Critical Inquiry 11 (2):195 (1984)

It is a thankless task to have to reply to Professor Murray Krieger’s “Retrospective.” Qui s’excuse, s’accuse, and since I cannot ask my readers to embark on their own retrospective of my writings and test them for consistency, I have little chance of restoring my reputation in their eyes. Hence I would have been happier to leave Professor Krieger to his agonizing, if he did not present himself the “spokesman” for a significant body of theorists who appear to have acclaimed my book on Art and Illusion without ever having read it. The followers of this school of criticism—of which Professor Krieger is a prominent member—had apparently convinced themselves that the book lent support to an aesthetics in which the notions of reality and of nature had no place. They thought that I had subverted the old idea of mimesis and that all that remained were different systems of conventional signs which were made to stand for an unknowable reality. True, professor Krieger admits that I never endorsed such an interpretation of my views, and he even concedes that there are passages in Art and Illusion which contradict such an out-and-out relativism, but he wants to convince his readers that these contradictions lead precisely to the ambiguities he now proposes to analyse.If he were right that the book encourages such a misreading, all I could do would be to express my regrets for having failed to make myself sufficiently clear. Luckily I can draw comfort from the fact that unlike these literary critics, the leading archaeologist of this country, Professor Stuart Piggott, had no difficulty at all in discerning my meaning and profiting from my arguments. In his Walter Neurath Memorial Lecture of 1978, entitled Antiquity Depicted: Aspects of Archaeological Illustration, the author did me the honour of taking a statement from my book as his starting point. It is the passage at the end of part I in which I recapitulate the content of the first two chapters:What matters to us is that the correct portrait, like the useful map, is an end product on a long road through schema and correction. It is not a faithful record of a visual experience but the faithful construction of a relational mode.Neither the subjectivity of vision nor the sway of conventions need lead us to deny that such a model can be constructed to any required degree of accuracy. What is decisive here is clearly the word “required.” The form of a representation cannot be divorced from its purpose and the requirements of the society in which the given visual language gains currency.1 1. E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1956 , p. 90. E. H. Gombrich was director of the Warburg Institute and Professor of the History of the Classical Tradition at the University of London from 1959 to 1976. His many influential works include The Story of Art, Art and Illusion, Meditations on a Hobby Horse, The Sense of Order, Ideals and Idols, The Image and the Eye, and, most recently, Tributes. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry include “The Museum: Past, Present and Future and “Standards of Truth: The Arrested Image and the Moving Eye”
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