Critical Terms for Art History Edited by Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff

Critical Terms for

Art History Edited by

Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff


Th<: University of Chicago Press

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David Sumn1ers

This �-ssay is a schematic history of the problem of r<:prcscnr:ition, written with an eye toward explaining how it came to Ix possible co use this rcrm in some of the ways we now do. Ac the end of the essay, I will suggest how I think the issues I haw raised bear on the present history of arr.

Rcprcscncarion is often linkcd to rcscmbbnce and to the more general question of imitation; but, cvcn more import.inrly, the question of pictorial representation has also always bccn cnrangled with philosophical repn:senta· tionalism-according to Webster “thc doctrine th:it the immediate object o f knowledge i s an idea in the mind distinct from the external object which is the occasion of perception.” In the long Western discussion of artistic rcprcscnta· tion there :ire typically three factors: a thing, its :icrual imagc, and 3 111mtnl in1age. This third term, in being calkd an “image” at all, is likened to a work of arr m3de by th<: mind, and has a special starus; it is itself a rcprcscnracion that is aJways interposed between anything .ind ics actual image; and it is, moreover, spoken of as if providing the model or “intention” for the actual image. So we say char paintings correspond not so much to things as to scnsa· tions, perceptions, and conccpcion.s; or d1at d1cy arc, in equally mcnraJ tcnns, “f.intascic” or “idcal.” CriticaJ judgm<:nt has often consisted of idenrilic:ition and praise or blame in terms of one or another kind of mcnral image. W c say that art is, or should be, or should not be, ”pcrccprual,” “fantastic,” “concep· rual,” or uidcal.”

The words “r<:prcsenration” and “r<:prcsencationalism” obviously and literally contain chc t<:rm “prcscnr”; and they dius also presuppose the presence of something as wcU as the presence of someone by whom and to whom represen­ tation is made. A painrer represents a horse to me and to others; my senses “represent” die world to me. These familiar examples immediately give rise to equally familiar problems. How do w,; know that the world is truly r<:prcsenccd to us? For mcnral images these problems arc Cl’cn grcatcr. If pcrc<:ptions and dreams :ire both representations, how do we tell chem apart? How do we know the world is represented in the same way for everyone? Arc concepts truer than sensations, or vice versa? Rcprcscntation inuncdiatdy involves us in fundamen­ ral psychological and epistemological qul’Stions chat have been inseparable from the discussion of arr.

The coupling of images by art-especially painting-and dtinking began early. In Plato’s Phifebus (39 A-B), Socrates in1agines someone seen indistincdy ar a distance beneadt a tree. At such timl’S, hc says it is :1s if we ask





ourselves a question: “What is that?” And it is as if we reply to ourselves with a statement that might be true or false. “That is a man.” Thl’SC statements, linked with feelings, arc like writing in chc book of the soul; at this s3Jl’le book a paintc:r also works, illustrating the text. These paintings lll3Y also be crue or false, arc also linked with feeling, and arc integral with perception, mc:mory, and our hopes or expectations for the future. They arc, in short, integral with our repre;e11tatiom of the world to ourselves for our purposes.

In the Thenctetus ( 184 ff.), Plato usc:d another cr.lftsmanly metaphor, refer­ ring to the sensc:s as orgflm, that is, as cools or instruments. Our scnSl’S arc not simply inside us, he wrote, like soldiers in chc Trojan horsc; rather, they arc the various implements, the means by which work is accomplished by a higher, unitary principle, which he called psyche, breath, the sign of individual life, individual life itself. Sensation, flistlmis, rather d1an simply reporting chc world, analyzes it into the modes of the several senses in the very act of apprehending it, and this analysis, this unbinding, is bound up again in the unity of the psyche. The psyche, this metaphor suggests, uses the tools of the senses to negotiate the world, but also refashions the world for itself adequately for this negotiation, .ind also, at a higher level, adequately for true understanding and knowledge. \Ive know things mediately, through the senses, not immcdiaccly. Again, the soul in some way represents chem to us.

Aristotle went over the same ground wid1 charactcriscic:illy different results, once again foundational for the tradition to follow. Plato’s psydn became a central koine a.isthcsis, a “common sense,” unifying sensations insofar as they arc sensations, and insofar as such qualities as size and movement arc shared by data from the different scnses. This common sense was closely akin to pl1a11tasifl, or imagination; that is, it is once again a maker of unified images presented to the mind’s eye, and at the same time it “secs that we sec.” Ir is the first faculty d1at in some way grasps things in the world as a whole, forming the phan­ tasms-the illl3gcs-from which, Aristotle 3rgued, all higher thought must proceed.

