Theory of the Visual Arts

Theory of the Visual Arts
Theory of the Visual Arts

There are competing views on what qualifies photographs, paintings, sculpture, and architecture as visual arts. This entry focuses on theories of vision and their implications for claims about each of these four art forms. There is also debate over whether it is desirable to identify these major categories of art in terms of particular sense modalities.

What is partly at issue is whether vision and visual experience are isolated from other sense modalities. The status of photography, painting, sculpture, and architecture as major art forms is by no means beyond challenge; they, along with their paradigm cases, exhibit considerable variation within and across cultures, and through time.

Photography

Photography, like vision, seems to have an especially intimate connection with the world by virtue of a causal or “mechanical” process that is describable in purely physical terms. Interestingly, this alleged mechanical connection has also been responsible for the lion’s share of skepticism about whether photography is indeed an art. The basic idea is that the appearance of a photograph is, like visual experience itself, dependent in a special way on the presence of the targeted object or scene.

Vitalism

Vitalism
Vitalism

“Vitalism” is primarily a metaphysical doctrine concerning the nature of living organisms, although it has been generalized, by Henri Bergson for example, into a comprehensive metaphysics applicable to all phenomena. We shall examine vitalism only as a theory of life.

There have been three general answers to the question “What distinguishes living from nonliving things?” The first, and currently most fashionable, answer is “A complex pattern of organization in which each element of the pattern is itself a nonliving entity.”

In this view, a living organism, and each of its living parts, is exhaustively composed of inanimate parts; and these parts have no relations except those that are also exhibited in inanimate systems. The second answer is “The presence in living systems of emergent properties, contingent upon the organization of inanimate parts but not reducible to them.”

Francisco de Vitoria

Francisco de Vitoria
Francisco de Vitoria

Francisco de Vitoria, the political and legal philosopher and theologian, was born in Vitoria, capital of the Basque province of Álava, Spain.

While still a boy, he joined the Dominican order in Burgos, and in 1509 or 1510 he was sent to the Collège Saint-Jacques in Paris, where he finished his courses in the humanities and went on to study philosophy and theology.

While a student of theology, he directed an edition of the Secunda Secundae (“Second Part of the Second Part” of the Summa) of St. Thomas Aquinas. The date of his ordination is unknown.

Juan Luis Vives

Juan Luis Vives
Juan Luis Vives

 Juan Luis Vives, the Spanish humanist, was born in Valencia and died in Bruges. Considerably younger than such scholars as Desiderius Erasmus, Guillaume Budé, and John Colet, Vives deserves an honorable place among them for his moral seriousness, sincerity of religious belief, promotion of education, and social concern, as manifested in projects for the promotion of peace and the relief of the poor.

In many of these respects Vives is approached only by his nearer contemporary, Thomas More; his character emerges very favorably from any comparison with the earlier group. His efforts to secure patronage from the nobility did not blind him to the plight of those more needy than he, nor did he engage in the acrimonious personal quarrels that marred the character of some humanists.

Vives was a fine scholar and an excellent writer. After initial schooling in Spain he went to Paris to attend the university. Here he found still active a school of terminist logicians and physicists whose influence extended, so Vives tells us, to all the higher faculties.

Gregory Vlastos

Gregory Vlastos
Gregory Vlastos

Gregory Vlastos led a revival of interest in ancient philosophy and was the first American scholar to deploy the methods of analytic philosophy in this area. Best known for his work on the philosophy of Socrates, he also published widely on Plato and on topics in pre-Socratic philosophy. Before turning to ancient philosophy, he published works in social and political theory, and his writings on justice continue to be influential.

He was born in the Greek community of Istanbul, raised as a Protestant, and educated at Roberts College (an American-sponsored institution of secondary and higher education in Istanbul). He took a bachelor of divinity degree in 1929 from the Chicago Theological Seminary and proceeded to Harvard University, where, after studying philosophy under Raphael Demos and Alfred North Whitehead, he was awarded his PhD in 1931.

