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HomeNumeri56The depicted gaze of the Other

The depicted gaze of the Other

Alberto Voltolini
p. 111-126

Abstract

In questo paper, voglio prima di tutto rivendicare l’idea di Wollheim per cui il vedere-in, l’esperienza in cui consiste la percezione pittorica - un’esperienza fenomenologicamente sui generis fatta da due momenti percettivi - spiega il fenomeno della costanza percettiva. Per “costanza percettiva” intendo qui con Wollheim un particolare fenomeno di robustezza percettiva, cioè il fatto che il soggetto di una raffigurazione è esperito come non distorto, in quanto dato dalla stessa prospettiva, da qualunque punto di vista in cui lo spettatore si collochi per guardare la raffigurazione. Inoltre, voglio in particolar modo considerare l’impressione specifica di ‘essere seguito’ dallo sguardo del soggetto raffigurato che hanno gli spettatori di ritratti, o di tipi simili di raffigurazioni; un’impressione che consegue al fenomeno della costanza percettiva. Questa impressione, infatti, corrobora una particolare lettura di ciò in cui l’esperienza di vedere-in effettivamente consiste. Secondo tale lettura, nel momento configurativo di tale esperienza lo spettatore percepisce sia le proprietà meramente visibili di superficie sia le proprietà di design del veicolo raffigurativo. Tra queste proprietà di design vanno incluse anche le cosiddette proprietà di raggruppamento del veicolo, le proprietà per gli elementi di tale veicolo di essere ordinati lungo una certa direzione entro una determinata dimensione. Sulla base di tale momento, poi, nel momento ricognitivo dell’esperienza di vedere-in lo spettatore vede, in una maniera consapevolmente illusoria, tale veicolo raffigurativo come il soggetto della raffigurazione.

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Testo integrale

Perceptual constancy

1When we face portraits, we often have the impression that, however we move around the picture, we are “followed” by the gaze of the depicted individual – qua depicted, the Other goes on gazing us, as one might say in a Sartrean way of talking. If any of us enters Turin’s Municipal Museum of Ancient Art and bumps into Antonello da Messina’s famous Portrait of a Man, she cannot avoid the feeling of being very intensively regarded by the portrait’s subject, a typical Quattrocento bourgeois. However she moves around the picture, that depicted man will look at her with a severe yet possibly ironical gaze. Moreover, the very same impression may also be raised by trivial snapshots of persons. This predicament does not of course happen in reality: if we want to escape the gaze of another person, it is enough that we put ourselves in a position in which that gaze cannot reach us.

Fig. 1 Antonello da Messina’s Portrait of Man

Fig. 1 Antonello da Messina’s Portrait of Man

Fig. 2 Snapshot of two ordinary guys

Fig. 2 Snapshot of two ordinary guys
  • 1 Throughout the paper, I focus on pictorial experience. This does not mean that I take cases of unco (...)

2Such an impression is a vivid effect portraits exhibit of the phenomenon of perceptual constancy that affects our experience of pictures1. If we move around an individual in reality, at least from certain perspectives we see that individual as distorted – in the typical example, a round coin looks elliptical if we look at it from certain perspectives. The same happens with respect to the vehicle of a picture, the physical object grounding a certain depiction: it is one thing to see that vehicle when facing it, another thing to see it from an oblique perspective. Yet if we focus on the item depicted in a picture, the picture’s subject, we still experience it in the same way from any perspective.

  • 2 Cfr. Wollheim 19802, 1987, 1998.

3According to Richard Wollheim, pictorial experience is an experience of seeing-in. Seeing-in is for Wollheim a phenomenally sui generis experience basically characterized by twofoldness: in facing a picture, one has a twofold experience whose folds are the configurational fold, in which one grasps the picture’s vehicle, and the recognitional fold, in which one grasps the picture’s subject. For Wollheim, these folds are inextricably intertwined2. As one may put it, it is in virtue of grasping the vehicle in the configurational fold of the seeing-in experience that one also grasps the subject in the recognitional fold of such an experience.

  • 3 Ibidem: 215-216.

4For Wollheim, moreover, perceptual constancy is one of the things that show that pictorial experience is an experience of seeing-in as conceived above. For in moving around a picture, one experiences its vehicle under possibly different configurational folds. Yet what remains constant in that experience precisely is the recognitional fold under which one experiences the picture’s subject3.

  • 4 As originally noted by Pirenne 1970. In order to explain why that distortion does not normally occu (...)
  • 5 Wollheim 1987: 62.