The words used by Plato and Aristotle and the innumerable wrircrs who have followed chem to describe perception ( as opposed to sensation) arc heavily visuaJ; terms such as idea and phantmia ( the first from idcin, to sec, che second from pho.s, lighr) arc: p.ut of a dense ncl:\vork of metaphor much older than philosophy. The notion of the soul as a maker of images, an “imagination,” the mccaphorkal painter in the soul, is obviously part of this nccwork.

In the cbssical scheme I have outlined, the data of sight, likened to the images of painting, arc most nC31’ly synthetic in that they arc most comprehen­ sive and indic:1tivc rdarive to the data of the other senses. Wbcre:lS we may infer or anticipate with probability the smell or sound or tcxcurc of things from the sight of thlm, the reverse is not so obviously true. In this scheme, therefore, sight was the highest, that is, the most mindlikc of the senses, closest ro the faculties of judgment and reason, which in their rurn deal wid1 “forms” and






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“ideas” and their relations. In these terms, sight (and memory) provided the images completed by the d:1ta of the other senses in the mind’s painter’s rcprc­ semarion of the world to itself. (Words, by the same argumenc, might be said to suggest even the shapes and fonns of things, and thus to prompt pure imagination, and poccry, 1.:inguage in the absence of an actual ostensible refer­ ent, might be defined as language that was allowed to do that.)

Plato’s comparison of the first activicy of the soul co painting should not be regarded as positive, or even as neutral. The painter formed opinions, nor truth. For Plato, irnirations-and therefore images-were dissimulations, inherently culpable because they represent themselves as something they arc not. At the same time, tliey have the power to make us ocher th3n we arc; we in our rum may be swayed by an apparent reality, the m3Sk and not the actor, neither of whom is subject to reason. This unease about images, this sense of their inevitable duplicity, has persisted in critical fanguagc at ill lewis to modern times.

[n Plato’s Cmtylw ( 432 A-D), the first consideration in ‘1Ycstcrn literature of the origin of language, Socrates rejects the argument that words arc imita· tions of things; in order to be images at all, images must not reproduce most of die qualities of what thc:y show, and this muse be even truer of words. To illustrate his argument, Socrates considers die example of an inl3gc of Crarylus himself made by some god, which not only shows his ourward form .111d color, as pa.inters do, but also re-creates his physical and mcnral inwardness. Cratylus is forced to admit that tllcrc would nor then be him.self and an image, but rather two of himself, an absurdity. Precisely because they arc images, then, mental inlagcs ace also not subsrirutcs or doubles.

In his treatise on the soul, also the first in Western literature, Aristotle (De ,mi111a 424a) extended and adapted such arguments by defining sensation as a sign (semei,m) of an affection of sense, like the impression left by a seal ring in wax. Again die analogy is to sight, since shape is involved, but also to touch, to n.’31 contacc. This sign inlplics a cause (like ill signs; Aristotle understood semeiQn to mean what we would call an index [Ptllte1101· Ann&<tia 70a ]). As chc visual sign became more dearly indcxical (rather than iconic) pJ”mtasia was more cxplicicly identified with the postscnsacion:uy faculties of im:igination and memory. In De memcma (450a) Aristotle called immediate sens:ition a “cracc” or “mark”-typos or graphe-and �cd its likeness in the mind a “picture” (zoogmphemn, a drawing from life). The difference between scns:irion and mcn­ ral inlagc is developed to make the important point that when we remember we do not remember our first sensation but radicr its inlagc ns an image; otherwise we would not be able to distinguish between realicy and memory. Ir is through phantmia or imagination that we have the capacity co n.-collcct or imagine what is not present. Phamasia is now more than the capacity to “form opinion”; it is the cap:icity to represent absent or even impossible chings to ourselves in the soul’s own light, to remember, imagine, :ind dream.









Ariscock litcralizcd his metaphor and gave it another dimension in the Politics (1340a 30 ff.), arguing that painted figures arc not likenesses of character l>ut rather sigm of it. The painted figure is a rL-semblant sign, like diat given to the sense of sight, as if it were contiguous with the cause of ics appearance, which implies completion by the otherwise c:xpcricnceabk qualities of real things; bur this san1e sign also indicates die inwardness defining and animating what can be di reedy sensed. We might suppose that the birds fooled by di..: painted grapes of Zcuxis fkw down to diem bec:mse, seeing their shapes and modeled colors, d1cy could anticipate their cool, moist sweetness; and chat Zeuxis wor­ ried that the birds had not been frightened by the painted boy who carriL-<l the grapes bcc:iusc it me:int he had fuikd to make the birds believe what they could nor sec-the character of the boy-in what they could sec.