In that year he took a position at the Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He served in the Canadian Air Force during World War II. In 1948, he joined the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell.

Volition

Volition
Volition

The action of opening a door by pushing on it is composed of the agent’s action of voluntarily exerting force with his or her arm and hand plus that action’s causing the door to open. Is the voluntary exertion of arm and hand similarly composed of an action producing a result? There is a clear candidate here for the role of result—namely, the limb’s exerting force.

It could have exerted exactly the same force, by means of just the same muscle contractions, without the agent’s voluntarily exerting the force with it. So the exerting of force by the limb is only a part of the whole action.

But does the remainder consist of this part’s being caused by action of the agent? Philosophers disagree on the answer to this question. Section I below offers one way of spelling out an affirmative answer (which is developed more fully in Ginet). Section II briefly sketches some alternative views.

Valhalla

Valhalla
Valhalla

Valhalla was the great hall, or palace, that stood in the Grove of Glesir in Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods. It was presided over by the head god of the Norse pantheon, Odin. The name Valhalla means hall of the slain.

Valhalla was said to be truly enormous, with 540 doors. Each door was large enough for 800 warriors to pass through at once. The walls were made of spears, the benches of breastplates, and the roof of shining shields. The hall held countless warriors, all of whom were former mortals. A wolf guarded Valhalla’s main door, and an eagle flew watch over it.

Valhalla was home to the Norse heroes called the einherjar, who had died bravely and honorably in battle. Those who came to Valhalla were chosen for this honor by the Valkyries, the nine warrior daughters of Odin. Each day, these warriors rode out to take part in military games and mock battles.

François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire

François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire

François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire encapsulates the spirit of the French Enlightenment in both his refusal to develop a philosophical system and his clear concern for social and political issues.

But he is also representative of the eighteenth century in his deep attachment to John Locke’s epistemological thought, his emphasis on the limited nature of human understanding, and his commitment to popularizing philosophy, especially by handling it through the medium of novels and tales in which irony often functions as an ad hominem argument.

It is thus that he fulfilled the role of philosopher and that his philosophy met the needs of his times, times characterized by a break with seventeenth-century dogmatism and an intensification of the critique of the political and religious spheres aiming to bring forth a morality on the human scale, centered on the values of tolerance and respect for others. Those values were soon to bear fruit in the doctrine of the Rights of Man.

Valkyries

Valkyries
Valkyries

The Valkyries were the daughters of Odin, chief god of the Norse pantheon. They escorted the spirits of the bravest slain warriors, the einherjar, to Valhalla, Odin’s great hall. The name Valkyrie means choosers of the slain.

The einherjar were taken to Valhalla to prepare for the final battle, called Ragnarok. This battle would mark the end of the gods and change the fate of everything.

The Valkyries’ names were Brynhild, Göll, Göndul, Gudr, Gunn, Herfjoturr, Hildr, Hladgunnr, Hlokk, Hrist, Sigrdrifa, Sigrún, and Svafa. They were portrayed as beautiful young women armed with helmets and spears, and they rode winged horses.

Voluntarism

Voluntarism
Voluntarism

The term voluntarism (from the Latin voluntas, “will”) applies to any philosophical theory according to which the will is prior to or superior to the intellect or reason. More generally, voluntaristic theories interpret various aspects of experience and nature in the light of the concept of the will, or as it is called in certain older philosophies, passion, appetite, desire, or conatus. Such theories may be psychological, ethical, theological, or metaphysical.

Psychological Voluntarism

Voluntaristic theories of psychology represent men primarily as beings who will certain ends and whose reason and intelligence are subordinate to will. The outstanding classical representatives are Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Arthur Schopenhauer.

Hobbes, for example, thought that all voluntary human behavior is response to desire or aversion, which he brought together under the name “endeavor”; he based his ethical and political theories chiefly on this claim.

