An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art

An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art

An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art

An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art

Synopsis

Richard Eldridge's compact survey of philosophical theories of the nature and significance of art draws on materials from classical and contemporary philosophy as well as literary theory and art criticism. Eldridge explores the representational, expressive, and formal dimensions of art, and argues that works of art present their subject matter as creations of enduring cognitive, moral, and social interest. His accessible study will be of interest to students and anyone interested in the relationship between thought and art.

Excerpt

Against the idea that works of art present a subject matter and the idea that works of art embody pleasing formal arrangements, it can seem important to emphasize that works of art are products of human action— made things, not just either imitations or forms. Without this emphasis artworks can seem either too much like gratuitous reproductions of reality (like mirrors or reflections in ponds) or too much like objects of idle pleasure and amusement (like pretty decorations). When we instead focus on works of art as things that human beings make, then these misemphases can be corrected. Though they do present a subject matter and please through arrangement, works of art are also made in order somehow to communicate something—an attitude, a point of view, or a feeling about a subject matter—that lies in some sense “in” the maker. Audiences typically approach a work with an interest in what it says, that is, with an interest in which attitudes and emotions toward its subject matter on the part of its maker it makes manifest. It is natural therefore to think that artworks are expressive objects and that it is distinctive of artistic representations and formal arrangements—in contrast with scientific treatises and decorations—that they have as a central function the expression of attitudes and emotions toward their subject matter. Only by attending to art as expression can we properly engage with its distinctive kind of significance: the communication of emotion and attitude.

In the 1800 preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth eloquently sketches an expression theory of poetry as a way of establishing its importance in human life, in contrast with decadent and idle entertainment. His principal purpose in his poems, he tells us,

was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of . . .

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