Josh Kortbein
Phil 4501
October 22

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:

  1. an artist, in creating a work of art, is invariably engaged in expressing something
  2. the expressive qualities of the art work are the direct consequence of this act of expression
A logically prior contention which E-Ters accept: aesthetic or artistic expression is different from the symptomatic behavioral display of inner states.

[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).

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 not true.

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.

  1. the expressiveness may be misplaced (i.e. expressive performance of music meant to be austere)
  2. whether 'expressive' may be correctly used to praise depends on whether or not expressive performance is appropriate to that work
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 artist.