Today, we equate “perspective” with point-of-view. Media pundits blur opinion and fact into a white noise of competing perspectives that—perhaps ironically—obscures more than it reveals. In the fourteenth century, however, the term originated in the realm of optics, specifically a scientific means of enhancing eyesight using technologies, such as the mirror. Visual artists, from painters to architects and photographers, employ perspective to render three-dimensional objects in two-dimensional space. For them, the topic raises questions about landscape, portraiture, and the empowered (and resisting) gaze.
Some of the questions that this theme might provoke include: how has a term that once referred to the strictly visual come to have such wide meanings and applications? how does technology mediate perspective? how do we know when we have lost (or gained) perspective, both as individuals and as a society? Philosophically, far-reaching topics include not only what is seen, but what is not seen, and encompass the study of illusion and surveillance. Historians interested in race, class, and gender consider the past “from below.” In literature and the arts, perspective juxtaposes the often competing viewpoints of the author, the narrator, the interpreter and the receiver.
The 2014 Syracuse Symposium theme “perspective” lends itself to a multitude of meanings and far-reaching fields of study. In effect, its strength and power as a theme lies precisely in the broad potential of those wide-ranging possibilities.