5As a corroboration of this idea, one may note that, if one is utterly deceived by a picture, that is, if in facing it one simply mistakes it as its subject, by moving around it one rather sees that subject as distorted, as if one were seeing that subject face-to-face. This is what it happens with genuine trompe-l’œil4. For Wollheim, this is as it should be. For the experience of a genuine trompe-l’œil is not a pictorial experience insofar as it is no twofold seeing-in experience5.

1. Is seeing-in really necessary for perceptual constancy?

  • 6 This sufficiency claim has been criticized by means of empirical arguments (cf. Halloran 1989). Yet (...)
  • 7 Lopes 2005: 36.
  • 8 Cfr. also Lopes 1996: 48-49.

6To begin with, let me accept that whenever there is twofold seeing-in there is perceptual constancy6. Yet Dominic Lopes has recently criticized Wollheim’s treatment of perceptual constancy by arguing against the different claim that twofold seeing-in is necessary for perceptual constancy. According to Lopes, perceptual constancy does not require seeing-in, at least if seeing-in is conceived as a twofold experience. Such a constancy simply requires that while the picture’s subject is experienced, the picture’s vehicle is at most partially experienced. For although its merely visible surface properties are experienced, its design properties are not experienced. In Lopes’ own words, «an explanation of constancy requires at most that constant seeing-in be accompanied by surface seeing, not by design seeing»7. So, if seeing-in constitutes picture perception, it does not have to be a twofold experience8.

  • 9 Cfr. Lopes 2005: 25.

7In order to understand Lopes’ point, one has to grasp his distinction between merely visible surface properties and design properties. According to Lopes, in its surface a picture’s vehicle is affected by a host of visible properties. Some properties of this kind are responsible for the fact that a certain subject is seen in the picture: these are the design properties of the vehicle. Some other properties of this kind do not bear such a responsibility: these are the merely visible surface properties of the vehicle. Standard examples of the latter properties are properties that affect the material status of the vehicle’s surface: e.g. being cracked, being wooden, being opaque. Standard examples of the former properties are colours and shapes of the vehicle9.

  • 10 Ibidem: 35.
  • 11 Ibidem.

8The case in which merely visible surface properties of the picture’s vehicle are experienced is typically represented by naturalistic pictures, i.e., those pictures whose realistic import is prominent (not only everyday snapshots in general, but also very detailed paintings such as e.g. Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait). Now, Lopes tends to assimilate this case to the case of genuine trompe l’oeils10. Yet such an assimilation would be incorrect, for in the latter case not even the merely visible surface properties of the picture’s vehicle are experienced. As Lopes himself admits, genuine trompe-l’œil do not exhibit perceptual constancy, for in seeing them dynamically one sees their subject as distorted11. As we have seen before, this squares with Wollheim’s explanation of such a phenomenon; indeed, Wollheim himself rules the experience of genuine trompe-l’œil out of cases in which seeing-in as a twofold experience is mobilized. Thus, since as I have just said the case in which merely visible surface properties of the picture’s vehicle are experienced is not identical to the case of genuine trompe-l’œil, from the fact that in the latter case there is no twofold seeing-in one cannot infer that also in the former case there is no such mental state.

Fig. 3 Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait

Fig. 3 Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait

Fig. 4 A trompe-l’œil

Fig. 4 A trompe-l’œil
  • 12 Cfr. Nanay 2010: 185-188. This claim was anticipated by Tüscher 2002.

9Very recently, Bence Nanay has tried to accommodate both Wollheim’s and Lopes’ points in an unified account. According to Nanay, Wollheim is right in holding that perceptual constancy must be accounted for in terms of twofold seeing-in. Yet for him Lopes is also right in holding that at least in some cases the design properties of the vehicle are not experienced. Thus, this overall predicament for him shows that in order for twofold seeing-in to occur it is enough that the content of either fold of that state is represented in that fold, though not experienced or fully experienced. In the above cases, unlike the merely visible surface properties of the vehicle, its design properties are represented yet inexperienced in the configurational fold. So, the twofold seeing-in that is necessary for perceptual constancy is (at least partially) inexperienced seeing-in12.

  • 13 Cfr. Nanay 2010: 199-202.

10Moreover, Nanay has tried to say what this at least partially unconscious perception of the picture’s vehicle really amounts to. Whenever there is a picture perception such as the aforementioned one, the picture’s vehicle is perceptually grasped by the motor-guiding component of the perceptual system, the component whose implementation takes the dorsal pathway, which goes from the occipital lobe to the frontal lobe through the parietal lobe. Yet the vehicle is not perceptually grasped by the identification component of such a system, the component whose implementation takes the ventral pathway, for it goes from the occipital lobe to the temporal lobe of the brain. The opposite situation holds of the picture’s subject: it is grasped by the identification component, which explains why we recognize such a subject, yet it is not grasped by the motor-guiding component, which explains why we do not locate such a subject in our spatio-temporal surroundings13.

