Painting and Presence “is a philosophical inquiry into the value of paintings,” writes Anthony Rudd on the opening page of the work’s introduction. More precisely, as the work’s subtitle indicates, Rudd’s stated interest concerns “why they matter to us, or rather why (or whether) they should matter to us” (1). This has been a line of questioning commonly pursued by phenomenology. Of course, as even a cursory glance at its history attests, the tradition of phenomenological philosophy is notable for its self-avowed status as “first philosophy.” Husserl and Heidegger both saw phenomenology this way, as have Michel Henry and Jean-Luc Marion more recently, among others. And it is noteworthy to observe that this conception of itself as an exercise in first philosophy has frequently involved a deep interest in art, especially painting.
Indeed, belief that art can reveal something essential about the world and the human experience is relatively unique (though not entirely exclusive) in the history of philosophy to phenomenology. As Rudd himself notes, “Aesthetics is usually considered a rather marginal and optional part of philosophy generally” (5). And as for philosophy of painting, it often is seen to be “just one corner of aesthetics” (5). By contrast, examples of those within phenomenology who have seen art as fundamental to understanding the world are in no short supply. One thinks here of Merleau-Ponty’s writings on Cézanne or Heidegger’s writings on Van Gogh. Phenomenology being the enterprise it is, why such figures have found art worth considering philosophically is unsurprising. For if, in fact, art shows us something essential about the world that would otherwise remain concealed or inaccessible, no wonder they have given it serious attention. In theorizing about art, the world itself comes into better focus. “Merleau-Ponty,” as Rudd thus says, “was right when he said that ‘Every theory of painting is a metaphysics,’ and I will be arguing that an adequate understanding of the value of painting has implications for our understanding of value in general and its metaphysical foundations” (5). As becomes clear over the course of it, Rudd’s own inquiry into the dimension of painting’s value is thus a “metaphysical” investigation in this respect, insofar as his account of aesthetic value—and the notion of “presence” which proves central to it—entails a robust ontological commitment to the reality of beauty and goodness in the world, or better, the world’s inherent goodness and beauty. Lest the phenomenological tradition’s conviction in the value of art be downplayed as less radical than it is, as either self-evident or common sensical, it should be underscored that, since Plato, a longstanding philosophical tendency has been to look askance at art. Such a critique of the arts, exemplified most famously by sections of Plato’s Republic, suggests that “in fact the arts don’t have positive value … that painting (art generally) does not lead us to the True and the Good, and may take us away from them” (11). In working out the theory of painting and its value, Rudd accordingly aims to meet this Platonic challenge, by drawing upon the collective insights of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Henry, Marion, and others.
Responding to philosophical views skeptical of painting’s value, Rudd’s is an account that, as mentioned, makes ample use of work by philosophers in the phenomenological tradition, particularly Merleau-Ponty. At the same time, the resulting contribution to phenomenological aesthetics is very much singularly his own. At stake in Rudd’s inquiry are two key claims. The first, namely “that painting matters because it is or can be truthful, that—apart from all the many particular reasons why we might value some particular paintings—good paintings in general are of value because they disclose essential aspects of reality” (10), is one which will be recognizably familiar to readers. The second, his more idiosyncratic claim that what “all painting discloses is, in a sense, something sacred and that painting itself, therefore, is a sacred, even a quasi-sacramental act” (12), epitomizes the new ground the study breaks, offering as it does an addition to the phenomenological tradition’s understanding of art deserving to be taken seriously in its own right. In what follows, I shall lay out how Rudd manages to help us see in painting what previous work on the subject matter has hitherto not made visible.
One recurring delight while reading this three-part, ten-chapter study is the welcome discovery that the questions, thoughts, and potential objections occurring to one as the account progresses are anticipated by Rudd. This proves to be the case from the very outset, where in the work’s introduction he opens the study by addressing some methodological and thematic challenges that inevitably beset the attempt to launch an inquiry into the nature of painting and its value. Perhaps the most obvious of these bound to come to mind concerns the status of art as such: What is it? Employing a move that will be familiar to those aware of his previous work on Wittgenstein, here Rudd eschews attempting to define art or stipulating the necessary and sufficient conditions constituting it. Because there are various different forms of art, any universal definition of art will be “so vague and indeterminate that any answers to it will be either so broad as to be unhelpfully vague and indeterminate themselves or else too narrow to avoid numerous counterexamples” (1-2). And yet, although a definition of art eludes us, this is not cause for despair. For we have some grasp of art nevertheless, at least of what a painting is when we see it: “One virtue of concentrating on painting […] is that we do at least have a rough intuitive idea of what a painting is” (2). This Wittgensteinian manner of dissolving the initial apparent problem of defining art (and painting) invites a related challenge. “The current concept of art,” as Rudd observes, “is a fairly recent and specifically Western invention” (2). One thus might object that the conception of art Rudd has in sight is provincial. One might also object that, if so, it will be illegitimate to draw the sort of general metaphysical conclusions regarding the nature of value that his account aims to draw based on its analysis of painting’s particular value.
Rudd himself acknowledges the issue, stating that he intends his account of painting and painting’s value “to apply across different times and across different cultures” (2). To that end, in addition to Eastern Orthodox icon painting, he cites classical Chinese landscapes, and high modernist art of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Europe (3), as traditions and periods that will guide his vision. By turning attention to these different kinds of paintings, what hopefully promises to emerge is “a universal answer to the question why painting matters” which does not “condemn us to relativism” or “make it impossible for us to find genuine cross-cultural and cross-perspectives that we inhabit” (3). Thus, as Rudd puts it, “My project is to see whether a positive, informative, and general answer to the question why paintings matter is possible” (27). And as he notes, although it may not be possible to guarantee in advance that such an answer can be given, neither is there any compelling reason to rule out the possibility in advance.
Having addressed these preliminary matters, Rudd closes the introduction first by specifying his own methodological approach, then by explaining how this method of analyzing paintings is able to illuminate their “presence.” Rudd here observes that an approach centering the aesthetic value of a painting in virtue of its presence opens unto broader questions of value. If, as Rudd says, “one cannot understand why paintings might matter without a broader understanding of why, or in what sense, anything might matter” (5), the value of painting can only be understood within a wider metaphysics of value. By choosing to use the methodological approach he believes is most suited for identifying and preserving the integrity of painting’s value, he thereby is committing himself to views about larger metaphysical questions of value. As for this methodological choice, to illuminate the value particular to painting, to begin with, he emphasizes it is necessary that the approach focus on the actual experience of viewing paintings—that is to say, that the approach be phenomenological. Such an approach, he says, allows for “an inquiry into what it is like, from a first-person point of view, to experience paintings as mattering, as being of value” (6). Taking seriously this disclosed value entails not reducing the aesthetic experience of viewing a painting “as a datum which we might then try to explain in objective causal terms” proper to psychology or sociology. Instead, the phenomenological approach he prefers “sticks with that experience and sties to see what it is about those paintings that becomes apparent to us when we experience them in that way—as mattering” (6). The potential trouble, one might think, is that this first-person experiential approach stands in tension with Rudd’s goal of reaching essential, universal structures about painting and the value of painting. It seems that here there arises “the old philosophical problem of induction—Hume’s problem” (7). But appearances can sometimes be deceiving, and such is the case in this instance, he says. For as he notes, phenomenology does not trade in inductive hypothesis formation or empirical generalizations. Rather, it proceeds by way of an “intuition of essences” (7), what reveals necessary, universal, and essential truth.
