Kendall Walton Symposium


The symposium on Kendall Walton and the aesthetics of photography and film began yesterday and it ended today at the University of Kent. For the record — especially for those who did not attend this important event — the following is a list of the talks:


Murray Smith (University of Kent), “Welcome and Introduction”

Jonathan Friday (University of Kent), “The Experience of Stillness and Motion in Still Photography”

Patrick Maynard (University of Western Ontario), “Hipshooting: Regarding Photography’s Functions and Its Arts”

Gregory Currie (University of Nottingham), “Pictures of King Arthur”


Scott Walden (Nassau Community College/New York University), “Warranted Stills: Disentangling the Epistemic Advantages of Photography”

Tom Wartenberg (Mount Holyoke College), “On the Alleged Ubiquity of Filmic Narrators”

Kendall Walton (University of Michigan), “What (Else) Is Special About Photographs?”

Reading Kendal Walton (2): Transparency


Look at this still from Late Spring (Banshun, 1949). Is it just an image? Or do we see something? Two people walking afar on a beach. Two bicycles in the foreground, partially framed. Do we merely see these elements or do we equally see the scene?

In “Transparent Pictures”, Kendall Walton argues that still and motion pictures are transparent. This means that we see through and by means of them the elements and scenes photographed. They mediate how we see and simultaneously let us see.

We literally see the bicycles, the people, the sea, and the beach. Obviously, these things are not in front of us, they are not tangible. With this idea, Walton is not confusing the picture with what the picture shows — a photo of a bird is evidently not a bird. What he contends is that seeing a picture is like looking at a mirror or gazing using a telescope. We see indirectly, but we see nonetheless. We see through their transparency.


“Reading Kendal Walton”: (1)

Reading Kendal Walton (1): Make-Believe


What kind of emotions do fiction films elicit in us? They seem to be different from everyday emotions. We do not really believe in the content of fictions — for instance, that the alien in Alien3 (1993) actually exists. And we also do not react as if the content is real — for instance, we do not bolt when the monster runs towards the camera. This sounds correct. Then why are we so often caught up while watching a film?

In “Fearing Fictions”, Kendall Walton argues that when we watch a film we participate in a game of make-believe with the fiction world. We do not believe, we make believe in what we see and hear. And it is because we do so that we voluntarily watch films like Alien3 despite our resultant horror, instead of simply avoiding its horrific monster.

Make-believe is fundamentally distinct from, for instance, half-belief or the suspension of belief. The latter presupposes an uncertainty that, according to Walton, is absent from make-believe. The model for this process is the children’s game of make-believe. Both activities follow implied rules that are accepted by the player. Both rely on the participant’s imagination to allow an engagement with what is fictional.

Kendal Walton


Professor Kendall Walton is coming to Kent at the end of this month for a symposium about his writings on photography and film. Until the event, I shall write a series of posts explaining some of his ideas. It is a way of engaging with his influential work and preparing for the two-day conference.

Kendall Walton teaches philosophy at the University of Michigan. His web page succinctly informs us about his research and academic history:

Much of Professor Walton’s work consists in exploring connections between theoretical questions about the arts and issues of philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and philosophy of language. His book Mimesis as Make Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts, develops a theory of make-believe and uses it to understand the nature and varieties of representation in the arts. He has written extensively on pictorial representation, fiction and the emotions, the ontological status of fictional entities, the aesthetics of music, metaphor, and aesthetic value. He has held fellowships from the NEH, the ACLS, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Stanford Humanities Center. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and President of the American Society for Aesthetics.

Noël Carroll at Kent


Professor Noël Carroll (Temple University) is presenting a paper today at the University of Kent titled “The Problem with Movie Stars”. He is one of the most influent philosophers of art working within the analytic tradition. Carroll has had a major influence on my work through his writings on mass art and the moving image. Unfortunately, I am not in Canterbury and shall miss this opportunity. I would call this a problem with space and time.

Philosophy as Art


Listen to philosopher Jonathan Rée talking about the artistic features of the writings of some philosophers for Philosophy Bites.

Ornithology and Birds


The British philosopher Nigel Warburton (Open University) recently resurrected his blog Art and Allusion. It contains interviews and essays that are valuable for anyone interested in aesthetics and philosophy of art. It also has a great epigraph from Barnett Newman. A sentence that we, researchers in this field, should bare in mind and ponder over at all times:

Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds.

Moral Conflicts


Simon Blackburn, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, has been interviewed for Philosophy Bites. You can listen to it here. The philosopher begins by discussing moral relativism and disagreement, and then argues for his own position known as quasi-realist.

Video Games as Art?


It is not something that I am interested in researching, but it is intriguing. I do not play video games and know little about them and yet I think this is far from an irrelevant question. We have to consider the limits — and even the limitations — of the definitions of art to attempt an answer.

Aaron Smuts approaches the most important issues raised by this question in his short article “Video Games and the Philosophy of Art”.

Here are two excerpts:

The most salient feature of the debate is the absence of the most common criticism of mass art — the passivity charge. Given the interactive nature of video games, there is simply no room for the charge of passivity. Video game players are anything but mentally or intellectually passive during typical game play for, as Collingwood might put it, video games are possibly the first concreative, mechanically reproduced form of art: they are mass artworks shaped by audience input. Interactivity marks a crucial distinction between decidedly non-interactive mass art forms such as film, novels, and recorded music and new interactive mass art forms. Sadly, this important distinction has yet to be examined in any satisfactory manner.

[...] Although Kantian aesthetics puts play as one of the central features of aesthetic experience, relatively little has been written on the relationship between art, play, and games. As a result, if we were to consider some video games as art, it is not clear just what kind of art they would be. Perhaps, games are more like performative artworks where the artwork is intended for the performers. However, since philosophical aesthetics has almost ignored the aesthetic experience of artists and the performers of artworks, such a classification would shed little light.

The Invention of Art


Art is an invention of aesthetics, which in turn is an invention of philosophers.

OCTAVIO PAZ, Alternating Current

We Are Permanent Learners


We are by nature observers, and thereby learners. That is our permanent state.