ONLINE DOSSIER: ART AS THE FORM OF FEELING (BY SUSANNE LANGER)
Chaplin-Dengerink, A., 2020. The Philosophy Of Susanne Langer. Boomsbury Academic, pp.187–221.
»Art is the objectification of feeling, and the subjectification of nature.« (p.187)
»Cultures begin with the development of personal and social and religious feeling. The great instrument of this development is art.« (p. 187)
»Art education is the education of feeling, and a society that neglects it gives itself up to formless emotion. Bad art is corruption of feeling.« (p. 187)
»Philosophy of art should begin in the studio, not the gallery, auditorium, or library« (p. 187)
Philosophy of art and aesthetics
»Langer’s aesthetics stretches beyond traditional questions of beauty, aesthetic judgement and taste. By addressing more fundamental questions such as sense perception, affective experience and human understanding […].« (p. 188)
»I do believe that in this physical, space-time world of our experience there are things which do not fit the grammatical scheme of expression. … But they are not necessarily blind, inconceivable, mystical affairs; they are simply matters which require to be conceived through some symbolistic schema other than discursive language.« (p. 188)
»[T]hat is what we sometimes call the subjective aspect of experience, the direct feeling of it […]. All such directly felt experiences usually have no names […]. Only the most striking ones have names like ‘anger’, ‘hate’, ‘love’, ‘fear’, and are collectively called ‘emotion’. But we feel many things that never develop into any designable emotion.
Art, so argues Langer, is a non-discursive symbolic form that can capture subtle nuances of human feelings that fall outside the standard garden-variety named emotions such as joy, sadness, anger or fear.« (p. 189)
»Philosophy of art, so Langer argues, should begin ‘in the studio, not the gallery, auditorium or library’. Throughout her life she had always taken a keen interest in the way artists worked and talked about their work […]. She sought to translate the often metaphorical language used by artists into a language that could illuminate and deepen a philosophical understanding of the nature of art.« (p. 189)
»Although she may have been the target of Barnett Newman’s quip that ‘aesthetics is for artists as ornithology is for the birds’, she entirely agreed with its sentiment. Langer’s philosophy of art does not focus primarily on the finished product, the ‘work of art’, but on the creative processes that produce it. Her main interest is the question: how and what does the artist ‘create’?« (p. 189–190)
Music as presentational symbol
»Art is not self-expression or emotional catharsis but a vehicle for meaning. It is a presentational symbol capable of formulating elusive affective experience. It shows what cannot be said.« (p. 190)
»[…] the arts can be true carriers of meaning and are ‘a source of insight, not a plea for sympathy’. […]
It is not usually derived from affects nor intended for them … it is about them.« (p. 191)
Symbols in art and the art symbol
»[…] the art symbol as a whole is literally ineffable. […]
Instead, they are symbolic forms that serve the formulation of elusive and ineffable human experience.« (p. 193)
Symbols and symbolism
»A work of art is a single symbol, not a system of significant elements […].
A work of art is a single, indivisible symbol, although a highly articulate one; it is not, like a discourse […], composite, analyzable into more elementary symbols. […]
The elements in art or music are always ‘newly created’ for the purposes of the whole. Likewise, when apprehending a work of art, ‘the complex whole is seen or anticipated first’ before the viewer pays attention to the individual elements.« (p. 193–194)
Art and intuition
»Intuition [is] a ‘fundamental intellectual activity, which produces logical or semantic understanding’.« (p. 194)
»Artistic intuition, for Langer, is not more mysterious or irrational than logical intuition. Both are ‘incommunicable, yet rational’. The difference between them lies in the kind of form each aims to intuit or ‘abstract’.« (p. 195)
Form and meaning
»‘[Artists], living through the eye, the musical hearing, the bodily senses, see more meaning in artistic wholes, i.e. in things, situations, feelings etc. than they can ever find in propositions.’ They feel, so she wrote, echoing Wittgenstein, ‘the peculiar poverty of the conventional language. The things they appreciate are simply non-discursive symbols’. For Langer, art provides understanding of feelings and insight into lived experience. This phenomenological understanding gives art a cognitive value: ‘Selfknowledge, insight into all phases of life and mind, springs from artistic imagination. That is the cognitive value of the arts.« (p. 217)
Art and cognition
»For Langer, artists not only convey meaning through art, but they also provide knowledge and cognition:
Their knowledge, being intensive, is much harder to communicate than propositional knowledge, especially where it is humanly impossible to express it in words; but it is knowledge none the less, and the process of apperceiving such meanings is the same as that of understanding a sentence.« (p. 217)
»Distinguishing ‘knowledge of things’ from ‘knowledge about them’ […]. By contrast, the second type of knowledge requires some kind of insight into its nature: ‘To know something about an object is to know how it is related to its surroundings, how it is made up, how it functions, etc., in short, to know what sort of thing it is.’ […]
Art … gives form to something that is simply there, as the intuitive organizing functions of sense give form to objects and spaces, color and sound. It gives what Bertrand Russell calls ‘knowledge by acquaintance’ of affective experience, below the level of belief, on the deeper level of insight and attitude. […]
Instead, art is a non-discursive symbolic form that can nevertheless provide knowledge and insight. However, its meaning or ‘import’ cannot be explained in words but can only be shown.« (p. 218)
The cultural importance of art
»All cultures, Langer claims, ‘begin with the development of personal and social and religious feeling [and the] great instrument of this development is art’. […]
Art education is the education of feeling, and a society that neglects it gives itself up to formless emotion. Bad art is corruption of feeling. […]
First, art ‘makes feeling apparent, objectively given so we may reflect on it and understand it’. Second, existing forms as expressed by art may be used as expressions for actual feelings in the same way that ‘language provides forms for sensory experience and factual observation’.« (p. 221)
This chapter about Susanne Langer’s view on art, emotions and meaning is eye opening. She wrote 50 years ago about things I am thinking about and struggling with.
She sees art as showing/symbolizing feelings (not necessarily having them while producing the artwork). And that the artwork as a whole symbolizes the meaning, which therefore can be hard or impossible to put in words. Sometimes language is just not the right form to communicate something (and that is why there is an artwork).
She also emphasizes the importance of the process and at another passage that intuition is a sign of intelligence.