At stake is what Rudd throughout the inquiry will term “knowledge by acquaintance,” something delivering a kind of truth that is said to be “non-discursive,” and which accordingly cannot be paraphrased in any non-visual medium. This sort of non-paraphrasable, non-discursive, sensuous, experiential meaning is what is revealed by viewing a painting, and what constitutes the painting’s “presence,” and thus in turn its value or significance. As Rudd explains the terminological choice, “I take up the term ‘presence’ which has been used by various art critics and theorists to indicate a particularly intense or charged way in which we can experience artworks as communicating with us” (11). The presence a (good) painting exhibits is that which grips, fascinates, and enthralls us about it. If what painting shows “goes beyond and is irreducible to any discursive knowledge” (think, for example, of what Cézanne shows us of Mont Sainte-Victoire), then as Rudd explains, an account of painting’s value must also explain “the particular kind of knowledge by acquaintance that painting provides is good to have” (12). Moreover, to vindicate this experience of painting’s value, to show it is not illusory, it will be necessary to give an account of the value of nature. After all, if paintings themselves are said to capture and convey the value of what they depict, for such aesthetic value to be genuine, the world itself must exhibit genuine value as well.
As Rudd says, “An adequate account of the value of painting—and of the aesthetic appreciation of nature—requires us to repudiate the modern picture of a ‘disenchanted’ value-free world” (12). To account for the value of the aesthetic experience of viewing a painting, the value must be connected to a meaningful aesthetic encounter with the very world it represents. Contrary to how the modern scientistic sensibility would have it, the world (or nature) must therefore not be seen as disenchanted, but as inherently meaningful—good and beautiful. To experience nature aesthetically, as he puts it, is to “experience it as being valuable, as having an ontological goodness” (12). Rudd’s inquiry, we see, is to be a purposely metaphysical endeavor, for explaining painting’s aesthetic value will involve clarifying the world’s as well.
An approach such as Rudd’s aiming to account for the value of painting in light of the world’s beauty and goodness would seem to lend itself naturally to a mimetic theory of artistic production and representation. A painting’s truth, beauty, or goodness, so the thought goes, is borrowed from the reality it copies or reproduces. Rudd, who is aware that this thought will have come to the reader’s mind, addresses two objections it faces. In the first place, much of art history “encourages its students to adopt a detached, unemotional stance, to learn about point of technique, historical context, how to decipher symbolism, and so forth” (17). Because Rudd is interested in how the value of painting is manifest in the aesthetic experience of the work, the traditional art historical approach is a challenge to the mimetic theory, since the aspects of the painting that would account for its value will be ignored by such a gaze. The theoretical approach favored by art historians, after all, can often be blind to the very sort of value that Rudd believes makes a painting valuable ultimately—it overlooks the way we respond to works during the aesthetic experience of them, the way paintings matter to us in an “emotionally intense, personal way.” “Scholarly art historians,” as he observes, “often don’t exactly seem to encourage such responses” (18). Yet here, it could be claimed that the art historian has not actually overlooked anything important—for in considering what the value of a painting might be, as Rudd proposes we do, why think that it in fact has any value? As Rudd here notes, this is the heart of Plato’s critique, not only of epic and dramatic poetry, but of mimesis. On this Platonic conception of artistic imitative production, the painter “merely imitates, produces a copy of, a physical thing,” the latter being “itself merely an imitation or copy of its Form.” And for Plato, as we know, the Forms are timeless, immaterial essences, which is to say, they “are objects of thought, not of sense perception” (19). Plato’s Socrates sees painting as trivial, to be sure, yet he doesn’t suggest banning it as he does the poetic works of Homer and the tragedians, which are thought to be corrupting. Still, for Plato, “vivid images, like cleverly chosen phrases, can seduce and mislead” (19). Paintings, then, according to Plato, are not works of truth.
So much the worse for Plato, one might think we ought to conclude. Yet Rudd himself is quick to note that what Plato has claimed about the relationship between truth and the arts (painting specifically) is not of just historical interest. There are two kinds of arguments against art, or against the idea of art having deep value, to be considered. The first could be described as “rational” or “scientific”: from the point of view of the search for truth, art is trivial. In a word, “science is the road to truth; art is merely subjective” (20). Art does not give us knowledge. As for the second argument, it was just alluded to above. Here, the arts are claimed to be trivial, even pernicious: they are “simply a form of entertainment or decoration” (22), or worse, they can “make us delight in bad things and can corrupt their viewers” (20). For someone viewing art through these Platonic eyes, the problem is not so much that art fails to give us knowledge at all, but rather that it gives us bad beliefs.
Further potentially complicating Rudd’s account of painting’s value is the fact that, as he notes, an account such as his underscoring aesthetic experience is bound to invite the accusation of subjectivism. “The properties we appreciate paintings for are, after all,” as he says, “aesthetic properties—that is, they appeal to the sense. But this would seem to restrict their appreciation to beings which have sensory faculties like ours.” “One is tempted,” he continues, “to put the question in these terms: would a painting still be valuable if there was no one who did, or more strongly, no one who even could appreciate it?” (24). The operative word, of course, is “tempted.” For according to Rudd, concluding that the aesthetic value of painting is somehow metaphysically illusory because aesthetic qualities are not “mind-independent” would be, to borrow the famous phrase of John McDowell whom Rudd himself cites in this context, to see things as “sideways-on.” To resist seeing painting “sideways-on,” instead providing a phenomenological explication of it, entails attending to an individual painting in its own right (26). However, whereas a “particularist” philosophical theory might lead to skepticism about unitary accounts of that value as consisting in any one thing, Rudd insists it is necessary to try to understand what the commonality is among good paintings. Whatever it proves to be, the valuable characteristic cannot be on the same level as harmonious formal structure or representational accuracy. Rather, as Rudd says, “it must be present in good paintings of any kind (present in a great degree the greater the painting) and which makes us care about this one’s representational accuracy or that one’s harmonious structure, when we don’t (or don’t care as much) about the representational accuracy or harmonious structure which we may agree exists in more mediocre works” (27). Perhaps the characteristic in question consists in a painting’s goodness, one might think. After all, if Plato had questioned the value of painting by claiming it leads us away from the True and the Good, then the most direct way to answer him, and to identify what valuable paintings have in common, would be to show that paintings can be of benefit by actually leading us towards the True and the Good. Perhaps, then, it might be thought enough simply to “define good art as that which didactically serves a good moral or political cause” (28). However, as Rudd explains, that strategy would be to give up on his own project, which is to understand “why we rightly value many kinds of paintings,” most of which are not explicitly didactic. Thus, if painting is to be valued because it serves the Good, a subtler way of understanding how this is so besides simple didacticism must be found (28).
