Unreal Nature

May 26, 2018

In a Cloud

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… It is the cultivation of a special kind of visual experience, which fastens upon certain objects in the environment for its furtherance.

This is from ‘Seeing-as, seeing-in, and pictorial representation,’ a follow-up essay to the title essay in Art and Its Objects, (2nd edition) by Richard Wollheim (1968; 1980):

… It is important to appreciate that, 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 certain 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.

[line break added] 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 or he may reconstruct the artist’s intention from what is visible to him in the picture, and, for a spectator reasonably confident that he possesses the relevant skills and information, this is perfectly legitimate.

That the seeing appropriate to representations is subject to a standard of correctness set by an intention separates it from other species of the same perceptual genus i.e. representational seeing, in that with them either there is no standard of correctness or there is one but it is not set — not set uniquely, that is — by an intention. A species of the first sort would be the perception of Rorschach tests, and a species of the second sort would be the seeing appropriate to photographs.

The diagnostic efficacy of Rorschach tests demands that correctness and incorrectness do not apply to their seeing. By contrast, correctness and incorrectness do apply to the seeing appropriate to photographs, but the contribution that a mechanical process makes to the production of photographs means that causation is at least as important as intention in establishing correctness.

[line break added] What or whom we correctly see when we look at a photograph is in large part a matter of who or what engaged in the right way with the causal processes realized by the camera, and it is absolutely of a piece with this that the sitter/model distinction, which holds for paintings, does not hold for photographs.

[ … ]

… I now think that representational seeing should be understood as involving, and therefore best elucidated through, not seeing-as [as he’d claimed in the book’s title essay], but another phenomenon closely related to it, which I call ‘seeing-in’.

… The central difference between seeing-in and seeing-as, from which their various characteristics follow, lies in the different ways in which they are related to what I call ‘straightforward perception.’ By straightforward perception I mean the capacity that we humans and other animals have of perceiving things present to the senses.

[line break added] Any single exercise of this capacity is probably best explained in terms of the occurrence of an appropriate perceptual experience and the correct causal link between the experience and the thing or things perceived. Seeing-as is directly related to this capacity, and indeed is an essential part of it. By contrast, seeing-in derives from a special perceptual capacity, which presupposes, but is something over and above, straightforward perception.

… Seeing-as shows itself to be, fundamentally, a form of visual interest in our curiosity about an object present to the senses. This curiosity can take the form of an interest in how the object is or of an interest in how it might be or might have been.

… Seeing-in, by contrast, is not the exercise of visual curiosity about a present object. It is the cultivation of a special kind of visual experience, which fastens upon certain objects in the environment for its furtherance. And it is from this that the various characteristics of seeing-in, in particular those which distinguish it from seeing-as, follow.

… How, in perception generally and in the perception of the visual arts in particular, do seeing-as and seeing-in divide the field? The answer certainly does not seem to be that they divide the field according to the sorts of object perceived. On the contrary, there are many sorts of object which at times excite seeing-as and at other times excite seeing-in.

[line break added] An example which comes to mind is one which is often taken unreflectively as a central case of seeing-as: the seeing of clouds. For sometimes it seems correct to say that we see a cloud as a whale; but at other times, if the distinction is taken seriously, the situation seems to be that we see a ravine, or a vast sandy beach, or a cavalry charge, in a cloud.

My most recent previous post from Wollheim’s book is here.




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