since, as will be evident, I am quite willing to grant that the relevant resemblances are “conventional.” See Goodman, Languages of Art (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merill, 1968), p. 39, n. 31.



There is practically no danger of confusing them. How, then, can anyone seriously hold that a portrait resembles the sitter to any significant extent, let alone that it is a perfect likeness of him? Yet it remains true that many paintings strike us as resembling people, sometimes very much or even exactly—despite the fact that they look so very different! To resolve this paradox we must recognize that the resemblances we perceive between, for example, portraits and people, those that are relevant in determining what works of art depict or represent, are resemblances of a somewhat special sort, tied up with the categories in which we perceive such works. The properties of a work which are standard for us are ordinarily irrelevant to what we take it to look like or resemble in the relevant sense, and hence to what we take it to depict or represent. The properties of a portrait which make it so different from, so easily distinguishable from, a person—such as its flatness and its painted look—are standard for us. Hence these properties just do not count with regard to what (or whom) it looks like. It is only the properties which are variable for us, the colors and shapes on the work’s surface, that make it look to us like what it does. And these are the ones which are relevant in determining what (if anything) the work represents.13 Other examples will reinforce this point. A marble bust of a Roman emperor seems to us to resemble a man with, say, an aquiline nose, a wrinkled brow, and an expression of grim determination, and we take it to represent a man with, or as having, those characteristics. But why don’t we say that it resembles and represents a perpetually motionless man, of uniform (marble) color, who is severed at the chest? It is similar to such a man, it seems, and much more so than to a normally colored, mobile, and whole man. But we are not struck by the former similarity when we see the bust, obvious though it is on reflection. The bust’s uniform color, motionlessness, and abrupt ending at the chest are standard properties relative to the category of busts, and since we see it as a bust they are standard for us. Similarly, black-and-white drawings do not look to us like colorless scenes and we do not take them to depict things as being colorless, nor do we regard stick-figure drawings as resembling and depicting only very thin people. A cubist work might look like a person with a cubical head to someone not familiar with the cubist style. But the standardness of such cubical shapes for people who see it as a cubist work prevents them from making that comparison. The shapes of a painting or a still photograph of a high jumper in action are motionless, but these pictures do not look to us like a high jumper frozen in midair.

13. The connection between features variable for us and what the work looks like is by no means a straightforward or simple one, however. It may involve “rules” which are more or less “conventional” (e.g., the “laws” of perspective). See E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion (New York: Pantheon Books, 1960) and Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art.



Indeed, depending on features of the pictures which are variable for us (the exact positions of the figures, swirling brush strokes in the painting, slight blurrings of the photographic image) the athlete may seem in a frenzy of activity; the pictures may convey a vivid sense of movement. But if static images exactly like those of the two pictures occur in a motion picture, and we see it as a motion picture, they probably would strike us as resembling a static athlete. This is because the immobility of the images is standard relative to the category of still pictures and variable relative to that of motion pictures. (Since we are so familiar with still pictures it might be difficult to see the static images as motion pictures for very long, rather than as [filmed] still pictures. But we could not help seeing them that way if we had no acquaintance at all with the medium of still pictures.) My point here is brought out by the tremendous aesthetic difference we are likely to experience between a film of a dancer moving very slowly and a still picture of him, even if “objectively” the two images are very nearly identical. We might well find the former studied, calm, deliberate, laborious, and the latter dynamic, energetic, flowing, or frenzied. In general, then, what we regard a work as resembling, and as representing, depends on the properties of the work which are variable, and not on those which are standard for us.14 The latter properties serve to determine what kind of a representation the work is, rather than what it represents or resembles. We take them for granted, as it were, in representations of that kind. This principle helps to explain also how clouds can look like elephants, how diatonic orchestral music can suggest a conversation or a person crying or laughing, and how a twelveyear-old boy can look like his middle-aged father. We can now see how a portrait can be an exact likeness of the sitter, despite the huge differences between the two. The differences, in so far as they involve properties standard for us, simply do not count against likeness, and hence not against exact likeness. Similarly, a boy not only can resemble his father but can be his “spitting image,” despite the boy’s relative youthfulness. It is clear that the notions of resemblance and exact resemblance that we are concerned with are not even cousins of the notion of perceptual indistinguishability. (2) The importance of the distinction between standard and variable properties is by no means limited to cases involving representation or resemblance. Imagine a society that does not have an established medium of painting but does produce a kind of work of art called “guernicas.” Guernicas are like versions of Picasso’s Guernica done in various bas-relief dimensions. All of them are surfaces with the colors and shapes of Picasso’s Guernica, but the surfaces are molded to protrude from the wall like relief maps of different kinds of terrain. Some guernicas have 14. There is at least one group of exceptions to this. Obviously features of a work which are standard for us because they are standard relative to some representational category which we see it in—e.g., the category of nudes, still lifes, or landscapes—do help determine what the work looks like to us and what we take it to depict.



rolling surfaces, others are sharp and jagged, still others contain several relatively flat planes at various angles to each other, and so forth. If members of this society should come across Picasso’s Guernica, they would count it as a guernica—a perfectly flat one—rather than as a painting. Its flatness is variable and the figures on its surface are standard relative to the category of guernicas. Thus the flatness, which is standard for us, would be variable for members of the other society, and the figures on the surface, which are variable for us, would be standard for them. This would make for a profound difference between our aesthetic reaction to Guernica and theirs. It seems violent, dynamic, vital, disturbing to us. But I imagine it would strike them as cold, stark, lifeless, or serene and restful, or perhaps bland, dull, boring—but in any case not violent, dynamic, and vital. We do not pay attention to or take note of Guernica’s flatness; this is a feature we take for granted in paintings. But for the other society, this is Guernica’s most striking and noteworthy characteristic—what is expressive about it. Conversely, Guernica’s color patches, which we find noteworthy and expressive, are insignificant to them. It is important to notice that this difference in aesthetic response is not due solely to the fact that we are much more familiar with flat works of art than they are and that they are more familiar with Guernica’s colors and shapes. Someone equally familiar with paintings and guernicas might, I think, see Picasso’s Guernica as a painting on some occasions and as a guernica on others. On the former occasions it will probably look dynamic, violent, and so forth to him, and on the latter cold, serene, bland, or lifeless. Whether he sees the work in a museum of paintings or a museum of guernicas, or whether he has been told that it is a painting or a guernica, may influence how he sees it. But I think he might be able to shift at will from one way of seeing it to the other, somewhat as one shifts between seeing the duck-rabbit as a duck and seeing it as a rabbit. This example and the previous ones might give the impression that in general only features of a work that are variable for us are aesthetically important—that these are the expressive, aesthetically active properties, as far as we are concerned, whereas features standard for us are aesthetically inert. But this notion is quite mistaken, as the following examples will demonstrate. Properties standard for us are not aesthetically lifeless, though the life that they have, the aesthetic effect they have on us, is typically very different from what it would be if they were variable for us. (3) Because of the very fact that features standard for us do not seem striking or noteworthy, that they are somehow expected or taken for granted, they can contribute to a work a sense of order, inevitability, stability, correctness. This is perhaps most notably true of large-scale structural properties in the time arts. The exposition-development-re-capitulation form (including the typical key and thematic relationships) of the first movements of classical sonatas, symphonies, and string quartets is standard with respect to the category of works in sonataallegro form, and standard for listeners, including most of us, who hear them as belonging to that category. So proceeding along the lines of sonata-allegro form



seems right to us; to our ears that is how sonatas are supposed to behave. We feel that we know where we are and where we are going throughout the work—more so, I suggest, than we would if we were not familiar with sonata-allegro form, if following the strictures of that form were variable rather than standard for us.15 Properties standard for us do not always have this sort of unifying effect, however. The fact that a piano sonata contains only piano sounds, or uses the Western system of harmony throughout, does not make it seem unified to us. The reason, I think, is that these properties are too standard for us in a sense that needs explicating (cf. note 9). Nevertheless, sonata form is unifying partly because it is standard rather than variable for us. (4) That a work (or part of it) has a certain determinate characteristic (of size, for example, or speed, or length, or volume) is often variable relative to a particular category, when it is nevertheless standard for that category that the variable characteristic falls within a certain range. In such cases the aesthetic effect of the determinate variable property may be colored by the standard limits of the range. Hence these limits function as an aesthetic catalyst, even if not as an active ingredient. Piano music is frequently marked sostenuto, cantabile, legato, or lyrical. But how can the pianist possibly carry out such instructions? Piano tones diminish in volume drastically immediately after the key is struck, becoming inaudible relatively promptly, and there is no way the player can prevent this. If a singer or violinist should produce sounds even approaching a piano’s in suddenness of demise, they would be nervewrackingly sharp and percussive—anything but cantabile or lyrical! Yet piano music can be cantabile, legato, or lyrical nevertheless; sometimes it is extraordinarily so (for example, a good performance of the Adagio Cantabile movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata). What makes this possible is the very fact that the drastic diminution of piano tones cannot be prevented, and hence never is. It is a standard feature for piano music. A pianist can, however, by a variety of devices, control a tone’s rate of diminution and length within the limits dictated by the nature of the instrument.16 Piano tones may thus be more 15. The presence of clichés in a work sometimes allows it to contain drastically disorderly elements without becoming chaotic or incoherent. See Anton Ehrenzweig, The Hidden Order of Art (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967), pp. 114–116. 16. The timing of the release of the key affects the tone’s length. Use of the sustaining pedal can lessen slightly a tone’s diminuendo by reinforcing its overtones with sympathetic vibrations from other strings. The rate of diminuendo is affected somewhat more drastically by the force with which the key is struck. The more forcefully it is struck the greater is the tone’s relative diminuendo. (Obviously the rate of diminuendo cannot be controlled in this way independently of the tone’s initial volume.) The successive tones of a melody can be made to overlap so that each tone’s sharp attack is partially obscured by the lingering end of the preceding tone. A melodic tone may also be reinforced after it begins by sympathetic vibrations from harmonically related accompanying figures, contributed by the composer.



or less sustained within these limits, and how sustained they are, how quickly or slowly they diminish and how long they last, within the range of possibilities, is variable for piano music. A piano passage that sounds lyrical or cantabile to us is one in which the individual tones are relatively sustained, given the capabilities of the instrument. Such a passage sounds lyrical only because piano music is limited as it is, and we hear it as piano music; that is, the limitations are standard properties for us. The character of the passage is determined not merely by the absolute nature of the sounds, but by that in relation to the standard property of what piano tones can be like.17 This principle helps to explain the lack of energy and brilliance that we sometimes find even in very fast passages of electronic music. The energy and brilliance of a fast violin or piano passage derives not merely from the absolute speed of the music (together with accents, rhythmic characteristics, and so forth), but from the fact that it is fast for that particular medium. In electronic music different pitches can succeed one another at any frequency up to and including that at which they are no longer separately distinguishable. Because of this it is difficult to make electronic music sound fast (energetic, violent). For when we have heard enough electronic music to be aware of the possibilities we do not feel that the speed of a passage approaches a limit, no matter how fast it is.18 There are also visual correlates of these musical examples. A small elephant, one which is smaller than most elephants with which we are familiar, might impress us as charming, cute, delicate, or puny. This is not simply because of its (absolute) size, but because it is small for an elephant. To people who are familiar not with our elephants but with a race of mini-elephants, the same animal may look massive, strong, dominant, threatening, lumbering, if it is large for a minielephant. The size of elephants is variable relative to the class of elephants, but it varies only within a certain (not precisely specifiable) range. It is a standard property of elephants that they do fall within this range. How an elephants’s size affects us aesthetically depends, since we see it as an elephant, on whether it falls in the upper, middle, or lower part of the range. (5) Properties standard for a certain category which do not derive from physical limitations of the medium can be regarded as results of more or less conventional “rules” for producing works in the given category (for example, the “rules” of sixteenth-century counterpoint, or those for twelve-tone music). These rules may combine to create a dilemma for the artist which, if he is talented, he may resolve ingeniously and gracefully. The result may be a work with an aesthetic 17. “The musical media we know thus far derive their whole character and their usefulness as musical media precisely from their limitations.” Roger Sessions, “Problems and Issues Facing the Composer Today,” in Paul Henry Lang, Problems of Modern Music (New York: W. W. Norton, 1960), p. 31. 18. One way to make electronic music sound fast would be to make it sound like some traditional instrument, thereby trading on the limitations of that instrument.