What, then, of Truth? “Perhaps the simplest way in which one might think of a painting as conveying the truth,” says Rudd, “would be through representational accuracy” (28). Is it the case that we value paintings because they depict things as they really are? Rudd catalogues a number of problems with such an idea: there are excellent paintings which are not representational at all, even among those which do have a recognizable subject matter, the best ones are not necessarily those which represent their subjects in the most literal or accurate fashion, and there are many paintings which are representationally accurate, but which seem to have little or no artistic merit. Hence, literal representational fidelity is neither necessary nor sufficient for a painting to have value. At the same time, Rudd cautions that this does not rule out the idea that we might value paintings for their truthfulness. If we do pursue such a line, however, here as before with painting’s connection to goodness, we must think of truthfulness more subtly, as more than just representational accuracy.
Aware of the fact that by this stage it will not be only Plato whom readers have in mind, Rudd turns to the other obvious historical figure of philosophical importance here, namely Hegel. It is Hegel, after all, whose philosophical theory of aesthetics forthrightly frames the analysis of art in terms of truth. Might a Hegelian (or sophisticated-Marxist) theory of art account for what makes all great art great? The claim would be that great art, which is to say truthful art, discloses deep truths about the society and culture to which it belongs. On such a view, as Rudd explains, “great art doesn’t just manifest the superficial self-image of a culture by showing what it thinks of itself; it makes manifest its social subconscious, its deeper motivations, fears, and tensions” (29). So understood, an artwork is a work of truth, insofar as it is a mode of critique. As Rudd acknowledges, plenty of philosophical work has been done by treating art’s function this way. And yet, no matter how sophisticated and illuminating they prove to be, these philosophical approaches to art reduce paintings to serving as clues to “the zeitgeist or to the mindset of the culture.” The artwork itself is “still being used as a tool of social-scientific research, rather than being valued in itself” (29).
If Platonic and Hegelian views about what the value of painting are said to consist in meet with serious difficulty, here one very naturally might propose that it is Beauty, rather than the Good or the True, to which a painting’s value is connected. Contrary to what Plato’s Socrates maintains, perhaps the beauty of a painting is its own justification, even if it has no connection with either truth or goodness (30). Or, maybe painting need not have any connection with beauty either, but can be celebrated as a pure, autonomous activity, a playful celebration of visual possibility. Some painting, indeed, might be seen as worthwhile precisely because it subverts, ironizes, or undermines those “portentous, suffocating old norms of Goodness, Truth or Beauty” (30). Understood to convey that there is no ultimate Truth, but rather only an indefinite plurality of different possible ways of seeing, art would show “the truth that there is no Truth” (30). Once again, as before with the Hegelian conception of art’s truthfulness, these postmodern conceptions of art are still claiming that art is of value because “it contributes to human flourishing and provides us with philosophically significant insight (30). The value is not taken to be intrinsic to the painting itself.
“I do want to pause,” writes Rudd, “with the suggestion that painting is justified not by conveying truth or promoting moral goodness, but by its beauty” (30). There still seems to be an obvious answer to what makes paintings valuable: “We value (good) paintings because they are beautiful. Isn’t it as simple as that?” (30). One issue with a straightforward mimetic theory of painting’s value, it will be recalled, is that not every good painting is a literalistic representation of what it depicts. A similar problem besets straightforwardly appealing to beauty as an explanation for a painting’s value. “One simple and obvious problem,” as Rudd contends, “is that not all paintings are beautiful and, more to the point, that not all great paintings are beautiful.” Not every great painting’s greatness seems to have to do with it being beautiful (31). In fact, that some great paintings depict horrific or ugly things is why, as Plato had worried, art might be thought to be dangerous and corrupting. Owing to the beauty of their formal properties (“their finely structured composition, or their well-balanced and sumptuous colour” ), there is a bewitching tendency for art to make even the horrific seem pleasing (31), a fact someone such as Iris Murdoch has noted, as Rudd says. Such paintings can seduce us into taking pleasure in what should appall us. This power of theirs underscores the Platonic critique’s pertinence.
Having reached what seems be a conceptual impasse, here as elsewhere, Rudd’s study finds a way to move beyond what had previously appeared to be an intractable difficulty. “A better response to the problem of great but non-beautiful art,” he contends, “is to ask, again, what we mean by ‘beauty’” (32). He states his sympathy for a definition formulated by Paul Crowther: “beauty as ‘that whose visual appearance is found fascinating in its own right.” Beautiful paintings “fascinate us, strike us, draw us in, and do so simply in virtue of the way they look.” This conception of beauty can be compared with the similar, yet distinct, classic one provided by Aquinas, for which the beautiful is understood as “that which ‘pleases’ when seen’” (32). In response to this classical definition of beauty, one might adduce as a counterexample a painting that is not in any way visually striking or interesting, but which nevertheless is artistically good. As for such a possibility, Rudd himself is “happy to deny that there can be any such thing” (32-33). In the last analysis, hence, Rudd concludes it is tempting to hold that what makes a painting good qua painting just is the visually fascinating way it appears (33).
True to form, here he anticipates and addresses the objection such a claim is likely to evoke. Which properties, exactly, are relevant to such beauty? The claim that a painting’s beauty consists in what visually fascinates us about it might be thought to commit Rudd to some version of “aesthetic empiricism,” a position according to which the only features relevant to a painting’s aesthetic evaluation are those which are strictly perceptible. The impression that this must be Rudd’s view is only further encouraged by the fact that by this point in the inquiry, Rudd has insisted more than once that his account of aesthetic value will be phenomenological, and hence one attending to what is disclosed directly on the canvas. Is taking a painting’s subject matter or symbolism into consideration thereby eliminated? A fact to note in response is that, if one attempts to accommodate a painting’s background information—its subject matter, style, symbolism, historical context, and so forth—for the aesthetic appreciation and evaluation, it is hard to maintain a very strict distinction between the purely aesthetic properties of a painting and all the rest (34). Rudd’s own preferred solution to this dilemma, which strikes me as assuming the right balance, is to point out that if such properties do indeed matter for the aesthetic evaluation of a painting, they are relevant only because they help us “appreciate the visually apparent features of the painting for what they are” (34). In the end, the visible is what matters.
