In this introduction to part three of the Common Knowledge symposium “Fuzzy Studies: On the Consequence of Blur,” the journal’s editor argues that blur is not a medium of concealment, confusion, or evasion. Making distinctions between kinds of relative unclarity (for instance, haze, wool, and fudge), he reserves the word blur for the kind that results from de-differentiating objects or qualities or states of affairs whose differences have been overstated. To refine what blur is and is not, he compares kinds of unclarity found in images by Giotto, Rubens, Hokusai, Kunitora, Manet, Zeshin, and Richter. With reference to art criticism by Hubert Damisch, Wayne Andersen, Anthony Hughes, Robert Storr, Julian Bell, Christopher Prendergast, and especially T. J. Clark, he agrees that choosing between focus and blur can be a moral decision, though not in the sense for which Clark arraigns the Impressionists. Characterizing the way of seeing that Clark encourages in The Painting of Modern Life as a form of staring, this essay argues that “lean and hungry looking” is indecent, whereas unfocused receptivity is irenic. What Bell calls the “aestheticized halfheartedness” of Manet is redescribed here as a genre of moral heroism, and the essay concludes that it is differentiation (rather than de-differentiation and lack of moral focus) that is on morally shaky ground.

You do not currently have access to this content.