Pictures: Their Power in Practice

In Jérôme Pelletier & Alberto Voltolini (eds.), The Pleasure of Pictures: Pictorial Experience and Aesthetic Appreciation. London: Routledge. pp. 36-51 (2018)

Dominic McIver Lopes
University of British Columbia
What are pictures good for? “Nothing” recurs as the apparently irrepress- ible reply of a motley collection iconophobes from Plato to the mediaeval iconoclasts, to parents concerned about comic books, to postmoderns in a lather over “scopic regimes”. In the aftermath of Nelson Goodman’s Languages of Art (1976), philosophers doubled down on theories of depiction and pictorial experience, but they have not rushed to work on the value of pictures. Those few who have written about pictorial value have taken for granted an approach aptly dubbed “psychologism” (Wol- lheim 1987; Hopkins 1997; Lopes 2005). According to psychologism, we can understand pictorial value by appealing only to cognitive traits and capacities. Yet psychologism is enough out of step with studies of pic- tures outside philosophy that it dampens philosophy’s impact on the very scholars who could most use a defense of pictorial value. Here is a thesis: psychologism is false. Here is its payoff: an alternative to psychologism better suits the work of scholars outside philosophy.
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