However, if nothing else, the Platonic objection is persistent. Even after the considerable conceptual energy Rudd has already expended attempting to answer it, he recognizes it once again threatens to arise here. “To experience something that is visually pleasing or fascinating,” as he notes, “is, of course, pleasing or fascinating, but is this really enough to make it of significant value, to explain why it can matter to us, or why we might think it should matter? (35). “To recall the Platonic Objection,” as he continues, “pornography, political propaganda, and commercial advertising are all intended to fascinate visually. So what distinguishes their visually fascinating qualities from those of good paintings?” (35). A distinction between “narrow” and “broad” senses of beauty (or a “deep” and “shallow” sense) meets the challenge. So understood, beauty is that to which theoria attends; it “is not a self-standing value, independent of truth and goodness,” but instead “the way in which truth and goodness show up to us” (36). Beauty in the “deep” sense is something conveying “significance or meaning, not just providing titillating visual sensations.” This kind of deep beauty is visually fascinating because it reveals to us what is significant (36). Rudd in turn notes that it must be shown in what respect both truth and goodness are connected to painting’s value, inasmuch as beauty is so connected. He claims that to say painting is truthful will be to say that it discloses essential truth—“metaphysical” truth. What’s begun to emerge, it has become clear, is a view of painting’s value committed to something like the Medieval understanding of the transcendentals: “For if truth is good and if beauty can be a form of truth, then beauty is good” (37). What is particularly noteworthy about this is not just that Rudd has managed to make compelling and promising the invocation of what usually is considered an outmoded philosophical way of thinking, but that he has done so by showing how careful reflection paying close attention to the actual aesthetic experience of viewing a painting invites it.
Turning in earnest to the matter of painting’s truthfulness, Rudd begins by iterating how “the Platonic answer to the Platonic challenge” (38) is to observe, as he has already, that the argument for the triviality of painting (that is, the idea it is three steps removed from the truth of the Forms) depends on a crudely mimetic “copy” theory of painting (38). Painting, to the contrary, “involves idealization” (39), an insight which, perhaps surprisingly, has been taken seriously by the subsequent Platonic tradition itself. In the case of someone like Plotinus, for instance, the artist is said not simply to try to imitate the way a particular thing appears, but to portray the thing so as to show it “as expressing the ideal Forms.” At stake in doing so is not bare reproduction of the thing seen, but “the Reality-Principles from which Nature itself derives” (39). This Platonic tradition of which Plotinus is an exemplar regards the sensible world itself as participating in the Forms, such that the artist does not turn away from the natural, sensible world altogether (39). Here Rudd cites Douglas Hedley who contends, “‘Plotinus prioritizes vision over discursive reflection; the immediacy of sight over the mediated.’” To be sure, there is a substantial “aesthetic” element in Plotinus’ philosophy, yet his ultimate goal, admits Rudd, “is an inner contemplative vision to which the sensuous aesthetic vision of an image is merely an analogy.” Still, there is an important lesson to draw. “A Platonist of a less ascetic kind than Plotinus,” as Rudd says, “might reasonably find it intrinsically valuable not only to contemplate the Forms, or the One, or God but also to contemplate the visible world as the expression, emanation, or creation of the Forms, the One or God” (40). This notion is one Rudd himself will develop later in his own fashion, when taking up the way the sacred pertains to painting.
With modernity and the rise of aesthetic theories epitomized by Hegel, the influence of this Platonic art theory declines. The scientific, technological “disenchantment” of nature set in, and as a result, the natural world came no longer to be seen as “a meaningful—and therefore beautiful—order” (41). Rudd says, “Hegel’s ‘official’ doctrine is that the truths that art can present in sensuous form are not the highest truths (or the highest forms of truth) and that truth can now be presented more adequately in conceptual form, so that art ceases to be strictly necessary for us.” Hegel, thus, in a way defends the arts against Plato, insofar as art is said to be capable of expressing truth, but Hegel’s conception of art’s truthfulness ultimately makes art dispensable. Although art today at this point in history can still express truths, Hegel maintains we now have better ways of doing so (43).
Rudd consequently shifts his attention to a contemporary phenomenological account of art’s meaningfulness, one that unlike the Hegelian view attempts to preserve the irreducibility of aesthetic truth. His example is the view of Steven Crowell, who, as Rudd observes, takes certain works of sculpture as an illustration of art’s unique capacity to disclose meaning that would be incommunicable otherwise. A work of “minimalist sculpture—Crowell’s example is Donald Judd’s Untitled (Large Stack) of 1991—can visually present certain Phenomenological insights into the nature of perception” (43). However, Hegel’s original question imposes itself again here: for if art is indeed a mode of truth, is not such truth a poor substitute for conceptual thought? It might seem that Judd’s work only illustrates an account of vision that could be better developed through, say, Husserl’s conceptual description of perception. A different example of art’s capacity to express “deep” truth, which perhaps manages to disclose something about objects a mode of conceptual analysis could not, are the paintings of Italian artist Giorgio Morandi. On Crowell’s view of Morandi, his paintings manage to illuminate the “indifference of mere things,” the existence of everyday objects beyond any use or meaning they may have to us. If such a view of Morandi is correct, then art in fact can convey truth that could not exist apart from its aesthetic medium—hence, Rudd’s “no paraphrase” thesis is met. It does seem plausible to conclude, as Crowell does, that knowledge by acquaintance of sensuous, non-discursive knowledge through painting is possible. A painting can indeed disclose the silent “thingness” of what it depicts.
Here, Rudd hastens to fend off a common misconception. To say painting gives us non-discursive knowledge is not to invoke a notion of pure, non-linguistic experience. According to Rudd, conceptuality remains at play, even if the truth a painting discloses lies beyond linguistic paraphrase or conceptual articulation. For one thing, when seeing a painting, one is always doing so “at least minimally as a painting, maybe as a Rothko or a Raphael, as a Madonna and Christ, or as a classical Chinese mountainous landscape.” Nonetheless, as Rudd stresses, that such experience is linguistically shaped and mediated does not mean it can be reduced to a purely verbal level. One needs the sensuous immediacy of seeing the painting to learn what it discloses (46).
When Rudd then states painting matters because “it doesn’t imitate surface appearances, but intimates deep truths that are available in no other way,” such a formulation, which deliberately evokes associations with Merleau-Ponty, raises the question: which artists, if not Morandi, are exemplars of true greatness, and why they are, whereas other artists are not? For as Rudd notes, in Crowell’s analysis, there is something very specific about the way Morandi paints that gets across to us the “silence” of thinghood, a style or manner that is not universal, but rather quite distinctive. Is Crowell therefore saying that, if painting should convey deep truths, only Morandi (and a few others) has succeeded in using the medium to do so? “If this is so,” that is, if “Morandi does convey a deep philosophical insight, while remaining a minor artist, then the ability of painting to convey deep ontological truth cannot be the sole or even the most important source of its value.” After all, it might be observed that other artists greater than Morandi are important because they convey other deep truths. Is their greatness compared to Morandi due then to the truths they convey being more important than those Morandi does? Rudd is unsure how we would go about assessing such claims (47).
With Merleau-Ponty, Rudd has us consider Cézanne, a painter who has dominated phenomenological discussions of painting. His status as one who discloses the pre-objective being of things, the world as we experience it prior to our adoption of a detached, intellectualizing stance, is unquestioned (47). Were we to take ontological truthfulness as the reason for why art matters, then the more ontologically truthful painter is the greater one. Rudd accordingly asks: does this mean Cézanne was a greater artist than Raphael? To be sure, such a claim does not seem absurd in the way a similar claim about Morandi does. Nonetheless, Rudd observes that we may feel at this level of artistic achievement, it makes little sense to attempt to rank artists by such criteria (48). For if Merleau-Ponty is in fact providing a general account of the essence of painting as the expression of our being-in-the-world, he seems committed to the conclusion that all the great High Renaissance masters, for example, were failures. “This,” Rudd says, “would be the sort of implausibly Procrustean account that I agreed with the particularists in rejecting” (48). On the other hand, if Merleau-Ponty maintains that the Renaissance masters were trying to do “something else, something which we can admire them for doing as much as we can admire Cézanne for doing what he did,” then it appears he has given up on giving a general account of painting and why it matters. That would be to succumb to particularism, whereas Rudd wishes to develop an alternative to both particularism and Procrusteanism (48). Concluding this stretch of the study, Rudd states the dilemma to which one is led, “The worry one has with Merleau-Ponty and Crowell is that they take their metaphysical views (arrived at independently) and use them as a basis for ranking artists. The worry one has with Crowther is that his account of what matters in painting doesn’t correlate with any plausible ranking of the merits of artists” (49). It is necessary to find some third alternative.
What we would like to have is a view on which we are not led to “having either to deny or diminish the value of intuitively great art because it doesn’t seem to align with our philosophical theories or to exaggerate the merits of mediocre work that does express what we think philosophically insightful.” Having failed to find such an account in the offing with Merleau-Ponty, Rudd suggests that Michel Henry offers the makings of one. “One philosopher who suggests a way to do this—although he does himself very explicitly take a particular painter to have reached a higher level of philosophical insight than others—is Michel Henry,” as he says. The artist to whom Rudd alludes is Kandinsky, In Henry’s book on Kandinsky, he argues that all painting is essentially abstract, and hence non-representational. Painting, claims Henry, aims not to copy appearances but to express or evoke the pathos of “Life,” which he takes as ontologically prior to the “World” of scientifically articulated objectivity (49). Rudd, for his own part, is less interested in the specific claims Henry makes for Kandinsky, and more interested in the fact that Henry’s conception of art as the non-representational expression of Life’s pathos suggests “the most plausible form that a solution to this problem should take.” In other words, “what is of value in painting is something that exists in some degree in all painting, but it is taken to a higher level, the better the painting is” (49). Where Rudd contends that Henry errs is in holding that only abstractionism can in full purity exhibit what explains the value of painting in general. A more pluralistic attitude is called for, claims Rudd. This intuition of Rudd’s seems correct. As most readers would probably agree, despite the brilliance and insightfulness of Henry’s account of Kandinksy and abstractionism, we justifiably judge many kinds and styles of painting to have value, and the best instances of them to have great value. As Rudd says, if such value consists in their expressing truth, then the truth at issue must be expressible in many ways—“in Rublev, in Raphael, and in Rothko; in Mondrain as well as Kandinsky; and in the landscapes of Dong Yuan as well as those of Constable” (50). As for the issue of painting’s mattering, here Rudd observes that Henry has made an advance beyond his phenomenological predecessors, including Merleau-Ponty. One major problem Rudd had found with Crowell’s earlier account of why art matters is that it “doesn’t make it clear why the truth he thinks Morandi shows us itself matters. Why, even if paintings do show us truth, does that make them valuable?” (51). Art on such a view risks become an idle amusement or vain distraction. It is far from clear what ultimate value there is in revealing the “silence” of things stripped of their ordinary meaning. “Why,” Rudd asks, “in a meaningless world, would it even be meaningful, of value, to make us aware of that meaninglessness? In such a world, can the truth-revealing nature of art be a reason for valuing it?” (52). Henry, however, can explain why valuing the truth-revealing nature of art since the value of art explained in terms of its expressing the truth of Life. What remains to be done is to work out a phenomenological aesthetics that, rather than confining itself to abstractionism, accommodates the full range of paintings which exhibit truth.
Rudd here invokes Murdoch, whom he previously had mentioned in passing. “A central idea of Murdoch’s explicitly Platonic ethics,” as he says, “is that our ordinary perception of the world is constantly threatened by our tendency to see only what we want to find in it—to project onto it our own fantasies and resentments. A crucial part of the moral life is learning to see things (persons, situations) as they really are.” Murdoch agrees with Plato that bad art “merely reinforces our tendency to fantasize.” However, good art can serve as an example of, and an inspiration to, the truthful and honest vision of things as they really are (54). Such artworks deliver us from the prejudice of “social convention and neurosis,” and “bring us closer to the truth,” thereby performing the moral task of “celebrating reality” (56). Following Murdoch, Rudd claims that good painting provides “an ontological delight or joy in existence that comes from a loving attention to the world” (57). But if painting can indeed illuminate truth and celebrate reality, how is this possible? A comprehensive metaphysics of value is necessary. “We cannot usefully discuss the value of art,” as Rudd says, “without raising larger questions about the nature of value: the discussion of why paintings matter cannot really be treated in isolation from the wider question of why anything matters” (58).
A thoroughgoing development of what presence consists in will aid this effort, because presence is what lies at the heart of the philosophically significant truth painting conveys. Such truth, as Rudd reminds us, arises from knowledge by acquaintance and is non-paraphrasable: the truth revealed in painting is such that nothing we could say of it would be an adequate substitute for seeing it ourselves. The truth of it cannot be fully or adequately articulated verbally (61).To make a start on clarifying the phenomenality of such presence, Rudd analogizes it to interpersonal relations. Of a person with whom we are sufficiently closely acquainted, we often say that we know this someone. The knowing is not a matter of information. It is not a matter of knowing a litany of propositions about the person. And for this reason, there is no substitute “for actually getting to know that person for oneself.” Rudd’s suggestion is that the truths we get to know through acquaintance with paintings are akin to those about other people we can only acquire through personal acquaintance with them. And central to this kind of acquaintance is the notion of presence (61).
The knowledge by acquaintance that is receptive to a painting’s presence is attuned knowledge. It accordingly differs from what Russell originally meant by it in a number of important ways. To begin with, the knowledge received in and from presence is “personal”—two people “can be looking at something equally closely, in equally good light, etc., and be aware of all the same facts about it; and it can still be present to one and not the other.” Furthermore, it is an “emotional knowledge.” To have something be present is to be moved it (69). Clarifying the intimacy characterizing presence, Rudd accordingly appeals to Martin Buber’s famous distinction between the “I-Thou” and the “I-It,” a distinction itself resembling that drawn by Gabriel Marcel, who, as Rudd notes, characterizes intersubjectivity as a “communication with communion” (64). By attending to a painting in such a way that its presence is felt, one in some way enters into a relation with it in a manner analogous to intersubjectivity. We now have an answer to why the phenomenological approach to painting’s value has a leg-up on the dry, detached approach preferred by art historians. If broad and deep beauty is that which fascinates us visually, but such beauty is revealed only in a form of attention sensitive to its presence, then the detached and skeptical attitude, that is, the attitude which distrusts intense first-order emotional responses, will remain blind to such value. This cynical detachment from painting’s (and perhaps anything’s) mattering deeply, as Rudd notes, is one of the pervasive characteristics of contemporary Western culture, an attitude which postmodern theory attempts to lend intellectual justification (67).