character very different from what it would have had if it had not been for those rules. Suppose that the first movement of a sonata in G major modulates to Csharp major by the end of the development section. A rule of sonata form decrees that it must return to G for the recapitulation. But the keys of G and C-sharp are as unrelated as any two keys can be; it is difficult to modulate smoothly and quickly from one to the other. Suppose also that while the sonata is in C-sharp there are signs that, given other rules of sonata form, indicate that the recapitulation is imminent (motivic hints of the return, an emotional climax, a cadenza). Listeners who hear it as a work in sonata form are likely to have a distinct feeling of unease, tension, uncertainty, as the time for the recapitulation approaches. If the composer with a stroke of ingenuity accomplishes the necessary modulation quickly, efficiently, and naturally, this will give them a feeling of relief—one might say of deliverance. The movement to C-sharp, which may have seemed alien and brashly adventurous at the time, will have proven to be quite appropriate, and the entire sequence will in retrospect have a sense of correctness and perfection about it. Our impression of it is likely, I think, to be very much like our impression of a “beautiful” or “elegant” proof in mathematics. (Indeed the composer’s task in this example is not unlike that of producing such a proof.) But suppose that the rule for sonatas were that the recapitulation must be either in the original key or in the key one half-step below it. Thus in the example above the recapitulation could have been in F-sharp major rather than G major. This possibility removes the sense of tension from the occurrance of C-sharp major in the development section, for a modulation from C-sharp to F-sharp is as easy as any modulation is (since C-sharp is the dominant of F-sharp). Of course, there would also be no special release of tension when the modulation to G is effected, there being no tension to be released. In fact, that modulation probably would be rather surprising, since the permissible modulation to F-sharp would be much more natural. Thus the effect that the sonata has on us depends on which of its properties are dictated by “rules,” which ones are standard relative to the category of sonatas and hence standard for us. (6) I turn now to features which are contra-standard for us—ones which have a tendency to disqualify a work from a category in which we nevertheless perceive it. We are likely to find such features shocking, or disconcerting, or startling, or upsetting, just because they are contra-standard for us. Their presence may be so obtrusive that they obscure the work’s variable properties. Threedimensional objects protruding from a canvas and movement in a sculpture are contra-standard relative to the categories of painting and (traditional) sculpture respectively. These features are contra-standard for us, and probably shocking, if despite them we perceive the works possessing them in the mentioned categories. The monochromatic paintings of Yves Klein are disturbing to us (at least at first) for this reason: we see them as paintings, though they contain the feature



contra-standard for paintings of being one solid color.19 Notice that we find other similarly monochromatic surfaces—walls of living rooms, for example—not in the least disturbing, and indeed quite unnoteworthy. If we are exposed frequently to works containing a certain kind of feature which is contra-standard for us, we ordinarily adjust our categories to accommodate it, making it contra-standard for us no longer. The first painting with a three-dimensional object glued to it was no doubt shocking. But now that the technique has become commonplace we are not shocked. This is because we no longer see these works as paintings, but rather as members of either (a) a new category—collages—in which case the offending feature has become standard rather than contra-standard for us, or (b) an expanded category which includes paintings both with and without attached objects, in which case that feature is variable for us. But it is not just the rarity, unusualness, or unexpectedness of a feature that makes it shocking. If a work differs too significantly from the norms of a certain category we do not perceive it in that category and hence the difference is not contra-standard for us, even if we have not previously experienced works differing from that category in that way. A sculpture which is constantly and vigorously in motion would be so obviously and radically different from traditional sculptures that we probably would not perceive it as one even if it is the first moving sculpture we have come across. We would either perceive it as a kinetic sculpture, or simply remain confused. In contrast, a sculpted bust which is traditional in every respect except that one ear twitches slightly every thirty seconds would be perceived as an ordinary sculpture. So the twitching ear would be contra-standard for us, and it would be considerably more unsettling than the much greater movement of the other kinetic sculpture. Similarly, a very small colored area of an otherwise entirely black-and-white drawing would be very disconcerting. But if enough additional color is added to it we will see it as a colored rather than a black-and-white drawing, and the shock will vanish. This point helps to explain a difference between the harmonic aberrations of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, and those of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire as well as Schoenberg’s later twelve-tone works. The latter are not merely more aberrant, less tonal, than Tristan. They differ from traditional tonal music in such respects and to such an extent that they are not heard as tonal at all. Tristan, however, retains enough of the apparatus of tonality, despite its deviations, to be heard as a tonal work. For this reason its lesser deviations are often the more shocking.20 Tristan plays on harmonic traditions

19. This example was suggested by Göran Hermerén. 20. Cf. William W. Austin, Music in the 20th Century (New York: W. W. Norton, 1966), pp. 205–206; and Eric Salzman, Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967), pp. 5, 8, 19.



by selectively following and flaunting them, while Pierrot Lunaire and the others simply ignore them. Shock then arises from features that are not just rare or unique, but ones that are contra-standard relative to categories in which objects possessing them are perceived. But it must be emphasized that to be contra-standard relative to a certain category is not merely to be rare or unique among things of that category. The melodic line of Schubert’s song, Im Walde, is probably unique; it probably does not occur in any other songs, or other works of any sort. But it is not contra-standard relative to the category of songs, because it does not tend to disqualify the work from that category. Nor is it contra-standard relative to any other category to which we hear the work as belonging. And clearly we do not find this melodic line at all upsetting. What is important is not the rarity of a feature, but its connection with the classification of the work. Features contra-standard for us are perceived as misfits in a category which the work strikes us as belonging to, as doing violence to such a category. Being rare in a category is not the same thing as being a misfit in it. It should be clear from the above examples that how a work affects us aesthetically—what aesthetic properties it seems to us to have and what ones we are inclined to attribute to it—depends in a variety of important ways on which of its features are standard, which variable, and which contra-standard for us. Moreover, this is obviously not an isolated or exceptional phenomenon, but a pervasive characteristic of aesthetic perception. I should emphasize that my purpose has not been to establish general principles about how each of the three sorts of properties affects us. How any particular feature affects us depends also on many variables I have not discussed. The important point is that in many cases whether a feature is standard, variable, or contra-standard for us has a great deal to do with what effect it has on us. We must now begin to assess the theoretical consequences of this.

IV. TRUTH AND FALSITY The fact that what aesthetic properties a thing seems to have may depend on what categories it is perceived in raises a question about how to determine what aesthetic properties it really does have. If Guernica appears dynamic when seen as a painting, and not dynamic when seen as a guernica, is it dynamic or not? Can one way of seeing it be ruled correct, and the other incorrect? One way of approaching this problem is to deny that the apparently conflicting aesthetic judgments of people who perceive a work in different categories actually do conflict.21 21. I am ruling out the view that the notions of truth and falsity are not applicable to aesthetic judgments, on the ground that it would force us to reject so much of our normal discourse and common-sense intuitions about art that theoretical aesthetics, conceived as attempting to understand the institution of art, would hardly have left a recognizable subject matter to investigate. (See this chapter’s epigraph.)



Judgments that works of art have certain aesthetic properties, it might be suggested, implicitly involve reference to some particular set of categories. Thus our claim that Guernica is dynamic really amounts to the claim that it is dynamic as a painting, or for people who see it as a painting. The judgment that it is not dynamic made by people who see it as a guernica amounts simply to the judgment that it is not dynamic as a guernica. Interpreted in these ways, the two judgments are of course quite compatible. Terms such as “large” and “small” provide a convenient model for this interpretation. An elephant might be both small as an elephant and large as a mini-elephant, and hence it might be called truly either “large” or “small,” depending on which category is implicitly referred to. I think that aesthetic judgments are in some contexts amenable to such category-relative interpretations, especially aesthetic judgments about natural objects (clouds, mountains, sunsets) rather than works of art. (It will be evident that the alternative account suggested below is not readily applicable to most judgments about natural objects.) But most of our aesthetic judgments can be forced into this mold only at the cost of distorting them beyond recognition. My main objection is that category-relative interpretations do not allow aesthetic judgments to be mistaken often enough. It would certainly be natural to consider a person who calls Guernica stark, cold, or dull, because he sees it as a guernica, to be mistaken; he misunderstands the work because he is looking at it in the wrong way. Similarly, one who asserts that a good performance of the Adagio Cantabile of Beethoven’s Pathétique is percussive, or that a Roman bust looks like a unicolored, immobile man severed at the chest and depicts one as such, is simply wrong, even if his judgment is a result of his perceiving the work in different categories from those in which we perceive it. Moreover, we do not accord a status any more privileged to our own aesthetic judgments. We are likely to regard cubist paintings, or Japanese gagaku music, as formless, incoherent, or disturbing on our first contact with these forms largely because, I suggest, we would not be perceiving the works as cubist paintings, or as gagaku music. But after becoming familiar with these kinds of art, we would probably retract our previous judgments, admit that they were mistaken. It would be quite inappropriate to protest that what we meant previously was merely that the works were formless or disturbing for the categories in which we then perceived them, while admitting that they are not for the categories of cubist paintings, or gagaku music. The conflict between apparently incompatible aesthetic judgments made while perceiving a work in different categories does not simply evaporate when the difference of categories is pointed out, as does the conflict between the claims that an animal is large and that it is small, when it is made clear that the person making the first claim regarded it as a mini-elephant and the one making the second regarded it as an elephant. The latter judgments do not (necessarily) reflect a real disagreement about the size of the animal, but the former do reflect a real disagreement about the aesthetic nature of the work.



Thus it seems that, at least in some cases, it is correct to perceive a work in certain categories and incorrect to perceive it in certain others; that is, our judgments of it when we perceive it in the former are likely to be true, and those we make when perceiving it in the latter false. This provides us with absolute senses of standard, variable, and contra-standard: features of a work are standard, variable, or contra-standard absolutely just in case they are standard, variable, or contra-standard, respectively, for people who perceive the work correctly. (Thus an absolutely standard feature is standard relative to some category in which the work is correctly perceived and contra-standard relative to none, an absolutely variable feature is variable relative to all such categories, and an absolutely contra-standard feature is contra-standard relative to at least one such category.) How is it to be determined in which categories a work is correctly perceived? There is certainly no very precise or well-defined procedure to be followed. Different criteria are emphasized by different people and in different situations. But there are several fairly definite considerations which typically figure in critical discussions and which fit our intuitions reasonably well. I suggest that the following circumstances count toward its being correct to perceive a work, W, in a given category, C: (i) The presence in W of a relatively large number of features standard with respect to C. The correct way of perceiving a work is likely to be that in which it has a minimum of contra-standard features for us. I take the relevance of this consideration to be obvious. It cannot be correct to perceive Rembrandt’s Titus Reading as a kinetic sculpture, if this is possible, just because that work has too few of the features which make kinetic sculptures kinetic sculptures. But of course this does not get us very far. Guernica, for example, qualifies equally well on this count for being perceived as a painting and as a guernica. (ii) The fact that W is better, or more interesting or pleasing aesthetically, or more worth experiencing when perceived in C than it is when perceived in alternative ways. The correct way of perceiving a work is likely to be the way in which it comes off best. (iii) The fact that the artist who produced W intended or expected it to be perceived in C, or thought of it as a C. (iv) The fact that C is well established in and recognized by the society in which W was produced. A category is well established in and recognized by a society if the members of the society are familiar with works in that category, consider a work’s membership in it a fact worth mentioning, exhibit works of that category together, and so forth—that is, roughly if that category figures importantly in their way of classifying works of art. The categories of impressionist painting and Brahmsian music are well established and recognized in our society; those of guernicas, paintings with diagonal composition containing green crosses, and pieces of music containing between four and eight F-sharps and at



least seventeen quarter notes every eight bars are not. The categories in which a work is correctly perceived, according to this condition, are generally the ones in which the artist’s contemporaries did perceive or would have perceived it. In certain cases I think the mechanical process by which a work was produced, or (for example, in architecture) the nonperceptible physical characteristics or internal structure of a work, is relevant. A work is probably correctly perceived as an apparent etching22 rather than, say, an apparent woodcut or line drawing, if it was produced by the etching process. The strengths of materials in a building or the presence of steel girders inside wooden or plaster columns counts (not necessarily conclusively) toward the correctness of perceiving it in the category of buildings with visual characteristics typical of buildings constructed in that manner. I will not discuss these considerations further here. What can be said in support of the relevance of conditions (ii), (iii), and (iv)? In the examples mentioned above, the categories in which we consider a work correctly perceived probably meet all of these conditions. I would suppose that Guernica is better seen as a painting than it would be seen as a guernica (though this would be hard to prove). In any case, Picasso certainly intended it to be seen as a painting rather than a guernica, and the category of paintings is well established in his (that is, our) society, whereas that of guernicas is not. But this of course does not show that (ii), (iii), and (iv) each is relevant. It tends to indicate only that one or other of them, or some combination, is relevant. The difficulty of assessing each of the three conditions individually is complicated by the fact that by and large they can be expected to coincide, to yield identical conclusions. Since an artist usually intends his works for his contemporaries he is likely to intend them to be perceived in categories established in and recognized by his society. Moreover, it is reasonable to expect works to come off better when perceived in the intended categories than when perceived in others. An artist tries to produce works which are well worth experiencing when perceived in the intended way and, unless we have reason to think he is totally incompetent, there is some presumption that he succeeded at least to some extent. But it is more or less a matter of chance whether the work comes off well when perceived in some unintended way. The convergence of the three conditions, however, at the same time diminishes the practical importance of justifying them individually, since in most cases we can decide how to judge particular works of art without doing so. But the theoretical question remains. I will begin with (ii). If we are faced with a choice between two ways of perceiving a work, and the work is very much better perceived in one way than it is perceived in the other, I think that, at least in the absence of contrary considerations, we would be strongly inclined to settle on the former way of perceiving 22. See p. 199.



it as the correct way. The process of trying to determine what is in a work consists partly in casting around among otherwise plausible ways of perceiving it for one in which the work is good. We feel we are coming to a correct understanding of a work when we begin to like or enjoy it; we are finding what is really there when it seems worth experiencing. But if (ii) is relevant, it is quite clearly not the only relevant consideration. Take any work of art we can agree is of fourth- or fifth- or tenth-rate quality. It is very possible that if this work were perceived in some farfetched set of categories that someone might dream up, it would appear to be first-rate, a masterpiece. Finding such ad hoc categories obviously would require talent and ingenuity on the order of that necessary to produce a masterpiece in the first place. But we can sketch how one might begin searching for them. (a) If the mediocre work suffers from some disturbingly prominent feature that distracts from whatever merits the work has, this feature might be toned down by choosing categories with respect to which it is standard, rather than variable or contra-standard. When the work is perceived in the new way the offending feature may be no more distracting than the flatness of a painting is to us. (b) If the work suffers from an overabundance of clichés it might be livened up by choosing categories with respect to which the clichés are variable or contra-standard rather than standard. (c) If it needs ingenuity we might devise a set of rules in terms of which the work finds itself in a dilemma from which it ingeniously escapes, and we might build these rules into a set of categories. Surely, however, if there are categories waiting to be discovered which would transform a mediocre work into a masterpiece, it does not follow that the work really is a hitherto unrecognized masterpiece. The fact that when perceived in such categories it would appear exciting, ingenious, and so forth, rather than grating, cliché-ridden, pedestrian, does not make it so. It cannot be correct, I suggest, to perceive a work in categories which are totally foreign to the artist and his society, even if it comes across as a masterpiece in them.23 This brings us to the historical conditions (iii) and (iv). I see no way of avoiding the conclusion that one or the other of them at least is relevant in determining in what categories a work is correctly perceived. I consider both relevant, but I will not argue here for the independent relevance of (iv). (iii) merits special attention in light of the prevalence of disputes about the importance of artists’ intentions. To test the relevance of (iii) we must consider a case in which (iii) and (iv) diverge. One such instance occurred during the early days of the twelve-tone movement in music. Schoenberg no doubt intended even his earliest 23. To say that it is incorrect (in my sense) to perceive a work in certain categories is not necessarily to claim that one ought not to perceive it that way. I heartily recommend perceiving mediocre works in categories that make perceiving them worthwhile whenever possible. The point is that one is not likely to judge the work correctly when he perceives it incorrectly.



