Seeing Things in Pictures

John H. Brown

in Philosophical Perspectives on Depiction

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780199585960
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191723490 | DOI:

Series: Mind Association Occasional Series

Seeing Things in Pictures

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  • Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art


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Everyone recognizes that viewers can see things in art‐grade pictures other than their proper, pictorial subjects. Theories of depiction devise criteria by which ‘correct’ interpretation of pictures sidelines these deviant ‘things’ in favour of the true subject. This chapter looks at such phenomena from a positive angle. First, the ubiquity of openings for justified ‘separation seeing‐in’, as it is called here, is set forth. Two sources are distinguished: (1) the manner in which the pictorial design is executed; (2) the reduction of dimensions from subject to surface design. Attention then shifts to the contribution of separation seeing‐in to pictorial experience. It is argued that any adequate viewing of an art‐grade picture involves recognition of one (or more) ‘separation subjects’ and that giving due attention to that provides fuller access to the content of the picture. In consequence, the latter turns out to be a good deal stranger than is commonly imagined.

Keywords: pictorial experience; pictorial subject; seeing‐in; separation seeing‐in; separation subject; interpretation of pictures

Chapter.  11909 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

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