Critical Inquiry 7 (2):237-273 (1980)

I have stressed here and elsewhere that perspective cannot and need not claim to represent the world "as we see it." The perceptual constancies which make us underrate the degree of objective diminutions with distance, it turns out, constitute only one of the factors refuting this claim. The selectivity of vision can now be seen to be another. There are many ways of "seeing the world," but obviously the claim would have to relate to the "snapshot vision" of the stationary single eye. To ask, as it has so often been asked, whether this eye sees the world in the form of a hollow sphere or of a projection plane makes little sense, for it sees neither. The one point in focus can hardly be said to be either curved or flat, and the remainder of the field of vision is too indistinct to permit a decision. True, we can shift the point of focus at will, but in doing so we lose the previous perception, and all that remains is its memory. Can we, and do we, compare the exact extension of these changing percepts in scanning a row of columns extended at right angles from the central line of vision—to mention the most recalcitrant of the posers of perspectival theory?1 I very much doubt it. The question refers to the convenient choice of projection planes, not to the experience of vision.· 1. I now prefer this formulation to my somewhat laboured discussion in Art and Illusion, chap. 8, sec. 4.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, and Ideals and Idols. An early version of "Standards of Truth" was presented at Swarthmore College in October 1976 at a symposium to mark the retirement of Professor Hans Wallach. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "The Museum: Past, Present, and Future" , "Notes and Exchanges" , and, with Quentin Bell, "Canons and Values in the Visual Arts: A Correspondence"
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