New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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74                                 PROBLEMS IN MEANING
view of meaning, which oflEers us real, rather than volitional
(5) "Willing Suspension of Disbelief
The critical problem of the "willing suspension of disbelief" is one which affects the ontological rather than the linguistic aspect of the mode of truth under consideration. Since this problem deals with the clash between the point of view of the "beliefs" mediated by the work of art and the point of view of the "beliefs" held by the critic of the work of art, the important questions are: can intellectual understanding and imaginative assent be given to artistic contents or meanings which are not shared or accepted as one's own? and, if this is possible, does or should a disbelief in these contents or meanings affect one's appraisal of theme.g., can an atheist expertly appraise Rembrandt's "Supper at Emmaus"? The diversity of responses to these questions is interesting and illuminating (though art criticism has shown too little concern with this problem), but only their connection with the conception of truth as artistic insight need now be mentioned.
If, as many competent writers contend, the beliefs of the artistby which I now mean to include all of his conceptual and intuitive convictionsneed not be shared by the critic in order that he may appraise a work of art expertly, truth may reasonably be claimed for the artistic insights by those who choose to define "truth," at least partially, in terms of intuition; for in that case the critic's concern will be imaginatively to prehend the work of art. His own convictions will be artistically irrelevant and, by suspending disbelief for the time being, he will judge the truth of the artistic insights on the basis of the artist's standards. Thus in judging the sensuousness of Rubens' art, a puritan critic may hold his own beliefs in abeyance, may at least understand the insights which Rubens wishes to convey, and may appraise these as truths on the basis