Professor Bence Nanay

Professor Bence Nanay

University of Antwerp

Mental imagery and our engagement with art

San Francisco Workshop, Sunday April 3rd, all day session

A lot has been said about the various ways in which imagination plays a role in our engagement with art. This paper is not about imagination: it is about mental imagery. And my claim is that mental imagery plays a crucial role in our engagement with art. And not just in literature, where mental imagery is often explicitly called upon, but also in the visual arts, music and conceptual art. And even in literature, I argue, it is mental imagery that plays an important role, not imagination, as traditionally construed. In the visual arts, imagery shows up in a variety of ways: in the case of still photographs, paintings and sculptures the temporal imagery represents the moments before and after the represented moment. In paintings, photos and film, the parts of the depicted scene that fall outside the frame are represented by means of mental imagery. Often we are also prompted to have mental imagery of something within the frame (say, the six foot tall Harvey). And in some works of conceptual art, the perceptual engagement with the work is deliberately replaced with the engagement by means of mental imagery. Different artistic traditions utilise mental imagery of different determinacy, with pictorial and literary modernism often opting for triggering ambiguous mental imagery.