Sight and Sensibility: Evaluating Pictures
Dominic McIver Lopes
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Looking at pictures, we see in them the scenes they depict, and any value they have springs from these experiences of seeing-in. Sight and Sensibility presents the first detailed and comprehensive theory of evaluating pictures. Dominic Lopes confronts the puzzle of how the value of seeing anything in a picture can exceed that of seeing it face to face--his solution pinpoints how seeing-in is like and unlike ordinary seeing. Moreover, since part of what we see in pictures is emotional expressions, his book also develops a theory of expression especially tailored to pictures.
Not all evaluations of pictures as opportunities for seeing-in are aesthetic--others are cognitive or moral. Lopes argues that these evaluations interact, for some imply others. His argument entails novel conceptions of aesthetic and cognitive evaluation, such that aesthetic evaluation is distinguished from art evaluation as essentially tied to experience, and that cognitive evaluations assess cognitive capacities, including perceptual ones. Ultimately, Lopes defends images against the widespread criticism that they thwart serious thought, especially moral thought, because they merely replicate ordinary experience. He concludes by presenting detailed case studies of the contribution pictures can make to moral reflection.
Sight and Sensibility will be essential reading for anyone working in aesthetics and art theory, and for all those intrigued by the power of images to affect our lives.
they double seeing-in with surface seeing. We should therefore expect divided seeing to be more common than the rarity of trompe-l’œil suggests. Some pictures support something like illusionistic seeing-in—call it ‘naturalism’. We see the surface of such a picture as a surface even as we see a scene in it, but we cannot see anything in it while we see its design as a design. The depicted scene is seen with the surface, but how the former emerges from the latter is not seen. This is the point of
learned from these natural expression-looks about their pictorial kin, not only in ﬁgure expression but in scene and design expression too. One obvious lesson is that attributing an expression-look to a person does not require attributing an emotion to the person. Sometimes we describe a person as ‘happy-looking’, and we do not mean to imply that we take the person to be happy. My being The ‘Air’ of Pictures 73 impressed by your cheerful demeanour following the crash of your cherished
indication. It is not obvious, though, that there are any special constraints on what looks can have the function of indicating what emotions. This is intuitively hard to swallow. Smiles and pirouettes seem especially well ﬁtted to indicating happiness, and the extruded tongue and gag gesture to indicating disgust. In truth, there is nothing about smiles that ﬁts them to have the function of indicating happiness. The smile could have had the function of indicating disgust, and the extruded tongue
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works in other media, they show how things look. Susan Sontag gave the argument its classic statement. ‘Photography’, she writes, implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it. But this is the opposite of understanding which starts from not accepting the world as it looks. … In contrast to the amorous relation, which is based on how something looks, understanding is based on how it functions. And functioning takes place in time, and must be explained in time. … The