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Cognitive Style and Perceptual Skill in the Realism of Thomas Eakins

Pragmatism, Cognitive Science, and Art

Peter Schneck


Pages 213 - 234

open-access



During the late nineteenth century, new concepts of experience, cognition, and consciousness were being developed and negotiated in both scientific and artistic discourses and practices. Taking the example of Thomas Eakins, a major but also rather controversial American realist painter, the following essay discusses how concepts of perception, cognition, and experience prevalent at the time—and explicitly those expressed by American pragmatism—became translated into images that present cognitive syntheses rather than mimetic representations of the real. On a more general level, these historical observations will be used to discuss the potential of current approaches that align cognitive science with art in order to point out some obvious and some not so obvious continuities between nineteenth-century thoughts on cognition and experience and contemporary approaches in cognitive science. The focus of the discussion will be on notions like perceptual skill and cognitive style, as well as more recent concepts such as embodied and enacted cognition.

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