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Philosophy of the Arts


Art Communicates, or Does It?

Art has something to do with communication, as Anthony Savile (2001) argued. Richard Wollheim (2001) objected explicitly against treating art as communication. Yet Savile’s claim seems compatible with certain other arguments in Wollheim’s thought (1988, 1993).

The connection would be this: 1. I can listen to Albert Ayler (the man) even though he is long dead (and see Gerwen 2011 about the audibility of musicians making music). 2. People tend to loose interest in music after the demise of the musicians. (I happen not to (loose interest) with Ayler, but something like this happens regularly—we sometimes get to call the music outdated.) This might be due to the fact that we are no longer interested in imagining this (now deceased) musician making music! 3. This is compatible with a central argument in Wollheim’s thought: that the appreciation of works of art presupposes that we treat them as realising intentions of human beings (artists).

Wollheim’s argument against treating art as communication is based in the thought that for something to count as communicating this presupposes that one person knowingly addresses another actual person. I consider this a legitimate point, but it is in a different league.

So, though in many cases a work of art does not count as a communication between one person (the artist) and another (me), sometimes a work carries so much artistically relevant evidence of its maker (individual style) that it can be thought of as successfully bringing the musician to the mind of the listener, the painter to the mind of the viewer, and so on.

— Savile, Anthony. 2001. “Communication and the Art of Painting.” In Richard Wollheim on the Art of Painting. Art as Representation and Expression, edited by Rob van Gerwen, 96–110. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

— van Gerwen, Rob. 2011. “Hearing Musicians Making Music. A Critique of Roger Scruton’s notion of “Acousmatic Experience”.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. (In Press).

— Wollheim, Richard. 1988. Painting as an Art. Princeton / London: Princeton University Press / Thames and Hudson.

____________. 1993. “Pictorial Style: Two Views.” In The Mind and its Depths, 171–184. Cambridge (Mass.), London (England): Harvard University Press.

____________. 2001. “A Reply to the Contributors.” In Richard Wollheim on the Art of Painting. Art as Representation and Expression, edited by Rob van Gerwen, 241–263. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.