Aesthetic Visual Experience as a Metaphor for Knowledge

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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
Stream: Aesthetics, Design
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Perceiving Different Images at Different Scales of Research


Dr. Jeanne Nuechterlein

Lecturer, History of Art, University of York
York, UK

Jeanne Nuechterlein completed a PhD in History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley, out of which she has recently finished a book manuscript linking the innovative art of Hans Holbein the Younger with the intellectual debates surrounding Renaissance rhetoric and the Reformation. Since 2000 she has been a lecturer at the University of York, where her recent research and publications focus on the emergence of oil painting in the fifteenth-century Netherlands. Through comparison between the finely detailed technique of fifteenth-century painting with the large scale and loose brushwork of seventeenth-century painters, she has become interested in how artworks can generate radically different experiences depending on their scale and on the viewer's distance, ideas which might be applied to other fields of knowledge.

Ref: H08P0524