Philosophers, artists, and scholars have long recognized a kinship between the verbal and visual arts, but what, exactly, unites our experience of them has remained difficult to answer. This article demonstrates how techniques in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the DUrbervilles and Edgar Degas’s 1873 Dance Class enable audiences to experience a form of social connection unavailable to them in everyday life. Drawing on perspectives from sociolinguistics, discourse comprehension, and empirical aesthetics, the author shows how the cumulative experience of grasping what a literary text or painting does not fully represent can carry a metamessage of unspoken intimacy.

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