Image Irresolution: Between Perception and Percept

By David McDowell.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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In this paper I look to shed fresh light on the perceptual experience of visual art. I begin by considering a special case of such experience: one in which a direct awareness of a degree of perceptual uncertainty (‘image irresolution’) arises through viewing certain works of art. In the 1890s, August Strindberg proclaimed a ‘new arts’ in which resemblances remained shifting but ever available. I emphasise the perceptual dimension to his enthusiasm for the aesthetic value of shifting impressions. I proceed to consider neuroscientific evidence that such perceptual shifting is actually due to the very nature of the structure and processes of the brain’s visual system. This system’s propensity to produce visual ambiguity leads me to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological account of perception, one that explicitly accommodates perception’s inherent indeterminacy. In conclusion, I return to visual art, considering the contemporary example of Gerhard Richter’s body of painting. I do so to indicate how a more indirect ‘image irresolution’ is also possible, one that, in Richter’s case is due to the tension yet cohesion operating between his representational and abstract works. This ‘image irresolution’ might operate more between images than in them individually, however, it, too, quietly promotes perceptual experience as primary aesthetic dimension of the works imbued with it.

Keywords: Visual Perception, Phenomenology of Visual Perception, Neuroscientific Theories of Visual Perception, Image Irresolution, August Strindberg, Maurice Merleau-ponty, Gerhard Richter

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.87-98. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 839.396KB).

David McDowell

Lecturer, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia