Reflections on Art: A Source Book of Writings by Artists, Critics, and Philosophers

By Susanne K. Langer | Go to book overview
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The Paradox of Aesthetic Meaning

LUCIUS GARVIN

THAT WORKS OF ART may possess a meaning is as readily assumed in some quarters as it is vigorously denied in others. There are those who define "art appreciation" as apprehension of the art object's meaning, and in their hands the term "meaning" receives an honorific connotation as referring to that experience the grasping of which is the highest goal of aesthetic aspiration. There are others who look with profoundest suspicion on any attribution of meaning to an art work, on the ground that such attribution does violence to the aesthetic purity and unity of the art experience. In the presence of such sharp divergence of opinion, one is naturally led to suppose that these two groups are employing the term "Meaning" in somewhat different senses. It may be instructive to examine, with a view to determining their legitimacy, some of the senses in which meaning has been predicated of works of art.

The question arises whether, in the case of both of the groups just alluded to, the meaning in question is construed as one of a special aesthetic kind. It may be assumed that such is the clear intention of those who consider the "appreciation" of the art work's meaning to be the unique aesthetic achievement. In the case of the second group, since their position can hardly be to deny that

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