SAAP Annual Meeting 2014

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Semblance or Consummation? Danto, Dewey and Langer on Embodied Meaning in Art

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Arthur Danto’s The Abuse of Beauty and What Art Is mark a shift from an ontology of art toward an aesthetics of existence. Art can be about many moods, but human beings need beauty. The artwork’s “pragmatics”—how it disposes or “inflects” us toward its content—reveals ways how we are “in-the-world.” It is, says Danto, “transformative” of the viewer. This insight may resolve a conflict between Susanne Langer’s view of art as virtual semblance (Schein) and Dewey’s view of art as a consummation of experience. Imagination is seeing the actual in the light of the possible; the possible-actual is a complex continuum. We exist in the world imaginatively and art realizes consciously ways in which this occurs. Langer and Dewey stress different types of the possible-actual, Langer pointing to a world of possibility, Dewey to the possibilities of the world. Art discloses human imaginative existence.


Thomas Alexander    
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
United States


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