Here Rudd highlights his quite different attitude to a painting. “I want to say,” he writes,
“that a good painting is one that has presence, which can be experienced as present in this charged sense, while a mediocre painting lacks it (or has less of it). It may be interesting, attractive, pleasing in a variety of ways, but it doesn’t have that intensity of being that made Elkin’s respondents cry out or burst into tears. And I want to equate presence in this sense with what I have called both ‘broad’ and ‘deep’ beauty. What Crowther called the visual fascination of a painting should be understood as its capacity to draw us into a communion with it, to be present to us” (68).
Taken in the “charged sense,” analogizing such presence to interpersonal relations proves illuminating. For just as the other person always remains mysterious no matter how well known, so too a painting retains a depth of mysterious, of transcendence. Even when “experiencing a deep Marcellian communion with another person,” as Rudd says, “part of the experience is precisely that the other remains mysterious” (75). So too a good painting presents itself as having depths (76).
The fact that a painting exhibits such depths, and that such depths are what we are attuned to in coming to be acquainted with its presence, goes some way to explaining why it is that we appreciate visual representations of things at all. An artistic representation of a thing in the sense that interests Rudd is not a simple depiction of a surface appearance, but a revelation of a thing’s deeper sense, and hence a “re-presentation” of it—a good painting makes present again the essence of the person or thing (78). Borrowing the language of Gadamer, we can say a painting is not just a copy of a being but is “in ontological communion with what is copied’” (80). The most obvious example of an image’s involving the sort of interpersonal communion and presence Rudd has in mind is the religious icon.
He accordingly turns the inquiry’s attention to Eastern Orthodox iconography. Two questions are at stake in doing so: What does it mean to say that religious pictures are in “ontological communion” with their subject matter, and secondly, what would it mean to take them as “exemplary” for painting in general? (81). Consider icons narrowly defined. They are painted images of sacred personages: Christ, Mary, or saints (83). Underlying the iconoclast policy, says Rudd, was a Platonic conviction that images take us away from reality and misrepresent its true nature. To make images of material things is to move further away from the immaterial realm which is truly real (and good) rather than towards it (84). When the iconoclastic prohibition was lifted, it was done so with a distinction between worship and veneration. Although it would be wrong to worship (latreia) an iconographic image, it is proper to venerate (proskynesis) such an image. Depicting a material body so as to show the divine energy and grace emanating from it makes manifest the nature of the material world as divine creation (86). The icon, which is a center from which the divine energies radiate out, reveals the depths of transcendence.
Having already discussed Merleau-Ponty and Henry, Rudd here invokes the work of Marion. For Marion, what is crucial about the icon is that “we don’t just look at it,” as Rudd says, for rather than making it an object for our gaze, we open ourselves to be looked at “by Christ or the saint looking through the icon” (89). The icon’s presence (much like painting generally) conveys a distinctively aesthetic content, yet it has a conceptual structure and content that cannot be made manifest simply by translating conventional visual signs back into language (90). The icon is a paradigm of painting’s presence, says Rudd, because its mode of aesthetic communication reveals a content that is not “paraphrasable,” and involves a dimension of intersubjectivity only possible in the knowledge by acquaintance characteristic of the sensuous experience of the icon (89).
However, one may have doubts about whether the sort of revelation characteristic of religious iconography can serve as a useful paradigm for presence in painting more generally. For unlike the icon which aims to open unto a dimension of transcendence beyond the visible world, what of paintings that depict the perceived world only? Consider Merleau-Ponty’s account of Cézanne. According to Merleau-Ponty, the kind of painting typified by Cézanne reveals the primordial perceived world. But how is such painting not trivial? If Merleau-Ponty’s point is that what a Cézanne shows is what actual experience is like, why then do we need art to get us there? (108). Similarly, what would looking at a Cézanne add to what Merleau-Ponty has not already revealed in his phenomenological explication of experience? As Rudd asks, does Cézanne merely illustrate Merleau-Ponty, or does his art give us another kind of insight altogether? (108). According to Rudd, the “focused, interrogative, imaginative quest” of Cézanne’s vision, one meant to cut through the levels of “social convention and personal neurosis” to see things as they are, does not just take us back to the everyday level of perception, but rather “into the depths of things” (109). Painting “doesn’t copy appearances, but makes present the inner essence of things,” because it is “continuous with ordinary perception, while at the same time going beyond it” (110). As Merleau-Ponty might put it, “painting makes the invisible present—indeed, makes it visible” (111). In this way, a landscape of Cézanne can be likened to a religious icon, for in aiming to let us see what is not seen or cannot be seen, even such apparently secular painting enacts the theological claim that icons make the invisible visible (111). This is what occurs, claims Rudd, when classical Chinese shanshui make manifest a landscape’s Dao, that is, when they “make the invisible energies of nature (Ziran) visibly manifest” (111). Because in the rush of practical life we do not look closely enough at things, “the painter makes us see the world with a new freshness,” by making explicit what in perception we had previously been unaware of.
What makes the foregoing account of painting phenomenological, in large part, is that it highlights the fact that paintings disclose the essence of things. “Recall,” says Rudd, “Merleau-Ponty’s references to the ‘ciphers’ or to the hidden ‘logos’ present in things” (116). A good portrait, like a good landscape, does not simply disclose the general kind or nature that of what it exemplifies, but also “its haeccity—the person or thing’s individual nature, what makes it the distinct particular it is. It is this individual or essential quality of a thing that Gerald Manley Hopkins was trying to get at with his coinage, “inscape,” defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “‘the individual or essential quality of a thing; the uniqueness of an observed object, scene, event, etc.’” (116). Thus, it now is clear why Rudd’s idea that paintings make present not the surface appearances of their subject matter but their underlying essences can be understood according to the disclosive account of painting modelled by the icon. For whether we consider a good portrait, a classical Chinese landscape, or a Cézanne, the painting’s realism consists in the sense of mystery it conveys, for in making present the deep (“invisible”) natures of visible things, it discloses something of the transcendent (125).