twelve-tone works to be heard as such. But this category was certainly not then well established or recognized in his society: virtually none of his contemporaries (except close associates such as Berg and Webern), even musically sophisticated ones, would have (or could have) heard these works in that category. But it seems to me that even the very first twelve-tone compositions are correctly heard as such, that the judgments one who hears them otherwise would make of them (for example, that they are chaotic, formless) are mistaken. I think this would be so even if Schoenberg had been working entirely alone, if none of his contemporaries had any inkling of the twelve-tone system. No doubt the first twelve-tone compositions are much better when heard in the category of twelve-tone works than when they are heard in any other way people might be likely to hear them. But as we have seen this cannot by itself account for the correctness of hearing them in the former way. The only other feature of the situation which could be relevant, so far as I can see, is Schoenberg’s intention. The above example is unusual in that Schoenberg was extraordinarily selfconscious about what he was doing, having explicitly formulated rules—that is, specified standard properties—for twelve-tone composition. Artists are not often so self-conscious, even when producing revolutionary works of art. Their intentions as to which categories their works are to be perceived in are not nearly as clear as Schoenberg’s were, and often they change their minds during the process of creation. In such cases (as well as ones in which the artists’ intentions are unknown) the question of what categories a work is corectly perceived in is left by default to condition (iv), together with (i) and (ii). But it seems to me that in almost all cases at least one of the historical conditions, (iii) and (iv), is of crucial importance. My account of the rules governing decisions about what categories works are correctly perceived in leaves a lot undone. There are bound to be a large number of undecidable cases on my criteria. Artists’ intentions are frequently unclear, variable, or undiscoverable. Many works belong to categories which are borderline cases of being well established in the artists’ societies (perhaps, for example, the categories of rococo music—for instance, C. P. E. Bach—of music in the style of early Mozart, and of very thin metal sculpted figures of the kind that Giacometti made). Many works fall between well-established categories (for example, between impressionist and cubist paintings), possessing some of the standard features relative to each, and so neither clearly qualify nor clearly fail to qualify on the basis of condition (i) to be perceived in either. There is, in addition, the question of what relative weights to accord the various conditions when they conflict. It would be a mistake, however, to try to tighten up much further the rules for deciding how works are correctly perceived. To do so would be simply to legislate gratuitously, since the intuitions and precedents we have to go on are highly variable and often confused. But it is important to notice just where these intuitions and precedents are inconclusive, for doing so will expose the sources of many critical disputes. One such dispute might well arise concerning



Giacometti’s thin metal sculptures. To a critic who sees them simply as sculptures, or sculptures of people, they look frail, emaciated, wispy, or wiry. But that is not how they would strike a critic who sees them in the category of thin metal sculptures of that sort (just as stick figures do not strike us as wispy or emaciated). He would be impressed not by the thinness of the sculptures, but by the expressive nature of the positions of their limbs, and so forth, so he would no doubt attribute very different aesthetic properties to them. Which of the two ways of seeing these works is correct is, I suspect, undecidable. It is not clear whether enough such works have been made and have been regarded sufficiently often as constituting a category for that category to be deemed well established in Giacometti’s society. And I doubt whether any of the other conditions settle the issue conclusively. So perhaps the dispute between the two critics is essentially unresolvable. The most that we can do is to point out just what sort of a difference of perception underlies the dispute, and why it is unresolvable. The occurrence of impasses like this is by no means something to be regretted. Works may be fascinating precisely because of shifts between equally permissible ways of perceiving them. And the enormous richness of some works is due in part to the variety of permissible, and worthwhile, ways of perceiving them. But it should be emphasized that even when my criteria do not clearly specify a single set of categories in which a work is correctly perceived, there are bound to be possible ways of perceiving it (which we may or may not have thought of) that they definitely rule out. The question posed at the outset of this section was how to determine what aesthetic properties a work has, given that which ones it seems to have depends on what categories it is perceived in, on which of its properties are standard, which variable, and which contra-standard for us. I have sketched in rough outline rules for deciding in what categories a work is correctly perceived (and hence which of its features are absolutely standard, variable, and contra-standard). The aesthetic properties it actually possesses are those that are to be found in it when it is perceived correctly.24

24. This is a considerable oversimplification. If there are two equally correct ways of perceiving a work, and it appears to have a certain aesthetic property perceived in one but not the other of them, does it actually possess this property or not? There is no easy general answer. Probably in some such cases the question is undecidable. But I think we would sometimes be willing to say that a work is, e.g., touching or serene if it seems so when perceived in one acceptable way (or, more hesitantly, that there is “something very touching, or serene, about it”), while allowing that it does not seem touching or serene when perceived in another way which we do not want to rule incorrect. In some cases works have aesthetic properties (e.g., intriguing, subtle, alive, interesting, deep) which are not apparent on perceiving it in any single acceptable way, but which depend on the multiplicity of acceptable ways of perceiving it and relations between them. None of these complications relieves the critic of the responsibility for determining in what way or ways it is correct to perceive a work.



V. CONCLUSION I return now to the issues raised in section 1. (I will adopt for the remainder of this paper the simplifying assumption that there is only one correct way of perceiving any work. Nothing important depends on this.) If a work’s aesthetic properties are those that are to be found in it when it is perceived correctly, and the correct way to perceive it is determined partly by historical facts about the artist’s intention and/or his society, no examination of the work itself, however thorough, will by itself reveal those properties.25 If we are confronted by a work about whose origins we know absolutely nothing (for example, one lifted from the dust at an as yet unexcavated archaeological site on Mars), we would simply not be in a position to judge it aesthetically. We could not possibly tell by staring at it, no matter how intently and intelligently, whether it is coherent, or serene, or dynamic, for by staring we cannot tell whether it is to be seen as a sculpture, a guernica, or some other exotic or mundane kind of work of art. (We could attribute aesthetic properties to it in the way we do to natural objects, which of course does not involve consideration of historical facts about artists or their societies. [Cf. p. 211.] But to do this would not be to treat the object as a work of art.) It should be emphasized that the relevant historical facts are not merely useful aids to aesthetic judgment; they do not simply provide hints concerning what might be found in the work. Rather they help to determine what aesthetic properties a work has; they, together with the work’s nonaesthetic features, make it coherent, serene, or whatever. If the origin of a work which is coherent and serene had been different in crucial respects, the work would not have had these qualities; we would not merely have lacked a means for discovering them. And of two works which differ only in respect of their origins—ones which are perceptually indistinguishable—one might be coherent or serene, and the other not. Thus, since artists’s intentions are among the relevant historical considerations, the “intentional fallacy” is not a fallacy at all. I have of course made no claims about the relevance of artist’s intentions as to the aesthetic properties that their works should have. I am willing to agree that whether an artist intended his work to be coherent or serene has nothing essential to do with whether it is coherent or serene. But this must not be allowed to seduce us into thinking that no intentions are relevant. Aesthetic properties, then, are not to be found in works themselves in the straightforward way that colors and shapes or pitches and rhythms are. But I do not mean to deny that we perceive aesthetic properties in works of art. I see the serenity of a painting and hear the coherence of a sonata, despite the fact that the presence of these qualities in the works depends partly on circumstances of their 25. But this, plus a general knowledge of what sorts of works were produced when and by whom, might.



origin which I cannot (now) perceive. Jones’s marital status is part of what makes him a bachelor, if he is one, and we cannot tell his marital status just by looking at him, though we can thus ascertain his sex. Hence, I suppose, his bachelorhood is not a property we can be said to perceive in him. But the aesthetic properties of a work do not depend on historical facts about it in anything like the way Jones’s bachelorhood depends on his marital status. The point is not that the historical facts function as grounds in any ordinary sense for aesthetic judgments. By themselves they do not, in general, count either for or against the presence of any particular aesthetic property. Nor are they part of a larger body of information (also including data about the work derived from an examination of it) from which conclusions about the works’ aesthetic properties are to be deduced or inferred. We must learn to perceive the work in the correct categories, as determined in part by the historical facts, and judge it by what we then perceive in it. The historical facts help to determine whether a painting is coherent or serene only (as far as my arguments go) by affecting what way of perceiving the painting must reveal these qualities if they are truly attributable to the work. We must not, however, expect to judge a work simply by setting ourselves to perceive it correctly, once it is determined what the correct way of perceiving it is. For one cannot, in general, perceive a work in a given set of categories simply by setting himself to do it. I could not possibly, merely by an act of will, see Guernica as a guernica rather than as a painting, nor could I hear a succession of street sounds in any arbitrary category one might dream up, even if the category has been explained to me in detail. Indeed, I cannot even imagine except in a rather vague way what it would be like, for example, to see Guernica as a guernica. One cannot merely decide to respond appropriately to a work—to be shocked or unnerved or surprised by its (absolutely) contra-standard features, to find its standard features familiar or mundane, and to react to its variable features in other ways—once one knows the correct categories. Perceiving a work in a certain category or set of categories is a skill that must be acquired by training, and exposure to a great many other works of the category or categories in question is ordinarily, I believe, an essential part of this training. (But an effort of will may facilitate the training, and once the skill is acquired one may be able to decide at will whether or not to perceive it in that or those categories.) This has important consequences concerning how best to approach works of art of kinds that are new to us—contemporary works in new idioms, works from foreign cultures, or newly resurrected works from the ancient past. It is no use just immersing ourselves in a particular work, even with the knowledge of what categories it is correctly perceived in, for that alone will not enable us to perceive it in those categories. We must become familiar with a considerable variety of works of similar sorts. When dealing with works of more familiar kinds it is not generally necessary to undertake deliberately the task of training ourselves to perceive them in the correct categories (except perhaps when those categories include relatively subtle



ones). But this is, I think, only because we have been trained unwittingly. Even the ability to see paintings as paintings had to be acquired, it seems to me, by repeated exposure to a great many paintings. The critic must thus go beyond the work before him in order to judge it aesthetically, not only to discover what the correct categories are, but also to be able to perceive it in them. The latter does not require consideration of historical facts, or consideration of facts at all, but it requires directing one’s attention nonetheless to things other than the work in question. Probably no one would deny that some sort of perceptual training is necessary, in many if not all instances, for apprehending a work’s serenity or coherence, or other aesthetic properties. And of course it is not only aesthetic properties whose apprehension by the senses requires training. But the kind of training required in the aesthetic cases (and perhaps some others as well) has not been properly appreciated. In order to learn how to recognize gulls of various kinds, or the sex of chicks, or a certain person’s handwriting, one must have gulls of those kinds, or chicks of the two sexes, or examples of that person’s handwriting pointed out to him, practice recognizing them himself, and be corrected when he makes mistakes. But the training important for discovering the serenity or coherence of a work of art that I have been discussing is not of this sort. Acquiring the ability to perceive a serene or coherent work in the correct categories is not a matter of having had serene or coherent things pointed out to one, or having practiced recognizing them. What is important is not (or not merely) experience with other serene and coherent things, but experience with other things of the appropriate categories. Much of the argument in this paper has been directed against the seemingly common-sense notion that aesthetic judgments about works of art are to be based solely on what can be perceived in them, how they look or sound. That notion is seriousl misleading, I claim, on two different counts. I do not deny that paintings and sonatas are to be judged solely by what can be seen or heard in them—when they are perceived correctly. But examining a work with the senses can by itself reveal neither how it is correct to perceive it, nor how to perceive it that way.

Figure 12.1 Jerzy Kolacz, Spot: Man Drawing Thumb Print. © Jerzy Kolacz 2007. Courtesy of the artist. Originally published in New Yorker, 30 November 1992.


I. PRODUCTS OR PROCESSES? A curious fact about our concept of style is that we seem unable to make up our minds about what sorts of things have styles. Works of art—paintings, plays, buildings, sculptures, operas—are said to be in one or another style, and so are objects such as bathing suits, neckties, and automobiles. But we often think of styles as ways of doing things, ways of performing actions. There are styles of teaching, styles of travel, styles of chess playing, and styles of selling insurance. Are styles attributes of objects, or of actions? James Ackerman regards them as attributes of objects, of works of art: In the study of the arts, works—not institutions or people—are the primary data; in them we must find certain characteristics that are more or less stable . . ., and flexible. . . . A distinguishable ensemble of such characteristics we call a style.1

But Ernst Gombrich, in his encyclopedia article, predicates styles of actions: Style is any distinctive, and therefore recognizable, way in which an act is performed or an artifact made or ought to be performed and made.2

Meyer Schapiro shifts back and forth: [The section titles are new in this reprinting.] 1. James S. Ackerman, “Style,” in Art and Archaeology, ed. James S. Ackerman and Rhys Carpenter (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963), p. 164. 2. Ernst Gombrich, “Style,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. David L. Sill, 18 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1968–1979), 15:352–361.




By style is meant the constant form—and sometimes the constant elements, qualities, and expression—in the art of an individual or group. The term is also applied to the whole activity of an individual or society, as in speaking of a “lifestyle” or the “style of a civilization.”3

It is unlikely that what we have here is a simple case of ambiguity, of two distinct meanings of the term style which call for independent analyses. The very fact that Schapiro and others, in discussions of style, seem to confuse products and processes suggests that there is an intimate connection between styles of objects and styles of behavior. I would suggest that styles of works of art are to be understood in terms of the notion of styles of action. Specifically, attributing a style to a work involves, somehow, the idea of the manner in which it was made, the act of creating it. This suggestion is supported by the fact that one way of describing the style of a work is to speak of what style it is done in, and also by the fact that we talk about styles of painting, of writing, and so on, in contexts in which it would seem that we are really concerned with styles of paintings, writings, and so on, the products rather than the processes. It is especially noteworthy that the notion of style seems peculiarly irrelevant to objects that are not products of human action, even when our interest in these objects is “aesthetic.” What is the style of a tulip, or an alpine meadow, or a pristine lake in the high Sierras? Are the Grand Canyon and Yosemite Valley in the same style or different ones? Sunsets in the tropics are very different from sunsets in the Arizona desert, and Arizona sunsets in January differ from Arizona sunsets in June. But are these differences stylistic? We might allow that natural objects can, in unusual cases, have styles. A chorus of chirping birds might, just conceivably, chirp in the style of Haydn. But the notion of style here is obviously parasitic on that which is applied to manmade artifacts. It is beginning to look as though human action has something to do with all style attributions. The fact that styles are attributed primarily to artifacts rather than to natural objects is not, I think, just an insignificant peculiarity of the English word style; it reflects a profound difference between how we understand and respond to works of art, and how we understand and respond to natural objects.4 The difference is evident in the fact that a wide range of very important aesthetic qualities of works of art are not to be found in natural objects. Poems and paintings are sometimes witty, or morbid, or sophisticated, but it is hard to imagine what a witty tulip, or a morbid mountain, or a sophisticated lake would be like. A sunset can hardly be sentimental, or unsentimental for that matter, even though a 3. Meyer Schapiro, “Style,” in Aesthetics Today, ed. Morris Philipson (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1961), p. 81. Cf. also pp. 82, 83–84. 4. Nelson Goodman steamrollers this difference, it seems to me, when he allows that sunrises might reasonably be said to have styles. Goodman, “The Status of Style,” Critical Inquiry 1 (1975): 808.



