Art and Expression 

This is an outline of Carroll, Philosophy of Art, Chapter 2

My personal comments are in red, like this, and you can see that they have a different style of lettering.. They elaborate on Carroll or react to Carroll

The expression theory of art (an attempt to define art)

Representation theories and expression theories agree that art communicates, but they disagree about what is communicated. The expression theory emphasizes emotions, not ideas or thoughts. Advantage: an idea or thought must be about something, but some emotions do not. So artworks that lack denotation can still be art.

Two types of expression theory: arousal and cognitive (non-arousal conveyance)

We will concentrate on Tolstoy's version of the arousal theory.

Full version:

x is a work of art if and only if x is (1) an intended (2) transmission to an audience (3) of the self-same (type identical) (4) individualized (5) feeling state (emotion) (6) that the artist experienced (himself/herself) (7) and clarified (8) by means of lines, shapes, colors, sounds, action, and/or words.

(1) rules out cases where one's ordinary behavior conveys a sympathetic response in others, e.g., your loss of a job makes you behave in a way that makes the observer feel sad. But sympathetic response doesn't make something into art. The action must be intended (performed (?) intentionally) to move an audience.
(2) builds in the assumption that art communicates. Combine #2 with #5 and you have the core of the arousal theory.
(3) puts a restraint on what counts for successful communication (an identity condition).
(4) is an originality requirement; it rules out generic expressions, such as mass-produced greeting cards.
(6) is the experience condition. Add it to condition #3 and we have a sincerity requirement. 
(7) rules out mere venting/letting off steam. It is the clarity condition.  
(8) restricts art to expressions that arise in a publicly-accessible medium, suggesting that some skill must be acquired by artists for exploring public media.

(7) is central to Collingwood's theory, but it only receives a very brief mention in Chapter Fifteen of Tolstoy's What Is Art?, where it seems part of his ideal of universal-accessibility. To actually have Tolstoy's theory, we would replace "and clarified" with "and made universally accessible."

Carroll proposes that expression theories are more comprehensive than representational theories, so expression theories are a step forward in theorizing about art.

Objections to the expression theory 

We could reject condition #2 and have a SOLO expression theory: the artist is not interested in communicating with others, but only wants to clarify her (Emily Dickinson) or his (Franz Kafka) emotions to herself/himself. And we want to allow this "solo" expression to be art.

Response to the solo version: If the artist does not intend to communicate to others, why "fix" the clarification in a publicly-accessible medium? 

In principle, a work of art is capable of transmitting emotion to others. This variation allows "lost" works and practice works to count as art.

Another reason to reject the solo version: If the artist really wants to keep it private, she/he could have developed a private language (an idiolect) that would prevent others from understanding.
Reply: There is no such thing as a private language.

A better reason to reject the solo version: Each artist is her/his first audience. The artist has a dual perspective on the artwork, both as creator and as critic. Otherwise, the artist would not know how to revise, or even stop working on, a work in progress. Therefore each work of art really is intended for an audience, even if only an audience of one.

(Kant's views in section 50 endorse this last position. Without the critical perspective of taste, genius might produce original nonsense. Genius individualizes, but taste "clips its wings" by insisting on clarity and order.)

(Tolstoy's response to the solo version: In Chapter 8 of What is Art?, Tolstoy argues that the more we restrict the audience, the more we trivial the artwork. To try to create "private" art is to treat art as something of limited consequence. "Solo" art is another species of counterfeit art.)

Problems with the experience condition 

Carroll's first challenge to the identity condition:
If the actor playing Iago in Shakespeare's Othello really felt Iago's self-hatred, then the actor would not recall all the words, etc. Therefore it will not often be of the self-same type.

Carroll takes the identity condition to require that the artist feels the emotion at the time of the creation of the artwork. (But many Romantics have a more complex view than this. For example, Wordsworth: "I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility; the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.") A good portrayal of Iago will summon up, from the past, real feelings the actor has felt.

Carroll's second objection to the identity condition: Each art form develops standard formulae or conventions for generating emotions, and an artist can communicate emotions by learning these (Aristotle's Poetics analyzes these for ancient Greek tragedies). Once we have rules in place, we don't need the artist to feel anything.

Carroll's third objection: a "cynic can make a moving artwork." And a lot of art is commissioned, and there is no reason to suppose that every artist carrying out a commission feels the emotions she/he is paid to convey. 

Reply to Carroll's second and third objections: Both Tolstoy and Collingwood are aware that this happens, but both argue that these cases are not genuinely art. They are insincere and fake: like forgeries, they are not really art.

Problems with the experience condition

Carroll finally asks whether an artist must "at some time or other" have had the emotion that is communicated. Carroll thinks not. (Wordsworth's criterion)
Psychopaths can manipulate people despite their lack of feelings. Can't there be psychopath artists?
Tolstoy and Collingwood would answer that a "scam" is not a genuine work of art.)

Problems with the clarity condition. 

Some art is raw and unprocessed. Beat poetry, and punk art. 

