New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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46                                     PROBLEMS IN MEANING
power that remain unrivalled";83 "The group around the beautiful dead animal . . . strikes us as pathetic rather than funny";84 "The landscape is developed in broad pastoral passages of supreme beauty";85 "Dainty female hands are as beautiful as flowers or gems set in stellar design. In the panel of the Calunnia in the Uffizi Gallery you see a beautiful group of three maidens." 86
In these examples, and in countless others like them, it is clear that a major function of the words "beauty" and "beautiful" is to express what the writers like. One might fairly substitute for "beautiful" such adjectives as "splendid," "distinguished," "lovely," "exquisite," and so forth. Such synonyms do not of course render the meanings more specific; they merely strengthen the argument that this sort of language is decidedly emotive.
But is not this language more than emotive? In addition to expressing subjective praise, do not the writers in some way wish to indicate that what they are speaking of is artistically successful or significant? Instead of merely expressing "what pleases me," are they not also pointing to referents that should please every judicious observer? If we answer these questions in the affirmative, as I think we should, one may then inquire: what is the nature of the objective referents? and to what extent do the writers intend to stress them? In an experimental attempt to answer these questions, a number of art historians interpreted the words "beauty" and "beautiful" in the quotations cited above. The results of this experiment in interpretation were so extraordinarily diverse that only one unanimous conclusion was arrived at: namely, that no satisfactory answers to the questions are ascertainable. In brief, although most laudatory uses of "beauty" seem to show some concern
83.  Sir Charles Holmes, Raphael (London, 1933), p. 133.
84.  Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology (New York, 1939), p. 222.
85.  Edith Abbot, The Great Painters (New York, 1927), pp. 166-167.
86.  Yukio Yashiro, Sandro Botticelli (revised ed. Boston, 1929), p. 114.