How might we classify the theory of painting we have seen developed by Rudd to this point? As Rudd notes, the representational theory of painting is contrasted with the rival theories of expressivism and formalism. Rudd, however, proposes to show in what respect all three elements—disclosure, expression, and form—contribute to the value of a painting. Consider, first, a basic variation of the expressivist thesis, according to which what a painting primarily makes present to the viewer is the artist’s personal feelings and emotions. Rudd’s decision to have taken the icon as a paradigm might appear to run contrary to the expressivist thesis, since the aim of the iconographer, unlike the expressivist painter, is not self-expression. What Rudd emphasizes is that, even in the case of a painting whose subject matter is something other than the artist’s inner emotions—his examples are “a bird, a hare, Mont Sainte-Victoire, the Boulevard Montparnasse”—the painting nevertheless arouses an emotional response on the part of the viewer who is attuned to it (133). This “overall emotional expressiveness” is essential to the function of even representational painting (135). At the same time, expressivism is still on to something important, for in disclosing what it shows to us in the way it does, the painting gives us “a vision of things as filtered through that artist’s unique sensibility” (137). As he explains, “A painting’s disclosure of the world is a function of the painter’s experience of the world and his or her capacity–both technical and more than technical—to express that experience, that world so experienced, and render it visible” (138), which is why the painting, by recording the “dialogue between painter and world” presents a “particular sensibility” that allows us to experience the world in a way we could not otherwise have (138). Paintings, thus, do not so much express personalities as they express sensibilities or styles. Or said otherwise, the essence of the objects depicted in painting reflects the sensibilities of their artist, which is why bad paintings end up expressing “a cheap cynicism or smug nihilism” (139). The takeaway, says Rudd, is that any “sufficiently sophisticated and developed versions of the representational and the expressive theories coincide. You can never represent anything without representing it as it appears to you; nor can you express yourself without expressing how the world appears to you” (141-142).
It remains for the third exclusivist theory of painting to be considered: formalism. If Rudd was able to incorporate the best insights of expressivism into his account, how is that possible here? It might be thought that what matters about representational art is something just very different from what matters about abstract art. Whereas the former concerns itself with making present the objects it depicts and the sensibilities of its creator, the latter contends that paintings simply make themselves present. But even here, “how a work is composed, how the figures are arranged in relation to one another, the juxtaposition and contrasts of colours,” make a difference as to whether a painting is visually fascinating and worth looking at, by engaging us emotionally in a way to which we respond. To claim that the features of representational and expressivist paintings are irrelevant to the aesthetic merits of a supposedly purely formalist work is implausible (142). For even in the case of a deliberate work of abstractionism seeking to make the painting itself present, it does so successfully only by making present something of the essence of its subject matter (that is, color, shape, structure) and of its creator’s sensibility (147). This is reflected in the fact that bad works of abstractionism failing to do so risk deteriorating into mere decorations on the walls of corporate offices and chain hotels (146). In the last analysis, Rudd concludes that the beauty of painting consists not in copying the appearances of things but with evoking their essences, a task which when accomplished draws upon all of painting’s elements, as highlighted by representational, expressivist, and formalist theories.
With an eye finally to drawing broader conclusions about metaphysical value based on his account of the aesthetic value of painting, Rudd admits that the reader may have all along been bothered by a nagging uneasiness over the inquiry’s usage of the notion of essence. Such a term need not be so intimidating or elusive, however. In Rudd’s vernacular, the word “essence” has referred to a thing’s “total meaningful presence,” not to the idea of a “mysterious component” that the word’s association may conjure in the minds of some (162). In the specific sense Rudd intends it, to say persons and things have essences is just to say that they are not “amorphous lumps,” but have their own meaningful coherence and integrity. An essential nature, in this respect, can be thought of as the “meaning” or “sense” of things, a kind of essence which in turn would seem to be capable of being articulated conceptually (165). As Rudd had emphasized previously, such truths are in some sense conceptual. This is not to deny they are nevertheless non-discursive. Their presence cannot fully be captured in any verbal paraphrase, for the knowledge they convey is only accessible aesthetically in an immediate, intuitive encounter. This distinction between the non-conceptual and the non-discursive therefore addresses what may otherwise have posed a problem for Rudd’s account of presence. Using Merleau-Ponty’s language, which terms the rational order as “logos,” can such a “logos” be given a “nonconceptual presentation”? Someone who like Hubert Dreyfus assumes that “mental activity, conceptualizing, and thinking must be explicit, theoretical, and detached, assumes that it cannot exist implicitly within our practical coping activities” (168). However, because Rudd has distinguished between the non-conceptual and the non-discursive, he is able to maintain that this level of primordial perception is indeed presentable in painting despite its conceptuality.
Having revealed quite a bit concerning the sort of truthfulness at stake in painting, it remains to be shown why “it is good to know such truths,” as Rudd says (170). Recall the trouble plaguing Crowell’s account of Morandi’s painting: in the end, it was unclear why the sort of truth those paintings were shown to reveal about objects was something ultimately mattering. Might not a similar point be made in regard to the sort of truth said to be disclosed in painting, according to Rudd? At last, it is time to consider more fully Rudd’s claim of a value-laden world, a world of inherent beauty and goodness. Just as he had insisted that an approach to the value of painting must begin with the experience of such value, so too with the value of the natural world. The proper point of departure, says Rudd, is “the direct aesthetic experience of the natural world” (172). Such experience, he claims, discloses to us an order of value in nature. And according to Rudd, trying to assimilate the appreciation of nature to that of art is not so difficult, for there are genuine and illuminating parallels to be found between them (173). “One clear parallel,” as he notes, “is that natural beauty, like artistic beauty, doesn’t necessarily show itself to any casual glance” (175). To see natural beauty, one must be rightly attuned to what one is seeing. In the aesthetic experience of nature, we learn to be amazed both at the essence of things (what they are) and at their existence (that they are)” (177). This “truth of presence” is about seeing things as they really are, an attention to the real that proves transformative, since this knowledge by acquaintance of nature’s beauty (and truth) discloses more about the world than would otherwise be accessible. “An experienced hiker, or a nature writer, a Thoreau or John Muir or Annie Dillard,” as Rudd explains, “has a ‘truthful vision’ or sees things truly, sees the truth of things” (180). The point about the parallel between the aesthetic appreciation of paintings and the aesthetic appreciation of nature is that neither can replace the other. They are complementary. The beauty common to both art and nature means, as Rudd says,
“That we shouldn’t accept a simple mimetic theory according to which art derives its significance from nature—it’s beautiful simply because it imitates what is beautiful—nor should we accept the opposite theory, according to which it is only through art that nature becomes transformed into something aesthetically significant (the object depicted as only the grit that the pearl forms around). Looking at a Cézanne is not a second-best substitute for looking at Mont Saint-Victoire, nor is the mountain itself, as it were, a prior preliminary sketch for the achieved aesthetic result of the Cézanne. But if there is a priority, it does rest with nature. Art (painting) is a response to, a celebration of, nature. It transforms and adds to natural beauty but remains always dependent on it” (181).
