University of California Wk 6 Representation of a Conception of Life Questions


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W6 Understanding assignment: bullet points
Week 6 Modules
I uploaded all the readings.
Please follow the guidelines very carefully and write correctly.
If you have any questions please ask me.
Thank you.
Susanne Langer, “Expressiveness”
From Problems of Art, 1957
WHEN we talk about “Art” with a capital “A”-that is,
about any or all of the ans: painting, sculpture, architec­
ture, the potter’s and goldsmith’s and other designers’
ans, music, dance, poetry, and prose fiction, drama and
film-it is a constant temptation to say things about
uArr’ in this general sense that true only in one
special domain, or to assume that what holds for one
art must hold for another. For instance, the fact that
music is made for performance, for presentation to the
ear, and is simply not the same thing when it is given
only to the tonal imagination of a reader silently perusing
the score, has made some aestheticians pass straight to
the conclusion that literamre, too, must be physically
heard to be fully experienced, because words arc origin­
ally spoken, not written; an obvious parallel, but a
carel� and, I think, invalid one. It is dangerous to set
up principles by analogy, and generalize from a single
But it is natural, and safe enough, to ask analogous
questions: “What is the function of sound in music?
What is the function of sound in poetry? What is the
function of sound in prose composition? What is the
function of sound in drama?, The answers may be quite
heterogeneous; and that is itself an important fact, a
guide to something more than a simple and sweeping
theory. Such .findings guide us to exact relations and
abstract, variously exemplified basic principles.
At present, however, we are dealing with principles
that have proven to be the same in all the arts, when each
kind of art-plastic, musical, balletic, poetic, and each
majoI mode, such as literary and dramatic writing, or
painting, sculpturing, building plastic shapes-has been
studied in its own terms. Such candid srudy is more
rewarding than the usual passionate declaration that all
the arts are alike, only their materials differ, their prin­
ciples are all the same, their techniques all analogous, etc.
That is not only unsafe, but untrue. It is in pursuing the
differences among them that one arrives, finaJJy, at a
point where no more differenccs appear; then one has
found, not postulated, their unity. At that deep level
there is only one concept exemplified in all the ditferent
arrs, and that is the concept of Art
The principles that obtain wholly and fundamentally
in every kind of art are few, bot decisive; they determine
what is art, and what .is not. Expressiveness, in one
definfre and appropriate sense, is the same in all art works
of any kind. What is created is not the same in any two
distinct ans-this is, in fact, what makes them distinct­
but the principle of creation is the same. And “living
form” means the same in aJl of them.
A work of art is an expressive form created for our
perception through sense or imagination, and what it
expresses is human feeling. The word Hfeeling” must be
taken here in its broadest sense, meaning everything that
can be felt, from physical sensation, pain and comfort,
excitoment and repose, to the most complex emotions,
inteJlecrual tensions, or the steady feeling-tones of a
conscious human life. In stating what a work of art is, I
have just used the words “form,” “expressive,” and
“created”; these are key words. One at a time, they will
keep us engaged.
Let us consider first what is meant, in this context, by
a form. The word has many meanings, all equally legiti­
mate for various purposes; even in connection with art
it h:1.S several. It may, for instance-and often does-de­
note the familiar, characteristic structures known as the
sonnet fonn, the sestina, or the ballad form in poetry,
the sonata fonn, the madrigal, or the symphony in music�
the contredancc or the classic.11 ballet in choreography,
and so on. This is not what I mean; or rather, it is only a
very small part of what I mean. There is another sense
in which artists speak of “form0 when they say, for
instance, “form follows function,” or declare that the
one quality shared by all good works of art is “sign ificant
form,” or entitle a book The Problem of Fonn in Paint­
ing md Sculpture, or Tbe Life of Fonm in Art, or
Search for Form. They are using “form , in a wider
sense, which on the one hand is close to the commones½
popular meaning, namely just the shape of a thing, and
on the other hand to the quite unpopular meaning it has
in science and philosophy, where it designates somethi g
more abstract; “form” in its most abstract sense means
strocrure, articulation, a whole resulting from the rela­
tion of mutuall y dependent factors, or more precisely,
the way that whole is put together.
The abstract sense, which is sometimes called “logical
form,” is involved in the notion of expression, at least
the kind of expression that characterizes art That is
why artists, when they speak of achieving “form,” use
the word with something of an abstract connotation,
even when they are talking about a visible and tangible
art object in which that form is embodied.
The more recondite concept of form is derived, of
course, from the naive one, that is, material shape. Per­
haps the easiest way to grasp the idea of “logcai l form”
is to trace its derivation.
Let us consider the most obvious sort of form, the
shape of an object, say a lampshade. In any deparonent
store you will find a wide choice of lampshades, mostly
monstrosities, and what is monstrous is usually their
shape. You select the least offensive one, maybe even a
good one, but realize that the color, say violet, will not
fit into your room; so you look about for another shade
of the same shape but a different color, perhaps green.
