Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

The Meta as an Aesthetic Category

Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

The Meta as an Aesthetic Category

Article excerpt

The meta as an aesthetic category

Bruno Trentini*

Department of Visual Arts, University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris, France


Philosophical logic defined a metalanguage as a language about a language. After that, the word "metapicture" was used by Mitchell to identify a picture about a picture. Once we are not dealing with language, we may think that we are not dealing with signification. However, the word "meta" and its aboutness may assume that a picture has to be interpreted and has a meaning. We think that this is not accurate in order to understand the meta. The present article proposes to define the meta as an aesthetic category and not as a logical one. The analysis takes into account viewers' attention to self-referential works of art so as to propose an embodied aesthetic analysis. We want to show that the experience of meta in art is a reflective experience. A picture is seen as a metapicture relative to the attention that viewers have on it: they can or cannot see it as a metapicture. Obviously, activating the meta quality changes the perception of the picture. One might think that the meta quality is due to paradoxes. In fact, self-reference often leads to paradoxes. We precisely want to show that paradoxes are not a necessary ingredient to induce the meta specific feeling. Why? Probably because the mere work is not reflective; it is not a speech. The reflexivity that is supposed to be in the work is actually the reflexivity of the cognition of spectators projected in the work. Similarly to Kant's definition of the sublime, the structure "meta" lies in the subject, not in the picture. The experience of the metapicture should actually be named as the meta-experience of the picture.


Bruno Trentini holds a PhD in aesthetices and is an associate professor of Philosophy of Art at the Department of Visual Arts of the University Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris, France. He is member of the UMR ACTE (Art Creation, Theory and Aesthetic - CNRS/Paris I). His research aims to describe the cognitive processes involved in aesthetic experience. He is also editor in chief of the revue Proteus, an online French journal on theory of art (

Keywords: reflexivity; embodied aesthetic; meta-cognitive; representation; sublime; attention; paradox

Published: 17 April 2014

*Correspondence to: Bruno Trentini, 28, place Jules Ferry, 92120 Montrouge, Paris, France. Email:

©2014 B. Trentini. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 License (, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.

Citation: Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, Vol. 6, 2014

The main theme of this paper is to approach the meta as an aesthetic category. This kind of approach is unusual because of the close links between meta and logic. The prefix "meta" is polysemic; it could mean "after," as well as "beyond," "with," or "about." Although the origins of the term "metaphysic" are discussed, the term "metalanguage" is clear. It is commonly admitted that a metalanguage is a language applying to a language. Thus, the terms "word," "sentence," or "comma" belong to a metalanguage. We understand that such a language is used in relation with a first language. The richness of the prefix is then clear, and in this framework scholars develop various terms constructed with the prefix understood in a logical way: a meta-thing is a thing about the same thing. Thus, pictures nested in other pictures are called metapictures. The word "metapicture" seems to be used according to its logical meaning in reference to the word "metalanguage. …

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