Sean Kelly with son Ben

Sean Kelly

Representing the Real: A Merleau-Pontean Account of Art and Experience from the Renaissance to New Media

Date 9/20/04

Affiliation Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University, Cambridge


The Paragone, or Comparison of the Arts, was one of the great debates of the Renaissance. It pitted the sculptors against the painters in a competition over which was the superior art. The leading question of the Paragone was whether sculpture or painting was better at creating realistic representations. But what exactly is a "realistic" representation? Looking at art from the Renaissance to contemporary New Media, Kelly will trace one thread in the evolution of the artistic understanding of the representation of the real. This evolution, Kelly argues, parallels the evolution of the philosophical understanding of the nature of perception: it begins with the Empiricist account of perception as the projection of an image and builds toward the Merleau-Pontean idea of perception as embodied engagement with the world. The digital images of New Media, which are often thought of as the paradigm of disembodied, theoretical entities, are instead, Kelly argues, the culmination of this evolution toward an embodied understanding of perception and the representation of the real.


Sean Dorrance Kelly is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Neuroscience and Jonathan Edwards Bicentennial Preceptor at Princeton University. His work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supèrieure in Paris, where he is working on a book that is tentatively entitled Wonder in the Face of the World: Philosophy and the Nature of Experience.

-- As of 9/20/04

Updated Bio

Sean Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After several years as a graduate student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he finally received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. He taught in Philosophy and the Humanities at Stanford and in Philosophy and Neuroscience at Princeton before joining the Harvard Faculty in 2006. His work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. This gives him a broad forum: recent work has addressed, for example, the experience of time, the possibility of demonstrating that monkeys have blindsighted experience, and the understanding of the sacred in Homer. He has taught courses on 20th century French and German Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Cognitive Science, Philosophy of Perception, Imagination and Memory, Aesthetics, and Philosophy of Literature.

-- As of 1/4/07

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