realistic painting of the sunset might be a paradigm of sentimentality. The lines in a drawing may be sensitive, or bold, or carefree, but one hesitates to attribute these qualities to similar lines in nature. Could the pounding of a surf be pompous or exuberant or passionate or bombastic or energetic, as a performance of a Rachmaninoff prelude might be? It is rarely appropriate to describe natural objects as ponderous, deliberate, neurotic, anguished, pretentious, profound, flamboyant, expressive, or reserved. I would like to make two further observations about these qualities whose ranges seem limited to works of art, or at least to artifacts. First, the predicates corresponding to them serve also, and perhaps primarily, to describe human actions or to attribute to people properties that are expressed in action. Second, when these qualities are possessed by works of art they are, in many cases at least, aspects of the styles of the works. Thus a work may be in a sentimental style, or in a morbid, or bombastic, or flamboyant style. We will see below that sentimentality, bombast, flamboyance, and so on do not constitute styles, but they are what I shall call style qualities. Our observations so far should make us uncomfortable with what I shall call the cobbler model of the institution of art. The cobbler model has a three-part structure. There is the producer, the product, and the consumer, that is, the cobber, who makes shoes, which are worn by consumers. The point of the process consists in how well the shoes fit the feet and the needs of the consumer; the proof is in the shoes. The cobbler’s work is merely a means to this end. Once the consumer has the shoes he has no reason to concern himself with the cobbler’s act of making them. What is important is the nature of the shoes themselves. Natural objects with the right properties would serve just as well as the cobbler’s artifacts, and it makes no difference whether the wearer thinks that his shoes are artifacts or that they grew on trees. Applying this model to the institution of art, we have the artist who, perhaps together with a collaborating performer, counts as the producer; the work of art which counts as the product; and the appreciator in the role of consumer. The artist, the work, and the appreciator are supposed to have functions analogous to those of the cobbler, the shoes, and the wearer of the shoes, respectively, although of course the kind of value that the work has for the appreciator is not the same as that which shoes have for wearers. I am sure it is evident already what sort of objection I have to the cobbler model as applied to art. It focuses attention too exclusively on the work of art, the “object itself,” and not enough on the action of making it. If, as I have suggested, the notion of styles as characteristics of works essentially involves that of the acts of producing the works, one would not expect that the appreciator who wants to appreciate the work for its style can simply wrap himself in the work itself and give no thought to the artist’s action. Nor would one expect that it makes no difference whether the work is indeed a work, an artifact, rather than a natural object. But



shortcomings in the cobbler model are evident even apart from the notion of style. I shall examine some of them now, to set the stage, and return to style later. A relatively minor deviation from the cobbler model occurs when the object of the appreciators’ interest is not something that the artist produces, but rather the action of the artist itself. In dance and theater our attention is directed to the actions of dancers and actors. But we should distinguish between the movements of dancers or actors and their (intentional) actions. It may be the movements, the events consisting of bodies in motion, which are the objects of appreciators’ interest, and these movements are “produced” by the performers when they perform the actions. There are other cases, however, in which it is evident that actions, not mere movements, are objects of appreciation. The clearest examples of this occur in the avant-garde. For instance, the Museum of Modern Art once exhibited “the leftovers so to speak of an event in which artist John Latham took a copy of Art and Culture by critic Clement Greenberg, and shredded and blended it into a kind of book-shake which he and some friends cheerfully gulped down.”5 It is obvious that what is interesting in this case is the action that Latham performed, not just the movements of his body. If his behavior had been unintentional, it would not have had anything like the same sort of significance. Some actions that are of interest are actions of making or displaying objects. Latham’s action did include the making of the book-shake, the remnants of which were put on display. But it seems clear that what Latham did, not what he made, is the main object of interest. The same might be said of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades and John Cage’s indeterminately composed music. One could argue that the readymades and the indeterminate music are not themselves very interesting (although Cage disputes this). In any case, Duchamp’s act of displaying the readymades and Cage’s act of using indeterminate means to compose his music certainly are interesting. This is obvious from the enormous volume of literature about these actions. But are the actions in these cases aesthetically interesting? My opinion is that nothing is to be gained by pressing either this question or the related question of what qualifies as “art.”6 But if, for the sake of argument, we assume that a specifically aesthetic kind of interest is to be recognized, a reasonable case can be made for saying that our interest in the actions I have described may very well be aesthetic. They are easily understood as symbolic or expressive of certain attitudes about life, or society, or the art establishment in very much the way that actions of characters in literature very often are. They are, in fact, strikingly similar to actions of characters in the theater of the absurd. The activities of many avantgarde artists can be, and have been, regarded as a kind of theater. 5. Newsweek, 30 April 1973, p. 89. 6. See my review of George Dickie’s Art and the Aesthetic in Philosophical Review 86 (1977): 79–101.



Sometimes when artists make objects it seems obvious that the object is of very little significance and that it is only the act of making it which should occupy our attention. But strangely enough, the objects, as ordinary or trivial as they seem, are often treated with much the same sort of reverence we accord to the masterpieces of Rembrandt and Shakespeare and Beethoven. They are put in museums to be gawked at, they are bought and sold for incredible sums, and so forth. The artists themselves often do not try to make it clear that attention should be paid to their actions rather than the products of their actions. They speak and write and behave as though their works are meant to be masterpieces, or at least objects of interest, in something like the traditional way. We can understand valuing these objects as mementos of the significant activities that led to their existence, much as we value things like Beethoven’s piano and Rembrandt’s printmaking equipment. Some of the significance of the actions rubs off in this way on the objects. But I do not think that this accounts fully for the reverential treatment that things like Duchamp’s readymades and Cage’s indeterminate music sometimes receive. Another explanation that seems to me especially interesting and important is this: if the act of producing the object is symbolic or expressive in one way, the act of buying or displaying it or just observing it may be symbolic or expressive in another. Attending a concert of Cage’s indeterminate music may be a way of expressing one’s agreement with the point one takes Cage to have been expressing in producing the music; the listener may be symbolically thumbing his nose at the art establishment, or debunking the “masters,” or affirming a kind of Cagian zest for life. This explanation does not suggest that the product, Cage’s music, for example, is valuable, any more than the bread and wine used in communion are themselves valuable. But it does suggest that there is something significant and important about behaving as though the objects are valuable— performing the music, buying the tickets to hear it, and listening to it. I would like to point out especially that on the explanation I have offered the act of appreciating the object (or should we say the act of pretending to appreciate it?) is closely analogous to the act of making it. Both are ritualistic or symbolic affirmations of probably similar attitudes or points of view. Why do artists often appear not to recognize that it is their actions, rather than the products of their actions, which are of interest? The action of interest is in many cases that of behaving as though one is creating and/or displaying a valuable aesthetic object of a traditional kind, while actually creating or displaying something that is nothing of the sort. It is the shock and absurdity of the contrast between the object and the way it is treated which is symbolically significant, which can be seen as, for example, deflating the pomposity and rigidity of traditional attitudes about art and the worshipful attitude toward what is deemed to be very special. Just think how much less effective Duchamp’s act of displaying his readymades would have been if he had attached notations to the pedestals explaining clearly that the objects are not meant to be of any particular interest



and that attention is to be focused instead on his act of displaying them. His action could not have been regarded as one of presenting trivial, uninteresting, everyday things as though they were masterpieces, and hence his action would not have had the same intriguing and, to some, maddening symbolic significance. The cobbler model is misleading even when our interest is directed toward the product of an artist’s actions, rather than the action itself. What matters in the cobbler case is the value of the shoes for the wearer. There usually would be little point in making shoes if they were not to be worn. But works of art are not made exclusively for the sake of their appreciation by spectators, listeners, or readers. One way to appreciate music is by playing it. And musicians frequently do play for the fun of it, with no thought of an audience. The point here is not just that playing music is enjoyable, for the cobbler may well enjoy making shoes also. The enjoyment of playing music strikes me as very much like that of listening to it; both activities deserve the label of “aesthetic experience” if anything does. Playing and hearing music are simply different ways of appreciating it.7 But the cobbler’s experience, by contrast, is not at all like that of the wearer of the shoes. His enjoyment of the activity of making the shoes has little in common with the value that the shoes have for the wearer. It might be thought that the similarity of the musician’s experience to that of the listener is explained simply by the fact that the musician is a listener also; he listens to the sounds as he makes them. But the player does not listen in the same way that a listener does. He is too occupied with what he is doing. Sounds that a musician delights in making may be ones that would drive him up the wall if he heard them as an audience does. I prefer to explain the similarity in the opposite way—by the supposition that appreciation by the audience involves some sort of empathy with the act of making the sounds. My inclination is to understand appreciation by performing, rather than appreciation by listening, as primary, even though the latter is much more common, at least in the tradition of Western art music. It is revealing to look beyond Western art music to its roots. Audiences are superfluous in many folk music and folk dance traditions (including our own current tradition of hymn singing).8 People just get together and sing or dance.

[7. I recall being curious and puzzled, while composing this essay, as to why the experience of making music and that of listening to it should be as similar as they clearly seemed to be, why regarding them as alternative means of appreciating music should be so natural, even unavoidable. The recent discovery of mirror neurons, the fact that the same kinds of neural activity occurs when subjects either perform certain actions or observe others performing them, promises an explanation. Cf. Vittorio Gallese, Luciano Fadiga, Leonardo Fogassi, and Giacomo Rizzolati, “Action Recognition in the Premotor Cortex,” Brain 119, no. 2 (1996): 593–609; and Rizzolati et al., “Premotor Cortex and the Recognition of Motor Actions,” Cognitive Brain Research 3 (1996): 131–141.] 8. Cf. Roger Sessions, Questions about Music (New York: W. W. Norton, 1970), pp. 14–17.



Anyone listening or watching is incidental. There is no temptation to say that in these cases the basic function of the artist, the singer, or the dancer is to produce something for others to contemplate and appreciate. Nor, when there is no audience, are participants to be understood as merely practicing or playing at the craft of performing for an audience. There is no sense in which the ultimate aim is to please (or edify or entertain) passive observers. Indeed it may be misleading to regard the “aesthetic experience” of the musician or dancer as appreciation of something at all. There is no object of appreciation which is independent of the act of “appreciation” itself (at least if the singing or dancing is entirely improvised and spontaneous—otherwise the abstract song or dance, of which the particular performance is an instance, might be regarded as the object of appreciation). One simply enjoys doing something. One doesn’t perform the action and also observe and appreciate the sounds produced or the action performed. One doesn’t (necessarily) reflect on what one does or the sounds one makes in this kind of way. We are a long way from the cobbler model here. Not only is there no “consumer” who appreciates an object made by the producer; there is nothing that can very comfortably be called an object of appreciation at all. Audiences are done away with in some avant-garde traditions also. Many happenings of the 1960s, for example, were done not for the benefit of onlookers, but solely for that of the participants. In this respect, as in many others, the avant-garde is not nearly as revolutionary as some of its practitioners would have us believe. Folk traditions do not always remain pure. Folk music and dance are sometimes performed for audiences of tourists. “Folk singers” give concerts and go on concert tours. No doubt the nature of the singing or dancing is changed in subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, ways to appeal to audiences. But what strikes me as intriguing and revealing is the fact that activities of singing and dancing which originally are done for their own sakes without thought of an audience should so often be such that with little or no alteration they appeal to audiences. The reason for this, I think, is that the audience “empathizes” with the actions of the participants and so gets something of the same thrill or satisfaction or enjoyment from listening or watching which the participants get from singing or dancing. Much of our “fine art” has of course grown out of folk art traditions. It would not be surprising if such works retained certain elements of their ancestors, if, for example, appreciation by audiences of staged concerts of music and dance should involve a sense of, or empathy with, the actions of the artists. It is no accident that I have been concentrating just now on the performing arts, for it is in these arts that the inadequacies of the cobbler model are most glaring. But what about arts such as painting and sculpture and written literature which involve the production of relatively permanent physical objects that can be appreciated long after the artist has finished his work? Is the creative



activity of painters and sculptors typically what anyone would want to call an “aesthetic experience,” and is it anything like the experiences spectators have on confronting the finished works? Does the spectator’s appreciation of the works involve empathy with or understanding of the actions of the maker? I shall have a lot to say about this in what follows. But now I would like to point out that many of us like to doodle, to draw pictures just for the fun of drawing them. Usually we do not intend or expect that anyone will see our doodles, nor that we ourselves will spend any significant amount of time examining or contemplating them after they are finished, let alone put them on permanent display. The point is in the process, just as it is in the case of jam sessions and folk singing and dancing.

II. APPARENT ARTISTS The inadequacies of the cobbler model should encourage the idea that the notion of the style of a work of art is to be understood in terms of the notion of the manner in which it was made. We may begin with the suggestion that we “see” in a work the action of producing it,9 and that the work’s style is a matter of what sort of action is visible (or audible, or otherwise perceptible) in it. The action we “see” in a work may not correspond to what the artist actually did in creating it; our perception may not be veridical. So it would seem that what the artist actually did, the style or manner of his actual behavior, is not what constitutes the style of the work. If we should discover that one of Daumier’s drawings was not done by Daumier at all but rather by a machine run by a computer or in some other way, we would (probably) still feel comfortable saying that it is in the style of Daumier. The idea I wish to pursue is that it is how a work appears to have been made, what sort of action or actions it looks or sounds or seems as though the artist performed in creating it, which is crucial to the work’s style. I do not claim that appreciators and critics are not ordinarily in a position to know much of anything about artists’ acts of creation. It may be perfectly obvious, for example, that an artist performed an action of inscribing thin wiggly lines or applying gaudy colors; this is evident just from the facts that the work has wiggly lines or gaudy colors, and that it was made by someone. And given

9. This suggestion, or something like it, is to be found in Richard Wollheim, “Expression,” in On Art and Mind, ed. Wollheim (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974), pp. 84–100; Schapiro, “Style,” pp. 81, 85; Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961); Guy Sircello, Mind and Art (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972); Denis Dutton, “Artistic Crimes: The Problem of Forgery in the Arts,” British Journal of Aesthetics 19 (1979): 302–314; and in an unpublished paper by Timothy W. Bartel. Booth’s “implied author” is one kind of what I shall call the “apparent artist.”



that artists can be assumed to intend the prominent features of their works, it may be obvious that the action of making thin wiggly lines or applying gaudy colors was intentional. But, as will be clear from my discussion, it is probably the fact that the work appears to be the result of an act of intentionally making thin wiggly lines or applying gaudy colors that is important. The appearance has its effect even if, for some reason, it does not correspond to reality. Sometimes it would be rash to suppose that a work was actually made in the manner it appears to have been; yet the appearance alone is important.10 It is important to distinguish the apparent manners in which works were created from fictional ones.11 A literary work that has a narrator or dramatic speaker can be regarded as establishing the fiction that it was created in a certain manner or by a certain sort of person. Thus Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies makes it fictional that the words of that work were scribbled in a notebook with a stubby pencil by a neurotic named “Malone” as he lay on his deathbed. Perhaps it is also true that the work seems to have been written by such a person in such circumstances.