Reply: Punk art? Would that be punk music and fashion? Nothing was less spontaneous and more calculated than punk! If a punk band plays a song that was written previously --whether a "cover" version of someone else's song, as when the Sex Pistols covered the Monkees' song "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone," or they perform their own song for the 500th time, as when the Sex Pistols sang "Anarchy in the U.K." at show after show--  it can hardly count as raw and unprocessed. Furthermore, improvising (what the beats did) does not demonstrate a lack of clarification.

A different (and better) attack on the clarity condition: Surrealism and Symbolist art aim at elusive feelings. Clarification is avoided. Aleatoric (chance) art intentionally adopts strategies to eliminate the clarification process.

Problems with the originality/individualized condition 

The histories of Christian or Hindu art show traditions full of very generic emotions. 
(Hindu aesthetics specifically values generic emotions above individualized ones! The more generic, the more the experience leads to a negation of the self.)

THE BOTTOM LINE: does all art express emotion?

No. A lot of recent conceptual art conveys ideas, but no emotions. "It is cognitive, not emotive." Look at Escher, Warhol, etc.
Defenders of expression theory could reply that humans CANNOT HELP BUT express emotions when they communicate. Carroll's reply: The accountant who adds up a column of figures and communicates the results can do so without conveying emotion (the result will be the same if a second person, in a different emotional state, does the same thing).

Some pure/absolute music is beautiful and pleasing, without conveying emotion. The audience feels pleasure, but the music does not express pleasure. It stimulates it.

Do we even need a public medium? 
Couldn't it just be done "in" the artist's head? And then reported on? A lot of conceptual art seems to work this way. The public object reports on the work of art rather than transmits it. (Couldn't we say the same about a music score and a music performance?)

Carroll concludes that none of the necessary conditions are really necessary.  Worse, they are not even sufficient.

The nasty letter/speech examples satisfy all the requirements, but they are not works of art. 
But Carroll does not engage with Tolstoy's response to this point: Carroll is talking about "counterfeit art." For Tolstoy, lack of individuality gives us a counterfeit. Lack of clarity gives us a counterfeit. Lack of sincerity gives us a counterfeit. So generic Christian art is no good. Symbolist art is no good (in fact, Tolstoy goes out of his way to attack Symbolism). Finally, insincere art is no good.

A problem with AROUSAL theory 

What distinguishes expression from mere propaganda? Transmitting an emotion to an audience does not distinguish art from propaganda. To deal with this, Collingwood has a substitute condition for condition 2 as discussed by Carroll. The emotion is not transmitted to the audience. Instead, it is clarified for the audience. Instead of "arousing" the emotion in the audience, the audience becomes aware of their existing emotions.

How is it possible for art to be expressive?

Although some art is not expressive, a lot of art is. However, there are puzzles concerning this. PEOPLE (and some other animals) are expressive in the literal sense of "expressive," having emotional and other mental properties that they reveal to others.

But works of art are physical objects, repeatable structures, and other artifacts.
The challenge: If something has no emotions, it cannot be expressive. So works of art cannot be expressive.

This challenge rests on two central claims: If artworks (and/or their parts) possess expressive properties, they must be capable of possessing mental properties, but these are not the kind of things that can bear mental properties.

Two ways to respond to the challenge:

  1. Deny that artworks literally express anything: they only metaphorically do so.
  2. Fight the challenge directly by attacking the two claims.

Metaphorical Exemplification

This thesis says that artworks (and their parts) literally possess properties which we describe metaphorically with expressive labels. (E.g., when it is slow and in a minor key, we are likely to say that music is sad.)

The notion of exemplification tells us that the artwork possesses, metaphorically, some of the same properties as another thing. We say that it is done metaphorically because it doesn't look as if artworks can possess these properties literally (see the challenge immediately above).

Problem: what system allows us to consistently map our metaphors onto the literal properties? Metaphor approach has no clear answer to this question.

Attacking the reasons to deny literal exemplification

We apply expressive labels to a wide range of representations, both fictional and non-fictional. We label both the characters represented and the representations in which they appear. But we do not do so by attributing these expressive properties to the person who actually created the representation. 

Examples: Fox Mulder is deadpan. The X-Files series is deadpan.

(If I can write a letter that expresses love, why can't I write a fictional one with the same quality? And why can't I create a fictional character who expresses the same mental property? If a real person can express it, both a fictional character and a representation can do so.)

This analysis rests on our ability to distinguish between the mental properties of the author (often called the historical author), the narrative persona (the point of view adopted), and the characters. E.g., Mark Twain (or Samuel Clemens, the historical author) wrote Huck Finn in the voice of Huck (the narrative persona), a fictional character, and in the narrative, the characters of Tom and Jim have display various emotions.

Many things have expressive properties literally, without having mental properties.
The expressive persona of the sad-looking St. Bernard dog is different from the actual feelings of the dog, yet the dog has the expressive property of looking-sad without being sad. Obviously, this is due to the dog's facial configuration. But other configurations might also have a sad look, e.g., a willow tree. A storm can be furious, etc.

We apply the terms anthropomorphically. Is this metaphorical in nature? 
Proposal: metaphors become dead metaphors, at which point they are literal.

Notice that Carroll's claim limits expressive properties to configurations or structures. Is this true?

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