When Pictures Are Present [Arthur Danto and the Historicity of the Eye]

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  • Whitney DavisWhen Pictures Are Present: Arthur Danto and the Historicity of the Eye

    The eye is not historical, writes ArthurDanto, but we are.1 Since we cannotreadily imagine the eye, human visual per-ception, without its historically being in andof us, it must be as difficult to evaluate thisclaim as its converse, the culturalrelativisthistoricismit urges that the eye is histori-calthat Danto rejects.2 For a natural histo-rian of human Lebensformen, it might bethat our historicitythe intraspecific varia-tion of our knowledge and our systems forrepresenting itmight partly be due to thehistory of the eye. But for Danto, it is a con-dition of our history that the eye is not his-torical in any sense. For him, during the his-torical period in which the eye was not afunction of socioculturally varying practicesand styles of representation, it was also notevolving. As he puts it in a discussion ofHeinrich Woelfflins philosophy of art his-tory, vision has a history only in the sensethat visual representations belong to formsof life that are themselves related to one an-other historically.3 By contrast, modes ofour visual cognition, Wartofsky writes,change with changes in the modes of ourpictorial representation. Human vision hasa history which goes beyond the biologicalevolution of the hominid visual system and ispart of that activity of self-creation andself-transformation which we call culturalevolution.4 In his bottom-line proposal,Wartofsky argues that canonical styles ofrepresenting the seen world change . . . andintroduce transformations of vision.5 In theend, then, he would advance an art-histori-cal theory of style-change for, or as, the his-tory of vision.6

    Both Wartofsky and Danto would solvethe problem of interconnecting the historiesof the eye and of representational practicesessentially by fiat. For Wartofsky, in the endthe eye simply is socioculturally varyingrepresentational systems and practices. Andfor Danto, in the end we simply are thatphase or product of hominid evolution inwhich the mechanisms of the eyeincludingits natural variation if anyare imperme-

    able to those systems and practices as theyvary historically. In both cases, these correla-tions have to be secured in part by tenden-tious natural histories: while Wartofsky musturge that the eye is historically differentwherever a representational system or prac-tice changes historically, Danto must urgethat the evolution of the eyethe history ofits natural selectionhas stopped.

    Whether pigeons, sheep, or other nonhu-man creatures can do more than exhibitrecognitional dispositions upon presentationof pictures, as Danto has concluded theycan,7 is beside the issue here. If they can see(what is depicted in) pictures, this compe-tence must have an ongoing evolutionaryhistorywhich Danto denies for human be-ings. Or it must be directed by some cultureor cultivation that they havebut whichDanto denies for them. In their forms of life,such culturerevealing their compe-tenceis not a natural-historical reality; itmust be introduced to them artificially. It is ahuman form of life naturally to have lan-guages and systems of representation. Inturn, then, the putative invariance of humanperception might be the precipitate of thespreading of depictive culture (and perhapseven its modes or styles) throughout ourforms of life. But as this is just the issue be-tween Danto and Wartofsky, we are backwhere we started with little help from the pi-geons or the sheep. I want to suggest that nomatter what mode or style of pictures mightbe produced historically, depicting as suchintroduces new causal contexts foranemergent new ecology ofvision as a long-term biocultural event spread out over manymillennia, penetrating or pervading any indi-vidual form of life in variable degrees andwith variable importance depending on thehistorical presence of pictures therein. But toadmit the evolution of the eye in our natu-ral history and as a possible factor in the dif-ferences between our Lebensformen, as Iwant to do contra Danto, is not necessarily toendorse an extreme cultural-relativist thesis.

    For Danto, any interaction between see-

    Symposium: The Historicity of the Eye Davis, When Pictures Are Present 29

  • ing and showing must be a one-waycausal relation, perception-to-cognition andnot cognition-to-perception. To use his ex-ample, a Chinese pilot sees moving blots andblurs of color as edges, holes, and surfaces,and lands successfully on a Western airfield.Presumably, this does indeed occur. But inthe argument between Wartofsky andDanto, our question about it is quite narrow.We need not evaluate the general perceptualabilities of a pilot, Chinese or otherwise, butwe must determine the role of historicallydiffering depictive skills, habits, and expecta-tions in his piloting. The Chinese pilot inthe thought-experiment is not a Chinesepilot in the sense required if he would notinvariantly depict the Western airfield usingthe traditional conventions of Chinese art:this Chinese pilot is a pilot (he can landsuccessfully on airfields) and he is Chinese(he would depict the airfield, like anythingelse, in conventional Chinese fashion). Asthis kind of Chinese pilot, obviously he canland on the airfield. To know whether thatpiloting is despite the depicting, or con-versely whether the piloting is because of thedepicting, we therefore need to knowwhether he could land on the airfield if hewere not Chinese in the sense mentioned,that is, when he would not depict it in con-ventional Chinese fashionfor only thiswould prove that his Chinese practice of de-piction has no causal influence on his pilot-ing.

