Art and Representation: New Principles in the Analysis of Pictures
- Publish Date: 1997-04-14
- Binding: Hardcover
- Author: John Willats
In Art and Representation, John Willats presents a radically new theory of pictures. To do this, he has developed a precise vocabulary for describing the representational systems in pictures: the ways in which artists, engineers, photographers, mapmakers, and children represent objects. His approach is derived from recent research in visual perception and artificial intelligence, and Willats begins by clarifying the key distinction between the marks in a picture and the features of the scene that these marks represent. The methods he uses are thus closer to those of a modern structural linguist or psycholinguist than to those of an art historian. Using over 150 illustrations, Willats analyzes the representational systems in pictures by artists from a wide variety of periods and cultures. He then relates these systems to the mental processes of picture production, and, displaying an impressive grasp of more than one scholarly discipline, shows how the Greek vase painters, Chinese painters, Giotto, icon painters, Picasso, Paul Klee, and David Hockney have put these systems to work.
But this book is not only about what systems artists use but also about why artists from different periods and cultures have used such different systems, and why drawings by young children look so different from those by adults. Willats argues that the representational systems can serve many different functions beyond that of merely providing a convincing illusion. These include the use of anomalous pictorial devices such as inverted perspective, which may be used for expressive reasons or to distance the viewer from the depicted scene by drawing attention to the picture as a painted surface. Willats concludes that art historical changes, and the developmental changes in children's drawings, are not merely arbitrary, nor are they driven by evolutionary forces. Rather, they are determined by the different functions that the representational systems in pictures can serve.
Like readers of Ernst Gombrich's famous Art and Illusion (still available from Princeton University Press), on which Art and Representation makes important theoretical advances, or Rudolf Arnheim's Art and Visual Perception, Willats's readers will find that they will never again return to their old ways of looking at pictures.