Depiction and plastic perception. a critique of Husserl's theory of picture consciousness

Christian Lotz

pp. 171-185

In this paper, I will present an argument against Husserl's analysis of picture consciousness. Husserl's analysis of picture consciousness (as it can be found primarily in the recently translated volume Husserliana 23) moves from a theory of depiction in general to a theory of perceptual imagination. Though, I think that Husserl's thesis that picture consciousness is different from depictive and linguistic consciousness is legitimate, and that Husserl's phenomenology avoids the errors of linguistic theories, such as Goodman's, I submit that his overall theory is unacceptable, especially when it is applied to works of art. Regarding art, the main problem of Husserl's theory is the assumption that pictures are constituted primarily as a conflict between perception/physical picture thing and imagination/picture object. Against this mentalist claim, I maintain, from a hermeneutic point of view, that pictures are the result of perceptual formations [Bildungen]. I then claim that Husserl's theory fails, since it does not take into account what I call "plastic perception" [Bildliches Sehen], which plays a prominent role not only within the German tradition of art education but also within German art itself. In this connection, "plastic thinking" [Bildliches Denken] was prominent especially in Klee, in Kandinsky, and in Beuys, as well as in the overall doctrine of the Bauhaus. Ultimately, I argue that Husserl's notion of picture consciousness and general perceptive imaginary consciousness must be replaced with a more dynamic model of the perception of pictures and art work that takes into account (a) the constructive and plastic moment, (b) the social dimension and (c) the genetic dimension of what it means to see something in something (Wollheim).

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-007-9049-2

Full citation:

Lotz, C. (2007). Depiction and plastic perception. a critique of Husserl's theory of picture consciousness. Continental Philosophy Review 40 (2), pp. 171-185.

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