Rebecca Traynor: SWIP-Analytic Prize Winner Presentation Apr 20

Rebecca Traynor: SWIP-Analytic Prize Winner Presentation Apr 20

Monday, April 20, 2015, 1:00 – 3:00 PM

NYU Philosophy, 5 Washington Place, Room 202

Rebecca Traynor, winner of the SWIP-Analytic 2015 Graduate Student Essay Prize, will present “Accurate Representation is Accurate Distortion” at SWIP-Analytic Monday, April 20, 2015 in room 202 in the NYU Philosophy Department. We encourage attendees to read the winning paper in advance of the presentation. Please email to request a copy.

ABSTRACT: Picasso’s ‘Woman Ironing’ captures the drudgery of ironing in virtue of depicting a woman so grey and emaciated she fails to correspond to the visual appearance of any actual woman. The painting distorts visual appearance in order to accurately represent a feature of the world—drudgery—for which we have no independent sense. I hypothesize that perception can similarly distort but accurately represent the external world. Orthodox accounts of representation split perceiving subjects from perceived objects; they take mental representation to represent the external world as it is in itself such that the former is transparent to the latter. But this means perceptual content is often in error. For example, researchers found that participants standing at the base of a hill while carrying a heavy backpack regularly overestimate steepness (Proffitt, et al. 1995). I argue that exaggerating steepness is accurate insofar as it corresponds to a relational feature of the world—arduousness—for which we have no independent sense. I argue that representational content admits of accurate distortions because accuracy is a matter of capturing relational facts about the world.

I argue artistic and mental representations admit of accurate distortions. However, distortions in artistic representation differ from those in mental representation because they aim at aesthetic goals. This means that the two cases admit of different functions. And it means that instances of artistic distortions are frequently—though not always—a result of conscious deliberation. I propose that when artists distort the external world, the choices they make exploit and thereby highlight cases of accurate distortion in mental representation. I hypothesize that cases of accurate distortion in art are parasitic on cases of accurate distortion in mental representation and that artistic skill is correlated with the ability to manipulate perceptual distortions.