The Pedagogical Primacy of Language in Mental Imagery: Pictorialism vs. Descriptionalism

Journal of Aesthetic Education 56 (3):1-24 (2022)
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This paper argues for the primacy of language over vision as a means of communication. Words convey information more clearly, accurately, reliably, and profoundly than images do. Images by themselves give only impressions; they do not denote, unless accompanied by some sort or level of description. Also, any visual image, whether physical or mental, unless it is eidetic, must involve some degree of interpretation, interpolation, or description for it to be capable of conveying information, having meaning, or even being intelligible. Pictorialism is the theory that mental imagery is visual, while descriptionalism holds that mental imagery is nonvisual. As an epistemology, pictorialism supports representationalism as a philosophy of art. The poverty and limitations of representational theories of art militate against pictorialism. Descriptionalism as an epistemology supports several versions of symbolist theories of art. The richness and versatility of symbolic interpretations of art works support descriptionalism. Pictorialism fails the test of consistency unless eidetic imagery exists. Any pictorialism that claims support from noneidetic imagery or invokes the photographic fallacy is in fact a crypto- or quasi-descriptionalism. Since the photographic fallacy denies eidetic imagery, it is invalid and misbegotten as a defense of pictorialism. The interplay between the richness of visual images and the precision of verbal descriptions is a key element in developing a comprehensive pedagogy of aesthetics.



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Eric v.d. Luft
Bryn Mawr College (PhD)

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