New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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78                                 PROBLEMS IN MEANING
of a friend who remarked that he failed to grasp the distinction between significance and truth, and that I was in fact merely passing over the problems of truth to the word "significance" which seemed to have for me a perhaps magical satisfaction.
A definition of "artistic significance" conceivably could, to be sure, be identical with any one of several definitions of "artistic truth"; but most writers, when they use the term "artistic significance," are referring to the profundity and richness of the artistic meanings or significations; they are pointing to a quality, recognized by many persons, of artistic importance or greatness in contradistinction to that of slight-ness and triviality; they have in mind the "dignity, elevation, and power" which Longinus stresses in his discussion of the Sublime; in a word, they are considering the major as opposed to the minor. Thus explained, artistic significance is a quality of experience quite other than that designated by any of the senses of "truth" which have concerned us.
To demonstrate this conviction, we may cursorily distinguish between artistic significance as just defined and the five modes of truth under consideration, (a) "Truth" as an undefined term produces ambiguities which prevent one from ascertaining a possible identity of its meaning with artistic significance or, indeed, with anything else; (b) "truth" as scientific fact, far from being confused with significance, is quite regularly opposed to itas in Bertrand Russell's contrast between "indicating facts" and "expressing states" or between "scientific validity" and "emotional importance"; (c) "truth" as sincerity refers to the subjective genuineness of the artist's attitude and does not concern its importance; (d) "truth" as consistency indicates a quality of artistic "right-ness" or "convincingness" expressed in the art object which in no way affects the problem of triviality versus significance; and (e) "truth" as artistic insight considersor should reasonably do sothe significance or greatness of artistic mean-