This ontological priority of nature over art returns us to an insight regarding the nature of truth from classical and medieval thought that Rudd had mentioned earlier, namely the thesis that ontological truth is primary. A thing is true to the extent that it embodies its essence by realizing some standard (181). This is the sense of truth at stake when still today we speak of someone being a “true friend,” or when speaking of a specimen of gold’s being “true gold” rather than “fool’s gold.” Truth, in this sense, is something pertaining to the entity or state of affairs itself—it is a matter of something’s being the way it is, rather than a matter of a correspondence between our beliefs and the world. In this fundamental sense, the truth of a thing consists in its very being, that it is primordially good simply in virtue of being at all. As Rudd comments, “To see nature as having this value-laden character is to experience there being the kinds of things that there are and their having the characters they do, their connecting together and interacting in such intricate ways, as occasions, not simply for puzzlement or curiosity but for wonder, awe, and gratitude” (184). Despite “the pervasiveness of suffering and pain in nature itself,” we are not mistaken when we are struck by the realization that it is fundamentally good that some thing—a rock, a cat, a sunset, a mountain—is. This sense of nature’s goodness is the experience of its natural beauty—these are the “transcendentals,” the predicates applicable to whatever is. As Rudd notes, it is a crucial question whether this ontological sense of the goodness of being can connect with goodness in anything like a moral sense (190). What is clear, however, is that aesthetic judgments of value cannot be justified with appeal to purely value-free facts. If the only facts were value-free, as the purely scientistic conception of the world holds, then there could not be any justified evaluative judgments.
Science as we have come to think of it since the seventeenth century, says Rudd, looks at the world in a way that “excludes and sets aside purposes, qualities, values, and indeed mentality and subjectivity” (198). It is an attitude by which the world is seen as lacking inherent value (194). The natural order of the world lacks any normative dimension and has no inherent rightness to it. Nature is not in any sense good, nor does it exist for any purpose or have any meaning. Things are simply brute facts (195). This is a metaphysical conception of the world that many contemporary philosophers assume to be the case. They believe that the idea of a “re-enchantment” of nature is “a nostalgic delusion.” And, as Rudd notes, if they are correct that this indeed is the way things are, then his “whole project collapses” (197). How to respond to such naturalism then? To begin with, it cannot be stressed enough that the experiential sense of nature “as beautiful, as ontologically good, as meaningful, is primary both experientially and epistemically. (196). The notion of a cold, valueless nature is a theoretic construct, not an experiential given (198). One in thrall to the scientific worldview might reply by saying that the models which science creates, and which make no reference to value, prove perfectly adequate explanatorily (198). Here, though, Rudd asks a good question: Adequate to what purposes? The mechanistic, value-free account of inanimate nature is suitable for certain purposes of control and prediction, but it is wholly inadequate, and indeed quite irrelevant, to making sense of nature when we approach it with the purpose of appreciating it or dwelling in it.
If, then, the aesthetic experience of nature contradicts disenchanted naturalism and a fully secular account of beauty fails, should we thus conclude that there is an essentially religious dimension to the aesthetic experience of nature? The notion of nature as sacred in various pantheisms is well-known. So too among the theistic religions. As Rudd points out, even for someone such as Calvin, nature itself is said to make God visible when seen in the right way. That nature is a theophany, in this respect, is to say that beauty reveals God to us, an incredibly striking metaphysical claim that, here nearing his inquiry’s end, Rudd has managed to render credible.
As Rudd has noted frequently throughout his study, a disclosive theory of painting cannot really explain the value of art, unless it can also explain the value of what it discloses. Nearing the study’s very end, Rudd accordingly observes that when good paintings move us deeply, they do so by making manifest or disclosing the essential elements of nature. They, like the nature they depict, are beautiful. It is here that the claim all painting, as such, is religious no longer appears absurd as it may have at the outset of Rudd’s inquiry. For if nature is a sacred order, then all of painting is a disclosure of the sacred. Painting, thus, plays a quasi-sacramental role (214). That painting has an essentially religious significance is, as Rudd notes, recognized even by radical postmodernist critics, if albeit in a backhanded way. When postmodern theorists try to deconstruct the notion of presence (that is, presence in the sense of manifesting to us a meaningful order of value), they do so because in it they ultimately see a religious notion. Because they want to get rid of God, they find it necessary to first get rid of presence (214). Their convoluted conceptual meanderings seek to render uncredible what the philosophical theology of the Middle Ages had once maintained about Beauty, when it was widely regarded as a transcendental which applied in some degree to everything that is (218). This is why acknowledging and preserving presence, both in painting and in nature too, is so important: “for something to make present and to be present (in the charged sense) through its visual appearance is for it to beautiful” (216). To experience the world in this way, to experience it as beautiful, to experience it as good, is to experience it is as sacred, is to recognize and appreciate it as a visible revelation of God’s invisible glory. As Rudd says, this aesthetic vision of reality is to see Beauty how Maritain describes, when he calls it a sort of meta-transcendental—“‘the radiance of all transcendentals united’” (218).
Every so often, we encounter a work validating our wait to find that phenomenology’s meditation on art is not exhausted, that still it has something new to say truly worth saying. When reading it, we feel ourselves to be in the presence of a work that makes the world more beautiful than one without it. Rudd’s Painting and Presence is such a book.
 By “metaphysics,” Merleau-Ponty can be taken to mean what someone like Charles Larmore understands by the term: “Inquiry into the ultimate structure of reality, aiming to tie together all the various dimensions of our experience into a unified conception of the way things basically are and hang together.” See Morality and Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 3.
 See his Expressing the World: Skepticism, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger (Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 2003).
 At this stage of the analysis, Rudd also dedicates substantial space to a discussion of the Hegelian theory of aesthetics developed by Robert Pippin. The problem with Pippin’s account is that, following Hegel, it depreciates the value of natural beauty. The deflation of natural beauty’s importance to aesthetic theory is related to the main problem of Hegelian views, as Rudd sees it, namely that they subordinate the truthfulness at stake in art to what is thought to be some fuller, truer conceptual means of its articulation.
 Rudd touches here on an issue which he will revisit later, that of the role of conceptuality in experience. John McDowell is someone whom Rudd has already mentioned in this regard. For more concerning the debate about the role of concepts in experience, see Mind, Reason, and Being-in-the World: The McDowell-Dreyfus Debate, ed. Joseph K. Schear (London: Routledge, 2013). For reasons that will become clear, Rudd’s own view of perception—including aesthetic perception—is McDowellian.
 As an example of the superficial sensibility characterizing this sort of cynicism and nihilism, consider for example a work such as “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991), in which the artist Damien Hirst placed a tiger shark submerged in formaldehyde in a glass-panel display case. Provocative perhaps, but ultimately shallow.
 A sentiment Rudd underscores later when he says, “I have made clear my own sympathy for a McDowellian pan-conceptualism” (209).
 This conception of ontological truth which Rudd attributes to the tradition of medieval philosophy is a sense of truth most associated today with Heidegger’s thought. See Mark Wrathall, Heidegger and Unconcealment: Truth, Language, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).