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Portraiture: Seeing-As and Seeing-In

Hammer, Martin (2019) Portraiture: Seeing-As and Seeing-In. In: Maes, Hans, ed. Portraits and Philosophy. Routledge Research in Aesthetics . Routledge, New York, pp. 239-255. ISBN 978-0-367-18940-2. E-ISBN 978-0-429-19937-0. (doi:10.4324/9780429199370) (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:80361)

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that good portraits ‘capture’ the essence of specific individuals, embedding psychological revelations which are projected by the sitter or discerned by the artist, and then grasped intuitively by viewers. This property distinguishes the genre, it is presumed, from representations of social types. I propose here an alternative view, arguing that, within the processes of conception and making, portraits actually assimilate individuals into wider image ideas, types, conventions, formulae, or clichés. When confronted by images they take to be portraits, spectators by contrast tend to ignore all of that, registering what feels like rewarding insight into the singular identity of a person portrayed (applying skills, such as they are, that we deploy in our everyday ‘reading’ of people). In terminology derived somewhat flirtatiously from Wollheimian aesthetics, I argue that artists see as when they are creating portraits, absorbing individuals into categories, whereas viewers see in, discerning hidden depths that are typically derived, in fact, from prior knowledge or opinion, while wilfully disregarding the schemata through which sitters are presented. The first two sections explore those making and viewing dimensions of portraiture, regarded for this purpose as distinct, while the third probes the inherent tension between them through consideration of David Hockney’s celebrated double-portraits from around 1970, and the repetitive commentary to which they have given rise. The conclusion is that portraits are more complex, and therefore aesthetically interesting, than we commonly imagine.

Item Type: Book section
DOI/Identification number: 10.4324/9780429199370
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
N Visual Arts > N Visual arts (General). For photography, see TR
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
Depositing User: Martin Hammer
Date Deposited: 05 Mar 2020 14:07 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 14:11 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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