  • 14 Ibidem: 471-473.

11On the basis of such reflections, Nanay also holds that only “dorsal” perception of the picture’s vehicle is necessary to account for perceptual constancy. We keep track in an undistorted way of the picture’s subject only if by moving around the picture’s vehicle we merely manage to single out such a vehicle as being out there via the motor-guiding component of our perception of it, independently of whether this perception is fully conscious or not14.

2. How to vindicate Wollheim

  • 15 Ibidem: 472.
  • 16 Ibidem: 466.

12Nanay is surely right in holding that “dorsal” perception of the picture’s vehicle is necessary in order to grant perceptual constancy. Whenever we lose the “dorsal” grasp of such a vehicle, we start seeing the picture’s subject as distorted15. To my mind, this does not depend on the fact that in such a predicament the picture is no longer localizable in the perceiver’s space, as Nanay believes16. Rather, it depends on the fact that in that predicament we start suffering from an illusory perception precisely of the trompe-l’œil – kind that forces us to mobilize not only “ventral”, but also “dorsal” perception, yet with respect to the picture’s subject only. Yet this is irrelevant for my present purposes. My problem rather is whether also “ventral” perception of the vehicle is necessary for perceptual constancy.

  • 17 As Nanay 2011: 473-474 seems to admit.
  • 18 This happens in all cases in which a “ventral” illusion concerning the size of (part of) the subjec (...)
  • 19 In point of fact, Nanay admits (personal communication) that just some design properties of the pic (...)

13To begin with, Nanay’s more detailed treatment of perceptual constancy raises some doubts. As I said before, his aim is to salvage Wollheim’s idea that twofold seeing-in accounts for perceptual constancy even if the perception of the picture’s vehicle that constitutes the configurational fold of seeing-in is, at least partially, a mere inexperienced representation. Yet if along with mobilizing the motor-guiding component of the perception of the picture’s vehicle the identification component of that perception were utterly set aside, as Nanay also claims it happens in such a case, then, as regards that very perception some at least of the design properties of that vehicle would be not only inexperienced, but also unrepresented. For the motor-guiding component of that perception would surely grasp perceptually just the merely visible surface properties of that vehicle17. Hence, it would hardly be the case that the perception of the vehicle amounted to a proper configurational fold, which has to involve the vehicle in all its visually relevant surface features. As a further result, it would be questionable whether that picture perception involves a merely partially experienced twofold seeing-in, so as to account for perceptual constancy by means of it. So, in order to properly allow that design properties of the vehicle are at least represented in a twofold mental state, Nanay should acknowledge that also “ventral” perception is mobilized in such a state. Of course, Nanay might reply that “dorsal” perception can well perceptually grasp – either consciously or unconsciously – all the relevant design properties of the vehicle. Yet, although it is likely that the vehicle’s forms can be so grasped18, it is unlikely that the vehicle’s colors can be so grasped19.

14Let me stress this point, namely whether one can really put “ventral” perception of the picture’s vehicle aside as far as pictorial perception is concerned, from another direction. As I have said all along, perceptual constancy is the fact that we go on grasping a certain subject in a picture as undistorted across different perspectives. Yet this fact does not entail that we grasp such a subject in a picture across any perspective. Consider from instance the famous Nazca lines, those tracks in the soil close to the border between Bolivia and Peru some of which constitute pictures of animals. If you look at those tracks “from below”, you can see no animal in it; they are just tracks as any other. Yet if you look at them “from above”, you see the animals they were probably meant to represent. In this respect, the phenomenon of anaphormosis is quite similar to the case in question. Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors presents a famous case of anamorphosis. If you look at it while standing in front of it, you can hardly grasp the skull in it which it also depicts; it may seem to you as if the picture there depicts an oddly shaped object, provided that it there depicts anything. In order to grasp the skull in it, you have to occupy a specific vantage point, namely, a very oblique position.

Fig. 6 Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors

Fig. 6 Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors

15Now, all these phenomena show that the picture’s vehicle must be identified as one and the same yet through different perspectives in order for the perceiver to grasp in it the picture’s subject just from some of such perspectives. But this shows that not only “dorsal”, but also “ventral” perception of the picture’s vehicle has to be mobilized in picture perception in order for perceptual constancy to occur. For insofar as such an identification of the vehicle involves a selective re-identification of it – pictorially relevant points of view on a certain item are flanked by pictorially irrelevant points of view on the same item – only a “ventral” perception can do it.

  • 20 Cfr. Busey et al. 1990.
  • 21 Cfr. Nanay 2011: 471.
  • 22 This point has been underlined by different people (for different purposes); cfr. e.g. Casati 1991: (...)

