is our reward

Publications in Seeing-In by NOMIS researchers

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

December 1, 2021

According to the received view in the philosophical literature on pictorial perception, when perceiving an object in a picture, we perceive both the picture’s surface and the depicted object, but the surface is only unconsciously represented. Furthermore, it is suggested, such unconscious representation does not need attention. This poses a crucial problem, as empirical research on visual attention shows that there can hardly be any visual representation, conscious or unconscious, without attention. Secondly, according to such a received view, when looking at a picture aesthetically, one both consciously represents and visually attends to both the depicted object and the picture’s surface simultaneously. Thus, contra the empirical research on attention, only conscious visual representations are coupled, by such current view, with attention. And this clearly poses a second problem, as this philosophical account is not in tune with what vision science tells us about the functioning of our visual system. Furthermore, this raises another crucial problem, namely, that of explaining why aesthetic experience of pictures does not feel odd or conflicting, since, as previously noted in the philosophical literature, and contra the received view, if we are simultaneously consciously perceiving both the picture’s surface and the depicted object, there seems to be two things, at the same time, in the foreground of one’s visual consciousness. But, if so, as suggested, this would lead to a conflicting spatial visual experience. This paper offers a new description of the role of visual attention in picture perception, which explains the difference between the usual and the aesthetic way of perceiving a depicted object, without facing the problems reported above. A crucial role in our new account is played by the notion of unconscious attention, the distinction between focal and distributed, as well as top-down and bottom-up visual attention and the relationship between visual attention and visual consciousness. The paper, thus, offers the first theory concerning the exercise of visual attention in pictorial perception that is both philosophically rigorous and empirically reliable.

Research field(s)
Arts & Humanities, Philosophy & Theology, Philosophy

NOMIS Researcher(s)

June 1, 2020

Picture perception and ordinary perception of real objects differ in several respects. Two of their main differences are: (1) Depicted objects are not perceived as present and (2) We cannot perceive significant spatial shifts as we move with respect to them. Some special illusory pictures escape these visual effects obtained in usual picture perception. First, trompe l’oeil paintings violate (1): the depicted object looks, even momentarily, like a present object. Second, anamorphic paintings violate (2): they lead to appreciate spatial shifts resulting from movement. However, anamorphic paintings do not violate (1): they are still perceived as clearly pictorial, that is, nonpresent. What about the relation between trompe l’oeil paintings and (2)? Do trompe l’oeils allow us to perceive spatial shifts? Nobody has ever focused on this aspect of trompe l’oeil perception. I offer the first speculation about this question. I suggest that, if we follow our most recent theories in philosophy and vision science about the mechanisms of picture perception, then, the only plausible answer, in line with phenomenological intuitions, is that, differently from nonillusory, usual picture perception, and similarly to ordinary perception, trompe l’oeil perception does allow us to perceive spatial shifts resulting from movement. I also discuss the philosophical implications of this claim.

Research field(s)
Arts & Humanities, Visual & Performing Arts, Art Practice, History & Theory