The definition of visual images-both those accually painted and chose “painted” in the soul-as rcscmbl:int signs, and as the occasions for sensory and imaginative completion, kads us around ro the origin of the word “repre ­ sentation” tioself, which to this point [ have been using generally and :!histo r ­ ically, as we arc in the habit of doing. Rqwnfsmtatio is a construction around the verb “to be.” Prnesms is a participial form of pmccsse, “ro l>c before,» which it means in two senses: the first is simple spatial, prepositional location; the second involves precedence or command, being higher in rank, more important dian. Perhaps then “presence” implies that which is not simply before us but which “stands out” and concerns us, that to which we arc in a sense subjecc. Then by extension the temporal ”prcscnrn might also b<.: what is at hand, what can and usually docs actually occupy our attention, as opposed co chc past and the fucurc, which ace “out of rc:ich.”

Rcprnesmtatio had meanings very significant for our purposes. In :incient rhetoric, which developed alongside philosophy, die orator is a painter in du: soul who u�s the “figures,” “rums” (trOpl-s), and “colors” of eloquence to shape :1SSCnt by persuasion (that is, through swccmcss), by the artful joining of words in such ways as to unite imagination and feeling, thus to instigate decision and action. Ir is not enough, Quintilian wrote (b,rtitutio omturia, IV, ii, 63; VUl, iii, 62-63) to please the cars or merely to give an account of the fucts (11arratio) to the judge. Radicr things must be sec forth and shown to “die l’YCS of the mind.” The artifice of language should afford ci>idmtia, going be­ yond the perspicuous and probabk, making die matter ”brighter” and “culti­ vated.” The whole problem of the power of eloquence to make the true more than true, or even to make the untrue seem cruc, is concentrated in this lawyerly advice. Evitfe11tia-from die verb “to sec”-is what the Greeks called c11mt1tin, brilliance; what, Quintilian wrote, some call rcprne1c11t11tio. This is a variation of the pattern just discussed; the induced, inward visual sign provokes the :ipparcnr cxpcriem:e of other qualities. The swec01css of sounds-die taste and sight of the audibk-k:ids the imagination to a sense of acrual presence.

Repracsentnrio could also mean a payment in cash. The implicit third tcm1


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thac unites the disparate uses of 1·epraemm1tio might be said to be “fullest equiva­ lent”; a rrpracscntatio is something of equal pr�-senc force or value. In these teems to make an image means not to make an impossible double, but to fashion a fullest equivalent presence. Words cannot re-create, but they may be fused co memory and feeling and may have an �-quivalcnt force in the imagin:ition, much as cash is most immcdi:itcly equivalent to goods exchanged. (“Rcprcsent:1tion” is chus at least in part descended from commercial analogy, like the word “inter· pretacion” itself, which i s related to “price.” To interpret is to negoti:ice, to have no leisure, to do business, to trade, bargain, haggle, buc also to find an cquivaJent in other terms.) Eq11ivnlmce has definitively replaced substitution or resemblance in our argument.

To move ahead quickly, the medieval Schol:iscics defined a sign as “that which repnrents other than itself co the operations of the mind,” joining repre· scntation still more closely to sign.incation and separating fr more dearly both from substitution and resemblance. Responding to the generally Platonic argu· mcnt chat the cult of God should be “honest,” and that poetry and theater, which represent something they arc not, arc therefore inappropriate to Christian ritual, Thomas Aquinas replied that in the state of our pr=’nt life we cannot directly intuit divine truth and that it is necessary for rirual to be accommod::ited tO our way of knowing, which is through 5<.’llS<:. “It is dearly more useful char the divine mysteries be conveyed to the unlctterc:d people under the cover of certain figures.” Poetry and chcarer cannot be grasped by hum:ut reason because they arc in themselves prcrational, like sense itself; and die mysteries of the faith Caru\Ot be grasped because they surpass the powers of reason. Boch therefore appropriately make use of figures; that is, they represcm. They arc the means by which we may ar least “implicitly” grasp the truths of the faith. The “lower” visible forms cannot in principle be like the �highc:r” meanings they manifest; at the same time, however, the need to make the “higher” nunifest in sense justifies these lower forms. Always close to such arguments was the theological reply tO the iconoclasts-chat the sacred image is like its prototype in having a fonn and in being able to be called by the same name, but nor in its matter or substance. The higher could be addressed through the lower, to which it was, howevc:r, not equivalent. Behind lay the theology of the Incarnation and the Trinity.