16At this point, Nanay would probably retort that there are experiments showing that, if we artificially remove cues that indicate our orientation with respect to the picture’s vehicle, we still manage to grasp the picture’s subject as undistorted20. In his lights, such experiments corroborate his idea that the identification component of the picture’s vehicle can be set aside in picture perception. Yet, as he immediately acknowledges, in the psychological literature such experiments are not considered to be conclusive21. It is indeed quite likely that in such cases artificially keeping our gaze on the fixed aspect of the picture’s subject prevents us from telling that we are facing a depicted subject from the fact that we are facing that very subject; in other terms, in order to tell a subject as depicted from a subject face-to-face, we must precisely have the possibility of moving around a picture, hence of detecting its vehicle from different points of view22.

17Perhaps Nanay might reply that even if the above phenomena showed that “ventral” perception of the vehicle has to be involved in picture perception, they do not support yet the claim that design properties of the vehicle must be “ventrally” detected in a conscious way. Yet I doubt that this is the case. For at this point one may generally wonder whether it is correct to say that the picture’s vehicle may not be utterly experienced in pictorial perception, so that neither of the two above anti-Wollheimian positions holds. That is, it seems that it is neither the case that twofold seeing-in constitutes such a perception, hence it accounts for that constancy, even though such a state may unconsciously capture some of the vehicle’s traits, as Nanay holds, nor it is the case that twofold seeing-in does not constitute such a perception, hence it cannot account for perceptual constancy, as Lopes believes. For what allows a subject to visually emerge in a picture is a factor that not only relies on the fact that design properties of the picture’s vehicle are experienced, but that they have to be experienced as such in order for this factor to play its emergential role. Let me explain.

  • 23 Cfr. Lopes 2005: 41; Lopes 2006: 168.

18Consider the famous picture of a dalmatian Lopes recalls in several occasions23.

Fig. 7 Picture of a dalmatian

Fig. 7 Picture of a dalmatian

19For a long while, by looking at the relevant sketch we are only able to grasp a series of black and white spots in it. Thus, we surely perceive just colors and forms of that picture’s vehicle, along with the spatial information they provide. Yet all of sudden, a certain aspect “dawns” on us: by focalizing a certain contour surrounding some of the spots, a certain figure emerges in the sketch, namely, the figure of a dalmatian. I take that at this point, the picture is affected by a twofold seeing-in experience. Our looking at the picture’s vehicle is so to speak transfigurated by the fact that we also recognize a subject in it, so that our experience towards the picture precisely becomes a twofold experience in which both a configurational and a recognitional fold are experientially activated.

  • 24 Cfr. Lopes 2005: 41-42.

20Quite to the contrary, Lopes takes this case of an “aspect dawning”-picture precisely as another case showing that a picture may not be surrounded by a proper twofold seeing-in experience. For, until the dalmatian-aspect “dawns” on us, the design properties of the picture such as its forms and colors are perceived and yet they are not perceived or at least conceived as design properties; for no subject is yet visible in the picture. In other terms, since in the case of an “aspect dawning”-picture the above design properties of the picture are perceived and yet they are not perceived or at least conceived as such before one sees a subject in it, for Lopes the pictorial experience one finally has of that picture is merely pseudo-twofold24.

  • 25 Grouping properties are the properties that in the tradition of the Gestalt psychology were labelle (...)
  • 26 In the aforementioned reflections, Lopes also denies that grouping properties are design properties (...)

21Yet first of all, note that in order for the properties of form and color of a vehicle not only to be design properties but also to be perceived or at least conceived as such, they always have to be properly grouped, so that a certain contour shaping them arises to our view. Only once that grouping is performed, one can indeed see a certain subject in the picture, so that a proper twofold seeing-in experience affects the picture itself. Grouping properties of the vehicle – the properties for some of the vehicle’s elements such as its forms and colors to be arranged in a certain way25 – are therefore the factor that enables other grouping properties of the vehicle to be experienced as playing their design role. In this respect, grouping properties also are design properties of the vehicle; they are those design properties that are not only responsible of the fact that a certain subject is seen in it but also of the fact that such a subject emerges in it26.

  • 27 Obviously, anamorphic pictures are just partially “aspect dawning”-pictures, for they are such only (...)

22Now, the Nazca case and the phenomenon of anamorphosis show precisely this point under a different standpoint. Indeed, also these cases have to be taken as cases of “aspect dawning”-pictures27. For until one is not able to perceive a certain grouping of the vehicle’s elements, this time by properly moving around the relevant picture up to a certain vantage point, some at least of the design properties of that vehicle cannot be properly perceived or even conceived as such. In such a case, one perceives colors and forms of the (relevant part of the) vehicle, yet without opportunely grouping them one does not perceive or at least conceive them in the role that makes them responsible for the fact that a certain something is seen in (that part of) the vehicle. This means that also in these cases, in order to have a proper pictorial perception one has to experience not only the merely visible surface properties of the picture’s vehicle but also its design properties.

