Categorie archief: Art & Movie

On Immersion 26: Emotional art and expression, part 1 – Art and Emotion

The subject of Derek Matravers’ study Art and Emotion (1998) is our emotional engagement with art. Art in this sense means not ‘just’ representational art; music and other forms of less representational art are also at stake. Matravers asks two central questions. The first question is the one we saw earlier in the works of Currie and Walton (the paradox of fiction): how can it be that we feel emotions when we are engaged with representations? How do we feel emotions for things that do not happen to ourselves, but merely in a (fictional) work of art? Does it matter that we know the things described not to be real? The second question Matravers poses is how we can ‘recognize’ emotions in works of art and why we describe works of art in terms of emotion (‘this classical piece of music is just so sad!’, ‘this painting is very aggressive’…). Why do we see art as expressions of emotion? In the following posts, these two questions will be taken up. Although these questions are of course subject of fierce debates, Matravers’ theory does give us more insight in understanding the implications of these questions.

Derek Matravers’ Art and Emotion (1998)

Currie, Gregory. Arts and Minds. Oxford: Clarendon, 2004.
Matravers, Dererk. Art and Emotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: on the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.

On Immersion 25: From belief to imagination, part 10 – Some conclusions

Following Walton’s analogy to children’s games of make-believe, we place our (emotional) involvement with representations in the imagination instead of emphasizing on seeing in and seeing as. We can thus counter immediacy or unconscious illusion as a necessary condition for immersion, as our relation to representations takes place within the imagination. By changing belief as the necessary condition for immersion into imagination, we can understand why the willing suspension of disbelief is not sufficient as an explanation of how we deal with representations. Instead of suspending disbelief, we rather bracket our belief in imagination. We do not believe in the fictional propositions offered to us by representations, we ‘merely’ imagine accepting these propositions, making them truths in our imagination. Our relation to representations then becomes one of fictionality and imagination, rather than one of truth and belief.

We use the reality principle and the mutual belief principle to link what is represented to our own experience of reality and to recenter ourselves to be able to fictionally believe what we see, read or hear. Because of this, a representation does not need to be perfect (Murray 1999), strictly mimetic (Ryan 2001) or hermetic (Grau 2003) in order to stimulate immersion, as it stimulates the game of make-believe we play in our imagination. Just as we bracket or embed our belief in fictional propositions in our imagination, we also bracket our emotions towards fictional characters in our imagination. Because of this, it does not matter whether or not a fictional character has really existed. We use empathy to relate to fictional characters. We do not become a fictional character, we feel emotions through imagining how it would feel to be the fictional character, just as we empathize with real people. We imagine fictional characters to be real, and in this imagination, our emotional involvement takes place. This emotional involvement is colored by the extra-propositional properties of a representation, such as style, tone or narrative structures. Our stance towards the fictional world that is built up of fictional propositions is thus influenced by the representation itself. This role of representations accounts for differences in emotional involvement that are not directly related to the contents of representations and their (authorized) games of make-believe.

Although I still question the whole ‘recentering belief and emotions in imagination’-theory (and therefore the notion of ‘quasi-emotion’), in the next posts I will test Walton’s view on our emotional involvement with representations and thus immersion on a presumption underlying his framework: the ever-present ability to distinguish representation from reality.

Grau, Oliver. Virtual Art: from Illusion to Immersion. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2003.
Murray, Janet Horowitz. Hamlet on the Holodeck: the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999.
Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001.
Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: on the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.

On Immersion: An intermezzo – Bert & Ernie (English)

Last week my sister – who like me and many others grew up watching Bert and Ernie – sent me the following video:

Bert & Ernie – Banana phone (

Dutch version:

What a great example of how we deal with representations according to Walton’s theory! (See previous posts like this one.) Perhaps you find an illustration of a complex concept like immersion using a Bert & Ernie video a bit silly, but it perfectly well explains the core of Walton’s theory: when dealing with representations, we play a ‘game of make-believe’. In most cases in our adult life, representations offer us enough guidance to do so: a painting of a house resembles a house so much, that we can pretend to be looking at a real house, in stead of looking at a painting. Bert clearly does not have this luxury: for him it is too hard to pretend to be calling an elephant called Gladys using nothing but a banana.

If Walton was to help Bert, he would probably tell Ernie that a banana is not meant to be a representation of a telephone and therefore should not function as the object of imagination in a particular game of make-believe. In other words: Ernie’s game of make-believe is not motivated by the object and therefore the game is unauthorized. Ernie therefore uses the banana in a way it was not meant to be used, and in that of course the moral of the story comes into play; with a little bit of imagination, you can pretend anything. You don’t need expensive toys or a Wii to do so. Eventually Bert steps over his anxiety and pretends to be chatting away with Gladys; in the end he even exaggerates the game of make-believe.

If you still find this example too silly, you’ll just have to use your imagination – just like Bert – to see some theory in this video…

Dutch version of this post:

Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.

