New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

Home | About | Philosphy | Contact | Search

(E) Laudatory Uses
In this discussion of the words "art" and "beauty," I have said nothing about the most familiar of all uses of "beauty." Again and again in our daily conversation we use "beauty" or "beautiful" in a laudatory way: we wish to remark that something is fine, delightful, excellent, admirable, and the like. In so doing, we express or arouse emotions by our language, but do not refer to any specific quality or state of affairs. The connotation, not the denotation of the word, is of first importance. To be sure, when calling attention to a "beautiful character" or to "beautiful weather," we are partly referring to some referent; yet the features of this laudatory language which preeminently distinguish it are: (i) the importance of the "Gesture," to use Richards' terminology, rather than the "Sense" of the "total meaning" (i.e., the importance of the "intention," "feeling," and "tone" expressed or evoked); and (ii) the indefiniteness with which the words indicate the quality or state of affairs being referred to. Such language, in brief, is more "emotive" than "referential," vague rather than precise.81
Although laudatory meanings of "beauty" are most common in speech, they also occur in all sorts of writings upon art. Indeed it would be difficult to find a book on art which did not contain uses of "beauty" that are primarily emotive, and that refer only loosely to an objective state of affairs. In skimming a few pages of books selected more or less at random, I find these typical remarks: "Imagine, he [Picasso] said, if Michael Angelo would have been pleased if some one had given him a fine piece of Renaissance furniture, not at all. He would have been pleased if he had been given a beautiful Greek intaglio, of course." 82 "He [Raphael] has interpreted the noblest aspirations of man, with a clarity, beauty, and
81.  One should recall in this context the exceptional flexibility in meaning, mentioned on pp. 8-9, of "adjectival" words.
82.  Gertrude Stein, Picasso (London, 1939), p. 31.