Professor Paul Guyer

Professor Paul Guyer

Brown University

A standard account of artistic representation emphasizes the distinction between the experience of the representation and the thought of what is represented. This is the case with Richard Wollheim’s model of the “twofoldness” of painting and in Arthur Danto’s later, more general account of “embodied meaning,” which was anticipated by DeWitt Parker’s use of the same phrase earlier in the twentieth century. This model clearly has roots in the origins of modern aesthetics, for example in accounts of “imitation” or artistic representation by Moses Mendelssohn and Adam Smith. But reflection suggests that there are typically three dimensions to artistic representation, not two: in the case of painting, for example a memento mori, the markings of pigment on the canvas, the image of a skull those marking might suggest, and in turn the thoughts about vanity and mortality that image might suggest; or in the case of a narrative, the particular words used and incidents described, the fictional world and events suggested by the former, and the theme or moral broached by the latter. Kant’s conception of aesthetic ideas suggests this threefold rather than twofold model of artistic representation. Cases such as those of abstract expressionist painting or Burke’s or Hegel’s accounts of poetry suggest that sometimes two of these dimensions can be collapsed into one, as when markings on a surface or words in a poem suggest a mood or emotion without passing through any imagery; but since many works of representational art clearly exploit all three dimensions, they should be preserved in a theoretical model of artistic representation.