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Southwest Philosophy Review



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Not long ago the walls of the world's great art museums were covered with realist portraiture, landscapes, and sacred scenes. That was pretty much the extent of canvas art. During the last hundred years. However, the scope of museum collections has become much more diverse. One can still find a lifelike portrait by Rubens, an idyllic landscape by Constable, or a sublime Christ scene by Raphael. Indeed, there even seems to be a bias towards realist and, what the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty called the "objectivist" prejudice.1 It is as though we expect art to function as a description of the world in which we live. But museums have also become showcases for modern painting, that is, so-called abstract painting. Works of this sort seem to be disengaged from the recognizable features of our everyday world, from the same features that enable us to feel that we belong to this world, and thus seem to resist our objectivist prejudice. 2 In its extreme form, this detachment from the surrounding world appears to be nothing less than an obliteration of the familiar, a disruption in the man-world relationship. References to familiar things are no longer evident. With no clue as to what is represented, such painting exhibits an "infidelity to the familiar."3 But if abstract painting renounces the world of physical appearance as its starting point, our feeling of being at home in that world may give way to the feeling of alienation that is alluded to by Barrett and Gadamer.


This article first appeared in Southwest Philosophy Review.

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