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Representation and Presentation: A Reply to Professor Dickie Author(s): Monroe C. Beardsley Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 58, No. 9 (Apr. 27, 1961), pp. 238-241 Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2023037 Accessed: 01/04/2009 15:51
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or design in art, but this is not a compelling reason to demand that all the components of a representative work of art (a unified visual design, a unified subject matter, a unified dramatic design, etc.,) themselves be unified into still another unified design. I suspect that, as a matter of fact, in the large majority of the great works of art visual design and its elements are unrelated to subject matter.
GEORGE DICKIE
WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY

AND PRESENTATION: REPRESENTATION TO PROFESSOR DICKIE

A REPLY

Professor Dickie has given an acute explication of a subtle fallacy: that of mistaking a comparison of two parts of the subject in a representational design (i.e., a design that depicts) for a comparison of the subject (i.e., what is depicted) with the design itself. His analysis clarifies the nature of this error, and perhaps the five cases he cites are instances of it. My Giotto example certainly appears to be; it is at best vitiated by loose speaking. The other four I would defend. The distinction that he is concerned with is of general relevance in aesthetics, so I would like to take it up briefly. As Mr. Dickie shows, the question is what qualities may correctly be attributed to visual designs as such. Several hard problems in the aesthetics of fine art involve the relation of subject to design, and to discuss them intelligibly (or even to be sure they are genuine problems) we must draw a satisfactory distinction between the two things to be related. A particularly puzzling case, it seems to me, is that of predicates referring to depth or third dimension. Do they apply correctly to the subject or to the design? Fine arts critics themselves have vacillated on this point. To cite one example, Clive Bell, shortly after his well-known statement that "To appreciate a work of art we need bring with us nothing but a sense of form and color and a knowledge of three-dimensional space," makes this remark: "If the representation of three-dimensional space is to be called 'representation', then I agree that there is one kind of representation which is not irrelevant. " 1 But is it to be called " representation " ? that is the question. I hold that these depth-predicates can apply to either subject or design-that there is represented depth and there is presented depth, and they can vary independently. Sometimes it is correct to say that a painting represents one object as
1

Art, 5th ed. (N. Y.: Stokes, [n.d.]), p. 27.

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more distant than another, because we can "read" that object as farther from the picture plane. Sometimes it is correct to say that a painting-even one that is non-representational-has certain parts that are (i.e., look) farther back or in front of others (for example, the simple figure-ground relationship). But when a design is deep and also represents depth, the distinction is by no means easy to preserve. What criterion, then, will serve to help us make and keep the distinction? I believe Mr. Dickie is using three criteria, and I object to all of them. (1) His first criterion is that we can attribute to a visual design only those qualities that remain invariant through a 1800 rotation. This is, I think, much too restrictive, and would not in fact be "generally said." I don't know how far he would extend this. For example, a 450 rotation converts a square into a diamondwhich is a wholly different figure, phenomenally speaking. As to the upside-down transformation, a left-hand arrow is a different design from a right-hand arrow; the universe-class sign (V) is different from the null-class sign (A), for the former is unstable, the latter stable.2 It would be better to lay down the rule that what is represented by a design must also be represented by its mirror-inversion. One could argue, for example, that a photograph cannot contain any information that would not be given if it were reversed. But this is too strong, for a photograph of a car tells us whether it has a left-hand or a right-hand drive.3 (2) Mr. Dickie 's second criterion seems to be constructive: he lists a basic set of predicates that are stipulated to apply to designs or their parts, and then, in effect, excludes all other predicates that cannot be defined in terms of them. This latter step is a form of reduction, and it amounts, I think, to denying that visual designs can have any qualities that cannot be localized. But surely it is not true that complex areas have no qualities but those which single patches of color can have. (3) His third criterion seems to exclude such predicates as take
2 On the difference between top and bottom, left and right, see Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception (Berkeley: University of California, 1954), pp. 16-19. 3 See the extremely interesting article (cited by Arnheim) by Mercedes Gaffron, "Right and Left in Pictures," The Art Quarterly, Vol. XIII (1950), pp. 312-331. Gaffron points out powerful differences (in depth, in the relation of the depicted objects to the observer, etc.) between some paintings or prints and their mirror inversions. This is especially noticeable in some of is, the way they were Rembrandt 's etchings, when seen in reverse-that originally drawn on the plate. I am indebted to two of my colleagues, Professor Robert Walker and Professor Hans Wallach, for a vivid demonstration of this reversal effect.