There is an important difference between this example and die others we have considered. Representation now has a vertical dimension. The fruit in a Roman still life stands before us on its stage and might be seen co suggest the sensory qualities of some real fruit in rc:al light; on thee other hand, the orange in the window of Jan van Eyck’sAnzolfi11i Wedding invires us pr�-cisdy through its apparcnc brilliance to other meanings entirely, to considerations not just of d1e prosperity of patrons, but beyond th:ir to prosperity itself, to fecundity, perhaps to the fall and the mystery of the beginning of human generations. Of course Platonism had always had a vcrticaJ dimension, but there is again an




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I difference. Plato’s “ideas” and “forms,” despite their being “higher,” were still, if invisible, meraphorically visual, still in an image relation co actUal things comparable to the Yclacion of sight and its objects. Aquinas aligned representation on a vertical armature, but the relation bcrw<.-cn higher and lower is no longer one of similitude. The sign is now truly an allegory, representing to the 111i11d iii other terms something it docs 11ot resemble. The resemblant sign­ what we recognize as something, an or.:inge, for example-is not, imofnr tu it is a representntio11., defined by resemblance. Such disrclation has a dear counter­ part in the allegory and personification so pervasive in medieval and Renaissance art and literarure. On a thoroughly practical level, but still within the same broad tradition of visual meaning, Cosimo I de’ Medici could tell Giorgio Vasari not to show him surrounded by counselors as he decided to wage war against Siena. Instead there should be a figure of Silence and some od1er Virtue. “That,” he said, “would represmt the same thing as the counselors.”

These arguments have important general consequences. Representation has now become symbolic; the resemblant sign does not merely convey that which it resembles to the mind, as in our eac!icr examples; rather it is that through which a m=ing n<:>t defined by image relation may be apprehended. In that sense, the resemblant sign itself has become wordlike. It is nor merely “arbi · trary,” however; rather the thing itself is now 3 sign, written in the late medieval “Book of Nature,” and the specificity of the im:ige, the sign of the sign, is guaramced by a higher order of meaning, to which access may be had duough d1at specificity.

The Book of Nacurc w:is written by God, which did not, however, put an end to the matter. Galik-o, faying down the foundations of modem science, rcrumed to the Pythagorean and Platonic roots of the \IVcstem philosophical tradition to argue mar die Book of Nacure could not be understood except mathematically. Aristotle’s common sensibles ( which Galileo called primary qualities) could be described quantitatively and provided the basis for the gen­ eral description of the physical world ns q1m11titntiPe. This mathematical world, appropriate in its economy and d3rity to divine writing, was mctaoptical, the framework against which the aaual dat:i of sense were merely “subjective” affections of an individual. Representation is now not so much of dtings as of relatw,u, and in these broad terms an equation or the height of mercury in a thermometer may be regl!dcd as representations. Physical fonns themselves might be described in terms of the spatial relations tl1ey bound, llld relations t11tw1,g forms might be defined in the same tcnns. Perspective began the rcprc· sentation of relations “in” virtUal spaces in specifically quantitative rcnns at the same time that it explicidy unified virtual space for a mbjtct. ( Subjectivity would prove co be the deeper principle; the quantitative was simply the means by which the unity of reprcscnt.1tion was first articulared, and “perspective” would enccr the language of modcmiry as a metaphor not so much for “objective” sp�tial order as for “subjective” point of view.)


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At the beginning of the tradition of modern empiricism, Francis Bacon distinguished between the i11terpretntio11 of 11nttrre (die inference from “faqs,” d1at is, from what narurc “has done”) and the nnticipmio11s of 11nt1wc, which arc subjcaive, and, like a false rhccoric, “straightaway couch the undcrsranding and fill the imagination,” leading us into error. These “‘anticipations” Bacon rejected with iconocbscic zeal as “idols.” Bacon’s iconoclasm extended beyond the illu­ sory forms of prejudicial error to the metaphorical mencal “forms,” the final c:iuses, that were the cornerstone of Aristotelian science, the highest conson311ce between reason and the system of the world. At all levels, the hum.:in mind creates fictions; it is, Bacon wrote, “like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorn and discolors the narure of things by mingling its own nature with it.” I n crowning iconoclastic terms, Bacon wrote of philosophical and religious systems as “Idols of the Theater; because in my judgement all chc received systems arc but so many stage plays, representing worlds of their own creation after an unreal and scenic rashion.”

This characterization of representation is truly and simply revolutionary and it is deeply and prophetically modern. At the s:ime time thac “narure” may be understood, evcryd1ing not arising from this understanding becomes a misn:pre­ smtntion in the distorting mirror of the mind. The scientific understanding of the world thus implies another science, 3 new anthropology: it needs to be cxpfaincd why we have represented the world to ourselves in ways chat have no warrant in extcrna.l n:1rurc. This can partly be explained by the prevalence of the “empty dogma” of religion and philosophy, but beyond that human understanding itself “receives an infusion from the will and the affections”; it i s “unquiet; i t cannot stop or rest”; it is of its own nature prone to suppose the existence of more order and rcgularity in the world d1an it finds. We arc by constitution inclined to sec the world as if it were a work of our own arr, to sec it “as one would.”

