Fisher, Part III
- Three Major Theories of Art
- Art is representation (mimetic theory)
- Art concerns form (formalism)
- Art involves expression (expression theory)
- A fourth?: George Dickie's Institutional Theory of Art
- Studying these theories can enliven our appreciation of artworks
- How evaluate theories of art?
- Does it explain the social worth of art?
- Does it explain the unique aes value of art
- Does it explain the relation of art to morality
- Does it give an adequate account of avant garde art?
- Is it internally coherent?
- Does it let us count as art what (and only what) we think is art?
Does it handle our intuitions about what is and is not art?
- Fisher suggests that none of these classical theories gets the essential
feature of art, but each explores an absolutely central feature of art
- Need to combine them for most adequate theory
9: Mimetic Theory (Art as representation)
- Some artworks are clearly representational
- They represent something outside themselves in the world
- Sculpture, tragic plays, poems, movies, short stories, novels,
- Common person sees art as representational
- Encounters an art object and thinks about what it represents
- Asks if it provides a good likeness of what it represents
- Whole point of (some) art (movie, play, novel, painting) is to
experience an illusory representation of the subject matter
- Naive view about rep: Rep of beautiful objects are beautiful; rep of
ugly/offensive objects are ugly or offensive
- Photograph of a beauty is beautiful and of an ugly is ugly?
- Photo of beautiful landscape to get beautiful photograph?
Not photograph ugly, boring landscape with poor lighting
as get ugly poor photograph
- Photos at Halsey are of ugly scenes but beautiful photos?
- Could have a high quality painting of an ugly man, and the
painting need not be ugly? Or ugly, but well done painting?
- Why think a rep of X must have same features as X?
- Language represents but lacks same features
- Historically art seen as representational
- From Greeks to 18th century
- Only with rise of Romanticism in 18th century, emphasis shifted
- With modernism emphasis was on form and abstraction
- Did representation become less central?
- Assumption art primarily representational seen in (false?) idea of
progress of visual arts
- With Renaissance invention of perspective and later forms of
realism (Dutch still lifes) get progress in competence of visual
artist to represent subjects more and more realistically/accurately
- Progress in movies, from silent to sound from black/white to
color; movies getting better to represent their subject
- Not just dif styles, but capacity of art to fulfill its function
has been improved
- Assumption here: Goal of art is perfect representation and
viewer looks for this
- By these criteria, photography better than painting
- 19th century idea that painting was dead because
photography was invented
- Photography made painting outmoded and superfluous
- Fisher says art critics often emphasize rep content
- Is story unified? Does it end appropriately? Is it believable?
- As opposed to its form, tone, how well edited the film was, how
it makes you feel, etc.
- QUESTIONS ABOUT REPRESENTATION AND ART
- Must artworks always represent something?
- Are all artworks and art-forms representational?
- No; Non-representational art includes abstract painting and
sculpture, instrumental music
- "Images in art develop their own meanings beyond accurate
report of what things appear to be like";
- Here representation suggests realism
- Representation is relevant to art but art has other components as
- A commitment to art as rep has led some to deny non-rep art is art;
- Want art to be simple: This art object represents (X) that (Y)
- Since Christo's running fence and Cage's 4'33" don't represent
anything, they cant be art
- Not all representations are art
- Non-art representation include many uses of language (names),
some uses of pictures (reconnaissance photos), signs
- NATURE OF REPRESENTATION
- What is representation?
- Representation of X (the external item, the subject matter of the
- E.g., what makes an artwork (photograph/painting) a rep of its
subject and not of something else?
- But how does something stand for (represent) something else?
- Do representations re-presents X (the thing represented itself)?
- But this would involve treat art as if it's the real thing
- (But it isn't) Except living theater!
- We don't come screaming out of a horror movie as if
madman is after us.
- Representation as imitation
- Rep can be accomplished by imitation
- Imitation as a mechanism of representation
- Mimetic = mimicry = imitative
- Plato viewed art as imitative
- Art imitates nature
- Art is a mirror
- Reflection of an appearance (which is itself a reflection of real
- Plausible to see painting, sculpture, plays as imitative
- Play seems best example of imitative arts as can imitate people
and events almost perfectly
- But how is literature, poetry imitative?
- Assuming imitation involves resemblance, then literature/poetry
not imitative for even graphic literature doesn't resemble what it
- "Red-hot bar" conjures up image of red hot bar, but the words
don't imitate=resemble appearance of red hot bar
- Literature doesn't look, sound, or feel like what it represents
- Since literature is clearly representational, imitation/resemblance
can't explain representation in general
- Thus: Imitation=resemblance not an adequate account of
- Imitation as resemblance can't even explain pictorial
- What makes it true that a picture, sculpture, movie, etc is about
a particular subject matter? That it refers to it?
- Because picture resembles X?
- Problem: Resemblance is symmetrical, but representation is not
- Picture/painting of the pope resembles the pope (and therefore
represents him on this account)
- But pope also resembles the picture, but the pope does not
represent the picture
- Problem: Pictures/paintings don't represent the models who sat
for them, even though they are the persons the pictures most
- Mantegna's Dead Christ (p. 201) most resembles the model
Mantegna used, but doesn't represent him but rather Christ.