    But it would seem to be impossible tomake exactly this test. If the pilot is not Chi-nese in the sense required, then whatever hedoesland successfully or notis no directevidence for what people who do depict air-fields in conventional Chinese fashion woulddo. We would not be testing him, the Chinesepilot in the sense required, and the relationbetween his piloting abilities and his habitsof depicting, but rather someone elsesome-one who is not Chinese in the sense re-quired by the argument. He might be some-one with a different habit of depiction. Butexactly the same problem arises with thatperson. To show that his depictive set ofmind has no causal role to play in his pilot-ing, we have to see whether he can pilot

    without it. Presumably we cannot easily findsuch a person outside of any existing humanform of lifefor in all of them people haverepresentational habits, skills, and expecta-tions. And without making the test, bothWartofsky and Danto can accommodate theobserved fact of the Chinese pilots success-ful landings. For Wartofsky, they would atleast partly be because of his representa-tional systemsimplying a world in whichthere are as many distinct, well-adaptedforms of life, extending to bioperceptual pro-cesses, as there are differing representationaltraditions. For Danto, they would be despitethemimplying a world in which there isone well-adapted form of life at thebioperceptual level regardless of differingrepresentational traditions.

    Of a well-known Christian icon, Dantoelsewhere notes that to see the bird and toknow that it means (signifies) the Holy Spiritmay not be phenomenologically distinctfrom seeing the bird tout court.8 It mightwell be that we can analytically disentangleperception (seeing the bird tout court)from description or representation (see-ing the bird of the Holy Spirit). But the vari-ous proposed tests or thought-experimentsproposed for this analysis, as powerful asthey are, do not look behind the pheno-menological coherence Danto himself ac-knowledges here. For me, this is strong primafacie evidence that such coherence is percep-tuallycognitively or neurophysiologicallyfounded. But for Danto, it is no such evi-dence. Why?

    Elsewhere Danto argues that the phe-nomenology of perception cannot be ap-pealed to to effect the differences betweenartworks and mere things, which are philo-sophical.9 As is well known, Danto resistsadmitting form, beauty, or sensuousnessunique to artworks into his definition of art,which instead concerns the material pres-ence of meanings.10 And he insists that thematerial presentation of meaning in visualartworks itself cannot be defined in termsof anything that meets the eye when onelooks at them.11 Dantos philosophy of artrequires perception that remains partly im-pervious to the perceivers knowledge about

    30 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

  • the meaning or referential histories andfunctions of an artworkfor if such knowl-edge routinely changes the viewers percep-tion of the artwork, qua artwork, relative tohis perception of a mere thing from whichthe artwork is putatively indiscernible, thenneither the logical method nor the supposedhistorical fact of artworks indiscernible frommere real things tells us much about the na-ture of art. More exactly, Dantos philosophyof the philosophical essence of art wouldlose a crucial evidentiary pillar, namely, thatartworks, qua artworks, need not be percep-tually discriminable from mere real things.And Dantos philosophy of the history of artwould lose a distinctive hermeneutic claim,namely, that since the early 1960s artworksneed no longer conform to criteria of devel-opment and progressthe indiscernibility ofartworks from mere things shows such crite-ria to be inessential to artand thus enter apost-historical condition admitting notonly the logical but also the phenomen-ological possibility of artworks indiscerniblefrom mere things.

    In defending the relation between hismethod of indiscernibles and his wider phi-losophy of art, Danto has been pushed toelaborate a fundamentally independent con-ception of the impermeability of visual per-ception (of artworks) to any higher-orderperceptualcognitive description or under-standing (of artworks).12 In this defense, themethod of indiscernibles reappears in thevarious demonstrations that there might becognitively impermeable perceptionatleast in the case of the perception of pictures.The requisite bridging inference would seemto be that if there can be perception of pic-tures impermeable to cognitionthat is, ifthere can be perceptual indiscernibility be-tween pictures and the real things they de-pict (here stated as the invariance of picto-rial perception)then surely there can beartworks indiscernible from real things. Theindiscernibility of artwork and thing and ofpicture and thing both derive from the im-perviousness of perception to cognition,though it is not always clear if it is the sameimpermeabilitysay, invariance in shape-recognitionin both domains. The ways in

    which Danto conducts the cross-mappingsare ingenious. But as far as I can see, the dif-ficulty for him lies in the way in which thepossible representationality of artworks pu-tatively indiscernible from mere real thingsdisturbs his philosophy of art in a fashionsymmetrical to the way in which the possibledenotativeness of resemblant shapes (that is,their representationality) putatively indis-cernible from mere real things disturbs hisphilosophy of cognitively unmediated per-ceptioneven though the philosophy ofcognitively unmediated perception at leastpartly warrants the philosophy of art. In bothdomains, it is actually Danto himself whobest identifies the ways in which this disrup-tive, emergent pictoriality is hiddentheways in which pictures, as I will put it, arepresent calligrammatically. For me the possi-bility of calligrammatic representationality isprecisely what the putative indiscernibilityof actual artworks or pictures and the merereal things they resemble ought moststrongly to suggest to us.

