Pictorial implicature

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63 (1):55–66 (2005)
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It is generally recognised that an adequate resemblance-based account of depiction must specify some standard of correctness which explains how a picture’s content differs from the content we would attribute to it purely on the basis of resemblance. For example, an adequate standard should explain why stick figure drawings do not depict emaciated beings with gargantuan heads. Most attempts to specify a standard of correctness appeal to the intentions of the picture’s maker. However, I argue that the most detailed such attempt to date is incomplete. I argue that an adequate standard can be given only if one construes a picture’s content as being pictorially implicated, in a way analogous to that in which Grice explains an utterance’s meaning as being conversationally implicated. I propose a theory of pictorial implicature and use it as the basis for an intention-based standard of correctness. I show how this standard is able to explain both the ways in which the content of pictures differs from the content we would attribute to them solely on the basis of resemblance, and how we are able to apply an intention-based standard of correctness even though we lack any independent knowledge of the intentions of pictures’ makers.

Author's Profile

Catharine Abell
University of Oxford


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