Painting, aesthetics of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M048-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 07, 2020, from

2. Some basic observations

It is unlikely that we could define ‘painting’, construed either narrowly or as broadly as is here required, except in terms that themselves import aesthetic considerations. So our inquiry cannot have a definition as a neutral starting point. However, there are some simple features common to all, or at least very many, of the items that concern us. Our topic is surfaces that have been marked by human hand, with the intention of stimulating the eye. The vast majority of these surfaces represent something. Matisse’s The Dance, for instance, shows a group of circling dancers, holding hands and lost to the music. When surfaces are marked so as to represent in this way, they have two aspects. One, the configurational aspect, is a matter of what marks lie where. The other, representational, aspect is a matter of what the marks stand for, or represent.

This type of representation is found in many pictures which are not our concern, either because they involve methods of picture production we have here set aside (photography) or because they do not aspire to aesthetic interest (consider the illustrations in a car repair manual). There is a good deal of argument over how to characterize this representation (see Depiction). One approach will, however, be of particular relevance (see below). It sees pictorial representation as involving a special experience on the part of the viewers of the picture. In this experience, the precise nature of which is also controversial, we see the marks which make up the picture as organized in a special way, around the thought of whatever is represented: we see things in the marks, as for instance, the dancers in Matisse’s canvas.

Citing this article:
Hopkins, Robert. Some basic observations. Painting, aesthetics of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M048-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2020 Routledge.

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