Aesthetic Visual Experience as a Metaphor for Knowledge
Visual images such as paintings or billboards can be viewed from different vantage points. At a distance, the image appears as a whole, its edges resolved and defined. Approached up close, what we perceive depends on the image's construction. With a finely-crafted image, we still see the edges and shapes visible in the whole, just on a different scale; but with an image that is more loosely constructed, our total-view perception disintegrates into broad brushstrokes, often seemingly meaningless until we retreat back to the more distant view. Neither vantage point, the close or the distant, is the "correct" one: for full understanding, we must understand the realities of each perspective.
These alternative experiences present a metaphor for knowledge. Our assumptions about what is meaningful may change according to our scale of reference and our distance from our topic of study. A historical event viewed within the week in which it happened may be interpreted differently than when that same event is evaluated in the context of a year, a decade, a century, a millennium. Similarly with the boundaries between disciplinary knowledge: at times they seem fixed and absolute, at other times they appear open and ambiguous. This paper will consider the kinds of situations in which the edges seem to resolve and those in which the edges appear blurred, and the implications of these differences for our understanding of knowledge itself.
Keywords: Art, Aesthetics, Theory of knowledge, Visual culture
Dr. Jeanne Nuechterlein
Lecturer, History of Art, University of York