New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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48                                 PROBLEMS IN MEANING
even the desirability of certain laudatory uses of "beauty." If a critic who is primarily concerned with historical problems, nonetheless wishes in passing to call attention to the excellence of a particular painting or to a portion of it, the adjective "beautiful" will admirably serve his purpose. He could, if required to, specify exactly what he means by the term; but it would be irrelevant to do so. The sentence of Panofsky quoted above illustrates this usage. In contrast, other laudatory uses of "beauty" are so extraordinarily hazy that one cannot reasonably claim either convenience or desirability for them. A single example from the work of a distinguished art historian may be cited: "Beauty and harmony characterize all the works executed by Murillo in his maturity. A prevailing feature of the beauty cherished by him is a sweetness which may easily give way to the sugary." 88 Even though in the second part of this quotation Weisbach names the quality "sweetness" as an attribute of Murillo's beauty, the meaning of "beauty" remains hopelessly vague and ambiguous. While such vagueness and ambiguity (which occur also, I suggest, in the Yashiro quotation cited) are not, perhaps, downright misleading, they are, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the specific context, bewildering and confusing. They should therefore be eliminated from criticism. Indeed, if we do not condemn the ineffectual and needlessly obscure laudatory language of eminent authors, how may we hope to persuade students that their similar linguistic forms are inadmissible? In summing up this discussion of "art" and "beauty," I would first stress the resourcefulness of these words. We have on several occasions noted the diversity of interpretations which writers have given and continue to give them, and we have insisted that elasticity in their meanings is not only permissible but desirable. The semanticist, that is to say, does not oppose variety in the uses of "art" and "beauty"; he welcomes
88. Werner Weisbach, Spanish Baroque Art (Cambridge, England, 1941), p. 62.