Cardiff Metropolitan University
Painting and ConsciousnessCLA.pdf (1.06 MB)
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The Conscious Act of Looking at a Painting

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-03-20, 17:13 authored by Robert Pepperell

 This paper considers what happens during the conscious act of looking at a painting. First, two widely held views about the nature of consciousness are introduced: that it’s unified and that it’s essentially rational. I then describe in some detail my experience of looking at a Monet painting, Rouen Cathedral (1892-4), and note that what I experience does not seem consistent with either of these views. In fact what I experience is a multiplicity of conflicting beliefs and thoughts, which are nevertheless co-existent. I conclude that ‘normal waking, rational consciousness’, as described by William James, may be better regarded as multiplicitous and often irrational, although this does not seem to pose any problem for the act of looking itself. Indeed it seems to be the very mark of lived, conscious experience. 


Published in

Consciousness, Literature and the Arts


University of Lincoln


  • VoR (Version of Record)


Pepperell, R. (2009) 'The conscious act of looking at a painting', Consciousness Literature and the Arts, Vol. 10 No. 2.

Electronic ISSN


Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Art and Design

Cardiff Met Authors

Robert Pepperell

Cardiff Met Research Centre/Group


Copyright Holder

  • © The Authors


  • en

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