Towards defending a semantic theory of expression in art : revisiting Goodman

Van Der Berg, Servaas (2012-09)

this is a forthcoming article in


Nelson Goodman’s attempt to analyse the expressiveness of artworks in semantic terms has been widely criticised. In this paper I try to show how the use of an adapted version of his concept of exemplification, as proposed by Mark Textor, can help to alleviate the worst problems with his theory of expression. More particularly I argue that the recognition of an intention, which is central to Textor’s account of exemplification, is also fundamental to our understanding of expressiveness in art. Moreover I propose that the recognition of this intention depends on our interpretation of the artwork – an insight Goodman tried to capture with his assertion that our attributions of expressive properties to artworks function metaphorically. The realisation of the context-dependence of our expressive judgements about art and, hence, of the central role interpretation plays in these judgements, I contend, counts in favour of theories of expression like Goodman’s that focus on semantic concerns.

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