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  • A Picture Is a Patchwork of Color Laid Out in a Private Space in Which Lie Flat Imitations of Life
  • David Socher, Independent Scholar

The fish to be fried has an ontological head, an epistemic belly, and an aesthetic tail.1 A picture is a patchwork of color laid out in a private space in which lie flat imitations of life. Such a patchwork constitutes a make-believe visual field. I roll out this suggestion under the following headings: Intention, Form and Content, Ontology, Picture Space, Make-believe, Photography, and Resemblance (see Figure 1).

In Annie and Alfred's house the wallpaper has daisies, the linoleum has pine trees, the carpet has tigers, and the upholstery has sailboats. In Betty and Bill's house the wallpaper is plaid, the linoleum is checkerboard, the carpet is paisley, and the upholstery herringbone. Annie, Alfred, Betty, and Bill all have a few one-dollar bills and a few five-dollar bills. As you of course know, the ones have Washington on them and the fives have Lincoln on them. It goes without saying that these daisies, pine trees, tigers, sailboats, Washingtons, and Lincolns are, in fact, pictures, a word I have not used until now. The absence of that word was not particularly noticeable. That is just the way a daisy is on wallpaper and that is just the way a president is on currency. (The word picture is not the only word to act this way, to drop out in this fashion. Take the word name. When I am on a list it is because my name, or perhaps my number is on the list.) For starters let us bring aboard the term picture to include these daisies, trees, tigers, sailboats, and presidents. And let us note that there are no pictures in Betty's wallpaper, linoleum, carpet, and upholstery.

Some pictures work harder than Annie's daisies. Consider, for example, the use of pictures in pedestrian traffic lights. The pedestrian WALK sign pictures (in plain white light) a walking figure. And the DON"T WALK sign pictures (in flashing red light) an upraised hand enjoining us to stop.2 The first directs us to walk by showing us an example of walking, by picturing a walking person. We do what the figure does. It walks, we walk. In the second picture we sort of make-believe it is the hand of a traffic officer holding [End Page 105] his hand up for us to stop. This picture does not operate by example. We are certainly not expected to hold up our hand; we are expected to stop. With this sign a picture is used to command by picturing a command. In the WALK sign a picture is used to command by picturing compliance. So these are two ways of using a picture to direct our actions—picturing compliance and picturing a command. Here is a third sign—a picture of a cigarette is overlaid with a red X. The sign tells us not to smoke. It does not picture either command or compliance. It pictures, rather, the prohibited thing. This sign has a non-pictorial content, the X. It signals the prohibition.

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Figure 1.

Annie's daisies, sailboats, and presidents are not to be imitated like the walking figure, nor obeyed like the halting hand, nor avoided like the prohibited cigarette. In merely displaying their subject these pictures fulfill their mission (see Table 1).


But what is the subject of a picture? What determines who or what is pictured? The Cracker Jack box features a boy in a sailor suit. Shortly before that [End Page 106] confection went into production, the founder's young grandson died, and the founder put that picture on the box in his memory. Since, whatever the founder had in mind, we do not take the sailor boy on the box to be that grandson, it is not him. Excluding the important special case of photographs we require, as Wolheim put it, intention fulfilled to specify the subject of a picture.3 In this case, even if the founder regarded his memorializing gesture as one of putting his grandson...


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