Objective Eye: Color, Form, and Reality in the Theory of Art

Paperback (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $18.00
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 55%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (10) from $18.00   
  • New (5) from $30.49   
  • Used (5) from $18.00   

Overview


“The longer you work, the more the mystery deepens of what appearance is, or how what is called appearance can be made in another medium."—Francis Bacon, painter
 
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.
 

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

New Statesman - Edward Skidelsky

"[The Objective Eye] scrupulously dissects the various myths and confusions surrounding the concept of depiction, with the aim of rehabilitating realism as 'one kind of excellence in art.' Against the misgivings of sophisticates, it champions what it sees as the natural, pre-theoretical stance of artists themselves. . . . The concept of modality is Hyman's most important innovation. It opens up the fascinating prospect of a cross-cultural history of pictorial representation, freed from dependence upon the psychology of illusion. Historians of art -- take note."

London Review of Books - Stephen Mulhall

"One of the many virtues of Hyman's book is that it provides a sustained, rigorous and devastating critique of such subjectivism, and a carefully nuanced defence of his own version of objectivism. . . . The rigorous clarity and elegant concision of Hyman's writing--literary virtues to which the best analytical philosophy has always aspired--carry his reader through even the most challenging sections. No one will come away from his book without having learned a great deal about one of the most familiar mysteries of human culture."

New Statesman
[The Objective Eye] scrupulously dissects the various myths and confusions surrounding the concept of depiction, with the aim of rehabilitating realism as 'one kind of excellence in art.' Against the misgivings of sophisticates, it champions what it sees as the natural, pre-theoretical stance of artists themselves. . . . The concept of modality is Hyman's most important innovation. It opens up the fascinating prospect of a cross-cultural history of pictorial representation, freed from dependence upon the psychology of illusion. Historians of art — take note.

— Edward Skidelsky

London Review of Books
One of the many virtues of Hyman's book is that it provides a sustained, rigorous and devastating critique of such subjectivism, and a carefully nuanced defence of his own version of objectivism. . . . The rigorous clarity and elegant concision of Hyman's writing—literary virtues to which the best analytical philosophy has always aspired—carry his reader through even the most challenging sections. No one will come away from his book without having learned a great deal about one of the most familiar mysteries of human culture.

— Stephen Mulhall

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226365534
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 286
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author


John Hyman is a fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

THE OBJECTIVE EYE

Color, Form, and Reality in the Theory of Art


By John Hyman THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS

Copyright © 2006 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-36553-4



Chapter One

GALILEO'S MYTH

The implicit acceptance of mythical concepts is a habit that never completely relaxes its hold. Today it is even more heavily overlaid than in ancient Greece with the terminology of rational disciplines. This makes it more difficult to detect and therefore more dangerous. W. K. C. Guthrie

IT IS WIDELY BELIEVED that physical objects are not really colored. This doctrine was already stated by Democritus in the fifth century B.C.: "Colors, sweetness, bitterness, exist by convention," he wrote, "in reality, there are atoms and the void." It became an orthodoxy in the seventeenth century, under the joint aegis of Galileo and Descartes. And the orthodoxy was cemented into place by Sir Isaac Newton, who made it a permanent feature of the modern scientific picture of the world. Nevertheless, the orthodox doctrine is a myth. Myths often contain truths, but they are truths in fancy dress or in disguise. So it is possible to discard a myth without losing hold of the truths that it contains, for we can reformulate them in transparent terms. Thehistorical roots of the myth about colors have by now been thoroughly documented and are well understood. But unfortunately there is nothing like a consensus on how best to demythologize this part of science. Too often, philosophers who attempt it deserve to be reminded of Alexander Herzen's trenchant remark: "We are not the doctors. We are the disease."