    Yet despite all this, Dantos argumentabout artworks, appealing to a domain ofcognitively unmediated perception suppos-edly operative in pictorial perception as well,is in one sense inconsistent with his argu-ment about pictures. At least, it seems to re-quire him to invent a kind of perception spe-cific to artworks that he wants to deny whenit comes to the perception of pictures under-stood not to be artworks. Thus he writes thatthe experience of art descriptionourcoming to understand, say, the complex con-notations of an allegorical imagereallydoes penetrate perception,13 whereas suchmastery of the symbolic meaning of a pic-ture (for example, a nonartistic depiction ofthe dove of the Holy Spirit) does not pene-trate our perception of it (our seeing it is adove that is depicted and not a pigeon or arabbit). This is supposedly because in artperception itself is given the structure ofthought14 and hence the history ofart-thought might become identical with thehistory of thought-thought. Dantos accountof thisnot my topic hereis intriguing andhas much to say to art historians. I want tosuggest, however, that despite Dantos aes-

    Symposium: The Historicity of the Eye Davis, When Pictures Are Present 31

  • theticismartistic perception is of anotherorder altogether15 compared with the per-ception of pictureshis account should beextended to pictures tout court. Whereas hesupposes that thought suffuses and becomesperception when art is present, I supposethat thought suffuses and becomes percep-tion when pictures are present.

    According to Danto, although it is elastic,the ability to recognize pictures (say, pickingout a hawk-picture once we can recognizehawks in the sky) has neural constancyacross time and space; shape recognitionseeing that the real hawk and the depictedhawk have the same conformationis in nointeresting sense historical. Presumably be-cause they must depict horses, horse-pic-tures perforce look enough alike . . . to en-able us to pick out the horses every time. Itseems to me, however, that although I recog-nize horses perfectly well, I might have somemomentary or even great difficulty pickingout a Magdalenian or a Chinese horse-depic-tion, whether or not my ability to recognizeshape varies with my depictive skills, habits,and expectations. If the Magdalenian or theChinese horse-depiction depicts the shape ofthe horse as I recognize that shape, I can in-deed pick it out in the picture and recognizethe horse-depiction. But the shape in the pic-ture is not always readily recognizable to meto be the horse-shape I recognize. The Mag-dalenian or the Chinese horse-depiction re-sembles horses whose shapes do not resem-ble the horses I recognize. Shape recognitionas such may well be in no interesting sensehistorical, but depicted-shape-recognition is,I think, historicaland precisely becauseresemblant-shape-recognition, though nec-essary, is not sufficient for it.

    Needless to say, I might happen to recog-nize shapes in a configuration that does actu-ally depict just what I recognize those shapesto beexplaining my accuracy with many, orperhaps most, Magdalenian and Chineseconfigurations. My correct recognition mightjust be a lucky accident, a coincidental con-vergence between my history of shape-rec-ognitions and the shape-recognitions repli-cated by the picture maker. But probablythere are other importantand thoroughlyhistoricalfactors at work as well. Because

    the eye varies with representational prac-tices, for example, is not to say thatrepresentational practices vary exclusivelyby Magdalenian or Chinese ethnic orcultural coordinates, as extreme cultural-rel-ativist historicism asserts. Perhaps the histor-ical practices share a great deal perceptuallyand cognitively across such presumedboundaries, enabling many otherwise inex-plicable feats of cross-cultural understand-ing. As Alasdair MacIntyre writes, Identityof standards rooted in large similarities ofpractice provides on occasion commonground for those otherwise at home in verydifferent cultures and societies.16 ChiangYee, for example, observed similarities be-tween paintings by classically trained Chi-nese artists and the watercolors or black-and-white wash drawings of British artistslike Alexander Cozens and John Constablesimilarities that made him believe there isreally no boundary between English andChinese art at all.17 It is a naturalhistoricalpossibility that Chiang Yee was perfectly cor-rect here in relevant if probably quite re-stricted respects.18 The fact that Danto wantsto go all the way in the other directionfromimpermeable cultural boundary to trans his-torical perceptual invarianceis neitherhere nor there for the natural historian.

