Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.
Terms of Art #9:
Definition: There are two ways that this word is used in aesthetics and philosophy of art contexts.
(1) personal (about the person): a person expresses something in making some artwork or other object
A romanticized picture: The tortured artist feels a profound emotion that is cooped up inside them but then just has to explode out of them via their art. Less romanticized: An artist/creator feels something (an emotion, mood, or concrete thought), and that is put into their art/creation. Maybe artists have to want or intend to express something in order to express it, but probably not.
Some people think this kind of expression is central to art. Maybe it’s what makes something art vs. not. Or maybe it’s just what all art should aim at – so it’s what makes good art good, and without it, art is just empty and pointless.
(2) objectual (about the object): an artwork or object expresses something
This is a common way of talking in art criticism and also (especially!) in debates about emotion/mood/feeling and music. We say some songs are sad, but is the MUSIC sad? People are sad, but objects can’t be. So what does that even mean?? Philosophical puzzle!
(3) doctoral (about Dr. Dre):
In his words, immortalized in N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself,” expression is …
“When you got a subject and a predicate
Add it on a dope beat, and it’ll make you think”
Not to be confused with:
(1) expressionism (and abstract expressionism) – specific movements in the history of art. We’ll get there.
(2) expressivism – technical metaethics and philosophy of language term. We will not get there. But you can go there yourself if you want.