VISUAL spatial resolution is limited by factors ranging from optics to neuronal filters in the visual cortex, but it is not known to what extent it is also limited by the resolving power of attention. To investigate this, we studied adaptation to lines of specific orientation, a process that occurs in primary visual cortex. When a single grating is presented in the periphery of the visual field, human observers are aware of its orientation, but when it is flanked by other similar gratings ('crowding'), its orientation becomes impossible to discern. Nevertheless, we show that orientation-specific adaptation is not affected by crowding, implying that spatial resolution is limited by an attentional filter acting beyond the primary visual cortex. Consistent with this, we find that attentional resolution is greater in the lower than in the upper visual field, whereas there is no corresponding asymmetry in the primary visual cortex. We suggest that the attentional filter acts in one or more higher visual cortical areas to restrict the availability of visual information to conscious awareness.