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Perspective, Convention and Compromise

By Robert Hopkins

Abstract

What is special about picturing according to the rules of perspectival drawing systems? My answer is at once both radical and conciliatory. I think that depiction essentially involves a distinctive experience, an experience of resemblance. More precisely, the picture must be seen as preserving what Thomas Reid (Enquiry 1764) called the "visible figure" of what is represented. It follows from this, and from some other plausible premises, that if a picture is to depict detailed spatial arrangements, rather than simply to represent them in some other, non-pictorial, way, it must conform to perspectival rules. Hence the radicalism. Perspective does not provide uniquely accurate or realistic ways to depict things, but, for certain aspects of the world, the only way to depict them at all.\ud \ud What of the conciliatory aspect of my view? My account of depiction in no way implies that only perspectival pictures can depict anything at all. Indeed, it is quite consistent with a good deal of variation in the marks which might, in the right context, depict a given content. But better still, the factors determining what we see a picture as resembling, and hence partially determining what it depicts, are just those factors emphasized by those who take perspective to be a matter of convention. They include, for instance, the nature of the subject's perceptual environment, and the sorts of pictures to which he has previously been exposed. Thus, even given the radical claim, the variety in ways of depicting a given thing is neither incomprehensible nor indicative of some kind of failure. We can understand perspective's special status without denigrating the alternatives.\u

Publisher: MIT Press
Year: 2003
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:10321

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