For Bacon, the reformation of the human mind, necessary at once for the empirical exploration of the world and for the creation of a new human world, implied a critique of all previous human insritutions and their justifications, all of which must be regarded as without substance until they “sc.:ind co reason.” His arguments provided the foundation for the Enlighteruncnt project of itleol­ W’, an at least implicitly iconoclastic “science of ideas” that in rum provided the basis for the Marxist notion of ideology.

As the centuries passed, the conception of d1c human mind individually and collectively spinning baseless fictions from its own resources would shape the new human sciences and come to involve the reduction of the human mind to a single mocivc and explanatory principle, on analogy co the physical principles of inertia and gravity. The “r�-stlessncss” of the mind might be reduced to association, then to the operations of the unconscious, driven by sex or will. On the new model, hum3n institutions might be reduced to collective psycholo­ gies, co economic “forces,” or to the “force” of history itself; or these factors




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might combine in still more embracing reductions, in which, for ex:impk, the will th:it drives human action is concentric with the “will” of the natural world as a whole.

The new scientific world progressively demarcated the old, which came to be grouped with the “aesthetic” and imaginative worlds of art, rlllged on the side of subjectivity, whether individual, collective, or uanscendenC31. It would become possible to view art as the expression of the world “as one would,” in Nic=hc’s phrase, as the world th:it makes life possible, or as a neurotic projec­ tion. Representation is now the imagination of some order, some “world,” arising from needs of our own for order. Both representation and imagination have assumed new, modem proportions.

To better understand these changes, we muse return to another of the found· crs of modem science and philosophy. At the beginning of his Meditntio11s, Descartes defined “” as thoughts that “arc like images of things.” The “image” relation he meant was more that of generation th:in of resemblance:. Descartes, like all the originators of modem natural science:, was keenly inter· cstcd in optics, a mature tradition at the time he wrote, based upon Afh;izcn’s Book of Optics, transl:itcd from Arabic to Latin in the early chirtccnd1 century. Alhazcn’s optics made it possible to describe how surfaces in light arc trans­ ferred point for point to facing surfaces. At first this might seem simply to certify the data of sight, but Descartes saw very different implications, implica­ tions that were again r�-volutionary. Earlier nominalists had been quick to sec that if the surfaces of things arc translated to the eye, then it is unnecessary to suppose that “forms” or specia arc also somehow transferred. In his own Optics Descartes ridiculed the Scholastic philosophers’ “intentional [ or thinkable J spc·




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cies,” «3.11 those small images floating dirough the air,” and considcred sight instead as the response of the eye ro physical pressures cxcm:d by objects through the mediwn of space by light. When we sec, wc arc, he argued, like a blind man who feds his way with sticks. Just as the objects he cncounccrs arc “11othi11g like the idtM /!( fomu of them,” so in general it is nor necessary to suppose-and not lcgitimm: co asswnc-“diat there is anyd1ing in objects which is similar w the idcns of sensations diat we have of them.”


Having separatcd the rcprcscmacion of things in the mind from form, Des· cartes used the economy of light and die physiology of the cyc to show how protean vision really is. His paradigm for vision is not some “Cartesian” grid but rather mznmorpho1i1, the infinitely possible manipulation of the grid. To be sure, the surfaces of facing objects arc registered on the back of the eye, but they vary with light, distance, and die shape of the eye itself. The image in the eye is inverted and reversed; focus is partial, straight lines arc curved, forms arc for�-shortcncd. The sense of sight is a “bad painter,” nor a painter without skill but rather a too sophisticated and deceitful one, whose illusions must be clari­ fied by the “sight” of higher judgment.

Dl-s,am:s insisted that it is the mind diat secs, not the eye, and from the “defects” of vision shown by optics and anatomy he drew the conclusion that there arc other things than “little pictures” of the objects that “couch our senses,” and that may also stimulate our thought, “such as signs and words, which do not in any way rcscmble wh:1t they signify.” When we sec engravings, no more than a little ink here and di ere on pieces of paper, they repn:smt to us a great world of forests, towns, men, even battles and storms. They make us conceive an infinity of qualities in objccrs that resemble only through shJpc. Even chis resemblance is slight; ”in order to be more perfect as images and better ro reprcrcnt an object,” Descancs concludes, «they ought not to resemble it.” We may react only as subjcccs to the myriad rcpres,;ntations in sensation of active physical force. The �signs,” the representations of die world in sense, aldiough based on contact, arc cut off from necessary relation to visual fonn.

