Monash University
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Seeing Sight: Illusionism in Visual Culture

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Version 2 2017-12-07, 04:34
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posted on 2017-12-07, 04:34 authored by Anna Daly

A digital exhibition by Anna Daly. Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture

Presented by Monash University Library

October 2017 - February 2018

Caulfield Library

Trompe l’oeil means “trick of the eye”. The term refers to illusionistic paintings produced in Europe in the seventeenth- and eighteenth centuries with these paintings often described as being hyper-realistic. Since the late eighteenth century, trompe l’oeil have offended the sensibilities of artists, designers and writers in a context where, for philosophical, historical, social and aesthetic reasons, there was a movement away from figurative realism in art and design.

This PhD project seeks to examine the distaste for illusionism and demonstrate the ways in which that distaste has allowed the importance of illusionism to modern Western art and design traditions to be obscured. Chiefly, the research has been directed at problematising the way in which trompe l’oeil paintings have been distinguished from art proper by raising questions about the way illusionism is defened. That definition may seem straightforward in a comparison of a seventeenth-century Dutch trompe l’oeil painting with a twentieth-century work of abstract art. However, the idea of what counts as a realistic, and thus, hyper-realistic depiction is historically and culturally contextual: the degree to which any painting could be considered illusionistic beyond the immediate context of its production is diffcult to ascertain. The research also engages with a parallel investigation into how forms not generally considered illusionistic, such as colonial landscapes, portrait photography and wallpaper, might be considered so. The artistic and historical legacies that fostered the emergence and popularity of these forms have ensured that each is illusionistic when we imagine a viewership beyond that envisaged in Renaissance treatises on perspective. This research is not trying to argue that trompe l’oeil paintings are not illusionistic. By attributing the strange effects of these paintings to something more than the detailed renditions of reality they apparently offer it is an attempt, instead, to begin thinking about them in richer and more expansive ways.