The original modern statement of the myth about colors occurs in Galileo's writings, in particular in The Assayer, and it is supported there with two main arguments, both of which still resonate today. First, Galileo points out that our general concept of matter compels us to attribute shapes, sizes and locations to material objects, but it does not compel us to acknowledge that they have colors, smells, or tastes:

whenever I conceive of any material or corporeal substance, I am necessarily constrained to conceive of that substance as bounded and as possessing this or that shape, as large or small in relationship to some other body, as in this or that place during this or that time, as in motion or at rest, as in contact or not in contact with some other body, as being one, many, or few-and by no stretch of imagination can I conceive of any corporeal body apart from these conditions. But I do not at all feel myself compelled to conceive of bodies as necessarily conjoined with such further conditions as being red or white, bitter or sweet, having sound or being mute, or possessing a pleasant or unpleasant fragrance.... I think, therefore, that these tastes, odours, colours, etc., so far as their objective existence is concerned, are nothing but mere names for something that resides exclusively in our sensitive body, so that if the perceiving creature were removed, all of these qualities would be annihilated and abolished from existence.

This argument is unconvincing. It is true that we can conceive of matter that has no color, no taste, and no smell. In fact, matter of this kind exists. But it does not follow that colors, tastes, and smells do not really exist outside the creatures that perceive them. For the fact that water has no taste does not imply that in reality wine has no taste either; and the fact that hydrogen is colorless does not imply that chlorine is really colorless as well. Compare mass and electric charge. We can conceive of particles that have no mass or no electric charge. Indeed there are such particles. But it does not follow that mass and electric charge are "nothing but mere names for something which resides exclusively in our sensitive body." The fact is that photons have no mass, but leptons and quarks do; and neutrons have no electric charge, but protons and electrons do. There is simply no reason to accept that the only real properties of a material substance are the ones that it is inconceivable or unimaginable that it should lack.

Galileo's second argument is by analogy:

a piece of paper or a feather, when gently rubbed over any part of our body whatsoever, will in itself act everywhere in an identical way; it will, namely, move and make contact. But we, should we be touched between the eyes, on the tip of the nose, or under the nostrils, will feel an almost intolerable titillation-while if touched in other places, we will scarcely feel anything at all. Now this titillation is completely ours and not the feather's, so that if the living, sensing body were removed, nothing would remain of the titillation but an empty name. And I believe that many other qualities, such as taste, odour, colour, and so on, often predicated of natural bodies, have a similar and no greater existence than this.

This argument is also unconvincing. It is true that a tickle is a sensation, which can only occur in the living body of a sentient animal. It is also true that the experiences of tasting sweetness and seeing red could not occur if there were no sentient animals alive to have them. And it is true that we should not predicate tasting sweetness and seeing redness of a grape. But it does not follow that we should not predicate sweetness or redness of it either. If every perceiving creature were removed, every perception would be annihilated and abolished from existence. But we cannot infer that the colors and tastes we predicate of natural bodies would vanish too.

Hence, these arguments fail, both individually and in conjunction. But taken together they point in the direction of an idea that is still widely entertained, namely, that we do not need to assume that tasting sweetness and seeing redness are perceptions of qualities that bodies actually possess, in order to explain why these experiences occur. This idea, as we shall see, is the main reason why it is still widely believed that tastes and colors exist only in the mind.

Why do I say that Galileo's arguments point in this direction? The first argument is in effect a plea for parsimony, or theoretical economy. It says: let us not acknowledge the existence of any qualities in matter unless it is irrational to deny them-that is, unless the science of matter, or a rationally compelling argument of some sort, demands that we acknowledge they exist. And the second argument says this: all that we need to predicate of a feather, in order to explain the tickling feeling it produces, is motion and contact; and the same is true of the things we describe as "red" and "sweet." "I cannot believe [Galileo writes] that there exists in external bodies anything, other than their size, shape, or motion ... which could excite in us our tastes, sounds, and odours." Hence, the qualities that we need to predicate of things, in order to explain the experiences they produce, do not include being red or being sweet.

