An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art

By Richard Eldridge | Go to book overview

6
Understanding art

Six strategies for understanding art
Consider the following six very broad strategies for understanding Shakespeare's Hamlet.
1. Hamlet can be seen in light of the conscious preoccupations of a roughly identifiable historical epoch such as Jacobean England, the Renaissance, or early modern Europe. For example, one may see the play as addressing problems of political authority and succession, problems of conscience in the light of the Reformation's resistance to priestly mediation between individuals and God, problems of stagecraft and performance, or some combination of these and other problems. Shakespeare may reasonably be supposed to have known and thought about these problems. To explore Hamlet in this light will mean relating the text to varieties of contemporary documents—for example, political treatises, religious tracts, and instruction manuals for actors—that likewise evidently address such problems. Reading will focus on how the action of the play presents characters confronting these problems. Hamlet is here seen as a consciously formed document that partakes of the spirit of its times.
2. Hamlet can be seen in light of Shakespeare's particular biography. Though location in relation to an epoch may matter here as well, more emphasis will fall on locating the play in the arc of the development of Shakespeare's own œuvre. One will ask: How does this play take up issues of jealousy and trust, or of visionary authority, or of social station that occupied Shakespeare in other plays? How do the plays as a group bear the impress of that particular personality's history of being interested in problems in a distinctive, individual fashion? What is Hamlet's place within this group? Do we have any direct biographical evidence—for example, from journals or letters—that enables us to relate the play to Shakespeare as a distinctive individual agent?
3. Hamlet can be seen in light of its fulfillment of nondeliberated intentions. For example, it is written in early modern English, and it was not

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An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments viii
  • 1 - The Situation and Tasks of the Philosophy of Art 1
  • 2 - Representation, Imitation, and Resemblance 25
  • 3 - Beauty and Form 47
  • 4 - Expression 68
  • 5 - Originality and Imagination 102
  • 6 - Understanding Art 128
  • 7 - Identifying and Evaluating Art 150
  • 8 - Art and Emotion 183
  • 9 - Art and Morality 205
  • 10 - Art and Society: Some Contemporary Practices of Art 231
  • 11 - Epilogue: the Evidence of Things Not Seen 259
  • Bibliography 264
  • Index 277
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