Through the Flat Canvas: The Motor Meaning of Realistic Paintings

Silvano Zipoli Caiani


It is well known that common objects in the environment can evoke possibilities of action, but what about their bi-dimensional representation? Do pictures or paintings that represent action-related objects evoke the same possibilities of actions of the objects that they represent? In contemporary cognitive science, there are two contrasting views on this issue. On the one hand, the ecological-dispositional approach to perception supports the idea that viewing depicted objects as endowed with the potential for action is nothing but an illusion. On the other hand, recent findings show that our motor system is activated by the perception of both real and depicted action-related objects, and this activation plays a functional role in planning motor acts. A broad analysis reveals that the activation of the motor system during perceptual tasks plays a crucial rule in processing the practical meaning of the concrete objects and of the abstract representations of them. This evidence has consequences to our understanding of the way we experience pictures and paintings.


Perception; Realistic Paintings; motor acts; meaning

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