It is imporranc to note that Descartes formulated the horizontal asymmetry of cause and form in the mind ( as opposed to d1e vertical asymmetry of medieval allegory) explicitly in terms ofchc sense of sight. This asymmetry, linnly rooted in the first principles of modern science, was to be fundamental for Nictszche and for Frcud, who defined memory as the diffcrcnriaJ capacity for die retention of stimuli. Such arguments arc continued in Derrida’s poststrucruralist version of chc principle of the arbitrariness of the sign. The representation cannot represent, and dlc illusion th:it it docs, or should, can only be explained endoge­ nously.

The simply and truly revolutionary importance of d1e modern separation of cause and image in the mind cannot be exaggerated, and, as die last cx:i.mplcs suggest, we arc still drawing its implications not only for the problem of rcpre· scntation but for our understanding of hum:m culrurc cakcn altogether. The

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systematic implications of :u-gurncms like those of Descartes were drawn l>y Immanuel Kant. In his Ii1r111g11rnl Disscrtnti,m, Kane wrote that “objects do not act upon the &enscs through their fonn or species, and in order that the various objects affecting our senses might coalesce in some whole rcpr�-senmtion, some work of an internal principle of the mind is ncccss:lJ)’, by which those various things arc clothed with a certain species according to scal>lc and innate laws.” In the preface to the second edition of his Criiique of P11re Renso11, Kant general­ ized chis principle co say that “our representation of things, as they arc given to us, docs not conform to these things as they arc in themselves . . . these objects as appcaronces conform ro our mode of representation.”

It would take much more than d1is space to revi<:w the idealist notion of representation, which must, however, be characterized in general for the sake of the rest of this discussion.

Idealist reprcsenution, rather than defining individual forms, like Plato’s painter in the soul, extends the powers of imagination ro the unified proj�-ction of a whole field, like Descartes’s landscape. There is no reason to suppose that Kant imagined acrual representation as Plato had, and imagin,uion is now ”pictorial” in the deep but s�-cilic sense of post-Renaissance painting. The im:igination-the Ei11bild1mg-thar constitutes the world for a subject shows a spatiotemporal horizon, unified as it is not so much because of the unity of the world as because of the unicy of the subject. \ll/ichin this unicy, representation is sd,ematic, defined l>y potential relations prior to any experience. Imagination makes a distinctly htunan reality, through a subject, and docs not replicate a world “outside.”

[n Kant’s idealism, consciousness represents die same Ncwconian spaciotem· poral world, md K:ll1t was thcr<:fore not concerned with the probkms of a history of rcprescmacion. For Hcgd, however, die initiaJ representation of the sp:1tiotcmporal world is only the beginning; in representing the natural world we also become aware that this world is not like ourselves. Progressively, Hegel believed, the world is made like ourselves, and this is the realization of the hwnan spirit in history. This progress of the spirit is evident in the manifold hwnan transformations of die world, in culture. The recasting of the world in the forms of culture implied a higher represemarion. (The forms of culture, as expressions of spirit, arc like us and unlike us, themselves ol>jcccs of continual transformation; they demand interpretation, which itself bccante involved in the problem of its own status as representation, hence the rise to prominence of hermeneutics in its modem form. [n such circumstances the study of history and culrurc had a new urgency. Not incidcnully, the history of arr in all the vari:incs of its modern “critical” form has largely been a history of “rcprcscma­ cions” in this higher sense, from embracing historicist theories of formal period style to E. H. Gombri<:h’s antihistoricist rejcaion of die “innocent eye” in favor of already existing culruml formulae.)

As we have seen, idealist representation is pictorinl, with the unity for a





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veiwer of :1 cogent virtual space. According to the first principles of idealism, the world is represented by us ar the same time th:it it is mmifest to us, and wclcanschauung is perhaps -best translated as “world intuition.” (“Intuition” is :it base another visual metaphor, as in the more popular “worldview.”) Both idealist wcltanschauung and its materialist counterpart, idcoiegy, for all the d i f ­ ferences between them, reuined this pictorial character. (The word “ideology,” it should be noted, like “idealism,” is stiU from the Greek word meaning “to s,c.”)

Idea.list represent:1cion was inextricably linked to the newly emerged realm of the flttthctit, which was described at the level of intuition. Kanr defined aesthetic judgment as integral with prim::uy imaginative representation, and dtc aesthetic also became in important respects historical and culcural. We may speak, to take a familfar example, of the “aesthetics” of a period much as we speak of its “worldview.”