  • 28 Cfr. Wollheim 19802: 226.

23To be sure, as regards “aspect dawning”-pictures a certain lapse of time occurs between perceiving the picture and seeing it as a picture. This predicament therefore makes the case that “aspect dawning”-pictures precisely do not count as pictures until the aspect “dawns” on us, that is, until one has a proper twofold experience of seeing-in affecting them. Yet pace Lopes, I take “aspect dawning”-pictures as paradigmatic cases of pictures. For they perspicuously show what Wollheim claimed about all pictures, namely that in order for pictures to really count as pictures, they have to be seen as pictures. Thus, “aspect dawning”-pictures have definitely to be surrounded by a proper twofold seeing-in experience. For, as Wollheim himself originally maintained, for any picture to be seen as a picture precisely amounts to entertaining a certain twofold seeing-in experience that surrounds it28.

24All in all, in their being paradigmatic pictures “aspect dawning”-pictures clearly show that, as regards them, in order for perceptual constancy to arise a subject must be seen in it by means a twofold seeing-in utterly experienced, i.e., a mental state whose folds are both experienced. Before that such an experience occurs, in fact, no subject is obviously seen in an “aspect dawning”-picture; a fortiori, nothing remains perceptually constant throughout different perspectival perceptions of the picture.

3. Grasping aspects via grouping

  • 29 Cfr. e.g. Lopes 1996: 50.

25So far, so good: if I am right, Wollheim’s appeal to twofold seeing-in as a phenomenally distinct experience in order to account for perceptual constancy has been vindicated. Yet, as many people have remarked, it is rather unclear what the seeing-in experience really consists in. Appealing to the claim that such an experience is made by the two aforementioned inextricably intertwined folds, as Wollheim does, sounds too generic in order to go beyond the mere commonsensical idea that when we face pictures, we normally see subjects in them (or better in their vehicle)29.

26Now, focusing on the case of the depicted gaze in portraits may help in this clarification. First of all, note that the impression of “being followed” by a gaze not always occurs when a portrait is at stake. For instance, if we face an Egyptian picture such as any depiction of Queen Nefertari, although we still perceive constancy of the subject throughout our different perceptions of the relevant painting under different points of view, we do not fall under the above impression.

Fig. 8 Portrait of Nefertari

Fig. 8 Portrait of Nefertari

27The reason, one may observe, is straightforward. While in portraits following the rules of linear perspective such as Antonello’s portrait the subject’s face is depicted as standing head on, in non-perspectival paintings such as the Egyptian ones such a face is depicted in profile. So, unlike the man depicted by Antonello, Nefertari’s depicted gaze points towards a lateral direction.

28This is corroborated by further evidence. Suppose that in the above picture of Nefertari we merely replaced Nefertari’s depicted eye with another eye depicted as standing head on. Although Nefertari’s depicted face as a whole would still stand in profile, her gaze would then regard us from any perspective from which we looked at the picture, as with any portrait in linear perspective.

  • 30 Casati (1991: 115) holds that a certain proportion in some vehicle’s elements grasped in the releva (...)
  • 31 One may take this as the basic difference between a pictorial and a sculptural experience, in which (...)
  • 32 I believe that this grounds the possibility of an objective resemblance between a picture and its s (...)

29All this shows that the difference between a painting depicted in linear perspective and a painting not depicted in such a perspective, like the original portrait of Nefertari, amounts to the fact that in the respective configuration folds, colors and forms in the relevant pictures’ vehicles are grouped in different ways that mirror the different aspects the pictures’ subjects are respectively depicted as having30. Perceptual constancy indeed entails that the picture’s subject that is constantly perceived throughout the different points of view from which an experiencer perceives the picture’s vehicle is always recognized under the very same aspect. As one might say, that subject is visually captured under a “frozen” aspect31. So, the configuration fold of the seeing-in experience must be so attuned as to mobilize the properties grouping the forms and colors of the picture’s vehicle in such a way that a subject given under a certain aspect can be experienced in the recognitional fold of the same experience32.

30Yet this is not the end of the matter. Saying that as far as a portrait in accordance with linear perspective is concerned, its subject’s gaze points in a back-to-front direction rather than in side-to-side direction does not yet explain why a spectator feels as if such a gaze pointed at her. For one thing, the subject and the spectator are actually located in different spaces: the spectator is located in the real space, while the subject is located in the space of the depicted scene. If the subject’s gaze could pass across spaces, in order for a spectator to feel the same impression in the case of an Egyptian picture it would be enough for such a spectator to locate herself on the picture’s side. Yet from that point of view no such impression arises. How can it be?