    Although I can succeed in recognizing theshapes depicted in an unfamiliar configura-tion, equally I might believe myself to haverecognized a shape that depicts somethingthat in fact remains unrecognized by me.This is not, or not only, because the shape Irecognize might really symbolize somethingelse. My failure might also, or might alterna-tively, be due to the fact that the shape I rec-ognize is not the shape that resembles whatthe configuration actually depictswhat itsmotif might really be. Even here, the prob-lem is not that I simply fail to recognize the(correct) shape and (mistakenly) recognizeanother. I might be able to recognize boththe correct and the incorrect shape andnonetheless fail to see or to understandwhich one is the pictorial motif, if either is.(These possibilities were explored, amongothers, by Jackson Pollock, whose practice ofabsencing pictures, as I would put it, hasbeen considered by T. J. Clark under the

    32 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

  • pointed title The Unhappy Conscious-ness.19) In such cases, perceptual process isspinning its invariant wheel and getting meabsolutely nowhere with the depiction.

    In a thought-experiment, Danto proposesto imagine a pair of indiscernible picturesfrom different notational systems that meanquite different things, between which the eyeof course cannot discriminate. Supposedly,this provides a case of picture-recognitionremaining constant while symbolic meaningvaries historically. But here the eye does notdiscriminate between the meanings of thepictures presumably because it recognizesexactly the same shapes in themand that isall. The thought-experiment treats the per-ceiver like a pigeon with recognitional dispo-sitions but not like a human being who un-derstands depiction: the eye has nothingfurther to go on, nothing to determine notonly whether the shape recognized in onepicture has the same secondary or conven-tional meaning as the shape recognized inthe other picturea possible case ofPanofskyan iconographic disjunction, asthe thought-experiment specifies.20 The eyealso cannot even determineis stipulativelynot allowed to determinewhether theshape that is a motif in one picture is theshape that is the motif in the other picture,the meaning varying in the two differentnotational systems because possibly theypick out different shape-configura-tionsboth recognized equally well and in-discernibly as to visual formto bedepictively relevant or not. We might callthis a case of recognitional disjunction: theperceptually indiscernible pictures appear todepict the same thing they both resemble,but in fact they do not. And, to break out ofthe closed circuit of the thought-experiment,we might even be dealing not with two in-discernible pictures but with two indiscern-ible resemblant shapes, perfectly recogniz-able to us, only one of which is a picture atall. Imagine a painter (call him Painter J)painting Red Barn Door, a red square bothresembling and denoting a red barn door,perceptually indiscernible from a red barndoor painted by a barn painter. We could callthis a case of depictive disjunction. In view ofpossible recognitional and depictive

    disjunction, and preceding any possiblequestions about iconographic disjunction,we can legitimately ask whether depictive-shape-recognition occurs despite or becauseof the cognitive process that determines thatonly one or some limited number of the vari-ous object-resemblances that might be rec-ognizable and recognized in the configura-tion actually denote what they resemble. Thefailure of shape-recognition is simulta-neously the failure of depiction (the denota-tive status of certain resemblata in the con-figuration) as such. But the success ofshape-recognition is not simultaneously thesuccess of depiction. If this occurs at allif apicture is present at all for the perceiver inquestionit must be denotation-grasping ormotif- and image-seeing. In the humanlifeworld, the eye sees what the worldmeansat least when it sees what it ismeant.

    According to Danto, to understand the[symbolic] meanings [of pictures] requiresan archaeology of how [they] were used tomean when not used simply to denote theirresemblata. But because the picture onlydenotes some of its resemblata, we still re-quire the archaeology, implying the history,when the pictures were used simply to de-note their resemblata (or to denote theirresemblata as well as the symbolic meaningthereof). This archaeology might tell us thatalthough the picture resembles the artistsmodel, it was not used to denote her or himexcept when it was used to show the workingof the artists studio or to advertise themodels own wares. Such possibilities arepuzzling, paradoxical, or calligrammatic intheir internal and external relations oficonographic, recognitional, and depictiveinteraction and disjunction.21 Danto dis-misses them as uninteresting niceties or ped-antries that should not disturb our confi-dence that we can pick out the horse-picture every time. But this move, wavingaway part of the very mechanism of depic-tion as it operates in our form of life, is cru-cial to his argument that the picking-out isnot historical. And it would seem to fly in theface of majornot simply marginal or pe-danticpractices and interests in our ownartistic tradition.