10. Guy Sircello recognizes the importance of thinking about works of art in terms of the acts of creating them in his provocative book Mind and Art. But he claims that it is actual actions that artists perform (“artistic acts”) that are important. What “artistic acts” have been performed is to be discovered, he holds, just by examining the works themselves; “external evidence” for them is either irrelevant or at least no better than the internal sort (pp. 27–28). I agree that for many of what he calls “artistic acts,” examination of the work itself is a crucial part of verifying that the act was performed. One must examine “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to ascertain that in it Eliot portrayed the hero compassionately. But if Eliot did not write the poem, he did not perform this act, no matter what the poem is like; and if the poem was “written” by a computer or a monkey, no one performed the act of portraying the character compassionately. The words of the poem are, to be sure, good evidence that someone wrote it, but it is conceivable that other evidence (“external” evidence) should show that no one wrote it. Moreover, it is hard to deny that whether at least some of Sircello’s “artistic acts” are performed depends on the intentions of the artist (e.g., the acts of inveighing angrily against the institution of imprisonment—p. 25). The work is not the most “direct” evidence possible of the artist’s intentions. Sircello’s observations are best served, it seems to me, by recognizing that it is how works appear to have been made that matters (and that is important for expression)—although as we shall see, this does not mean that we can ignore all “external” evidence. In fact, Sircello’s book is a rich source of examples illustrating the importance of the apparent actions of artists. I should emphasize that I am not postulating “phantom acts, airy nothings existing mysteriously in works of art” (p. 28), for I do not advocate quantifying over apparent actions (nor over apparent artists). My occasional apparent references to “apparent actions” are to be understood as eliminable in favor of descriptions of what appears to be the case. 11. Seymour Chatman claims that the (actual) author is known by “extraliterary, hence irrelevant, information,” and holds that the key to a literary work’s style is its “persona” (“The Semantics of Style,” in Introduction to Structuralism, ed. Michael Lane [ New York: Basic Books, 1970], pp. 136, 143). I am not sure whether by “persona” here he means a narrator, i.e., a fictional character, or the apparent author.



Figure 12.2 Roy Lichtenstein, Little Big Painting, 1965. Oil and synthetic polymer on canvas, 68" × 80". Purchase, with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Photograph © 1996: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

[I no longer think there is much of a distinction to be drawn between fictional and apparent artists. It now seems to me that, when recognition of an apparent artist is important in understanding and appreciating a work, we should think of him or her as being fictional, as what I have called a storytelling narrator, typically, in the case of literature. But—and this is important—these fictional artists usually belong to a fictional world distinct from that in which the ordinary characters of the work reside. See Kendall L. Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 368–372.]



What fictionally is the case is sometimes apparently the case as well. But Malone Dies seems also (at a “deeper level”—cf. below, section 4) to have been written by a brilliant and imaginative author who is not neurotic. It is not fictional that this is so; there is no brilliant, imaginative, non-neurotic character in the “world of the novel” who creates Malone. Occasionally we find fictional creators outside of literature. Lichtenstein’s paintings of brushstrokes are examples. It is fictional that someone produced his Little Big Painting (figure 12.2) by several bold but sloppy strokes of a paintbrush. There are also films about the making of themselves (e.g., Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf ). And one might regard a performance of Mozart’s Musical Joke as establishing the pretense, making it fictional, that it is the handiwork of an utterly untalented and unimaginative, though earnest, eighteenth-century composer and a group of incompetent performers.12 But these are unusual cases. Most nonliterary works do not depict or portray themselves as having been made in a certain manner; few of them have fictional creators. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers depicts sunflowers, not its own genesis. Hitchcock’s films are about crimes and their solutions, not about the films themselves. Most music is not representational at all; that is, it does not generate any fictional truths. But in the case of all such works something can be said about how they seem to have been created, and we do want to attribute styles to them. So style attributions, at least in these cases, are not based on fictions about their creation, but rather, I think, on how they appear to have been created. In no area of the arts are the activities by which things seem to have been produced more important than in music. The sounds of a musical performance seem to listeners to have been made by actions of banging, scraping, blowing, singing, and so on. And they sound as though these actions were performed vigorously or gently, carefully or with abandon. Usually the sounds we hear are in fact made in pretty much the manner they seem to have been. But let us consider just how the sounds sound, the impression they give of how they were made (even when we don’t see the performers), regardless of whether the impression corresponds to the reality. There can be no doubt that much of the emotional impact of music depends on what activities sound to the listener as though they are going on. It is with reference to these apparent activities that we describe melodies or passages of music as tender, nervous, raging, flowing, or energetic, and that we characterize musical performances as sprightly or bombastic or timid or ponderous.

12. Fictional creators do not necessarily mediate our access to the fictional worlds of works in the way that narrators do. (Cf. my “Points of View in Narrative and Depictive Representation,” Noûs 10 [1975]: 49–61.) Hour of the Wolf, for example, generates many fictional truths that are not implied by fictional truths about the creation of the film. Fictional characters in depictions who mediate our access to fictional worlds, when there are such (cf. ibid., p. 61), are usually not fictional creators.



Many of us, I think, find much electronically generated music—as compared with traditional music—ethereal, disembodied, unreal, not very expressive (at least not expressive in the way traditional music is). This, I believe, is because the sounds of electronic music usually do not give the listener much of a sense of physical activities by which they were made; they do not sound as though they resulted from any familiar mechanical actions such as scraping, banging, blowing, and so forth. But we are likely to have the impression that the sounds of an electronic piece were chosen by someone who is witty, or imaginative, or tiresome; the music seems to have resulted from acts of choosing of certain kinds, even if we have little sense of the physical means by which the sounds were made. In literature obviously what is important is the nature of the choices or decisions the author apparently made about how the work was to be. His decisions may seem to have been motivated by certain passions, or aimed at certain objectives. They may seem to be the decisions of someone who has an ax to grind, or who has certain beliefs or attitudes or sensitivities. We can say that authors apparently acted passionately, or imaginatively, or with certain intentions, in writing their works. It is hardly necessary to mention the many works in the plastic arts which give vivid impressions of the physical behavior of the artist as well as perhaps more ambiguous impressions of his motivations and personality. There are Van Gogh’s paintings with their visible brushstrokes, for example, and Jackson Pollock’s canvases with their drips and splashes. (Van Gogh’s paintings, unlike the Lichtenstein mentioned earlier, are not paintings of brushstrokes, but rather paintings of such things as wheat fields and sunflowers. It is not fictional—that is, true in the fictional world—that the artist manipulated a brush in a certain manner; instead, the painting looks as though he did.) Some other artists attempt to cover their tracks in their works. Neither Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings nor those of Phillip Pearlstein leave very obvious clues about the artists’ physical activities of applying the paint to the canvas. But in both cases the artists seem not to have acted in the manner that either van Gogh or Pollock seem to have, and they do seem to have worked carefully, deliberately, precisely, and often with certain motivations (including the desire to cover their tracks). The Last Supper scene of Buñuel’s Viridiana (figure 12.3) is a fascinating play with shifts in the degree of control apparently exercised by the director. A group of bums have taken over a mansion. In the midst of the hubbub thirteen of them strike a pose which we recognize as that of Leonardo’s fresco. Suddenly the director’s hand is apparent in a way that it was not previously. It is obvious that nearly every detail of these several frames was carefully arranged; the remarkable correspondence to Leonardo’s work could not have been accidental. Then this moment of contrivance gives way to a resumption of the previous chaos; we no longer have the impression, or at least not nearly as vivid an impression, of the director’s studied control over the details of the occurrences on the screen.



Figure 12.3 Luis Buñuel, Viridiana (Last Supper Scene). The Museum of Modern Art. Film Stills Archive, 11 West 53rd Street, New York.

There can be no doubt about the importance of how works seem to have been made. A passionate work is one that seems to have been made by someone acting in passion; a pretentious work one that seems to have resulted from pretension. Many other “aesthetic qualities” of works of art—including those of being exuberant, playful, compulsive, sensitive, sentimental, deliberate, neurotic, serene, sardonic, sophisticated, bold, flamboyant, morbid—are possessed largely or entirely by virtue of appearing to have been made by actions of certain kinds, either actions involving certain sorts of physical movements or ones performed from certain motives or with certain intentions or as a result of certain personality traits. These “aesthetic qualities” are qualities that we identified earlier as being, in many cases at least, qualities of style. So the character of a work’s style is linked in a crucial way to how it appears to have been made. Tentatively, to be in a flamboyant, sentimental, or timid style is to appear to have been created in a flamboyant or sentimental or timid manner. I shall not claim that aesthetic qualities of this kind are always aspects of style, that for example every sentimental work is a work in a sentimental style. One reason for my hesitation is this: It is not clear to me that there could be just one work in a given style. If there is only one, the style hasn’t yet been established; there is no such style. I have some inclination to hold that if only one of the paintings we call impressionist had existed (Monet’s Water Lilies, let us say) it would not be correct to speak of the impressionist style. Water Lilies would be like an exotic animal born unexpectedly to ordinary parents: not the sole example of a new species, but a mutant form of an old one. But I see no reason



why there could not be only one sentimental work. So a “mutant” work of art might be sentimental and yet not be in a sentimental style. Are all qualities of a work’s style based on the apparent activities of its artist? It is not obvious that describing something as being in a classical or baroque style is to make reference to how it appears to have been made. Wölfflin attempts to define “classical” and “baroque” (or anyway, “Classical” and “Baroque”) in terms of features such as linearity and painterliness, and closed and open form. But it may be that these features are felt to be ingredients of a work’s style because they contribute to how works appear to have been made.13 (The same may be true of characteristics such as balance, symmetry, etc.) Wölfflin himself suggests as much at least with respect to closed and open form (tectonic and a-tectonic): [W]e find the classic epoch following the principle that given conditions rule the personal will, that is, the whole is made to look as if this filling were just made for this frame, and vice versa.14 [In Leonard’s Last Supper the figure of Christ] coincides so exactly with the high light of the central door that an enhanced effect—a kind of halo—is thereby achieved for Him. Such a support of the figures by their environment is, of course, equally desired by the baroque: what is not desired is that this coincidence of forms should look obvious and intentional.15 When, in . . . the great Ecce Homo in the oblong form (etching) [Rembrandt] constructs, with clear reference to Italian models, a symmetrical architecture whose mighty breath bears the movement of the little figures, once again the most interesting point is that, in spite of all, he is able to cast the semblance of hazard over this tectonic composition.16

If the style of something depends on what actions seem to have been performed in creating it, a necessary condition for something’s having a style is its seeming to have been created by the deliberate performance of some action. This explains why natural objects do not ordinarily have styles. Many natural objects do seem to have come about in certain ways; they look as though they were the result of certain sorts of physical events. Half Dome, in Yosemite, appears to have been sliced off by something like an incredibly gigantic bread knife. To some, the Grand Canyon may seem to have been formed by a devastating flood, although to

13. Painterliness, symmetry, etc., are probably style constituents rather than style qualities. Cf. p. 00. 14. Heinrich Wölfflin, Principles of Art History, trans. M. D. Hottinger (New York: Dover, 1932), p. 131. 15. Wölfflin, Principles of Art History, p. 133. 16. Wölfflin, Principles of Art History, p. 134.



people with a more sophisticated understanding of geology it probably appears to have been created in the way it actually was—by the constant trickle of a relatively miniscule river and its tributaries over thousands of years. The sense we have of how natural objects were made often has a lot to do with our “aesthetic appreciation” of them. But we rarely have the impression that natural objects are the handiwork of sentient beings, that they are the results of deliberate, intentional human actions. We do not have the sense of a personality reflected in sunsets, alpine meadows, etc. This is why natural objects do not have styles.