Wang Bi

Lencois Maranhenses National Park, Brazil.
Wang Bi

Third-century Chinese philosopher Wang Bi (226–249 CE) achieved fame as an interpreter of the Laozi and the Yijing (Classic of changes), whose radical reformulation of the concept of Dao as nonbeing (wu) helped spark a new current of thought called Xuanxue (Learning of the mysterious), sometimes translated as “neo-Daoism.”

To Wang, Confucius, Laozi, and the other sages of old had discerned the true meaning of Dao as the root of all beings. This was misunderstood, which necessitated a reinterpretation of the classical heritage.

Wang probed the basis of interpretation and argued that words do not fully express meaning. This was a major debate in early medieval Chinese philosophy. Against earlier commentators who reduced meaning to reference, Wang believed that words are necessary but insufficient for understanding and sought to uncover the fundamental ideas that unite the classics. Famously, Wang declared that words must be forgotten before meaning can be understood.

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace
Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace, the English naturalist and coformulator with Charles Darwin of the theory of natural selection, was born at Usk, Monmouthshire. He was largely self-educated, having left school at fourteen to serve as a surveyor’s assistant with his brother. Like many of his contemporaries he acquired an early taste for the study of nature.

But he also read widely and was influenced by the works of Alexander von Humboldt, Thomas Malthus, and Charles Lyell, as Darwin was. In 1844, while teaching school at Leicester, he met the naturalist H. W. Bates (1825–1892), who introduced him to scientific entomology. The two men later embarked on a collecting trip to the Amazon, where Wallace remained for four years examining the tropical flora and fauna.

In 1854, after a brief visit to England,Wallace set out by himself for the Malay Archipelago. He subsequently wrote an account of this trip, The Malay Archipelago (London, 1869),which is a fascinating narrative. When he returned in 1862, he had become a convinced evolutionist and was known in scientific circles for his formulation of the theory of natural selection.

Richard Wahle

Richard Wahle
Richard Wahle

Richard Wahle, the Austrian philosopher and psychologist, was born in Vienna. He was appointed Privatdozent in philosophy at the University of Vienna in 1885. A decade later he was called to a professorship in philosophy at the University of Czernowitz, where he taught until 1917.

From 1919 to 1933 he again lectured at the University of Vienna. Possessed of originality and an unusually lively style, he published a number of books in the fields of psychology, general philosophy, and ethics.

Wahle is known especially for his relentlessly sharp critique of traditional philosophy, particularly of metaphysics, which he regarded as “one of the most dangerous breeding-places of empty phrases.” An absolute, true knowledge, of the sort to which metaphysics aspires, cannot exist.

Vampires

Vampires
Vampires

Vampires are undead beings who feed off the blood and life of the living. They have existed in the folklore of many cultures for thousands of years.

The fear that the dead can return to spread disease or sap the vitality of the living has caused many superstitions and beliefs to spring up concerning how vampires are made, detected, and destroyed. Legends of vampires are most common in Eastern Europe but also occur in China.

Although the vampire in recent fiction is often depicted as lanky, tall, and pale, the most common of the folkloric vampire are bloated and ruddy. In Greece, vampires sometimes are thought to have dark blue or black faces.

Vanishing Hitchhiker

Vanishing Hitchhiker
Vanishing Hitchhiker

The tale of the vanishing hitchhiker may be the most widespread and popular folktale of all. It has been collected by folklorists in, among other countries, the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Malaysia, China, and the Philippines.

The vanishing hitchhiker is the ghost of a victim, usually female, of an automobile accident. The ghost is trying to get home and is picked up by a Good Samaritan. When the Good Samaritan arrives at the ghost’s house, the ghost vanishes.

The bewildered Good Samaritan then learns from the still-grieving family that yes, this was a ghost that had been trying to get home for days, weeks, or years. Some variants add the detail of the ghost being cold, and the Good Samaritan lending her a sweater. When the ghost vanishes, the sweater is left behind, or, in a neat twist, is found draped over her tombstone.

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