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their literal meaning from human contexts ("happiness," "sadness," "divine suffering," etc.). He seems to be saying that none of these terms can correctly be applied, even in a metaphorical sense, to visual designs. I do not see how he would defend this position, so I do not know how to counter his defense. And any general principle that might be used to support it (as that there can be no true metaphorical predications about designs) seems to me clearly wrong. Let us try a fourth criterion, which seems acceptable. If it is possible to find a non-representational design to which a predicate truly applies, then that predicate can be applied to the designaspect of a representational painting. This is not a necessary condition: we can't assume that, for every quality of designs that are representational, there must be some non-representational design with the same (or a closely similar) quality. But surely it is a sufficient condition. Then I would say that since there are non-representational designs that are cheerful, it is possible to speak of a representational design as cheerful, without referring to the subject. Mr. Dickie evidently disagrees with me here: "How could a visual design or its elements alone be cheerful?" But it is so, and whatever sort of evidence is required to show that it is so, can be made available. For example, if he will agree that some music is cheerful, then we can show how certain abstract designs can be reliably correlated with such music. If, on the other hand, he denies that there is such a thing as cheerful music, but agrees that there are cheerful people and events, we can show how certain musical passages can be reliably correlated with those people's behavior and those events. There is, however, in Mr. Dickie's paper the suggestion that he would fall back upon another argument, for he seems to hold that if a line is cheerful it can only be "because it suggests a smile," and hence "functions as an abstract depiction of a smile, not as a plastic element." Here he seems to be forcing a dilemma upon us. He asks: when a line is cheerful, must it have something in common with the look or bearing of a cheerful person? If we say No, then he replies that the fusion theory breaks down, since there is nothing in common between a cheerful design and a cheerful subject. If we say Yes (because it is the similarity that justifies the metaphorical extension of the term "cheerful" from person to line), he replies that therefore the line must be an "abstract depiction." But I have argued in Chapter 6 of Aesthetics that "depiction" (or "representation" in this sense) is best defined in such a way that not all similarities between design and object amount to depiction. So I hold that a design can be cheerful without depicting a cheerful

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person (just as music can) ; and it can depict a cheerful person without itself being particularly cheerful. (That a line can be cheerful without depicting cheerfulness, I am ready to agree in doubting. But I believe that lines can be brittle and jagged without depicting brittle and jagged objects. And I do think non-representational designs may have what I mean by "focus," though perhaps that is not the best term for the region on which many of the dynamic movements of the shapes converge.) I was also much interested in Mr. Dickie's suggestion that the importance of fusion, if there is such a thing, has often been overstressed because of too much concern to show that great paintings must be unified, not only as designs and as subjects, but in the relation of subject to design. Perhaps so, but I think we must also inquire into the source of this concern. The concept of subjectdesign unity is connected in an important way, I believe, with two basic problems in the aesthetics of plastic art. First, there is the question whether we can really call a representational painting an aesthetic object, of which both subject and design are components, in the sense in which we call a song an aesthetic object, of which words and music are components. It might not be appropriate to call it such unless there is some relation between design and subject that unifies them for perceptual experience. Second, let us grant that the unity of a design has a bearing on whether or not it is a good design, but we seem to be saying more than this when we say of a representational painting that it is a good painting. And if this species of goodness (that is, being a good painting) has anything to do, as I believe it has, with the quality and coherence of the experience the painting affords, then there is some justification for holding that this goodness depends, in part at least, upon the fusion of what it represents with what it presents.
MONROE SWARTHMORE COLLEGE

C.

BEARDSLEY

BOOK REVIEW Concepts, Theories, and the Mind-Body Problem. Edited by AND GROVER MAXWELL. FEIGL, MICHAELSCRIVEN, HERBERT Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press [1958]. xv, 553 pp. (Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. II.) $7.00. This volume is the second in a series published by the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science. It consists of ten articles,