    Symposium: The Historicity of the Eye Davis, When Pictures Are Present 33

  • In Diego Velazquezs Las Meninas (1656),for example, the figure-shapes in the mirrorin the background ought to resemble the fig-ures standing in the space in front of the pic-ture plane, who are in turn supposedly beingdepicted by the (depicted) painter on thecanvas facing away from the picture plane.But perspectivally the figure-shapes in themirror specifically denote what we, the im-plied viewers, see reflected in the mirror,whatever it is, while the figure-shapes thatthe painter is seemingly painting on the can-vas, though they should closely resemble thatreflection, do not specifically denote it butrather what the painter sees right in front ofhim. And the painting by Velazquez partiallyhides these relations of resemblance and de-notation from the viewer. We cannot be surethat the figure-shapes being painted by thepainter, even if they necessarily resemble thefigure-shapes reflected in the mirror, do re-semble the figures outside the picture planethough we tend to assume that they oughtto do so. Some of the representational direc-tions of the picture are recognitionally andconceivably even depictively disjunctive and,hence, iconographically or symbolicallyundecidable.

    I would want to center the variousintransitivities of recognition, resemblance,and reference at the heart not only of logicaldebates about depiction but also in any com-plete view of depiction in the historicalhuman lifeworld. Danto himself offers manyobservations on them under the umbrella ofhis notion of the metaphoricity distinguish-ing art from nonart.22 His approach is closelyrelated to his work on sentential states andthe representationality of thought. LikeJerry Fodor, he wants to identify the moduleof the language of thought. In it, we are es-sentially historical insofar as the proposi-tional content of belief-sentences must varywith the location or situation of the knowerwhose belief-sentences they are.23 And hewants to distinguish this module from mod-ules, such as visual perception and digestion,unaffected by changes in historical locationor situation. For immediate purposes here,the question must be whether represen-tationality or metaphoricity is or is not per-ceptually manifest. And I wish to say that it

    is calligrammatically manifest in the variousoverlapping (in)transitivitiesfor the per-ceiverof shape-recognizability, relations ofresemblance, and referential direction, expe-rienced as the perceptual question whetherthe shape I recognize denotes what it resem-bles or whether a picture is present. Whenthe perceptual question does not arise orcannot be addressed, a picture is not present.But when it does arise, and can be perceptu-allycognitively addressed, a picture is pres-ent. And in the latter case, perception is his-torical for just the reasons that we arehistorical: the propositional content of the(perceptualcognitive) belief-sentences thataddress the perceptualcognitive question ofwhether and just how a picture is presentmust vary with the location or situation ofthe knower whose belief-sentences they are.

    In general, an archaeology tells us whichresemblata were denotative (or not) andthus tells us where and what the picture is forsomeone in some context of the use of theconfiguration.24 To what extent we see theworld around us in terms of or even as a pic-ture or even just the partial replication of apicture remains an open question. My extra-pictorial shape-recognizing abilities haveconditioned my perception of pictures aswell; they are a factor in the history of myability to grasp which resemblata of the con-figuration are denotative, to make and to seethe picture. But the full circuitryfrom pic-tures to world to picturesis always up andrunning. Wartofsky calls it a spiral:25 andso it is, though it is not the spiral of canonicalstyles pervading the history of human visionbut the spiral of pictures becoming presentin it. Historicity, in this sense, spreadsthrough but does not necessarily penetrateevery nook and cranny of our sensoryper-ceptual life in the way asserted by extremecultural relativists or by historicists of theparticular stripe Danto attacks. More com-plex relations have to be considered in whichjust one of the threads of our life is our inter-action with pictures. It is, however, one of thethreads that mean that our lives are histori-cal.

    According to Danto, although the eye hasno history there has been and is historicalchangeor even progressin the hand,

    34 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

  • our historically different and varying skills inthe making of pictures and other representa-tions. And the evident progress of the handin picture making presupposes that the eyeitself was not historicalotherwise wecould not detect this progress. Clearly, therehas been cumulative historical refinement ofhuman skills in making pictures in which cer-tain resemblata also denote what they re-semble. But all these histories of progress inthe hand would be penetrated, though nodoubt not utterly pervaded and exhaustivelyconstituted, by the historicity of the eye inthe sense specified above for the simple rea-son that in these histories the hand is en-gaged in making pictures. The skill would notbe the skill it is if certain denotativeresemblata of the configuration constitutedits meaningrendered and relayed its motifand image to perceivers of the picturebutcould not be produced, refined, and im-proved by that skill.

    If the historically intended denotativeresemblata remain stable, or, to use E. H.Gombrichs term, if the function of pic-tures remains stable, then the historicity ofthe eye in the progress of a technique in-tended to render that kind of picture willlikely remain stable.26 There will be an his-torical invariance in perceptionin shape-recognition and depth-perception and soforthwithin the tradition of the function,or perhaps what Danto would call the usesof the meaning, and specifically relative toits history of replication from one end ofthe history to the other. Progress will occurover a particular historical duration definedby the continuity of the function. Whateverhe himself might say, logically there is noth-ing in Gombrichs theory of art history assuchof making and matchingthat re-quires transhistorical perceptual invariancein picture-making and perception, whichoccurs despite, not because of, a culture ofshowing. Making and matching can takeplace precisely as Gombrich describes themwhen there is sufficient perceptualinvariance wholly relative to the replicationof a social function of depiction and accom-modated topartly pervaded byits histor-ical presence.