31A possible explanation of the impression of “being followed” is that the spectator merely pretends to be in the same space as the depicted subject. In order to account for such a pretence in a framework that still takes Wollheim’s seeing-in experience as the distinctive pictorial experience, one has to reframe that experience along the following lines. In genuinely perceiving the picture’s vehicle, the spectator not only makes believe that she perceives the picture’s subject, but she also makes believe that the perception of the vehicle is the perception of the subject.

  • 33 As defended by Walton in the framework of his own theory of depiction. Cfr. 1990: 300-301; 2002: 33
  • 34 Cfr. Voltolini 2013.
  • 35 Cfr. Wollheim’s own replies to Walton: 1991: 40-45; 2003: 146.

32This is the core of Kendall Walton’s theory of seeing-in33. Yet, as I have pointed out elsewhere34, I don’t think such a treatment manages to account for Wollheim’s idea that seeing-in is a genuine perceptual experience35. At most, it configures such an experience as an experience in which a genuine perception, the perception of the vehicle, is flanked by a visualization that affects not only the picture’s subject, but also the very perception of the picture’s vehicle. Even more problematically for my present purposes, it does not account for the impression of “being followed”. Let us go back to Nefertari. If seeing Nefertari in the Egyptian picture amounted to perceiving the picture’s vehicle and making believe not only that one is seeing Nefertari, but also that one’s perception of the vehicle is the perception of Nefertari, one might even make believe that such a perception is seeing Nefertari as looking at one’s direction. Yet such a complex make-believe experience would not be sufficient in order for one to feel that one is followed by the gaze of the depicted Queen. As we have seen before, in such a case one has no such feeling.

  • 36 This account traces back to a suggestion by Levinson 1998. I have defended this account elsewhere: (...)

33In order to account for such an impression, we have to look elsewhere. To my mind, the right suggestion depends on allowing for the recognitional fold of the seeing-in experience to be a knowingly illusory experience of the picture’s subject36.

34To begin with, a genuine trompe-l’oeil is flanked by a genuine illusory experience in which the spectator, by unknowingly mistaking the picture as its subject, also mistakes that subject as being in the very same real space in which she is located. In a seeing-in experience, the gist of that illusoriness is retained: the spectator still is under the impression that the subject is in the very same space in which she is, nor can she refrain from having that impression. However, unlike the case of a genuine trompe-l’oeil, the spectator well knows that her experience is illusory. Moreover, the spectator has such a knowledge because, unlike any other typical illusory experience, she also consciously perceives another thing, namely, the very picture’s vehicle. This conscious perception of the vehicle inherits the perceptual constancy that in the illusory perception of a genuine trompe-l’oeil affects that trompe-l’oeil’s subject. Hence, once that conscious perception of the vehicle arises, the experience of the subject cannot but be a knowingly illusory experience in which that subject is merely grasped under a “frozen” aspect. As a further result, both that illusory experience of the subject and that perception of the vehicle become mere folds of another overall experience. Yet this overall experience is precisely the twofold seeing-in experience Wollheim is talking all along. Since it results from such experiential folds, that experience can indeed really have the perceptual character Wollheim ascribed to it.

  • 37 These ideas have both similarities and differences with what Spinicci 2008: 180-92 holds in this re (...)
  • 38 I thank Roberto Casati, Pietro Kobau, Bence Nanay and Paolo Spinicci for their insightful comments (...)

35Once the recognitional fold of the seeing-in experience is taken as a knowingly illusory experience of the picture as its subject, the explanation of the impression of “being followed” by the subject’s gaze is straightforward. Once the spectator well knows that the picture is not its subject, she also well knows that there is no such gaze around her. Yet pretty much as she is still forced to see the picture as that subject, she is also forced to see that picture as a subject whose gaze points to her37. Pretty much as one cannot refrain from seeing a basset hound’s face as gloomy, even if one knows that such a face is not such38.