III. REALITY-DEPENDENT APPEARANCES I have left untouched a lot of important questions about the relations of apparent artists to styles. But it is high time that we probed deeper into the notion of apparent artists. I have pretended so far that what it is for something to appear to have been made in a certain manner is unproblematic. But nothing is further from the truth. In most of the remainder of this article I shall point out some of the problems, and point toward some solutions. A good place to start is with the relevance of the notion of apparent artists to the (so-called) intentional fallacy and related matters. Monroe Beardsley and others have done a great service by forcing us to examine critically references to artists and their intentions in the writings of critics, and to ask whether such references are not best construed as sloppy ways of talking about the works themselves rather than the artists. Much of the confusion in this area can be traced to inattention to the distinction between apparent artists and actual ones. Sense can often be made of seemingly illicit appeals to artists’ intentions by reformulating them as appeals to what intentions it looks as though the artists had, judging from their works. But even when what is relevant to criticism is merely with what intentions a work appears to have been made, or how, in other respects, it seems to have come about, it still may be crucial to consider the actual historical context in which it was created. We need to consider carefully in what sense the property of appearing to have been made in a certain manner is to be “located” in the work which does so appear. Jorge Luis Borges’s story “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote” will serve to introduce my point. In this story Pierre Menard, a quixotic twentieth-century author, wrote part of Don Quixote, that is, he authored a text that is word for word identical with part of Cervantes’s Don Quixote. It is important that Menard neither copied Cervantes’s work nor thought himself into Cervantes’s shoes and wrote it, again, from Cervantes’s perspective; instead he wrote it from his own twentieth-century perspective. Borges’s narrator comments: It is a revelation to compare the Don Quixote of Menard with that of Cervantes. The latter, for instance, wrote:



. . . truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future. Written in the seventeenth century, written by the “ingenious layman” Cervantes, this enumeration is a mere rhetorical eulogy of history. Menard, on the other hand, writes: . . . truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future. History, mother of truth; the idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an investigation of reality, but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what took place; it is what we think took place. The final clauses—example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future—are shamelessly pragmatic.17

Presumably, Menard had pragmatism in mind when he wrote this passage, and Cervantes did not have it in mind when he wrote his corresponding one. But perhaps this is not what is important. Perhaps Menard’s work has overtones of pragmatism because it seems to have been written by someone with pragmatism in mind, and Cervantes’s work does not have overtones of pragmatism because it seems to have been written by someone who did not have pragmatism in mind. How can it be that the works seem different in this way, given that they consist of exactly the same words? The answer is that how the works seem is a function not just of their words, but of what century they were written in. Menard’s text, understood as a twentieth-century work, seems to have been written with pragmatism in mind, while Cervantes’s text, understood as a seventeenth-century work, seems otherwise. So even if a critic can ignore what the authors actually thought in favor of what they seem to have thought, he cannot ignore the historical context of the works and bury himself in the text alone. Let us make this a little more precise. How a text seems to a particular reader depends not just on the text itself but also on what century the reader takes it to have come from. I think we can agree that it is correct (proper, appropriate, normal) to read Cervantes’s Don Quixote as a seventeenth-century work, since it was in fact written in the seventeenth century; to construe it as a product of the twentieth century would be to misconstrue it, to read things into it which are not there.18 What justifies the judgment that it does not have overtones of pragmatism is the fact that, when read in the appropriate manner, it seems

17. Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (New York: Grove Press, 1962), p. 53; italics in original. 18. There is a lot more to be said about the notion of correct and incorrect ways of reading texts. For some ideas on an analogous problem, see my “Categories of Art” [chap.11, this volume.]



not to have been written with pragmatism in mind. Menard’s Quixote is properly read as a twentieth-century work, and it seems when so read to have been authored with pragmatism in mind (since the author can be expected to have known about the ideas of William James); thus Menard’s Quixote does have overtones of pragmatism. This example illustrates the well-known fact that how things look or sound or seem is conditioned by what we know or believe, and hence by the experiences that formed our beliefs. One general principle about such conditioning is this: what sort of action a particular object appears to have resulted from depends in large measure on our beliefs about what sorts of objects generally result from what sorts of actions, at least when these beliefs are sufficiently “internalized.” We know from previous experience what a surface is likely to look like if an opaque liquid has been dripped and splashed on it, or if such a liquid has been brushed on it or smeared on with one’s fingers. It is because of our understanding of these matters that Pollock’s paintings appear to have been dripped and splashed, Van Gogh’s appear to have been executed with a brush, and fingerpaintings appear to have been fingerpainted. Most of us have a less clear conception of what sorts of colored surfaces are likely to result from what printmaking techniques— etching, woodcut printing, and so on—or from using a brush in the way that Leonardo did. This is why most of us, on looking at prints of Leonardo’s works, do not have an especially vivid or detailed sense of how these works were made. It is against our vast background of experience with sound-making events that the sounds of a musical performance sound as though they were made by actions of certain kinds. Imagine what it would be like to hear music against the background of radically different experience. Suppose that on Mars the harder something is hit or scraped or blown, the softer is the sound that results. Giving a cymbal a mighty wallop produces a mere tinkle, and barely touching it brings forth a deafening roar. No doubt what sounds to us to have resulted from violent actions would, to Martians, sound as though they resulted from gentle ones, and vice versa. It is intriguing to speculate about how the Martians’ responses to a performance—of, say, a Schubert symphony—would differ from ours; clearly the differences would be enormous. What information informs correct or appropriate perception of works of art? We cannot expect a definitive and complete answer to this question. But it is clear that the correct perception of most, and probably all, works is informed by some knowledge of the sort I have described, especially what is pervasive, common knowledge in the culture in which a given work is produced. No one will deny, I think, that an impossibly naive viewer who has no understanding at all of how liquids behave and so has no sense of the drippings and splashings that went into a Pollock painting misperceives it. (He fails to perceive the spontaneity and sense of abandon which the painting possesses, for example.) Nor would anyone deny that the Martians I mentioned mis-hear the Schubert symphony.



The simple fact that how things look is context-dependent in the manner I have described gives rise to some intriguingly subtle and complex situations in the arts. Let us consider, for instance, the frequent stylistic innovations designed to combat artifice and contrivance in art and to achieve instead a sense of “naturalness.” I have in mind the avoidance of regular meters and rhymes in poetry, the avoidance of symmetry in the visual arts, and the avoidance of sequences and other too obvious repetitions of thematic material in music. Many of us have a distaste for what seems too perfect, too much under the control of the artist; we find a sense of randomness or accident refreshing. It is clear already that the artifice or contrivance that seems objectionable can be understood in terms of apparent artists. One does not want the artist’s hand to be too obvious in his work. Contrived works are ones that seem too much to have been made carefully, deliberately, with attention to the details, leaving little to chance. Coincidences in literature are often felt to constitute undesirable intrusions by the author into his work. And many innovations in the direction of “realism” in painting can be understood partly as attempts to paint things as they are or as they appear, rather than as they are painted.19 There may be instances in which the aim is to achieve the effect of natural objects, to produce works which do not look made at all, which have no apparent artists. Perhaps this is John Cage’s objective (although it is arguable whether he succeeded). But it is likely that most artists who introduced new styles in order to escape contrivance wanted to produce works with apparent artists who are more spontaneous, freer, less uptight about details, works that seem to have been made by someone, but someone who was willing to allow things to take their natural course without always interfering. The rule of thumb that in pictures the main subject should not be exactly in the center is based on the desire to avoid contrivance. But it is easy to see how the rule can backfire. If it is consistently followed, if painters and photographers consistently put their main subjects just off center, then pictures in which that is done may well come to seem contrived—they will come to look as though the artist carefully, deliberately, placed the main subject just off center so as to avoid the appearance of contrivance! Artists might then move their subjects farther from the center, just off just-off-center. But if this becomes the general practice, or even if it is merely the obvious way to (try to) make a picture that doesn’t look contrived, it may come to seem contrived also. If placing the subject just off just-off-center is precisely what needs to be done to avoid contrivance, a picture 19. Wölfflin describes the Baroque as, in part, a reaction against the contrivance of Classicism. Principles of Art History, pp. 131–134. But the ultimate in the attitude I have described is found in the writings of John Cage, who advises the composer to “give up the desire to control sound, . . . and set about discovering means to let sounds be themselves rather than vehicles for man-made theories or expressions of human sentiments.” Silence (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961), p. 10.



with the subject just off just-off-center may for that very reason appear to have been carefully planned so as not to look contrived. It is a continuous game of hide-and-seek that artists play with audiences. We can almost understand how one might, in frustration, resort to determining the composition of pictures by chance methods, in the manner of John Cage. But if the position of the main subject in a picture is decided by chance, the subject might end up smack in the middle, or just off center. And if it does, won’t it look contrived? Perhaps. But let us not forget that how things look is conditioned by what we know. Suppose that the artist’s use of indeterminacy is advertised, as John Cage advertises his; suppose that everyone can be expected to know about it. Our realization that the main subject got where it did by chance may well prevent it from looking contrived. Its placement may strike us as a marvelous or at least surprising coincidence, rather than as an indication of insipid artifice. Or, especially if the subject is not centered precisely, it may just look natural.20 We are now in a position to say more about the link between styles of works and their apparent artists. What I previously called style qualities, qualities that works possess in virtue of their apparent artists, are not essential properties of styles. A style that is flamboyant or sentimental or timid in one work, may not be so in another. Features that make works of one period seem to be the result of flamboyant or sentimental or timid actions may make works of another period seem to be the result of actions of very different kinds. What once suggested an imaginative artist later suggests a dull one; evidence of a bold creator becomes evidence of a timid one; the expressive becomes contrived; inspiration degenerates to cliché. This of course is because the manner in which certain features seem to have been made depends not just on the features but also on the context. What needs to be noticed is that when the features remain the same but their apparent genesis changes, the style has not necessarily changed. So style identity is tied up with the features, rather than with the apparent artist.21 If features that in some works suggest bold artists, suggest timid artists in works of a later period, we don’t have to say that the works are in different styles; rather the same style that was bold in one context is timid on the other. The style of Pierre Menard’s Don Quixote is archaic and that of Cervantes’s Don Quixote is not; yet these works are in the same style. The style became archaic with the change of context. Flamboyance, pretentiousness, timidity, and other properties that are linked similarly to apparent artists, are, let us say, expressive. Styles are to be identified not with what is expressed but with what in the work does the expressing; style is not expression but the means of expression. What constitutes being in a given style is not having a certain expressive nature, but having certain features (thin wiggly lines, painterliness, balance, etc.) which are expressive.

20. The discussion in section 5 is relevant to this point. 21. I will not try to say just what changes of features constitute a change of style.



This account locates styles of works firmly in the works themselves, as firmly as properties of having thin wiggly lines and being painterly are located there. But the connection with behavior remains. For which properties of a work constitute its style is at least partly a matter of which of its properties give an impression of the artist’s action in creating the work, which ones are responsible for how the work appears to have been made.

IV. LEVELS OF APPEARANCES Our task has only begun. It is clear already that the notion of the manner in which a work appears to have been created is not unproblematic. But we have barely scratched the surface of the complexity of this subject. Let us look at works that seem to have conflicting appearances, works that seem to have been created by acts of one sort and also seem to have been created by acts of an opposite sort. We can set aside the simple cases in which a work’s appearance is merely ambiguous—for example, a novel that contains some indications that it was written with the intention of being taken as a mere adventure story and some indications that it was meant as an allegory. Here the contrary indications tend to cancel each other out. To the extent that the novel seems to have been meant allegorically, it seems not to have been meant as just an adventure story, and vice versa. But in the cases I am interested in, one impression does not in this way tend to negate the other; in fact, one may depend on the other. In these cases the two contrary impressions are, we might say, on different levels, and this is why they do not conflict in the way they would otherwise.22 It might be said that although Pollock’s canvases appear superficially to have been made in a haphazard, spontaneous manner, in a more basic way they give the impression of having been thoughtfully planned and carefully executed. One can hardly deny that Mozart’s Musical Joke seems to be the work of an incompetent eighteenth-century composer; yet one might also detect behind that impression an impression of Mozart’s genius. That we have to make a distinction of some sort between levels of appearances is clear from the following pair of cases: (1) a work that “on the surface” seems to have been meant merely to be funny, just as a joke, and yet seems to be intended to make a serious point by means of its humor—a political cartoon, for example, and (2) a work that “on the surface” seems to have been meant seriously, but in which we see a play for laughs behind the earnest exterior—a joke told with a straight face, for example, or Mozart’s Musical Joke. In each of these instances there is both an impression of playfulness on the part of the artist and an impression of his seriousness. The two cases are distinguished by which impression comes in at a “deeper level.” 22. I have discussed this kind of case briefly in “Points of View in Narrative and Depictive Representation,” Nous 10 (1977): 51–52. pp. 51–52.



A “deeper level” appearance is likely to be a more reliable indication of the reality than a more “superficial” one is. If we are interested in inferring how Pollock actually went about making his paintings from how they look, we are best advised to go by the impression of careful planning that they give, rather than by their obvious but “superficial” appearance of having been dashed off haphazardly. We can ignore the signs of incompetence in the Musical Joke insofar as we see “behind” them evidence of a joking genius, if our aim is to determine what sort of person the composer actually was. (This point might be expressed by saying that Pollock’s works really appear to have been made carefully, and only seem to look as though they were done haphazardly. Likewise for the Musical Joke.) But of course our interest in these works is not merely, if at all, to discover the facts about their actual creation. We are interested in the appearances “for their own sakes.” We can’t ignore the more “superficial” appearances. The whole point of the Musical Joke would be lost if we did not recognize a level on which the composer seems to have been incompetent. Part of what is interesting about Pollock’s works is the ironic interplay between their sense of haphazardness and the sense that they were done with great care; both impressions are crucial to appreciation. Moreover, in many cases of this kind we cannot expect to recognize the deeper appearance unless we recognize the superficial one. The talent evident in the Musical Joke is a satirical one, a talent for satirizing, specifically, incompetent composers (and performers). It is evident in the work from the fact that Mozart did such a brilliant job of composing something that sounds as though it was composed by an incompetent. The Musical Joke wouldn’t seem a work of talent if it were not apparently the work of an incompetent! Thus the deeper appearance of talent depends on the superficial appearance of incompetence. The “deeper” impression that a Pollock painting gives may be similarly dependent on the more superficial one. Pollock’s Blue Poles may seem to have been made haphazardly, but it may be the sort of haphazardly made painting which seems to have been carefully designed to look haphazard. The impression of haphazardness is striking when one first sees the painting; the work does have important features—its dripped and splashed look—which are likely to be found in haphazardly made works. But when we look more closely and consider what kind of an apparently haphazardly produced work it is, we may decide that it is the sort that is likely to have been made by an artist attempting, deliberately and carefully, to make his work look haphazard. In terms of style, we might say that, simply as a painting, it is in a haphazard style, but as a painting in a haphazard style, it is in a controlled style. (Compare: Forced laughter is apparent gaiety that seems to proceed from something other than joy.) There can be more than two levels of dependent appearances in a work. A threelayered example is a funny story told with a straight face, in which the humor serves a serious purpose. One’s dominant first impression might be that the storyteller does not intend to be funny, but because of his ridiculously exaggerated



air of seriousness we realize that his story is an apparently serious one that was meant to be funny. And on reflection we conclude that the storyteller, in telling his apparently serious story in a manner that made it seem to have been meant to be funny, apparently intended to be making a serious point. This last impression depends (partly) on the apparent frivolity, which in turn depends on the superficial appearance of sobriety.