Both :wehianschauung and ideology presuppose synthesizing imagin3tions, and both demand interpretation of syntheses and schemata in themselves. From either standpoint, representations arc primarily significant nor only in terms of what is represented, but also in terms of ho1P it is represented. The n>hat of reprcscntation-subjccc mattet-is most significant for what ic reveals in having been chosen, and the huiv, the manner of creatmcnt, reveals the syntheses and schemata. Wh:it is presumed to cxprtss the suuccure of a more or less historical subjcctiviry becomes die primary object of study . .But subjectivity occurs in individuals, ;md, in order ro account for the uniformity and conrinuity of cul­ rures, it was expanded to become more or less embracing collectiPe subjectivity. On thi& view (which is at least implicit in much art-historical practice) :1 work of art “expresses” both personal and c;ollectivc “i op ints of view.”

As a principle of historical explanation, wcltanschauung, like “culcure,” rec­ ognized the local commonality of the forms of human imagination, explaining evident differences among groups in terms of the “spirits” of peoples, places, and times, which might arise separately, “influence” one another, or undergo internal “development.” “Worldviews” might be pomtlatcd to account for any number of differences, and made to :1ccommodatc: any individual or collective “perspective.” As I have alr�-ady suggested, the a r r -historical idea of style em­ braced many of chc features of wcltanschauung.

If idealist wcltanschauung implied unity and internal transfonnation, materi­ alise ideology implied antagonism and conflict. Marx’s notion of ideology, as I h:ive remarked, descends from the “idols” of Francis B:1con. Like Bacon, Man argued for an empirical reality, subject not only to physical laws, buc, in its dttpest historical dimension, to economic laws. It was the :lim of his Capitnl, he wrote in the preface, to “lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society.” To read the book of history, as Galileo might have, we must know economics (311d Hegelian dialcccics, suitably modified). As natural phe­ nomena may be reduced to physical principles, so cultural-historical “phcnom-




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cna” may b<: reduced to economic-historical principles. Continuing the analogy, it is the r�-al economic and historical world that is represented-or misreprc· sented-by ideology, which is a .Baconio .n ”distorting mirror,” or, as Marx called it, a cnmcm obsmm, in which the world is focused upside down. Ideology has no independent history, and it is :ilways necessary co interpret an1 history lS secondary :llld derivative (if not nuga[ory). Furthcnnore, all representation, as ideology, cannot be taken at face value, but must be reg�rded and interpreted with systematic “suspicion.”

Although ideology in itself is void of real content in comparison with eco­ nomic history, it is not unrelated to the dialectic of history. If for Marx ideology was “false consciousness” arising from the “distorted mirror” of the human mind, it also constituted major and pervasive modes of oppression, to be coun­ tered by awareness of the real history concell�-d by ideology. Culrurcs chus do noc simply express the ”spirit of the age”; rather ”culture” icsdf is in question. There is not one repr<!Sentation, and, if one ideology may be dominant, there arc also contending positions.

Whatever the distinctions and alternatives originally int1:ndcd among chem, the categories branching from the great stalk of idealist representation r.:aclily collapse into one another. Styles, cultures, id�-ologies, worldvicws, symbolic forms, paradigms, and epistemcs tend to be highly interchangeable in critical use. The unity of a metaphorical psycbc, upon which the whole system I have described is ultimately based, magnified by the reduction of the physical and historical worlds to a single principle, underlies these ovcrlappings and cronsfor­ mations, which have b<:come very f.uniliar. So, for example, the gcneru coinci­ dence of the rise of the middle class and the appcar.mce in painting of one-point perspective might result in perspectives b<:ing regarded as e:,scntial to middle class representation, co the “bourgeois worldview” oc “bourgeois ideology”; and, if we follow Freud in linking Leonardo d:t Vinci’s Faustian d1irsc for knowledge to the scopic drive of male infant scxuaJ research, we might di:ignosc and evaluate modem bourgeois culture in similar psychoanalytic terms without having to give much aro:ntion to questions of how and why either the middle class had arisen or perspcaivc b<:cn formufaccd.

What would b<: left if the rcpresent.ition:ilist componcnr-which has b<:cn a consranr thr�’:ld dirough the ancient and modem traditions I have traced-were removed from the current ideas of rcprcscncacion descending rrom idealism? The answer is: nothing. But what if the as.swnpcion of reprcscntationalism icsdf is questioned? What if it were assumed instead that people always found themselves in a world with other people and things, a world the practical exis­ tence of which did not have to b<: demonstrated, but which, precisely because of locally different practices, was locally specific. CulturaJ differences would then exist not because the world was differently “represented” and dicsc reprc· senrations in some way imposed upon it, but bccauS<: accommodation simply had been made to die world at hand in the first instance in any number of ways and for any number of purposes.