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http://jeannicod.ccsd.cnrs.fr/index.php?halsid=mbmab9dbbde8rrq58i5kdvs044&view_this_doc=ijn_00000071&version=1

Voltolini, A.
2012a, How to Reconcile Seeing-ss With Seeing-in (with Mimetic Purposes in Mind), in G. Currie, P. Kot’atko, M. Pokorny (eds), Mimesis: Metaphysics, Cognition, Pragmatics, London, College Publications: 383-407
2012b, Toward a Syncretistic Theory of Depiction, in C. Calabi, Perceptual Illusions. Philosophical and Psychological Essays, Basingstoke, Palgrave: 166-194
2013, Defiction?, in C. Barbero, M. Ferraris, A. Voltolini (eds), From Fictionalism to Realism, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing: 43-61
unpublished MS, Why, as responsible for figurativity, seeing-in can only be inflected seeing-in

Von Ehrenfels, C.
1988, On Gestalt-Qualities, in B. Smith (ed), Foundations of Gestalt Theory, München-Wien, Philosophia: 82-117

Walton, K.
1990, Mimesis as Make-Believe, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press
2002, Depiction, perception, and imagination, “The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism”, 60: 27-35

Wollheim, R.
19802, Seeing-as, Seeing-in, and Pictorial Representation, in Art and its Objects, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 205-226
1987, Painting as an Art, Princeton, Princeton University Press
1991, A note on mimesis as make-believe, “Philosophy and Phenomenological Research”, 51: 401-406
1998, On pictorial representation, “The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism”, 56: 217-226
2003, What makes representational painting truly visual?, “Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society” 77: 131-147

Yang, T. and Kubowy, M.
1999, Weakening the robustness of perspective: evidence for a modified theory of compensation in picture perception, “Perception & Psychophysics”, 61: 456-467

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Note

1 Throughout the paper, I focus on pictorial experience. This does not mean that I take cases of unconscious pictorial perception, which e.g. eminegligent subjects are supposed to entertain, to be impossible. On these cases cf. my Voltolini (unpublished MS). Simply, there seems to be no well-established evidence that there is anything like unconscious perceptual constancy.

2 Cfr. Wollheim 19802, 1987, 1998.

3 Ibidem: 215-216.

4 As originally noted by Pirenne 1970. In order to explain why that distortion does not normally occurs with paintings, Pirenne traces back to the first formulation of the seeing-in theory to be found in Polanyi 1970.

5 Wollheim 1987: 62.

6 This sufficiency claim has been criticized by means of empirical arguments (cf. Halloran 1989). Yet the evaluation of the related experiments is admittedly controversial. Cfr. Nanay 2011: 471. Some of these experiments might rather support the idea that in order to perceive the pictorial value of a picture, one has to be properly located with respect to it (on this, see later). Yang and Kubovy 1999 say that if the distance of the observer’s viewpoint from the picture is varied, although the picture’s vehicle is still perceived, distortion arises. Yet this may well depend on the fact that the picture’s subject is no longer grasped from that distance.

7 Lopes 2005: 36.

8 Cfr. also Lopes 1996: 48-49.

9 Cfr. Lopes 2005: 25.

10 Ibidem: 35.

11 Ibidem.

12 Cfr. Nanay 2010: 185-188. This claim was anticipated by Tüscher 2002.

13 Cfr. Nanay 2010: 199-202.

14 Ibidem: 471-473.

15 Ibidem: 472.

16 Ibidem: 466.

17 As Nanay 2011: 473-474 seems to admit.

18 This happens in all cases in which a “ventral” illusion concerning the size of (part of) the subject is corrected by a correct “dorsal” perception of the size of (part of) the vehicle, as in the case of the Ebbinghaus illusion Nanay himself reports (2011: 465).

19 In point of fact, Nanay admits (personal communication) that just some design properties of the picture’s vehicle can be “dorsally” perceived.

20 Cfr. Busey et al. 1990.

21 Cfr. Nanay 2011: 471.

22 This point has been underlined by different people (for different purposes); cfr. e.g. Casati 1991: 39-40, Goodman 1968: 10-14.

23 Cfr. Lopes 2005: 41; Lopes 2006: 168.

24 Cfr. Lopes 2005: 41-42.

25 Grouping properties are the properties that in the tradition of the Gestalt psychology were labelled “Gestalt qualities”. Cfr. von Ehrenfels 1988.

26 In the aforementioned reflections, Lopes also denies that grouping properties are design properties. For, he says, design properties have to be visible independently of seeing anything in the picture, whereas grouping properties can be visually grasped only after that one sees something in the picture. This also contributes to make the experience of an “aspect dawning”-picture a mere pseudo-twofold experience of seeing-in. Cfr. again Lopes 2005: 41-42. Granted, grouping properties cannot be visually grasped independently of seeing something in a picture, for once one visually grasps them one also sees something in the picture. Yet Lopes’ independence requirement for design properties seems to me ungrounded. For, pace Lopes, the order of the explanation goes in the opposite direction. It is in virtue of visually grasping the grouping properties of a picture’s vehicle that one sees a certain subject in that vehicle, not the other way around. So, grouping properties are responsible as much as the “traditional” design properties for the fact that a certain subject is seen in the picture. Simply, unlike those other design properties they are also responsible for the fact that such a subject emerges in the picture. This is why one cannot see the grouping properties without also seeing the subject in the picture. To be sure, knowing that a certain subject can be seen in a picture facilitates a certain grouping operation on the picture’s vehicle to be performed. Yet such a knowledge does not show that it is in virtue of seeing something in a picture that one visually grasps the relevant grouping properties of the picture’s vehicle. For, as I have just said, the order of explanation rather goes in the opposite direction. So, grouping properties are thoroughly entitled to figure within the design properties of a picture’s vehicle. As a consequence, the seeing-in affecting an “aspect dawning”- picture is a genuine twofold experience of seeing-in.