V. MORE REALITY-DEPENDENT APPEARANCES The complexity of the structure of a work’s appearance illustrated by this example is already intimidating. But there is more to come. Robert Rauschenberg’s Factum I and Factum II (figures 12.4 and 12.5), idealized somewhat, will serve to introduce an issue about the notion of apparent artists which has especially important consequences for the concept of style. Factum I is a painting/collage, part of which was done by dripping paint in the manner of Pollock. In Factum II Rauschenberg tried meticulously to reproduce Factum I.23 I do not know exactly what techniques he used in Factum II, but let us suppose that he used eyedroppers to deposit each drop of paint one by one in its proper place. And let us suppose that he did so skillfully enough so that a viewer could easily be fooled into thinking that the work was made by more or less random dripping. If a viewer of Factum II is told how it was actually made, what effect does this new information have on how it appears to him to have been made? No doubt it will still be true to say that it appears to have been dripped. But the viewer is likely also to have a sense of the meticulous task of placing the drops of paint one by one in their positions on the canvas with eyedroppers. The new information might draw the viewer’s attention to subtle features of the canvas which he didn’t notice before and in virtue of which the work seems to have been eyedropped. It would be reasonable to infer from those features, perhaps, that an eyedropper was used. But let us suppose that this is not so, that there is nothing at all on the canvas to suggest that it was eyedropped rather than dripped. Nevertheless, the viewer now “sees” in the painting the artist’s careful manipulation of eyedroppers. He has a sense of what different sorts of eyedroppers and what eyedropping techniques were employed in depositing the various blobs of paint on the canvas. One way to describe the situation is as follows: Before the viewer was told that Rauschenberg used eyedroppers, the painting looked as though, if it were made with eyedroppers, it was made with eyedroppers of certain kinds manipulated in certain ways, although this is an aspect of the painting’s appearance that the viewer wouldn’t have noticed unless the possibility of the work’s having been eyedropped happened to occur to him. Later, against the background of

23. Barbara Rose, American Art since 1900 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1956), p. 217.

Figure 12.4 Robert Rauschenberg, Factum I, 1957. Mixed media, 156 × 91 cm. The Panza Collection, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Art © Robert Rauschenberg/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Figure 12.5 Robert Rauschenberg, Factum II, 1957. Combine painting: 61 3/8" × 35 1/2". The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA /Art Resource, New York. Art © Robert Rauschenberg/ Licensed by VAGA, New York.



Figure 12.6 Gary Gilmore, Iceskaters. Drawing.

the realization that eyedroppers were in fact used, the impression is no longer conditional; now the work appears, simply, to have been made with eyedroppers, eyedroppers of certain kinds manipulated in certain ways. Similar examples are common. When we are told that a drawing of a delightfully serene winter scene (figure 12.6) was done by Gary Gilmore, we may “see,” behind the calm lines, anger, a vicious disposition, a “criminal mind,” even if nothing in the lines themselves would suggest to anyone with no special information about the artist that it was the work of someone who was angry or vicious or criminal. Where we cannot find overt anger in the drawing we see anger suppressed. It may, for instance, look to us as though the artist chose a pastoral setting in order to mask the madness in him. The noises of a house we believe to be haunted seem sinister—the result of sinister forces—and all the more so because they sound so normal! It is as though the ghosts in residence are trying to hide their evil doings from us. Someone’s laughter may sound forced if we have reason to believe that he is not happy but would like to seem so, even if the forced quality could not be detected in the laughter alone. These are cases in which our beliefs affect our perceptual experience. As such, there is nothing problematic about them; as we saw earlier there is no getting around the fact that many of our beliefs do condition how things look to us. But the examples I just cited raise special problems. The information that



Rauschenberg used eyedroppers on Factum II makes us “see” in the work something that is not there, it will be argued. In the Gilmore case we read back into the drawings the anger that newspapers have convinced us Gilmore must or may have had. But aren’t we deluded if we attribute the appearance of an angry artist to the drawings themselves? The doubts about these cases arise from the fact that the information that supposedly makes it appear that the work came about in a certain manner is the information that the work did, or may well have, come about in just that manner. Perhaps we can agree that if a viewer’s experience of Gilmore’s drawings is influenced by the newspapers in the way described, the drawings do appear to him to be the work of an angry man. For that is what the viewer would say, especially if he didn’t realize what influence the newspapers had on his perception, and perhaps we will agree that a person cannot be mistaken about how things appear to him. But this is not to concede that the drawings appear to be the result of anger in a sense that would support our saying that they are angry works or works in an angry style. To do so, we need to locate the appearance of anger more solidly “in the works.” The crucial question is whether perception of the drawings influenced by the “externally” acquired information is to be regarded as correct or appropriate. Perception influenced by externally acquired information is sometimes clearly incorrect or inappropriate, especially if the information is idiosyncratic. Suppose that in a painting by a close friend I “see” the sweat and tears and frustration that went into it, but only because I remember the anguish he suffered as he worked. Certainly the painting does not appear to be the result of sweat, tears, and frustration, in a sense in which that means that it is a laborious painting or in a laborious style. It may well be in a casual, happy-go-lucky style. I am not prepared to argue that the situation is different in the Gilmore and Rauschenberg examples. But there are other cases in which it is much more plausible that information about how a work actually did come about belongs to the background knowledge that informs correct perception of it, and that because of this information the work appears to have come about in the way that it actually did. This, indeed, is the lesson to be learned from Cervantes and Pierre Menard. The information that makes Cervantes’s Don Quixote seem not to have been written with pragmatism in mind, and so makes it incorrect to attribute to it overtones of pragmatism, is the information that it was written in the seventeenth century, or anyway long before William James, and hence that it is unlikely that its author would have had in mind the doctrines of pragmatism. This information is common knowledge, not at all idiosyncratic. We expect it to inform any normal person’s reading of Cervantes. Reading in this informed way is reading correctly. A great many facts about the origins of many works of art are common knowledge, especially facts about the societies in which they originated. We know, of various works, that they are the products of societies that were intensely



religious, or authoritarian, or anarchic. We know of some works that they were made in periods of widespread despair or new hope; that they came from industrial societies or from agrarian ones; that they were made before, or after, the time of Darwin or Freud or Einstein. So we have a great deal of common knowledge concerning what interests and attitudes are at least likely to have motivated the creation of many works, the intentions many artists could or could not reasonably be expected to have had, and so on. If this information colors our perception of the works, so be it. If our realization that a work was produced in medieval Europe, rather than in the United States in the 1960s, makes it seem to have been meant as a glorification of Christianity, rather than as an ironic, satirical, debunking of the faith, it is eminently arguable that the work is a glorification and not a debunking of Christianity. But we need to look more closely at the reasons some may have for thinking that we are reading things into works that aren’t there in the cases before us. We are used to inferring how things are from how they seem. In fact, the point of saying that such and such appears to be the case is often to suggest that perhaps such and such is the case. But inferences of this kind are illegitimate in our examples. If a person knows or believes from what he has read in the newspapers that Gilmore was (or is likely to have been) an angry man, and if it is just because of this that Gilmore’s drawings “appear” to him to be the work of an angry man, obviously he can’t use this appearance to support the judgment that the artist was in fact angry.24 If he thinks that there is an appearance in the drawings which supports that judgment, he is indeed suffering from an illusion. This point might be made by simply denying that the drawings do have the appearance of having been made in anger, even denying that they appear that way to the person in question (and thus giving up the idea that he cannot be mistaken about how things appear to him). It seems to him that the drawings appear to him to have been made in anger, but actually they do not—he was carried away by his imagination. Likewise, if Menard’s text, in contrast to Cervantes’s, seems to have been written with pragmatism in mind, it does so in a sense that provides not the slightest support for the claim that Menard, unlike Cervantes, did have pragmatism in mind. For the sake of contrast, let us recall the earlier kind of example in which beliefs affect appearances. Pollock’s canvases appear to have been dripped and splashed on partly because of our understanding of how dripped and splashed liquids generally behave. But of course the fact that they appear dripped and splashed on does support the conclusion that they actually were. The dependence

24. This is oversimplified. How easily the belief that the artist was angry makes it “appear” that he was, may be a legitimate indication of whether the artist was in fact angry, even if without the belief a viewer would derive no impression at all of an angry artist from the picture.



of the appearance on the belief, in this kind of case, does not tempt one to refuse to recognize that the works do indeed have the appearances in question. From the point of view of art criticism and appreciation, how works appear to have come about is important for its own sake, and not as an indication of how they did come about. So from these points of view there is no reason to refuse to recognize “appearances” of a sort that are not indications of the reality. But historians—cultural historians especially but some art historians as well—have a different point of view. They do, sometimes, want to draw conclusions about the sources of works of art, about artists and their societies, from the appearances of the works. So they must, on pain of circularity, be careful to separate out those aspects of the impressions works give of their sources which merely reflect what we already know or believe about them. Suppose a work gives the impression of having been born in sentimentality, because we have reason to think that the artist, living in the mushy era in which he did, was sentimental. Is the work sentimental, or in a sentimental style? Very likely, for the critic. But the historian cannot agree, if he wishes to use the style quality of the work to throw light on whether the artist or his society was sentimental. We have the basis here of a fundamental tension between two conceptions of style qualities, corresponding to the different interests of critics and historians. The historian (sometimes) looks through the arts at the culture, whereas the critic looks at the arts against the background of the culture. For the critic the quality of a work’s style is something to be appreciated; for the historian it is a clue to the artist or his society. The critic, concentrating on the products of art, can in certain circumstances allow prior conceptions of its processes full play in his imagination, while the historian, who focuses on the processes, must in similar circumstances ruthlessly exclude his conceptions of the processes from his understanding of the products. The tension between these two conceptions of style qualities does not call for resolution. But it does need to be clearly recognized. Recognizing it will help us to grasp better what is going on when critics and historians talk about style, and perhaps also when they talk past each other.


Ackerman, James S., 221 in literature, 232 actions, as objects of (aesthetic) interest, in music, 231–232 224–226 in the visual arts, 232–233 admiration See also appearances grudging, 13, 18 appearances pleasure of, 11–20, 21 levels of, 231, 240–242 Abell, Catherine, 152 reality dependent, 235–239, 242–248 aesthetic pleasure, 13–14 versus indications of reality, 241, aesthetic properties (qualities), 196–198, 247–248 202, 210–211, 216–219, 233 appreciation, 3, 19–20, 28–30, 38, 39, perception of, 195–197, 217–219 50–51, 56, 76, 223–228, 235, aesthetic puzzle, the, 28–30, 39, 41, 241, 248 43–45, 48–51, 57 art for art’s sake, 17 aesthetic value, v, viii, 1–21, 23–26, awe and wonder, 17–18 28–30, 38, 41, 48–51, 212, 213–214, 224 Bazin, André, 79, 82–84, 85, 88, 95 n. 18 Akiyama, Ryoji, “Empty Box on Its Beardsley, Monroe, 195, 196 n. 3, 235 Way to a Reclamation Area,” Beckett, Samuel, Malone Dies, 229–231 175, 176, 177, 178 n. 14 Beethoven, Ludwig van, Eroica, 49 Alberti, Leone Battista, 143–144 Bell, Clive, 4 Allen, Terry, Shaking Man, 166, 170 Berger, John, 157 Antonioni, Michelangelo, Zabriske Block, Udo Ernst, “Ewiger Kreislauf,” Point, 182 158, 161, 166 Arnheim, Rudolf, 84 n. 7, 86 n. 10, Blocker, H. Gene, 97 n. 19 95 n. 18 Bond, Douglas, 92, 94 apparent artists, 228–248 Booth, George, Dog and Vase, 171, and fictional artists, 229–231 176, 189 levels of, 231, 240–242 Borcorman, John, 157 249



Borges, Jorge Luis, “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote,” 235–237, 239, 246, 247 bootstrapping, 17–18 Brady, Mathew, 80, 115 Bubble Boy, 21 Budd, Malcolm, 150 Buñuel, Luis, Viridiana, 232–233 Cage, John, 13, 224, 225, 238, 239 camera obscura, 158 Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Bacchus, 70, 71–72 Carroll, Lewis, 123–124 Carroll, Noël, vi, 48 n. 6, 112 n. 5, 117–119, 124, 126–131 Carruthers, Peter, 55 n. 22 Cassavetes, John, “Shadows,” 105 categories, perceptually distinguishable, 202–203 perceiving in, 204–205 Cavell, Stanley, 83 n. 4, 85 n. 9 Chapman, Ron, “Bicycles,” 159, 164, 171, 175 Chatman, Seymour, 229 n. 11 Chardin, Jean-Siméon, 16 Cialdini, Robert, 53 n. 16 Close, Chuck, 90–91, 103 n. 29, 115 cobbler model, the, 223–224, 226, 227, 236 cognitive values, 3, 13, 31–33, 76 See also photography: as a source of knowledge contra-standard properties defined contra-standard absolutely, 212 contra-standard for a person, 201 contra-standard relative to a category, 199 effects on perception, 209–210 convention(s), 36, 207 See also depiction: depiction and convention; values: arbitrary correctness, 133 n. 2, 153, 210–219, 236–237, 246

See also imagining: prescriptions to imagine counterfactual dependence, 99–101, 127–128 cubism, 198–199, 203, 211, 215 Currie, Gregory, vi, 55, 112 n. 5, 117–132, 152, 163 n. 6 and Ian Ravenscroft, 48 n. 4, 246 Cutting, James, 163 n. 3 dance, 204, 224, 226–227 Danto, Arthur, 162–163 n. 4, 178 n. 14 da Vinci, Leonardo, 232, 237 depiction, vi, 37, 63–78, 113–114, 117–126, 133–192, 197, 198, 201–204, 228, 231, 238–239 and convention, 74, 98, 134, 140– 142, 152–153, 202 n. 12, 203 n. 13 distinguished from representation, 171, 176, 189, 189, 190 moving pictures. See film (motion pictures) picture perception, 63–75, 117–126, 133–142, 143–155, 164–166 and resemblance, 64, 74, 134, 150, 152, 197, 201–204 still pictures, vi, 89–90, 157–195, 200, 203–204 See also imagining: imagining seeing; music: musical depictions Dessauer, Erwin von, “Children on the Beach,” 160, 164, 166–167, 172, 175, 176–182, 184–185 Devereaux, Mary, 48 n. 6 dreams, 74, 123–124, 137, 139, 180–181 Dretske, Fred, 100 n. 21 Duchamp, Marcel Nude Descending a Staircase, 169, 171, 172, 175, 183, 185–186 readymades, 224, 225–226 Edgerton, Harold, “Gussie Moran Tennis Multiflash,” 166, 168, 183


