Dr. Leanne Carroll
Art History, Washington University in St. Louis
Reflexive Imagining: Applying Walton’s Theory of Representation to Modern and Contemporary Art
In exploring how art activates meaningful and socially valuable experiences, it is useful to understand what it is we do with art. Kendall Walton (1990) has provided a convincing theory. He has shown that when we process the mimetic content of art or literature, we use the work as a prop in a game of make-believe, and the prop prescribes our imaginings. My paper applies this theory to modern and contemporary art. With a two-dimensional portrait, for example, we imagine of our looking that it is the seeing of a face. With three-dimensional abstract sculpture and installations, I propose, we imagine how forms relate to one another and to ourselves, and we move around the work to confirm or deny those imaginings and then add the new experiences to the game. I explore the very different role that intentions play in art versus nonfiction. I suggest, accordingly, that well-known works by Marcel Duchamp and Hans Haacke are best understood as art-world nonfiction, but I conclude that whether through prescribed imagining or prompted considering, fiction and nonfiction alike can improve understanding and impart information. It is nevertheless important to appreciate that, when they do so, they operate differently.
* Leanne is the winner of the travel grant, funded by the American Society for Aesthetics (ASA), to the APA Post-Conference Workshop, Sunday April 3.