Essays on Art, Aesthetics, and Culture
5. Northern Light and Darkness in Music and Painting, or, the Artistic Expression of Cultural Identity
Art, or, works of art can be expressive in a variety of ways. A work of art can express ideas, the artist’s ideas and ideals, or the ideas and ideals in his or her culture; a work of art can be expressive in the sense of having expressive properties such as sadness, joyfulness or despair, that is, emotional properties, which we literally ascribe to human beings and metaphorically to works of art. A work of art can further be expressive in the sense of being a symptom, unintentionally revealing the artist’s state of mind or disclosing certain personality traits that the artist did not consciously put into the work. Some works of art are regarded as typical of a certain style or of a whole epoch, and are in that sense said to express the “essence” of a style or an epoch. There are, moreover, philosophical theories of art from the Romantic philosophers to Croce and Collingwood in the twentieth century which regard art as a supremely expressive phenomenon, thereby tending to identify the essence of art with expression.
In these examples, works of art (or art as such) are said to be expressive in one sense or another. Is the concept of expression being used in the same sense in all cases, or rather, is there a core meaning of expression in which all the cases partake? At first glance that does not seem to be the case; the concept of expression...
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