    The eye, Danto says, has evolution rather

    than a history. For millennia, hominid evo-lution has occurred in the mosaic ofbiocultural history. But supposedly there hasbeen no major human evolution in the past100,000 years and certainly none in thebare 600 years from Giotto to Ingres.27Thus Danto couples his view that the eye hasno history in the strong cultural-relativistsense with the claim that even if the eye doesevolve, that history need not interest us.What evidence suggests that in the evolutionof the eye there has historically been no vari-ation to have substantively affected practicesof picture makingat least, Danto concedes,since modern humans replaced Neanderthalhumans? As far as I can tell, this is awide-open field for investigation. But forDanto, it is the Upper Paleolithic cave paint-ings that suggest that the eye as the eye hasno further history of speak of. To adapt acomment of Dantos own, evidently thepaleolithic cave painter had as much of theart of perception as he or anyone wouldever have.28 Thus, he concludes, the eye hadbeen evolutionarily made by the time thecave paintings were produced (say, 20,000years ago)and probably much earlier,perhaps a million and a half years ago, per-haps earlier. This interpretation might wellbe correct. But the evidence seems to be con-sistent with an historicist as well as aninvariantist assessment of the past hundredthousand years of history. The replacementof Neanderthal by modern humans has oftenbeen held to be due to the advantages con-ferred by culture belonging to the emergentmodern human populations but not to theNeanderthals who competed with them forresources in partly shared ecologicalniches.29 Indeed, picture-making activitiesmight have contributed causally to the emer-gence of spoken language in modern hu-mans or, whether or not language already ex-isted or required or coevolved with picturemaking, to the general perceptualcognitiveequipment of the populations who replacedthe Neanderthals.30 We need not endorseany particular scenario to note that the pres-ence of pictures, wherever and however theyappeared, became a relevant causal contextof large-scale biocultural variationjust astool making had been for some millions of

    Symposium: The Historicity of the Eye Davis, When Pictures Are Present 35

  • years. Thus, Danto might put himself in theodd position of accepting that 50,000 yearsago the culturalrelativist historicist wouldbe rightthat certain representational prac-tices and technologies reorganized the eye,hand, and possibly the cortex itself insofar asnatural selection would favor populationsthat preserved the mutations that enabledthe practicesbut that today the very forcesaccepted to be so powerful then have utterlyceased to operate. For Danto, in the evolu-tion of the eye there has not been a genera-tional change, as in computers. But the tran-sition from Neanderthal to modern humansmight be one such change, well within theduration in which the eye has no history.And who is to say whether an anthropologistfrom Marsas beloved to the historicist asindiscernibles are to the humanistmightnot take the emergence of writing (around3,000 B.C.) or the electronic information-pro-cessing revolution (around 2000 A.D.) to beothers?31

    The proper questions, it seems to me, arewithin a field constituted by accepting thatwhenever pictures are presentour mostdifficult problemthe eye has both an ongo-ing evolutionary history and a specifichistory in the human lifeworld in the admit-tedly particular (perhaps non-Wartofskyan)senses I have given. When pictures are pres-ent, mutations in ocular structure can be se-lected in relation to the adaptation of a pop-ulation that uses the pictures. And shaperecognition or depth perception can bebound to the way in which that use selectscertain motifs and images for reproductionand locates them in a configuration. For methe question is how and to what extent thesereplicatory histories pervade our forms oflife in relation to other historiesnotwhether visual perception is to some extentpermeable to representation at all. On theone hand, there are sensoryperceptualinvariances pervading our form of life per-haps far more substantial than anything apicture might enable or require us to see thatwe would not otherwise. And on the otherhand, there are causes for differences be-tween pictures pervading our form of lifeperhaps far more substantial than an histori-cal variation in our seeing. A theory of the

    domain where seeing and showing come tobe nested within one anotherand a philos-ophy of artbegins there.

    WHITNEY DAVISDepartment of Art HistoryNorthwestern University1859 Sheridan RoadEvanston, Illinois 60208

    INTERNET: w-davis@nwu.edu

    1. See Seeing and Showing above. Related essaysinclude Dantos Description and the Phenomenologyof Perception, in Visual Theory: Painting and Interpre-tation, ed. Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly, andKeith Moxey (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), pp.201215; Animals as Art Historians: Reflections on theInnocent Eye, in Beyond the Brillo Box: The VisualArts in Post-Historical Perspective (New York: FarrarStraus Giroux, 1992), pp. 1531; and Depiction and De-scription, in The Body/Body Problem: Selected Essays(University of California Press, 1999), pp. 98121.

