The Objective Eye: Color, Form, and Reality in the Theory of Art
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This, in a nutshell, is the central problem in the theory of art. It has fascinated philosophers from Plato to Wittgenstein. And it fascinates artists and art historians, who have always drawn extensively on philosophical ideas about language and representation, and on ideas about vision and the visible world that have deep philosophical roots.
John Hyman’s The Objective Eye is a radical treatment of this problem, deeply informed by the history of philosophy and science, but entirely fresh. The questions tackled here are fundamental ones: Is our experience of color an illusion? How does the metaphysical status of colors differ from that of shapes? What is the difference between a picture and a written text? Why are some pictures said to be more realistic than others? Is it because they are especially truthful or, on the contrary, because they deceive the eye?
The Objective Eye explores the fundamental concepts we use constantly in our most innocent thoughts and conversations about art, as well as in the most sophisticated art theory. The book progresses from pure philosophy to applied philosophy and ranges from the metaphysics of color to Renaissance perspective, from anatomy in ancient Greece to impressionism in nineteenth-century France. Philosophers, art historians, and students of the arts will find The Objective Eye challenging and absorbing.
eﬀort involved in freeing science from Aristotelianism excuses the exaggeration; but the same excuse does not exist today. 2 FRAMES OF REFERENCE If one chooses, one may replace the expression “frame of reference” by “frame of reference of an observer.” However, nothing is added to the theory of relativity by any such linguistic transformation. R. B. Angel in one of his famous lectures at CalTech, Richard Feynman made fun of philosophers who are prone to say, “Oh, it is very simple:
with a system devised for a dichromatic species, such as the horse. We shall ignore questions about the conditions of observation and questions about the color experiences or behavior of observers. For the moment, we are only interested in the alleged relativity of gross color to systems of color concepts. Now imagine that a grassy bank is found to be green when the anthropocentric system is being used and that it is found to be a color that encompasses some shades of red, some shades of green,
why these kinds of pictures represent the things they do by claiming that they resemble them. For if resemblance is a relation, nothing can resemble a man, but not any man in particular, and nothing can resemble a kind of animal that does not exist. The reply to this objection is as follows. It is true that the verb “represents” and the verb phrase “is a picture of ” are sometimes used to express relations and sometimes not. For example, “It is a picture of a bridge,” “. . . a shop,” “. . . a
of this resemblance that the picture causes our sensory awareness of these objects—as if there were yet other eyes within our brain with which we could perceive it. Instead we must hold that it is the movements composing this picture that, acting directly upon our soul in so far as it is united to our body, are ordained by nature to make it have such sensations.17 In this passage, Descartes comes close to saying that it is futile to postulate images as surrogates for visible objects because
eﬀect because the eﬀect itself can only be deﬁned as the experience of seeing the brushstrokes on the painting’s surface and seeing what they depict. So there is no harm in saying that the brushstrokes produce the eﬀect of gold braid if this means simply that they successfully depict it. But in the ﬁnal analysis this fact can only be explained by deﬁning the visible relationship between these brushstrokes and gold braid. The debate in which these are the opening moves can be adjourned; but if the