Varieties of Pictorial Illusion

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2 Scopus citations


This article focuses on a potentially perplexing aspect of our interactions with pictorial representations (including film, paintings, pictures, drawings, photographs, even video games): in some cases, it seems that visual representations can play tricks on our cognitive faculties. We may either come to believe that objects represented in pictures are real or perhaps perceive them as such. The possibility of widespread pictorial illusions has been oft discussed, and discarded, in the aesthetics literature. I support this stance. However, the nature of the illusion is more complicated than is usually considered. I argue that there are five different types of potential illusions and present reasons for rejecting each. I also explore in detail the most persistent illusion: the “object recognition perceptual illusion thesis,” which states that we undergo a perceptual illusion while viewing pictorial representations simply in virtue of seeing objects in the representation. I contend that a rejection of this thesis depends on the nature of perceptual content, an issue with far-reaching consequences in aesthetics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-278
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Philosophy
  • Music


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