If we accept both of these points-the point about theoretical economy and the point about how sense experience can be explained-we are not bound to accept the conclusion Galileo draws, namely, that "if ears, tongues, and noses be taken away, the number, shape, and motion of bodies would remain, but not their tastes, sounds, and odours." For there may be other effects, apart from our perceptions, which we need to postulate tastes and colors to explain. And there may be other compelling reasons, apart from the effects they are capable of explaining, to accept that sweetness and redness are qualities that inhere in matter. And besides, there is a difference between refusing to assume that colors do inhere in matter and accepting the conclusion that they do not. Nevertheless, the argument I have reconstructed sets an agenda; and I shall examine it in detail later in this chapter.

Galileo's opinion about colors is still widely held today. For example, John Gage, who has made the place of color in art the main theme of his work, claims that "Newton ... showed that colour was indeed illusory." Many student textbooks on visual perception treat this claim as an established fact. For example, Stephen Palmer states that "colour is a psychological property of our visual experiences when we look at objects and lights, not a physical property of those objects and lights." And similar claims appear in many learned articles as well. For example, in an important article on color vision in monkeys, Samir Zeki claims that color "is a property of the brain, not of the world outside."

Remarks like these imply that our visual experiences are infused with colors that seem to inhere in the visible objects we perceive but that these objects do not in fact possess. So, if we take the ordinary statements in which we attribute colors to physical objects at face value-for example, "bananas are yellow" or "the t-shirt I am wearing now is red"-these statements are uniformly false. How should we set about deciding whether to accept this challenging idea? To begin with, we need to ask what conception of color is implicit in ordinary statements of this kind. We need to begin with this question because the thought that something we say is either true or false must always presuppose an interpretation of it, or a way of understanding what it means. And sometimes what is presupposed is false, inaccurate, or incomplete. Truth, as W. V. O. Quine says, depends both on language and on extralinguistic fact. We should not assume that our grip on either element is absolutely sure.

"Bananas are yellow" and "the t-shirt I am wearing now is red" are of course relatively simple color statements, and the basic conception of color that is implicit in them is gradually elaborated as we learn to think about primary colors and complementary colors, surface colors and aperture colors, metameric pairs, and so on. But although it is elaborated, it is not abandoned, just as our basic conception of shape is gradually elaborated, but not abandoned, when we study geometry at school. So we must begin with the simplest examples and examine the basic conception of color they embody; but we must not forget that we can be misled if we assume that all color statements are the same.

In particular, we need to bear in mind that red and yellow are "gross" colors. In other words, like all of the dozen or so colors for which most languages have names, they encompass a vast number of discriminable shades and they are therefore easy for most human beings to recognize without comparing the object whose color is in question with a sample. Furthermore, bananas and t-shirts are what J. L. Austin liked to call moderate-sized specimens of dry (or dryish) goods, which many colored things, such as the sea and the sky and the planet Mars, are not. Finally, the color of a banana or a t-shirt depends on its tendency to reflect light of certain wavelengths and to absorb light of other wavelengths; but although this is true of many colored objects, it is not true of them all. For example, the color of stained glass depends on its tendency to filter light rather than on its reflectance. And the color of a flame depends on the light it produces, rather than on the way it interacts with light radiating from another source.

As we shall see, some philosophical doctrines about colors cannot be properly assessed unless we bear these points in mind. But in this chapter, we shall be concerned only with our basic conception of color. The argument will be simple. I shall begin by explaining this basic conception of color-the conception that is implicit in every color predication that we make. Then I shall argue that colors are thought to be illusory because of a misunderstanding about this conception of color. The claim that the colors we predicate of physical objects do not really exist is, I shall argue, a confused way of stating a simple and important insight about how our experiences of color are produced-an nsight that marks the transition from the Aristotelian optical theory that predominated in the medieval period to the modern optical theory that was inaugurated by Galileo, Kepler, and Descartes.