    2. I am not sure whether Marx Wartofsky himselfheld exactly the views of the Wartofsky criticized byDanto, which will also be the ones considered here. Anextreme culturalrelativist historicism is perhaps al-lowed by Wartofskys historical epistemology. See es-pecially Perception, Representation and the Forms ofAction: Towards an Historical Epistemology, in hisModels: Representation and the Scientific Understanding(Boston: D. Reidel, 1979), pp. 188210.

    3. Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art: Contempo-rary Art and the Pale of History (Princeton UniversityPress, 1997), p. 200.

    4. Marx W. Wartofsky, The Paradox of Painting: Pic-torial Representation and the Dimensionality of VisualSpace, Social Research 51 (1984): 864865. See also hisSight, Symbol, and Society: Towards a History of Vi-sual Perception, Philosophical Exchange 3 (1981):2338.

    5. Wartofsky, The Paradox of Painting: PictorialRepresentation and the Dimensionality of VisualSpace, p. 877.

    6. Ibid., p. 864.7. Danto, Animals as Art Historians, p. 24.8. Danto, Description and the Phenomenology of

    Perception, p. 211 (emphasis added).9. Ibid., p. 212.10. Arthur Danto, The End of Art: A Philosophical

    Defense, History and Theory 37 (1998): 132133.11. Arthur Danto, Responses and Replies, Danto

    and His Critics, ed. Mark Rollins (Oxford: Blackwell,1993), p. 196.

    12. See especially, Richard Wollheim, Dantos Gal-lery of Indiscernibles, Danto and His Critics, ed. MarkRollins (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), pp. 2838. Wollheimurges, first, that the putative indiscernibility of someartworks and some mere things cannot necessarily begeneralized across the class of all artworks as a revela-

    36 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

  • tion of their essence, as Danto would have it, and, sec-ond, that the putative indiscernibility of some artworksand some mere things might be overcomediscernibility might be introducedwhen the mere realthings or objects of art become artworks in our pro-cess of perceiving and understanding them.

    13. Danto, Description and the Phenomenology ofPerception, p. 214.

    14. Ibid.15. Ibid.16. Alasdair MacIntyre, Colors, Cultures, and Prac-

    tices, The Wittgenstein Legacy, ed. Peter A. French,Theodore E. Uehling, Jr., and Howard K. Wettstein;Midwest Studies in Philosophy 17 (1992): 123 (quota-tion from p. 20). In his example, Japanese and Europeanviewers mutually came to seeto recognize, to ad-mire, and to reproducethe colors, effects of light andshade, and so on developed in one anothers pictorialarts but invisible to each culture in its existing visualpractices and application of color terms and classifica-tions. Nonetheless, within the practice of painting ineach case . . . shared standards [were] discovered whichenable[d] transcultural judgments of sameness and dif-ference to be made (ibid., p. 20). None of this tellsagainst Dantos invariantism respecting some percep-tual mechanisms and cognitive processing. As DonaldDavidson puts it pithily, if some discriminative mecha-nisms were not built in, none could be learned (TheSecond Person, The Wittgenstein Legacy, ed. French,Uehling, and Wettstein, p. 262).

    17. The Silent Traveller in London (London: CountryLife, 1938), pp. 161162, and see further The ChineseEye (London: Methuen & Co., 1935).

    18. According to Danto, Chiang Yee internalized aWestern idea of novelty as the concomitant of original-ity (The End of Art: A Philosophical Defense, p.138). Thus he might be an example of a Chinese pilotwho is precisely not the kind of Chinese pilot speci-fied in the thought experiment discussed earliernotthe kind of schemata-bound artist E. H. Gombrichrather uncharitably took him to be, a Chinese painterdepicting (if not actually seeing) the world of Englandwholly according to the conventions of the relativelyrigid vocabulary of the Chinese tradition (Art and Illu-sion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representa-tion [Princeton University Press, 1960], pp. 8485).

    19. T. J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from aHistory of Modernism (Yale University Press, 1999), pp.299369.

    20. For disjunction, see especially, Erwin Panofsky,Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (Stock-holm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1960).

    21. In his lively dissection of Rene Magrittes drawingof 1926, Ceci nest pas un pipe*, Michel Foucault consid-ers it to be a calligram (This is Not a Pipe, trans. and ed.James Harkness [University of California Press, 1983],esp. pp. 1931). See more broadly Calligram: Essays inNew Art History from France, ed. Norman Bryson (NewYork: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

    22. See his Transfiguration of the Commonplace: APhilosophy of Art (Harvard University Press, 1981), pp.165208, and Metaphor and Cognition, in Beyond theBrillo Box, pp. 7387. Nol Carroll, Essence, Expres-

    sion, and History: Arthur Dantos Philosophy of Art,Danto and His Critics, ed. Mark Rollins (Oxford:Blackwell, 1993), pp. 79106, provides acute and luciddiscussion.

