Imagination in the Experience of Art: R. K. Elliott

In this paper I shall not be concerned with the imagination as insight, but only with certain aspects of ‘magical’ imagination, that division of the concept which centres upon the notion of an image. In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein makes the extremely interesting remark that when a printed triangle is seen, for instance, as a mountain, it is as if an image came into contact, and for a time remained in contact, with the visual impression. He goes on to say that in a picture a triangular figure may have some such aspect permanently — in the pictorial context we would read the figure at once as a mountain — but that we can make a distinction between ‘regarding’ and ‘seeing’ the figure as the thing meant. I take him to be contrasting those common experiences in which we see a figure in a picture as depicting a person, or as a ‘picture-person’, with those rarer experiences, referred to by art-critics when they talk of ‘presence’, in which it seems as if the person depicted in the picture is there before us ‘in the flesh’, and I assume that, like Sartre, Wittgenstein would suppose that imagination plays a part in experiences of this latter kind. In this paper I shall be concerned not with this sense of the presence of the object depicted, but chiefly with types of imaginal experience in which the image which seems to come into contact with what is perceived is an image of something which is not depicted or described in the work, but which nevertheless achieves a certain strength of presence. I shall consider, also, some types of imaginal experience which we would not naturally describe as an image's coming into contact with what is perceived. Though I shall relate some of the examples I discuss to my starting-point in Wittgenstein, I do not claim to be elaborating Wittgenstein's remark in a manner which would have been acceptable to him. My aims are to give some indication of the nature and scope of the imaginal experience of art, to defend the aesthetic relevance of this type of experience, and to suggest why the imaginal experience of art has been, and still is, valued.
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DOI 10.1017/S1358246100000825
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