The art class

Edward Steed cartoon in the May 21st New Yorker:

It’s about point of view (pov), especially as this reflects selective attention, an inclination to focus on certain things in the context over others.

(Side note: a great many of Steed’s characters scowl (even the tree above), and many are grotesque. That’s part of the package.)

The human art students attend to what is human in the material offered as a model for still lifes, the dendral art student attends instead to what is wood in this material. From the three people’s points of view, what’s worth painting is the skull on the stool; from the tree’s point of view, what’s worth painting is the stool the skull is resting on.

From NOAD:

noun point of view: [a] a particular attitude or way of considering a matter: I’m trying to get Matthew to change his point of view. [b] (in fictional writing) the narrator’s position in relation to a story being told: this story is told from a child’s point of view. [c] the position from which something or someone is observed: certain aspects are not visible from a single point of view.

The literature on pov in narrative is huge, and fascinating, and not unreated to the understanding of the cartoon in #1: as a narrator takes — in fact, expresses — a particular pov as to what’s happening in a story and what it signifies, so the observer of a scene takes — actually, imposes — a particular pov as to what’s important in a scene.

But the operative sense of point of view in #1 is primarily [c], and that position-taking comes in two flavors, pov in using language (choosing expressions and interpreting them); and pov in interpreting situations, as in #1 and in the everyday experiencing of situations as either favorable or favorable — a distinction described in English by the metaphorical idiom of glasses half full or half empty (see my 5/16/18 posting “Surreal beer”).

Two postings on pov in language production and perception:

on 5/2/15, “Point of view”: two uses, and understandings, of the deictic adjective left in “the man in the uniform behind the left shoulder [of Barack Obama]” (from Barama’s pov or the observer’s)

on 5/20/18, “Two from Fairbanks”: a Tundra cartoon with hunting safety understood as a Subject compound (by hunters) or as an Object compound (by a moose)

Elsewhere in language:

— phonemic distinctions from the pov of the speaker vs. the hearer, a distinction manifested in the phenomenon of phonemic hearing: speakers who have a phonemic distinction between /a/ in cot and /ɔ/ in caught are (keenly) attuned to, attentive to, the acoustic details that distinguish the two for them, but the many American speakers for whom the phonemes have merged don’t get it at all, so from the pov of cot-caught speakers like me, they seem to be hearing-impaired (the effect is very striking). Different people are hearing with different ears, as it were — except that it’s different brains, well, really, different cognitive organizations, that are on display here.

Phonemic hearing is one manifestation of the general phenomenon of categorial perception, in which our immediate (quick, unreflecting) perceptions of the world around us are powerfully influenced by the cognitive categories we have. One further example…

— in color distinctions from the pov of one language vs. another. If you speak a language in which the categories GREEN and BLUE are distinguished by basic vocabulary (the vocabulary you use for more-or-less instant color naming — including, in English the adjectives green and blue), you will be (keenly) attuned to, attentive to, the visual details that distinguish the two, but the speakers of languages with a single basic vocabulary item in this part of the color space — there are many — won’t get it at all. Different people are seeing with different eyes, as it were — except that it’s different brains, well, really, different cognitive organizations, that are on display here.

This effect could be called basic color category seeing, parallel to phonemic hearing. (Yeah, I know, clunky.)

— proper naming, from the pov of different interested parties. For instance, wars named from the pov of different combatants:

the Vietnam War [as it is known in the U.S.], … known … in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War (Wikipedia link)

and geographical features named from pov of different nations: it’s called the Persian Gulf historically and internationally, but the Arabian Gulf by some Arab governments.

— naming in deictic reference, from the pov of different observers. The border between the U.S. and Canada is referred to by Americans as the Canadian border, but as the U.S. border by Canadians.

Well, as they say, there’s more. Lots more. But this is a sample.


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