    23. Danto, Responses and Replies, p. 195; TheBody/Body Problem, pp. 206226.

    24. Elsewhere I have proposed that when we under-stand depictions we are surveying (or already knowabout) the frequency, distribution, and variation of theconfiguration, at least in principle in all of its perceptu-ally discriminable aspects, in ongoing usages; see Whit-ney Davis, Replications: Archaeology, Art History, Psy-choanalysis (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996),chaps. 13. If it is a picture, necessarily denoting some-thing it resembles, in what I call its replicatory historyaviewers ongoing scrutiny of and return to it and in itsmnemonic and material reproductionthe denotativelyresemblant aspects of the configuration likely will beheld relatively constant while other aspects, resemblantor not, will change, degrade, or disappear at perceptual,cognitive, and material levels. There are many connec-tions between the account I am advocating and StephenMulhalls discussion, in relation to texts by Heideggerand Wittgenstein, of experiences of aspect-dawningand regarding-as spreading through our world as wefind it, at least in part, represented or reflected to us pic-torially and artistically (On Being in the World:Wittgenstein and Heidegger on Seeing Aspects [London:Routledge, 1990], esp. chaps. 1 and 6). Roughly, the phe-nomenology of aspect dawningand our subjectiveconstitution thereinwould be grounded in the actualnatural and intersubjective social history or archaeologyof the presencing (and absencing) of pictures.

    25. Wartofsky, Paradox of Painting, p. 877.26. In Art and Illusion, Gombrich attends most fa-

    mously to the function of depicting the world of natu-ral appearances, which he associates with classicalGreek culture, but other historical functions could be,for example, the ancient Egyptian denotation of the in-terior section (not the surface) of objects in represent-ing an extra- or supervisual ontology (see further, Whit-ney Davis, The Canonical Tradition in Ancient EgyptianArt [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989]).

    27. Actually, Danto waffles just a bit on the point.Elsewhere he writes that perception itself undergoesrelatively little change over the period in questionletssay from about 1300 to 1900 (After the End of Art, p. 49[emphasis added]). But as any change could havespecifiable consequences for the practices and the his-tory of representation (the point has to be investigatedand evaluated empirically), this concession might be allthat my natural historian would require to be fully rec-onciled with Danto.

    28. Danto, After the End of Art, p. 50. I set aside thequestion raised above: Do the manyand often over-lapping, partial, and hard-to-make-outresemblancesof marks to things in paleolithic mark-assemblagesamount to denotations of just those things and to thepictoriality of the mark-assemblages as a whole or totheir identity as paintings? The phenomena of UpperPaleolithic marking taken as a whole call for preciselythe archaeology advocated above. See further, Davis,Replications, chap. 3.

    Symposium: The Historicity of the Eye Davis, When Pictures Are Present 37

  • 29. Fine overall accounts are provided by Clive Gam-ble in The Peopling of Europe, 700,00040,000 Yearsbefore the Present, and Paul Mellars in The UpperPalaeolithic Revolution, Prehistoric Europe: An Illus-trated History, ed. Barry Cunliffe (New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 1998), pp. 541 and pp. 4278.

    30. See especially, Iain Davidson and William Noble,Human Evolution, Language and Mind: A Psychologi-cal and Archaeological Inquiry (New York: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1996). Davidson and Noble proposethat certain hominid behaviorsthe most importanttypes they want to identify are pointing and trac-ingled to the emergence of language. These behav-iors must essentially have been picture-making activi-ties if they operated as Davidson and Noble claim thatthey did (see Davis, Replications, pp. 160161). For methis leaves the origin of picture makingwhat I am herecalling the presence of picturesundetermined in their

    scenario. But if they are right, once pictures were pres-ent, spoken language (which they date to approximately100,000 years ago at the earliest) was a bioculturalby-product of picturing.

    31. Merlin Donald, Origins of the Modern Mind:Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition(Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 269360, developselaborate suggestions about hardware changes (forexample, about where memory is located) and newvisiosymbolic cognitive pathways laid down respec-tively with the origin of depiction in the UpperPaleolithic period, the development of writing systemsin the Bronze Age, and alphabetization in the first mil-lennium B.C. As we might expect, archaeological evi-dence and neurological correlations are not alwaysreadily apparent, but this is not a defect in Donalds the-oretical models of perceptualcognitive history as such.

    38 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism


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