Experience and Pictorial Representation: Wollheim's Seeing-in and Merleau-Ponty's Perceptual Phenomenology

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Virginia Tech

Contemporary aesthetics includes a project directed at understanding the nature of pictorial representation. Three types of theories enjoy recent favor. One explains pictorial representation by way of resemblance or experienced resemblance between the picture and what it represents. A second employs interpretation: the spectator looks at a picture and interprets conventionally determined symbols found therein to mean what it represents. The third describes pictorial representation as a matter of experience. On this approach, when the spectator looks at a picture she has a visual experience of the thing represented.

Key components of representation include the representation bearing artifact and the human activity that produces it. An adequate account of pictorial representation must neglect neither. Theories focusing on resemblance fail to account for the human role in representation so that a picture may represent only what it can resemble. Theories making interpretation of conventional symbols the key fail to account for the role visible properties play in grounding representation. Wollheim's experience based theory, however, unifies the visible properties of the artifact and the intentions of the artist in a single experience, called seeing-in, whereby a spectator sees in a picture what an artist intends to represent.

Wollheim fails to specify just how visible properties of the artifact ground seeing-in. His account of seeing-in raises other curiosities as well. These issues can be dealt with if we apply phenomenological concepts developed by Merleau-Ponty in his Phenomenology of Perception to our experience of pictures as a method of enriching Wollheim's account of seeing-in.

Merleau-Ponty, phenomenology, Wollheim, seeing-in, pictorial representation