27 Obviously, anamorphic pictures are just partially “aspect dawning”-pictures, for they are such only with respect to their parts whose real subject is not recognized as such under many perspectives.

28 Cfr. Wollheim 19802: 226.

29 Cfr. e.g. Lopes 1996: 50.

30 Casati (1991: 115) holds that a certain proportion in some vehicle’s elements grasped in the relevant configurational fold, namely a given proportion between the elements corresponding to the depicted eye’s cornea and the elements corresponding to the depicted eye’s iris, accounts for the fact that only in certain portraits the subject’s gaze regards the spectator. I agree with the idea that only some ways in which the vehicle’s elements are grouped in the configurational fold may account for the above fact. Yet I am not sure that the proportion Casati has in mind is the relevant factor (for one thing, the two depicted guys in Figure 2 regard the spectator under their sunglasses).

31 One may take this as the basic difference between a pictorial and a sculptural experience, in which the subject is recognized under different aspects pretty much as if it were seen face-to-face.

32 I believe that this grounds the possibility of an objective resemblance between a picture and its subject: the picture resembles its subject under a certain aspect (as originally maintained by Casati 1991: 51) insofar as both share the same grouping properties. Cfr. Voltolini 2012b.

33 As defended by Walton in the framework of his own theory of depiction. Cfr. 1990: 300-301; 2002: 33.

34 Cfr. Voltolini 2013.

35 Cfr. Wollheim’s own replies to Walton: 1991: 40-45; 2003: 146.

36 This account traces back to a suggestion by Levinson 1998. I have defended this account elsewhere: cfr. Voltolini 2012a, 2012b.

37 These ideas have both similarities and differences with what Spinicci 2008: 180-92 holds in this respect. I agree with Spinicci that the distance between the spectator and the picture is only phenomenally represented: I take this as meaning that, although the spectator knows that she herself is not in the same space as the picture’s subject, in perceiving the picture as the subject she cannot refrain from perceiving herself as being at a certain distance from the subject. Yet I do not agree with Spinicci on that in order for the spectator to feel that she is followed by the subject’s gaze, she has to imagine, in an expanded game of make-believe with the picture, that she is in the same space as the subject (what Spinicci calls the “resonance space”, distinct both from the depicted space of the subject and the real space of spectator). For I take it that the feeling in question is just knowingly illusory as the perception of the picture as the subject, as I say in the text.

38 I thank Roberto Casati, Pietro Kobau, Bence Nanay and Paolo Spinicci for their insightful comments to previous versions of this paper.

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Indice delle illustrazioni

Titolo Fig. 1 Antonello da Messina’s Portrait of Man
URL http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/docannexe/image/864/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 144k
Titolo Fig. 2 Snapshot of two ordinary guys
URL http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/docannexe/image/864/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 80k
Titolo Fig. 3 Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait
URL http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/docannexe/image/864/img-3.jpg
File image/jpeg, 160k
Titolo Fig. 4 A trompe-l’œil
URL http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/docannexe/image/864/img-4.jpg
File image/jpeg, 104k
Titolo Fig. 5 Nazca lines
URL http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/docannexe/image/864/img-5.jpg
File image/jpeg, 136k
Titolo Fig. 6 Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors
URL http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/docannexe/image/864/img-6.jpg
File image/jpeg, 136k
Titolo Fig. 7 Picture of a dalmatian
URL http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/docannexe/image/864/img-7.jpg
File image/jpeg, 96k
Titolo Fig. 8 Portrait of Nefertari
URL http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/docannexe/image/864/img-8.jpg
File image/jpeg, 123k
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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Alberto Voltolini, «The depicted gaze of the Other»Rivista di estetica, 56 | 2014, 111-126.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Alberto Voltolini, «The depicted gaze of the Other»Rivista di estetica [Online], 56 | 2014, online dal 01 juin 2014, consultato il 19 juin 2021. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/864; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/estetica.864

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Alberto Voltolini

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