Preparation A3 – Representation (2)

Based on my previous reflections on Representation I researched more and read Mitchell’s argumentation on iconology (Mitchell, 1987) as I find it most relevant in understanding Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

How do we make image of objects? What is representation, what imagination, what illusion? How do we know what is real?

It gave me some better understanding to see where some words originate

Platonic conception / Idea:

  • eidos -> suprasensible reality of forms, types, species -> to see – concept
  • eidolon -> likeness (eikon) or semblance (phantasma) of the eidos, visible image
  • hypericons -> doubled pictures (to depicted a painting), images (imagine an imagination), figures (to figure figuration)

Images in a broad sense can be grouped by graphical, optical, perceptual, mental, and verbal images.

Mitchell presents a model of representation through a matrix of analogies. A palimpsest of images:

  1. real object => reflected, projected, depicted images of it
  2. real object => mental images in mind, as a mirror, camera obscura on a surface
  3. material image => mental image


This approach is quite restrictive as Mitchell was aware of: it is based on a pictorial and visual paradigm, it assumes a certain symmetry and similitude between world and mind, and it affirms the possibility of one point identity between object and image.

Interestingly Wittgenstein considered mental images and physical images as the same category. A conception I can relate to from my art therapy practice.  Neuro-cognitive science detected that the same brain area was triggered when a person sees an object or just imagine this.

Imagination is the faculty of delusion. –

Gilles Deleuze

I therefore extended the analogies visually in my notebook and played with other options of ‘representation’ contradiction above restrictions – whether they makes sense or not:

  • no symmetry between object and mental image
  • no identity between object and mental image
  • no pictorial representation. could be connected with Synaesthesia
  • double images through speech acts (sender-receiver)
  • Object and mental image on same side (no camera obscura effect)
  • No object, illusion, simulacrum
  • No representation
  • Verbal only
  • etc.?
Stefan513593 - Part 3 - Representation matrix extended (Mitchell, 1987)

Fig.1: Stefan513593 – Part 3 – Representation matrix extended (Mitchell, 1987)


Bottomline of those representational analogies is an assumption of an origin or model and a relationship with created images a copies. A dichatomy of visual arts. But what if there is something non-representational? When representation is not at core of images (real or not doesn’t matter)? Here we will move towards simulacrum in a Deleuze or Baudrillard conception.

Summers (2003) compares pictorial representation with philosophical representations, and as Mitchell sees image creation still along the line of real object ⬄ actual  (material) image ⬄ mental image. But he doesn’t see this as resemblance, the mental image may not necessarily be congruent with the actual image (copy of model as by intention for actual image). Mental images can move freely towards non-representational sensations, perceptions, conceptions, fantasies, ideas. Question how semiotics and signs in the broadest sense to play a role. Similar how historical and cultural context impacts those sensations.

The idea that knowledge is related to mental objects and the mind was already articulated by Plato in his conception of psyche, as the entity that represents the world through senses/soul making images. And Aristotle conceived unifying senses as becoming common sense. Through imagination we form an image of the world.


Stefan513593 - Part 3 - Meaning and attribution

Fig.2: Stefan513593 – Part 3 – Meaning and attribution


One important aspect I believe in understanding Plato and the Allegory of the Cave would be the dialectic approach between pictorial and verbal in relationship to representation of reality and between of sensual conception and thought in relationship to knowledge. The ‘battle’ between painting and poetry (paragone) was a key aspect in Lessing’s Laokoon. and already Plato differentiated the senses from thought. This will be a topic for my next preparatory research.

Another aspect I feel might be of importance is experience. This is not so much expresses by Plato, but more by Gilles Deleuze (Plato and the Simulacrum), Susan Sontag (On Photography), Mark Johnson (The Meaning of the Body). Personally, I feel that the body and an embodied experience need to be considered in understanding meaning and knowledge about reality and the world around us.

Further I will look into film and the representation of reality especially in films that are somehow connected with documentary film. Fellow student Stephanie mentioned in one of her blog post an article by Linda Williams Mirror without Memories that I find extremely beneficial for my assignment. More in a following post.

Posts to come in preparation of assignment 3:

  • Plato Politeia (The Republic) and his dualistic philosophy
  • Reality in film, a balance between fiction and manipulation (power)
  • Experience of reality and embodied meaning




  • Mitchell, W. J. T. (1987) Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Summers, D. (2003) ‘Representation’, in: Nelson, R. S. and Shiff, R. (eds.) Critical Terms for Art History University of Chicago Press, pp. 3 – 19.

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