This May in Utrecht Richard Wollheim was honoured with a three day conference for his untiring efforts to do aesthetics with his eyes open to art criticism and art history. Because of the richness of Wollheim’s work we had picked one central theme, the relation between representation and expression, and two secondary themes: individual style and communication, and the implied spectator.
According to Wollheim our understanding of pictorial representation must be understood as seeing-in, along lines of seeing a camel in the clouds. Monique Roelofs (Bryant College) argued that while seeing-in borrows elements from belief, imagination, and perception it also shows important differences from these attitudes, and we can best account for these phenomena by taking seeing-in to consist in perceptually driven hypotheses. Malcolm Budd (University of London) dealt with Wollheim’s notion of expression as the projection of a felt correspondence between some mental event and an inanimate object. According to Wollheim, projection changes our perception of the properties that are supposed to be expressive by involving affection. Budd analysed the affective and representational contents of the projection, the exact nature of the correspondence, and the way in which Wollheim understands projection as involving an awareness of the history of the kind of mental life involved. He argued that Wollheim’s flaw is his attempt to produce a monolithic theory of expression. Kendall Walton (University of Michigan) argued against a position which takes musical expression as expressing the mental life of some person ‘present’ in the music. His main trouble with this view is that it brings expression too close to being a type of representation. Like Wollheim’s, his account of pictorial representation is based on a psychological approach, but unlike Wollheim’s it understands representation as an anticipation of a homomodal recurrence of, for instance, colours or forms.
Artistic expression, Robert Van Gerwen (Utrecht University) suggested, can be seen as the anticipation of the homomodal recurrence of the experiential, and can, therefore, be understood as a kind of representation. The role of the imagination in artistic empathy was Paul Crowther’s (Oxford University) topic. According to Crowther the (Kantian) transcendental imagination explains our understanding as much as our production of art. Graham McFee (Brighton University) argued from a Wittgensteinian point of view that expressive properties presuppose an ability to mobilize considerations on behalf of the spectator, instead of some specialized cognitive faculty-imagination-or cognitive stock. Michael Podro (University of Essex) showed how the expression of the lines of a drawing determine their representational meaning.
Carolyn Wilde (Bristol University) examined Wollheim’s account of individual style, arguing that both representation and expression in painting are the products of a method of attention steered by a medium, and that the distinctive style of the work, which is the effect of that process, is the criterion for both its representational and expressive qualitities. Anthony Savile (University of London) argued for the central importance of the notion of communication for art’s origination as much as for its continuation. Andrew Harisson (Bristol University) discussed Wollheim’s thoughts on the phenomenon of ‘transfer’ of pictorial signs as contrasted to linguistic signs, arguing that on the level of sentences transfer is admitted in language too. Renée van der Vall (Maastricht University) introduced what she calls the staging effect of installations, meaning to correct Wollheim’s distinction between the spectator of the picture and the spectator in the picture. Michael Baxandall (University of California at Berkeley) asked Wollheim whether he would allow the critic to fill out totally the imaginative life of the imagined spectator. Baxandall argued that the critic should follow the ocular cues that are in the painting but should not fill out the whole psychology that might or might not be implied in the painting, leaving open the slots where the spectator of the picture should place his final projection. Rob Hopkins (Birmingham University) asked whether we really need to think of an implied spectator as offering a psychology that will mediate between the work and our imaginative engagement with it? He proposed we stick with thinking of the actual spectator as engaging imaginatively with what is on and in the painting. Caroline van Eck (Amsterdam) compared Wollheim and Shearman on representation and the position of the beholder, trying to soften the distinction between the spectator ‘in’ and ‘of’ the picture. Svetlana Alpers (University of California at Berkeley) showed the importance and relevance of aesthetic theory’s reliance on art criticism ‘as retrieval’ by engaging us in a very lively appreciating experience of the posture and gaze of Hendrickje Stoffels, the model of Rembrandt’s Bathsheba.
Of course, Richard Wollheim too delivered a paper, ‘On Pictorial Representation’ unfolding in all its wealth his theory about pictorial representation from his Painting as an Art.
Rob van Gerwen