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Sean Kelly, Philosophy, Princeton

Representing the Real: A Merleau-Pontean Account of Art and Experience from the Renaissance to New Media




September 20, 2004; 15 Minutes; Video

The Paragone, or Comparison of the Arts, was one of the great debates of the Renaissance. It pitted the sculptors against the painters in a competition over which was the superior art. The leading question of the Paragone was whether sculpture or painting was better at creating realistic representations. But what exactly is a "realistic" representation? Looking at art from the Renaissance to contemporary New Media, Kelly will trace one thread in the evolution of the artistic understanding of the representation of the real. This evolution, Kelly argues, parallels the evolution of the philosophical understanding of the nature of perception: it begins with the Empiricist account of perception as the projection of an image and builds toward the Merleau-Pontean idea of perception as embodied engagement with the world. The digital images of New Media, which are often thought of as the paradigm of disembodied, theoretical entities, are instead, Kelly argues, the culmination of this evolution toward an embodied understanding of perception and the representation of the real.