Over immersie: een intermezzo – Bert & Ernie (Dutch)

Vorige week stuurde mijn zusje – net als ik en zovele anderen opgegroeid met Bert en Ernie – me een linkje naar het onderstaande filmpje:

Bert & Ernie – De banaantelefoon (

Engelse versie:

Wat een mooi voorbeeld van hoe wij volgens Walton (zie eerdere posts, zoals deze) met representaties omgaan! Misschien vind je een illustratie van een complex begrip als immersie aan de hand van een Bert & Ernie-filmpje wat flauw, maar het voorbeeld raakt prima de kern van Waltons theorie: in onze omgang met representaties doen we steeds ‘alsof’. Representaties geven daar vaak voldoende handvatten voor; een schilderij van een huis lijkt zó sterk op een huis dat we ons gemakkelijk kunnen inbeelden dat we naar een huis kijken, in plaats van naar een schilderij. Deze luxe heeft Bert in het bovenstaande filmpje overduidelijk niet: de drempel om in een banaan een telefoon te zien en daarmee naar olifant Gerda te bellen is voor hem te hoog.

Als Walton Bert te hulp zou schieten, dan zou hij hem waarschijnlijk zeggen dat de banaan ook niet is bedoeld als representatie en object ter verbeelding van een telefoon. Met andere woorden: de ‘game of make-believe’ die Ernie ermee speelt is niet gemotiveerd (unauthorized). Ernie gebruikt de banaan dan ook op oneigenlijke wijze, en daarin schuilt natuurlijk de moraal van het verhaal: met een beetje fantasie kun je je van alles inbeelden. Daar heb je geen duur speelgoed of Wii voor nodig. Zo kan uiteindelijk ook Bert zich met wat verbeelding voorstellen dat hij met een banaan een olifant spreekt; aan het einde kaatst hij kaatst de bal zelfs terug.

Mocht je het Bert & Ernie-filmpje toch te flauw vinden, dan zul je – net als Bert – wellicht wat meer je best moeten doen om er – met een beetje fantasie – serieuze theorie in te zien…

Engelse versie van deze post:

Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.

On Immersion 24: From belief to imagination, part 9 – Epistemic stance

According to the previous post, Walton’s account of style is rather ‘innocent’: the style of depiction or of writing could influence the vividness of our game of make-believe. But, it can be argued that style (or any extra-propositional feature) can do more than that. It can influence our whole perception of the propositions offered to us. Why do we laugh at a killing when watching Pulp Fiction (Tarantino 1994) and not when watching Von Trier’s Antichrist (2009)? It is clearly not because we adopt the view of the fictional characters. This could be the case with Antichrist, as the protagonist is clearly shocked and disgusted by murdering his wife. We as observers also feel shock and disgust when watching the murdering scene. But when Vincent Vega accidentally shoots Marvin in the face while driving in a car in Pulp Fiction, he does not find this funny.

The ‘I shot Marvin in the face’-scene from Pulp Fiction (1994)

We as observers however laugh at this scene. (At least, I did…) Elaborating Walton’s theory on style, couldn’t it be the case that the style or tone of the movie influences or shapes our epistemic stance towards the world imagined created with the fictional propositions offered by the movie? In Pulp Fiction, this would mean that the music, the over-the-top dialogues and general exaggerated style of the movie influences our attitude or stance towards the world in our game of make-believe. This makes it possible for us to laugh at the scene, while Vincent does not laugh at all. Moreover, Vincent’s reaction, ‘Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face […] You probably went over a bump or something’ is such a mild reaction that it seems to strengthen our detached and ironic attitude towards the movie. The deadpan reaction of Vincent goes against our expectations, as we would expect Vincent to react disgusted or shocked and hence we could identify with his reaction perfectly. But since he does not do so, we acknowledge a gap – and this gap is the ground for humour in a movie like Pulp Fiction.

Where Walton’s account of style is fairly limited in his framework, it can be understood from the previous example that extra-propositional properties of representations such as style can strongly influence our stance towards the fictional truths they generate. In this light, Ryan’s example of Madame Bovary as a realistic novel that almost perfectly stimulates immersion (Ryan 349) is particularly interesting, as it is actually an example of how style can not only contribute to, but also counteract immersion reached when reading. As Flaubert himself argued, he wanted to write a novel not particularly about something, but a novel that consisted of a painterly, picturesque style. He chose a subject, a provincial woman who stood far from him, to account for his detachment from the contents of the novel. We value Madame Bovary particularly for its gracious and painterly style, a style that forms a buffer between our reading and our identification with Emma. Madame Bovary consciously uses its style to prevent us from becoming immersed, while Emma herself becomes the victim of exactly this kind of identification with the sentimental literature she reads.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001.
Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.
Antichrist. Dir. Lars Von Trier. Perf. Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Zentropa Entertainments.
Pulp Fiction. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. By Quentin Tarantino. Prod. Lawrence Bender. Perf. Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman. Miramax, 1994.