* * *

Our basic conception of colors is rooted in one fundamental principle, namely, that an object's color is part of its appearance, in other words, that it is part of how it looks. An object's appearance, in this sense, is not the sum of its visible properties. It is a subset of its visible properties. For example, a man's rough age is typically visible. We can typically tell roughly how old a man is by seeing his face. But a man's rough age is not part of his appearance. For example, being roughly sixty, as opposed to looking roughly sixty, is not part of how a man who looks roughly sixty looks. By contrast, if a man is pale, being pale is part of his appearance. The idea of a man's appearance is already implicit in the thought that he is pale in the way that the idea of an object's taste is already implicit in the thought that it is sweet. So there is no need to say that a man looks pale in order to refer to his appearance. The statement that he is pale does this already.

The statement that a man looks roughly sixty is therefore analogous to the statement that a man is pale. But this does not prevent it from being analogous to the statement that a man looks pale, in one sense of the phrase "looks pale." For the statement that something looks pale can mean either that it has a pale color or that it seems to have a pale color. For example, the statement that anemic boys look pale means that anemic boys have a pale color, whereas the statement that ruddy boys look pale in blinding sunlight means that ruddy boys seem to have a pale color in blinding sunlight. Similarly, the statement that honey tastes sweet means that honey has a sweet taste, whereas the statement that boiled fish tastes sweet to a man who has eaten salty food means that boiled fish seems to have a sweet taste to a man who has eaten salty food. "Looks roughly sixty" is analogous to "looks pale" when "looks pale" is equivalent, as it sometimes is, to "has a pale color." Indeed, it is precisely because the idea of a man's appearance is already implicit in the statement that he is pale that "looks pale" sometimes means "has a pale color." This is, one could say, a pleonastic use of the verb "looks."

So an object's color is part of its appearance, which is to say that it is part of how it looks. But we should not equate appearance and illusion because some appearances are deceptive or illusory, while others are not. An object's appearance is illusory in a certain respect if it appears to possess a certain property that it does not in fact possess. For example, if a fruit looks ripe but is not ripe, or if it looks red but is not red, or if it looks round but is not round, these appearances are illusory. But appearances are not deceptive or illusory as such. Indeed, the primary notion of something's being apparent is that it is manifest, evident, or obvious and not that it is misleading or false, although it is of course also true that we often compare the way things appear with the way they actually are. Hence, some appearances are mere appearances while others are not. The moot question is which category of appearances colors belong to. I shall come to this question in due course.

I am proposing that the fundamental principle, from which any attempt to explain our basic conception of colors must proceed, is that an object's color is part of how it looks. Similarly, the smell of a thing is how it smells, and the taste of a thing is how it tastes. I do not want to insist that these principles are self-evident-that is, that everyone who understands them will perceive immediately that they are true. For what is self-evident to one person may need to be proved to another. But once they are recognized as true, it will be clear that there is a fundamental difference between an object's color or smell or taste, on the one hand, and its shape, on the other. For example, if an egg is white and round, then being white is part of its appearance but being round is not. Looking round is part of its appearance-that is, it is part of how it looks. But being round, as opposed to looking round, is not. Hence, the statement that an object has a certain color already involves the idea of its appearance, in a way that the statement that it has a certain shape does not. So there is an intrinsic tie between color and sentience, as there is between smell or taste and sentience, which does not exist between sentience and shape.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE OBJECTIVE EYE by John Hyman Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Contents

List of Illustrations....................xi
Preface....................xv
Introduction....................1
COLOR 1. Galileo's Myth....................11
2. Frames of Reference....................29
3. Perceiving Powers....................45
DEPICTION 4. Art and Imitation....................59
5. Art and Occlusion....................73
6. Art and Optics....................113
7. Art and Experience....................127
REALISM 8. Words and Pictures....................155
9. Realism and Relativism....................181
10. The Canvas of the Brain....................211
Conclusion....................237
Notes....................239
Bibliography....................269
Credits....................277
Index....................279

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)