New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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44                                 PROBLEMS IN MEANING
give to each sentence an overemphasis which is misleading. Just why is Greene justified in stating that the completed work of art is "the ultimate fact" in "all" esthetic theory when certain theories make different claims? To be reasonable, Greene should either say "an important fact in all esthetic theory" (and even the truth of this proposition is highly questionable), or "the ultimate fact in my esthetic theory." In the second sentence quoted, the simple expedient of adding after "beautiful," "according to my definition of beautiful," or of substituting "may be" for "is correctly" would remove a serious verbal ambiguity; for as the sentence stands, one cannot be certain whether Greene's implicit meaning is equivalent to what it would be explicitly if such qualifying phrases were added, or whether he is saying that "beautiful" has only one correct meaninga judgment which we have seen to be false. The unwisdom of these mistakes is the more evident when we compare them with similar ones of Dr. Mather which present, it is important to notice, quite opposite views. For Mather, a work of art is "something that produces effects, and only in these effects can it profitably be studied";79 and, "Art is a process or a transaction, a becominga state of mind in the artist becomes a picture; the picture in turn becomes a similar state of mind in the spectator. These states of mind are our proper study. Esthetics is merely a special branch of psychology" 80 (my italics). Is it not evident that the words "only," "proper," and "merely" render the propositions (or are they real definitions?) highly questionable? And do not the exaggerated statements of each of these writers accentuate the errors in the opposed views? If this is so, verbal exaggeration undoubtedly accounts for some of the confusion in art criticism and esthetics.
79.  Coricerning Beauty, p. 3.
80.  Ibid., p. 33.