Hyman on Pictorial Depiction

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Hyman. 
My personal comments are in red. 



Many philosophers explain pictures by adopting a psychological approach, according to which we have a pictorial depiction if the psychological response to the picture is the same as the psychological response to the thing depicted. (For Hyman, both Wollheim and Lopes have theories of this sort).

Hyman will reject this approach. In part, it uses the idea of a picture to explain what happens with a picture: it will not allow us to DEFINE picturing.

At the other extreme, we might try to be "objective" but then we won't say anything about the perceptual process of SEEING, which seems crucial.

THESIS: Three principles explain our ability to make and see pictures. They concern what is INTERNAL to a picture and without reference to psychological effect.

"Internal" how? If we look at a picture of Johannes, the man IN THE PICTURE is alive, even if the real person (the model for the picture) is dead. "The man in the picture is dead" is false when taken as mentioning the man internal to the picture, but true when taken as about an external subject.

1. Occlusion shapes within a picture determine what the picture depicts: the smallest part of the picture depicts an x if it has the same occlusion shape as an x. (An occlusion shape is the outline of what you are BLOCKED from seeing when an object is between you and something else.) Occlusion shape is an objective matter of geometric relationships.

2. Occlusion size is also objective. NEARER objects occlude more: they block more of what we can see behind them. The relevant principle is that the sizes of shapes in the picture are relative to the size and distance to the object.

3. We normally see objects in a situation, and judge whether the object has multiple colors or whether there is a uniform color that is shaded in parts. However, if we look at small areas of objects with focus and without regard for the situation, we notice APERTURE COLOR: the color we actually see at that place. What looks like shading of the whole object now appears to be a different, darker color. The relevant principle is that a color in a picture represents the color of the object in that area only if the aperture colors match.

These three principles establish representational constants that have nothing to do with the psychological effects of pictures.

There is no need for Wollheim's "seeing-in" in order to have a picture. A mere outline is a picture. Second, "seeing-in" doesn't explain why we see a picture of a bull rather than a tree. The correct answer is given by the three principles, and not by "seeing-in."

Trompe l’oeil art is also supposed to be a problem for Wollheim.

ANOTHER advantage of occlusion theory is that it doesn't assume that pictures bear any further resemblance to what they show. Example: Look at the details in a Rembrandt painting. These make sense as details of something only because the rest of it already succeeds in representing (by exploiting the three principles).

SUMMARY: A picture is a 2-dimensional surface designed to let us immediately (without inference or interpretation) see something, and we do so by seeing the occlusions and colors.

                        Last updated March 27, 2011 ~ All text © 2011 Theodore Gracyk