Alan Tormey, "Art and Expression: A Critique" (from The
Concept of Expression)
Some are committed to the position that an artist, in creating a
work, is experiencing something, which is then embodied in the work.
Theories of this sort have two assumptions in common:
A logically prior contention which E-Ters accept: aesthetic or artistic
expression is different from the symptomatic behavioral display of inner
- an artist, in creating a work of art, is invariably engaged
in expressing something
- the expressive qualities of the art work are the direct
consequence of this act of expression
[Treatment of Dewey.]
Why are expressive qualities of works connected to the process of creation?
E-T: If art object O has expressive quality Q, then there was a prior
activity C of the artist A such that in doing C, A expressed his F for
X by imparting Q to O (where F is a feeling state and Q is the qualitative
analogue of F).
- Aesthetic objects possess expressive qualities. Where these are
qualities of intentionally structured objects, it is reasonable
to assume that their presence is the intended consequence of
the productive activity of the artist.
- Expression theorists go farther, to assert that the presence of
expressive qualities in the art work imply that the productive
activity was an act of expression, and moreover that the act
was one of expressing feeling-states analogous to the
Tormey says: this is a mistake. If E-T is true, then descriptions of
expressive qualities of an art work would be falsifiable in a certain
way: if the artist didn't experience the appropriate state of mind when
creating the work, the art work would not have the analogous expressive
quality. But descriptions are not falsifiable in this way, so E-T is
Discussion of the relationship between 'expressive' and 'expression'.
'Expressive' has an intransitive use which is both wider and less precise
than 'expression' (in the sense of "sad expression" or "happy expression").
Its use imposes no inferential commitments: we are not committed to inferring
from saying that Livia has an expressive face, that she has a certain
mental state. (This is also true of "x expression", which we use to
refer to certain qualities of people and objects without implying
existence of some correlated act of expression.)
Similar point about how 'expressive' musical performance does not
commit us to any version of the E-T. Sugestion that use of 'expressive'
in such cases is laudatory. Two problems with this suggestion.
E-Tist may object that this is irrelevant; E-T is supposed to accurately
capture certain aesthetically relevant features of the processes of
creating, performing, and attending to musical compositions (or whatever
else). Tormey admits that his account is open to the possibility that
it is correct to say that a piece of music may be an expression of x.
He does not see this as a problem, though, because the only sense in
which 'expression of' is admissable is inconsistent with E-T: an art
work may be an expression of something in that it may contribute material
leading to a correct inference to an intentional state of the artist.
But the E-T entails that the successful artist imparts a quality to
the work which is descriptively analogous to the feeling state expressed
by him and ought therefore to be recognizable as the embodiment of
his feeling without the aid of knowledge not obtained from the manifest
properties of the work. But there is no direct, noncontingent relation
between qualities of the work and the states of the artist. (Examples)
Furthermore, it is often impossible to impart a feeling quality to
a work which will perceptually reflect the artist's feeling state.
And the presence of an expressive quality in a work of art is never
sufficient to guarantee the presence of an analogous feeling state in
- the expressiveness may be misplaced (i.e. expressive performance
of music meant to be austere)
- whether 'expressive' may be correctly used to praise depends on
whether or not expressive performance is appropriate to that work