What Makes a Picture Sad? (The Presentation of Absent Emotion)
Regular attendees should note the earlier than usual start time and change of venue - enter St John's by the Kendrew Quad entrance. This seminar is joint with the Richard Wollheim Centenary Project -- see https://wollheimcentenary.org/programme-of-events/. Please register at wollheimcentenary@gmail.com confirming your status as academic (includes students), mental health practitioner, or other (please specify).
Pictures have always fascinated artists, historians, and philosophers. While artists like Vincent van Gogh and art historians like Neil MacGregor might focus on a picture’s content, background, or various interpretations, philosophers tend to ask more general questions. For example, ‘How can a two-dimensional (flat) surface with marks on it represent three-dimensional objects?’ In other words, how do images come into existence? A second related question is: ‘How can a picture, which doesn’t have a mind, convey emotions (which require a mind)?’ Or, more simply, ‘What makes a picture sad?’

In this talk, I’ll introduce the main rival theories that attempt to explain what makes a picture sad, using the shorthand ‘Feelists’ and ‘Lookists’. Feelists believe that a picture is sad if it makes you feel sad. On the other hand, Lookists argue that we can recognize a sad picture without necessarily feeling sad ourselves; for them, what matters is that the picture LOOKS sad. Both are problematic. Feelists get the location of the emotion wrong (in YOU rather than in the picture). Lookists seem to kick the can down the road or back to those working on the first question ‘How do flat surfaces come to look like things we can see face to face?’ So, who should we believe? I’ll explore Feelism and Lookism using Patrice Moor’s moving collection ‘The Presence of Absence’. And I’ll conclude by revealing which one I believe is most credible and how a nuanced understanding of it helps us appreciate aspects of Moor’s work that might otherwise remain inexplicable.
Date: 1 March 2024, 18:00 (Friday, 7th week, Hilary 2024)
Venue: The Kendrew Barn, St John's College
Speaker: Prof Vanessa Brassey (King's College London)
Organiser contact email address: paul.tod@sjc.ox.ac.uk
Part of: Interdisciplinary Seminars in Psychoanalysis
Booking required?: Required
Booking email: wollheimcentenary@gmail.com
Cost: Free
Audience: The workshop is open to university members and mental health professionals. All are welcome but space is limited. If you wish to attend please register at the booking email..
Editor: Paul Tod