Ehrenzweig, Anton, 206 n. 15 egocentric information, 128–130 empathy, vii, 30–31, 34, 43, 54, 76–78, 120–121, 226, 227 Escher, M. C., 42 Evans, Walker, “Torn Movie Poster,” 185 expression, 76, 81, 97n, 98, 113, 196, 203, 205, 216, 224, 225, 239 Feagin, Susan, 18 n. 12 fiction, vii, viii, 27–45 emotional responses to, vii, 73–78, 141–142 See also fictionality, of propositions; fictionality puzzle, the fictionality, of propositions, 56–57, 66–67, 88–89 fictionality puzzle, the, 33–45, 48, 51–52, 56–58 film (motion pictures), 84, 85 n. 9, 89–90, 92, 105, 117, 118–124, 157–158, 162–164, 166, 178 n. 14, 183, 187–188, 189, 200, 204 freeze frames, 164, 204 point-of-view shots, 120–121 slow and fast motion, 175, 181, 182, 183 folk singing and dancing, 6, 12, 226–227 forgery, vii frames, 185 Gaut, Berys, 48 n. 6 Gendler, Tamar Szabó, 45 n. 24, 47 n. 3, 48 n. 4, 52, 54, 56–57 Gernsheim, Helmut, 83 n. 3 Giacometti, Alberto, 215–216 Gibbard, Allan, 14 n. 9, 45 n. 23 Goldman, Alvin, 87 n. 12, 95 n. 17 Gombrich, Ernst, vi, 63–65, 67, 74, 84 n. 6, 221 Goya, Francisco, 80 good because bad, 18–19, 21 Goodman, Nelson, 165 n. 10, 202 n. 12, 222 n. 4


Goosens, William K., 101 n. 23 Greenberg, Clement, 21 Grice, Paul, natural and nonnatural meaning, 101–103 guernicas, 204–205, 210–211, 212 Hanslick, Eduard, 4 happenings, 227 Hills, David, 38 n. 14 Hitchcock, Alfred The Birds, 119–120 Vertigo, 154 Hogarth, William, 42 Hollander, John, 10 Hopkins, Robert, 148 n. 20, 149 n. 23 Hume, David, 27–28, 30, 32–34, 41 n. 18, 45, 47 humor, 13, 14, 29, 40, 43–45, 49, 50, 51, 241–244 imagining, 30–46, 50–56, 72–73, 75–76, 118–126, 136–142, 143, 145–155, 165–191 imagining seeing, 37, 52, 73–76, 78, 89–90, 114, 117–126, 137–138, 146, 149–152, 153, 165–166, 171–191 impossibilities, 42–43, 55–56 prescriptions to imagine, 37, 42, 56, 185, 188 imaginative puzzle, the, 30–33, 48, 51–56, 57–58 imaginative resistance, v, 27–46, 47–59 intentions, artists’, vii, 19, 37, 38, 41, 49, 100 n. 22, 103, 126, 133 n. 2, 153, 195, n.196 n. 3, 212, 214–215, 217, 225–226, 235 intuition, 110 Jacobson, Daniel, 18 n. 12, 45 n. 24, 48 n. 6, 50 n. 10 John, Eileen, 49 n. 6 Johns, Jasper, 136, 138, 162 Johnson, Jonathan Eastman, The Old Stagecoach, 65, 66, 72, 73



Kant, Immanuel, 15 n. 11 Kertész, André, “Distortion #157,” 96, 98 Kieran, Matthew, 49 n. 6 Klee, Paul, 37 Klein, Yves, 208 Kracauer, Siegfried, 86 n. 10 Latham, John, 224 Le Poidevin, Robin, 160 n. 2 Levinson, Jerrold, 150–152 Lewis, David, 31 n. 4, 87 n. 12, 95 n. 16, 101 n. 24 Lichtenstein, Roy, Little Big Painting, 230, 231 linguistic analysis, 110–111 literature, 9–10, 13, 36–37, 75–76, 125, 146–147, 196 n. 4, 238 See also narrators Loch Ness Monster, 89 Lopes, Dominic, 110 n. 1, 148 n. 20 Manet, Eduard, La Prune, 144, 146 Martin, Edwin, vi n. 1 Masolino da Panicale, Healing of Cripple and the Raising of Tabitha, 172, 173, 183 Matravers, Derek, 48 n. 4 make-believe children’s games of, 5, 6, 12, 63–78, 139 unofficial games of, 184 See also imagining Maynard, Patrick, 113 n. 7, 114 n. 8, 154, 166 n. 11 McCloud, Scott, 166–167, 173 Mencken, H. L., 49 metaphor, vii, 33, 49 Metz, Christian, 82 mirror neurons, 226 n. 7 “Mississagi River Rapids,” 186, 190 Modell, F. B., 69–70 moral value, v, 13, 27–46, 48–51, 53–54 moral realism, 35 n. 9 Moran, Richard, 44 n. 22, 48 n. 4

motion, depiction of, vi–vii, 10, 157–195, 203–204 motion lines, 163, 164, 166, 172, 186 motion pictures. See film (motion pictures) Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 180, 183 A Musical Joke, 21, 231, 240–241 “Mt. Geryon,” 162, 174–176, 184, 186–190 multiple images, 163, 164, 166–167, 171, 172, 183 music, vii, 7, 9, 10, 16, 49, 197–200, 204–211, 226–227, 231–232, 237 electronic, 207, 232 gegaku, 211 legato piano playing, 206–207, 211 musical depictions, 136, 139, 204 twelve-tone, 209–210, 214–215 sonata-allegro form, 199, 205–206 See also folk singing and dancing; performance; Mozart narrators, 36–37, 38–39, 75, 229–231 omniscient, 36 natural objects, 18, 211, 217, 222–223, 234–235, 238 Nichols, Shaun, 48 n. 4, 52 Nude Descending a Staircase and Going Out for Coffee, 183 orientation, 32–33, 53 Panofsky, Erwin, 83nn.3–4, 84, 122 n. 23 pantoum, 10 perception direct and indirect, 88, 89–90, 179 n. 16 perceptual contact, 87 n. 13, 91, 105–106, 109, 113 seeing the past, 87 See also depiction; imagining: imagining seeing perceptual properties, 196 performance, 7, 9, 10, 206–207, 226–227, 231–232, 237


perspective, 82, 98, 109, 118–122, 125–126, 147–149, 158 Peterson, James, on Peter Hutton, New York Near Sleep for Saskia, 187 n. 25 Pearlstein, Phillip, 232 photography, vi, vii, 16, 51, 69, 79–116, 117, 126–132 as a source of knowledge, 79, 86, 88, 92–95, 98–100, 106, 109, 113, 115–116, 131–132 darkroom manipulation, 92, 104–105, 115 digital, 114–116 and privacy, 80 still. See pictures: still Picasso, Pablo, Guernica, 204–205, 210–211, 212 Peirce, Charles S., 134 pictures. See depiction Plato, 28, 49, 50 pleasure. See admiration: pleasure of Pollock, Jackson, 232, 237, 240–241, 242, 247 Poussin, Nicolas, Rinaldo and Armida, 147–149 Pylyshyn, Zenon, 180, 183 pyramids, Egyptian, 49, 50 Rauschenberg, Robert Erased de Kooning Drawing, 196 Factum I and Factum II, 242–245 Rawls, John, 7 realism, 9, 10, 79–85, 90–98, 105, 109, 113, 222–223, 238 Reality Principle (of implication), 34–35, 47 n. 1 Reid, Thomas, 20–21 representation. See depiction Richter, Mischa, 67–68 Riefenstahl, Leni, Triumph of the Will, 13, 28, 29, 38, 48 n. 6, 50. 98 Robinson, Jenefer, 40 Rubens, Peter Paul, An Autumn Landscape, 165–166, 174, 188


Rushdie, Salman, 114 Savedoff, Barbara, 185 Savile, Anthony, v, 23–26, 136–137 Schacter, Carl, 21 Schoenberg, Arnold, 209–210, 214–215 Scruton, Roger, 104 n. 30 sculpture, 136, 138, 139, 148, 160, 166, 170, 208, 209, 212, 215–216, 217 seeing. See depiction; perception; imagining: imagining seeing seeing-in, 52, 133–142, 143–147, 149–152, 155 twofoldness, 134–135, 138–139, 151 n. 30, 155 “seeing the unseen,” 123–124 Shapiro, Meyer, 221–222 Shepard, Roger, 150 n. 27 Shepard tones, 55–56 Shirley, Richard, Resonant, 89 Sibley, Frank, 51, 196–198 silly questions, 190–191 similarity and discriminability, 106–109 simulation, vii Sircello, Guy, 229 n. 10 slow motion. See film: slow and fast motion Snyder, Joel, and Neil Walsh Allen, 81 n. 1, 90n, 97, 98n, 102 Sparshot, Francis, 131 sports and competitive games, viii, 5, 6–7, 8–9, 10, 11, 12–13, 15–16, 31 stamp collecting, 8 standard properties defined standard absolutely, 212 standard for a person, 201 standard relative to a category, 199 effects on perception, 201–208 Stanfield, Clarkson, On the Dogger Bank, 66–67, 68–69 stasis, depiction of, 162, 163, 184, 187–191



Steichen, Edward, 79, 80 Stock, Kathleen, 56 n. 24 style, vii, 221–248 style qualities, 223, 233–234, 239–240, 248, sublime, 18 superrealism, 90–93, 103 n. 29, 115 supervenience, 40–42 Talbot, William Henry Fox, 95 n. 18 Tanner, Michael, 48 n. 4, theater, 83, 84, 95, 136, 138, 139, 166, 224 theory construction, 110–111 titles, 37, 68 transparency (of photographs), vi, 79–116, 117, 126–132, 179 n. 16 Tversky, Amos, and Daniel Kahneman, 53 n. 16 Uelsmann, Jerry N., 104–105, 178 value(s), vii, viii, 3–59 arbitrary, 8–11, 16, 17 institution-bound, 5–8, 11, 17 of institutions, 4–8 intrinsic and instrumental, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12

second-order, 15–17 See also aesthetic value; cognitive values; moral value Van Gogh, Vincent, 232, 237 Sorrow, 76–78 variable properties defined variable absolutely, 212 variable relative to a category, 199 variable for a person, 201 effects on perception, 201–208 Wagner, Richard, 209 Warhol, Andy, Empire, 162 Weatherson, Brian, 48, 51 n. 11, 57 Williams, Bernard, 53–54 Wiseman, Frederic, Titticut Follies, 86, 87 Wölfflin, Heinrich, 195, 234, 238 n. 19 Wollheim, Richard, vi, 133–142, 143–155, 166 Wolterstorff, Nicholas, 34 n. 8 Yablo, Stephen, 48 n. 4, 51 n. 11, 57 Yaffee, Gideon, 163 n. 6 Zemach, E. M., 85 n. 9, 87 n. 12, 110 n. 1


What are aesthetic values in artwork? ›

Aesthetic value is the value that an object, event, or state of affairs (most paradigmatically an artwork or the natural environment) possesses in virtue of its capacity to elicit pleasure (positive value) or displeasure (negative value) when appreciated or experienced aesthetically.

What is the aesthetic value of visual arts? ›

Aesthetic principles that characterize art movements comprise a range of artistic elements such as shape, color, texture, line, and use of space, to convey values, capture emotion, create unity within an art piece, and communicate meaning.

What are the five aesthetics? ›

Here are five key features of the aesthetic pleasure (or perceived beauty) of everyday life experiences.
  • Interest in the experience for its own sake. Aesthetic pleasures are typically pursued and enjoyed for their own sake. ...
  • Beauty and judgment. ...
  • The beauty in simplicity. ...
  • Ambience. ...
  • Being moved by beauty.
Mar 15, 2022

What are the four components of aesthetic values? ›

Four general components, related to aesthetic appreciation, were found: Familiarity, Hedonic Tone, Expressiveness, and Uncertainty.

What are the 3 types of aesthetics? ›

The three aesthetic theories of art criticism are most commonly referred to as Imitationalism, Formalism, and Emotionalism. on realistic representation. of art using the principles of art. a response of feelings, moods, or emotions in the viewer.

What are the 8 aesthetic principles? ›

The aspects of aesthetic education for children are as follows: (1) artistic teaching, (2) life-based teaching, (3) diversified teaching, (4) teaching through experience, (5) teaching by doing, (6) individual teaching, (7) imaginative teaching and (8) perceptual teaching.

What is an example of an aesthetic value? ›

Aesthetic values are values concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty. They provide pleasure and happiness to the individual and are composed of feelings of heart and mind. Enjoying or appreciation of music, literature, painting, drawing, sculpture, natural scenes, paper work, modeling, etc.

What are the rules of aesthetic? ›

Aesthetics is a core design principle that defines a design's pleasing qualities. In visual terms, aesthetics includes factors such as balance, color, movement, pattern, scale, shape and visual weight. Designers use aesthetics to complement their designs' usability, and so enhance functionality with attractive layouts.

What is the difference between aesthetic and esthetic? ›

Esthetic and Aesthetic are the DIFFERENT in an extra 'A' at the beginning. This is similar to the word color and colour. Esthetic is used in American-English language while aesthetics is used in British-English language.

What is the difference between beauty and aesthetics? ›

Answer and Explanation: Beauty is a quality that gives a person pleasure to experience via one's sight, hearing, or even taste. Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that deals with the appreciation of beauty. Beauty is usually produced by nature or by some sort of art, including painting and sculpture.

How do you develop aesthetic values? ›

How to Develop a Keen Sense of Aesthetics to Drive Design Innovation
  1. Look for beauty around you. ...
  2. Appreciate all forms of art. ...
  3. Look for beauty in yourself and others. ...
  4. Reject what is unpleasant or unnecessary including shallow appreciation of beauty. ...
  5. Learn from all things beautiful.
Dec 29, 2014

What are the three stages of aesthetic experience? ›

Three crucial characteristics of aesthetic experience are discussed: fascination with an aesthetic object (high arousal and attention), appraisal of the symbolic reality of an object (high cognitive engagement), and a strong feeling of unity with the object of aesthetic fascination and aesthetic appraisal.

Why is aesthetic value important? ›

The fundamental purpose of aesthetics is to examine the beauty of art and the value of works of art. The method involves judging objects from many perspectives, for example, from an emotional standpoint, from a practical perspective, from a rarity point of view, and an experience point of view.

What are aesthetic values examples? ›

Enjoying or appreciation of music, literature, painting, drawing, sculpture, natural scenes, paper work, modeling, etc. belong to this category of values. Particularly, children possess aesthetic impulses and express their impulses through paintings, music, modeling, etc.

What does aesthetic value mean? ›

Assigning a value to an object based on its appearance and emotional effect is known as aesthetic value. People tend to prefer beautiful things, and these things tend to be more expensive than similar items without an aesthetic component.

What are examples of aesthetics in art? ›

Many of its definitions include the idea that an object is beautiful if perceiving it is accompanied by aesthetic pleasure. Among the examples of beautiful objects are landscapes, sunsets, humans and works of art. Beauty is a positive aesthetic value that contrasts with ugliness as its negative counterpart.

What is aesthetic value of creativity? ›

Being creative is being aesthetic through a process of liminality and mutual learning with others. The key to creativity is to allow relationships to become immanent with emerging opportunities not dependent on narrow reasoning and content.

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