J. Robinson

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Robinson. 
My personal comments are in red. 

Robinson's essay has two dimensions: A positive theory, and a set of criticisms of competing views. Let's begin with the criticisms.
BUT REMEMBER: The criticisms are confined to the topic of instrumental music.

Criticisms of the "doggy" theory

The "doggy" theory says that music is expressive of a particular emotion if, like the sad face of a St. Bernard, it appears that way. It might appear that way by sounding like a person sounds, or by having a design that indicates a behavior. Some aspects of expressiveness are cultural conventions. On this account, expressiveness is entirely a "surface phenomenon."

Davies tries to supplement the theory. (1) The sense of PURPOSE that we find in music plays an important role, and (2) sequences can convey complex emotional states, and (3) composers SELECT expressive appearances, and therefore they can be taken to be referring to those emotions.

Problem with Kivy: Flies in the face of Western traditions about music.

Problem with Davies: By putting all the stress on surface phenomenon, there is not basis for saying that any of the three things are the correct way to interpret the music. These interpretations require additional support.


A "persona" can be metaphorically present in music. An artwork EXPRESSES emotion by adopting a persona.

By understanding that we should LOOK for one, we have the resources to get the positive results that makes Davies seeks but cannot justify.

Artists construct persona, which may or may not be themselves. In REPRESENTATIONAL art, this can become very complex. There can be a NARRATOR'S persona as well as the persona of the people represented.

For ROMANTIC art, this is the norm. Historically sensitive audiences will POSTULATE a persona when it's appropriate to do so, and this will guide the expressive interpretation. But we must guided by historical tradition, or we will become subjective in our interpretations.


                        Last updated Jan. 31, 2011 ~ All text 2011 Theodore Gracyk