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Jones, Amelia, , . Art History / Art Criticism: Performing Meaning
1999, In: Performing the Body / Performing the Text. Ed. Amelia Jones and Andrew Stephenson. New York: Routledge. 39-55.
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Added by: Rossen Ventzislavov, Contributed by:

Summary: Jones’ essay offers a critique of philosophical and art-historical interpretation. Her main contention is that attributions of meaning in philosophical aesthetics and art criticism are traditionally a manner of top-down bestowal – i.e. artworks are rendered intelligible by certain pre-established and often institutionalized conceptual paradigms. In this, the often unstable meanings of art works themselves are not only inadvertently lost but often even intentionally stifled. To rehabilitate such meanings, and destabilize the homogenous discourses that try to contain them, Jones proposes a “feminist phenomenological approach… deeply invested in performing meaning.” What this amounts to is a newfound sensitivity to all aspects of art – the performative, physical, contingent, messy, gendered, theatrical, emotional etc. – that have been systematically marginalized by philosophers and art critics since Kant. There is, according to Jones, an intractable economy of desire that absorbs artistic creation into the cumulative enterprise of human interaction and, instead of sweeping it under the rug for the sake of stability, philosophers and art critics should engage this economy on its own tentative terms.

Comment: Useful in classes on art interpretation. Can inspire great discussions when read together with (parts of) Kant’s Critique of Judgment.

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Sontag, Susan, , . Against Interpretation
2009, Penguin Modern Classics
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Added by: Rossen Ventzislavov, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Summary: Sontag mines the history of philosophical aesthetics and art criticism for the reasons why interpretation has held us under its spell for the last two millennia. One such reason is our insistence on the form/content dichotomy and the vestigial prioritizing of content in the way we talk about art. Another reason is the discursive, and thus political, control that interpretation enables. A third reason is our willingness to sacrifice our unmediated experience of an artwork, and our sensitivity to an artist’s intentions, for the sake of interpretative success. To counter these “reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling” tendencies, Sontag proposes an “erotics of art” – a new emphasis on transparence, which favors description and appreciation over interpretation. This critical ethos does not only change the terms of conceptual engagement; it also opens the gates for creative approaches to art which explicitly challenge vestigial modes of meaning-making and meaning extraction. Even though Sontag does not specifically single any of these approaches out, performance art is arguably the most extreme of the potential candidates.

Comment: This text offers a seminal critique of art interpretation and should be included in any course discussing interpretation and criticism.

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Thomson-Jones, Katherine, , . Inseparable insight: Reconciling cognitivism and formalism in aesthetics
2005, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63 (4):375-384.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Abstract: A thesis that is rarely stated but often assumed in art criticism and aesthetics concerns the inseparability of form and content in art. The thesis of inseparability states that (1) it is impossible to have the same content in two different forms; and (2) it is impossible to have the same form in two different contents. 1 Clearly, the thesis needs elucidation in terms of a plausible account of the distinction between form and content. It also needs to be considered whether the inseparability of form and content motivates a theory of art or, less ambitiously, identifies an important criterion in an account of art. 2 The inseparability thesis is traditionally associated with formalism, which, as a general theory of art, has been widely condemned. Nevertheless, formalism is currently making a comeback in particular philosophies of the arts – notably, philosophy of music and philosophy of film.3 Sophisticated formalism in relation to both music and film allows for the aesthetic relevance of other features of the work besides form while recommending a structural focus for aesthetic appreciation. If the assumption that formalism is no longer relevant to our under- standing of the arts involves a major oversight, then the inseparability thesis cannot be ignored just because of its traditional association with formalism. But even if one persisted in this oversight, it does not warrant ignoring the importance of the inseparability thesis for the thesis bears no necessary relation to any theory of art, including a formalist one. In what follows, I consider whether the inseparability thesis is compatible with aesthetic cognitivism, the view that art is valuable in part because it can give us nontrivial knowledge. Ultimately, I argue that the two are compatible because there are ways of learning from art that depend on the inseparability of form and con- tent. Given the long and tangled history of the debate over the possibility and value of learning from art, it is supremely important to recognize, finally, such compatibility. Against defenders of aesthetic cognitivism, skeptics and critics have regularly resorted to brandishing the inseparability thesis, defiantly claiming that you cannot expect to learn about the world from art if you cannot ‘get to’ a work’s content unaffected by style and medium. Here the assumption is that the kind of aesthetic transformation that grounds the inseparability of form and con- tent precludes either the practicality or the aesthetic significance of looking to art for real-life insight in the form of facts, principles, or new perspectives. If the compatibility I defend is really there, however, we can expect insight through such transformation. As we shall see, art serves as a primary means for gaining insight of a rare and valuable kind. In what follows, I begin by outlining the preliminaries of the contemporary debate between aesthetic cognitivists and aesthetic anti-cognitivists.4 Then I employ three strategies for elucidating the thesis of inseparability: I identify a particular account of form and content as the one invoked by the thesis, I show that the thesis does not motivate a theory of art in order to circumvent standard criticisms against the thesis as a necessary and sufficient condition of art status, and I explore the ways inseparability influences our understanding of representational art. Armed with a proper understanding of inseparability, I then consider its relation to the debate over aesthetic cognitivism. This involves laying out the assumption that inseparability precludes the aesthetic relevance of learning from art. Finally, I challenge this assumption by outlining two kinds of insight that depend on inseparability. The point is not that such insight can only be gained from art but that it is most readily and relevantly gained from art because of the aesthetic value of inseparability.

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Wacker, Jeanne, , . Particular works of art
1960, Mind 69 (274):223-233.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Abstract: CRITICS and philosophers of art often appeal to the idea that works of art are particulars. As Mr. Stuart Hampshire says in a passage representative of this sort of appeal, ” He (the artist) did not set himself to create Beauty, but some particular thing “. But although being a particular is plainly supposed to be an important fact about works of art, the criterion of particularity to be invoked in this connection is not always clear. I do not mean to suggest that the way out of this difficulty in identifying particular works of art is obvious or that there must be some single answer which will be uniformly satisfactory in connection with each, of the arts. In short, it seems to me that although the search for analogous type-token distinctions may bring fewer returns in connection with some arts than with others, it will hardly ever entirely fail to be worth the effort. A stagger- ing amount of work needs to be done, but it does not seem to me unduly sanguine to say that in this direction the prospects for some interesting philosophical generalizations are tolerably good.

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