- Problem:: In Cezanne's painting of his wife, dress resembles fence
post more than dress, but represents a dress (p. 204)
- Thus: Resemblance doesn't guarantee (not sufficient for )
- Nor is significant resemblance necessary for representation
- Language represents without resembling
- Many representations depend entirely on conventions (and not on
- Weather front represented by a line with semi-circles and
- Cross represents Christianity
- Cartoons and caricatures don't significantly resemble what they
- Caricature of Churchill resembles a bulldog more than
Churchill, but its about Churchill
- Does Rep depend on artist's intentions?
- Consider, Munch's the Scream (206)
- Intention gives much better account of representation than
- The painting certainly does not resemble a scream
- Know what a painting represents by looking at its appearance,
title, and figuring what Munch intended it to represent
- Anti-intentionalists think that intention of artist should not be given
total (a lot? any?) weight in what artwork represents
- Reject appeal to artists intention as support for
- Exaggerated view of power of intention to determine meaning or
- Would Caravaggio's John the Baptist be about the virgin Mary,
if he'd intended it as such? (p. 23) (No)
PLATO'S CRITIQUE OF ART AND ARISTOTLE'S REPLIES
- To what extent can/does art (as representational?) convey truth
and insights? (Does art need to be representational to do this?)
- Plato/Socrates: Artworks (and artists) are poor sources of
- If Homer and other poets had knowledge of subject mater, why
didn't they do things in real world instead of just imitate them in
- Artists can write about education, politics and the military, but
we don't ask them for real answers to real questions
- Eg. Contrast the user of a horses bit and reins (knows how to use
them) and the maker of the bit and reins (knows how to make
them) with the painter who only knows that they look like
- Mere appearance all painter knows
- Painter of a cobbler, knows nothing about shoe repair or
- Aristotle reply to Plato: Art is not about particular appearances
but tells us truths about universals
- E.g., Arthur Miller's The Crucible is not just about the Salem
witch trials or the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s (when it was
written), but represents any situation where mass hysteria is
fostered by demagogic leaders who try to use it to suppress
dissent. Thus it conveys universal truths (of the sort Plato is
- Plato: Art appeals to an inferior part of the mind (sensation,
emotion), rather than the rational understanding, reason, logic,
which are the proper way to gain knowledge
- Art appeals to our irrational side and encourages us to be
irrational ("it waters the passions instead of drying them up")
- It feeds the passions and lets them rule
- But passions should be controlled if we are to be happy and
- Aristotle's reply? Catharsis
- What is Catharsis? And why valuable?
- To purge emotions and drain them away? An emotional release?
- Feeling emotions gives us pleasure
- Raises emotions and lets us learn from them?
- "Poetry might reveal the nature of things with an intensity
and breadth lacking in rational thought"
- Questions about emotions:
- Why is the other than rational (feeling, sensation, emotion)
- Might not emotion be rational, or at least cognitive (truth bearing)
- Why read poetry or sing at a funeral
- To release emotions?
- For an emotional reaction that gives insight?
- Can't a good novel explore virtue, vice, and deep truths of life as well
as can reasoning (if not better than reasoning?), by stirring up
emotions and feelings?
- A novel or a movie about war may not be as good as real thing
in letting us understand the war but it may do it better than
More on Representation
- Summary of three mechanisms of representation (rep can be done via):
- Imitation and Resemblance (painting resembles who it represents
- But resemblance is neither nec nor suff for representing
- Not necessary (for language represents w/o resembling
- Nor sufficient (as people resemble their portraits but don't
- Convention (as opposed to natural resemblances)
- Language, propositions represent without resembling (linguistic
- The cross represents Jesus/Christianity
- Cartoons and caricatures don't significantly resemble what
they represent (Caricature of Churchill resembles a
bulldog more than Churchill, but its about Churchill) Why?
In part because of convention.
- Intention of artist
- Munch's the Scream (205) doesn't look like a scream, but it
refers to (reps) it in part because of the intention of the artist
- If a work of art has content, meaning, purpose, point, and there is
something it is about, does that make it representational?
- Fisher says no (?)
- Art can have meaning w/o referring or representing.
- All art has content and is about something and has interpretation
and it can do this without representing anything
- Ned: Instrumental music has content, is about
- Fisher asks why equate having a meaning, content or being about
something with having representative imagery?
- Formalists allow that there are ideas, meaning, and point behind
- Duchamp's fountain, does not represent a urinal (thought it resembles,
or is identical with one), but he uses it to convey disgust with the high
status of art?
- Duchamp's toilet has a point or meaning, but the image he gives
doesn't rep or stand for it, but rather an occasion for our reflection
about this point
- Mightn't the urinal represent disgust with much conventional
- Does Fisher confuse meaning with value?
- Beautiful abstract art might have no meaning, but be valuable
as it is beautiful, conveys emotions, and so on?