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To put this in another way, if the asstunption of the necessity and priority of the second idealist kvcl of representation is called into question, then it may further be 3sked if the historv of art, both in its idealist and m3terialist versions, must be considered first of all as die history of representation it has been consid· crcd to be. An altcrnativc may be offcR·d by pushing idealist (and materialist) representation beyond im3ginarivc formation to the constmai<m of the acrually formed and shaped implicit in the idea of formation. The world is not simply projected from the mind, it is made, and even thc simplest artifacis involve techniques of gathering and working as well as the teaching and tmnsmission of diesc techniques. They arc thus irreducibly integral with human action and purpose, bod1 individual and social. To rcrurn to the subject of this essay, I would argue d1at actual rcprcsenmtion-something’s being put under one set of conditions or another in place of somcd1ing else-is primarily co1111111mitati1m, not chc exprcnio11 of private images or meanings (which we especially associate with arc) but radier that which is effected through the ,0111111011. In these terms die history of art embraces any nwnber of artifuccual histories in which the world at hand has been tr�”atcd as if R’al for any number of!ocal purposes. The commonalities cutting across these histories poinc to the common oricnutions and exigencies of hum:m physical c�istcnce in dte world of social spaces in which we all find ourselves.

Plato already understood at the beginning of the long discussion Z have been outlining that in order to serve their purposes images cannot be doubles. [m:1g,s arc also mbstitutes, which means th:1c they are always placed and loc3tcd in spaces ofihwnan use. Subscitution, moreover, is specific, putting tlJere m:1cerials to these uses, and substirution therefore always has many addicional real conncc­ tions as weU as meanings and values. Meanings and values arc thus evident in the nonmimctic conditions of images, which must consequently be regarded as positive and even prim3ry. Out inclination has lx’t.’Jl to regard the nonmimeric conditions of images as neutral or negative, certainly partly because d1c :mcicnr metaphor of mental images still lc3ds us to believe that mental images arc somehow prior and most real. It is nor necessary ro deny the existence of mental images, of dreams and daydreams, to ask whether it might not be betttr ro say th3t knowing how to make an image-even an image of a dream or daydream­ means knowing how to perform a nwnbcr of culrurally specific actions in and for equally specific spaces and purposes before it means always h:iving a prior image in one’s mind di:1r is then exccuc,:d in some material. tf so, then rhc historical understanding of images involves die reconstruction of these condi­ tions, of the specific real spatial contexts of di cir m:iking and use, not jusr the analytic isolation and interpretation of the “world” ureprcsenced.”

[f we remove the mental image, what I spoke of at the beginning :is the thitd tcnn, from our consideration of representation, then the necessity vanish,’S to further consider the deeply 3nd complc..\’.ly value-laden question of the relative status of kinds, levels, and hicr.irchies of mental reptescntation ( impressions, fantasies, concepts, ideal fonns, etc.) which should be r,·gardcd as formulations




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peculiar ro the tradition to which they belong. In these terms, too, the question of simple representation-whether something may resemble something else­ may be simply answered in the affirmative without raising die further, more anxious question of whether an image corresponds to the adequate represent3· tion of the same thing to the mind or to the mind’s eye.

I have raised the question ooncecning the priority of mental images histori­ cally, which suggests th:it these ideas and attitudes .u-c culturally specific. Ifchat is so, then the history of art, everywhere interlaced as it is with d1c problems of rcprescncationalism, is in large part a commcnt31′)’ of the W esrern rradition upon itself, even if examples may be chosen from beyond its borders. Rcprcsen· tationalism and its attendant problems arc integral co the history of \V estem art, bur not to the history of all art. In fact, it should be assumed on principle that other assumptions arc at work wllcss there arc historical grounds to think otherwise. Thar very general clarification having been made, we may begin to inquire why and how some resemblance or anod1er was part of the whole representation of an image and how the conditions of chat presentation related to the specific cultural world of which the image was pan:. The focus of such m-historical interpretation shifts away from “realism” and “worldview” and “ideology” to constructions of common hwnan corporeality and of personal, social, and political space$, both our own and those altcrn:irive to our own.


Alpers, Svetlana. 1983. The An ofDescribi,IIJ: D11uhAn i11 t/Jc St:11mttmt/J Ctntmy. Bryson, Norman. 1983. Visio111111d P11i11ti•1:!f: Tbe Legit ofrhe Gaze. Gombrich, £. H. 1963b. }..{editntiom 011 a Holhy Horse 1111d Oth(Y Ess11)’1 011 1/,e TIJcory of

Art. –. 1969. Art 1111d Il/111io11: A Stud i11 y the Psythology of Piaorinl Represmmtio11. Goodman, Nelson. 1976. Lm’.!}11ages of A1’l: A11 Appn)llth ro II Theory ofSymho/J. MitcheU, W. J. T. 1986. Iw11ology: Inurgt, Text, Ideolo.!JY. Todorov, Tzvecan. 1982. T/Jeqri/s of the Symbol.


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