In recognizing this same shape in another object, possi­
bly of another material as well as another color, you
have quite naturally and easily abstracted the concept of
this shape from your actual impression of the first lamp­
shade. Presently it may occur to you that this shade is
too big for your lamp; you ask whether they have this
same shade (meaning another one of this shape) in a
smaller size. The clerk understands you.
But what is the same in the big violet shade and the
little green one? Nothing but the interrelations among
their respective various dimensions. They are not “the
same” even in their spatial properties, for none of their
actual measures are alike; but their shapes arc congruent
Their respective spatial factors ar� pot together in the
same way, so they exemplify the same fonn.
It is really astounding what complicated abstractions
we make in our ordinary dealing with forms-that is
to say, through what twists and transformations we
recognize the same logical form. Consider the similarity
of your two hands. Put one on the table, palm down,
superimpose the other, palm down, as you may have
superimposed cut-out geometric shapes in school-they
are not alike at all. But their shapes are exact opposites.
Their respective shapes fit the same description, provided
that the description is modified by a principle of applica­
tion whereby the measures are read one way for one
hand and the other way for the other-like a timetable
in which the list of stations is marked: “Eastbound, read
down; Westbound, read up.”
As the two hands exemplify the same form with a
principle of reversal understood, so the list of stations
describes two ways of moving, indicated by the advice to
“read down” for one and uread up” for the other. We
can all abstract the common element in these two
respective trips, which is called the route. With a return
ticket we may retam only by the same route. The same
principle relates a mold to the form of the thing that
is cast in it, and establishes their formal correspondence,
or common logical form.
So far we have considered only objectS-lampshades,
hands, or regions of the earth-as having forms. These
have fixed shapes; their pan:s remain in fairly stable
relations to each other. But there are also substances that
have no de.finite shapes, such as gasest mist, and water,
which take the shape of any bounded space that contains
them. The interesting thing about such amorphous
fluids is that when they are put into violent motion they
do exhibit visible forms, not bounded by any container.
Thfok of the momentary efflorescence of a bursting
rocket, the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb, the
funnel of water or dust screwing upward in a whirl­
wind. The instant the motion Stops, or even slows beyond
a certain degree, those shapes collapse and the apparent
“thing” disappears. They are not shapes of things at all,
but forms of motions, or dynamic forms.
Some dynamic forms, however, have more permanent
manifestations, because the stuff that moves and makes
them visible is constantly replenished. A waterfall seems
to hang from the cljff, waving streamers of foam. Actu­
ally, of course, nothing stays there in mid-air; the water
is always passing; but there is more and more water
taking the same paths, so we have a lasting shape made
and maintained by its passage-a permanent dynamic
form. A quiet river, too, has dynamic form; if it stopped
flowing ic would either go dry or become a lake. Some
twenty-five hundred years ago, Heracleitos was struck
by the fact that you cannot step twice into the same
river at the same place-at least, if the river means the
water, not its dynamic fonn, the ffow.
When a river ceases to flow because the water is
de1lected or dried up, there remains the river bed, some­
times cut deeply in solid stone. That bed is shaped by the
flow, and records as graven lines the currents that have
ceased to exist. Its shape is static, but it e.�esses the
dynamic form of the river. Again, we have two con­
gruent forms, like a cast and its mold, but this time the
congruence is more remarkable because it holds between
a dynamic form and a static one. That relation is im­
portant; we shall be dealing with it again when we come
to consider the meaning of “living form” in art.
The congruence of two given perceptible forms is not
always evident upon simple inspection. The common
logical form they both exhibit may become apparent
only when you know the principle whereby to relate
them, as you compare the shapes of your hands not by
direct correspondence, but by correspondence of op­
posite parts. Where the two exemplifications of the
single logical form are unlike in most other respects one
needs a rule for matching up the relevant factors of one
with the relevant factors of the other; that is to say, a
rule of translation, whereby one instance of the logical
form is shown to correspond formally to the other ..
The logical form itself is not another thing, but an
abstract concept, or better an abrtractable concept. We
usually don’t abstract it deliberately, but only use it,
as we use our vocal cords in speech without first learning
all about their operation and then applying our knowl­
edge. Most people perceive intuitively the similarity of
their two hands without thinking of them as conversely
related; they can guess at the shape of the hollow inside
a wooden shoe from the shape of a human foot, wichonr
any abstract study of topology. But the first time they
see a map in the Mercator projection-. with parallel lines
of longitude, not meeting at the poles-they find it hard
to believe that this corresponds logically to the circular
map they used in schoo� where the meridians bulged
apan toward the equator and met at both poles. The
visible shapes of the continenrs are different on the two
maps, and it takes abstract thinking to match up the
two representations of the same eanh. If, however, they
have grown up with both maps, they will probably see
me geographical relationships either way with equal
ease, because these relationships are not copied by either
map, bot expressed, and expressed equally well by both;
for the two maps are different projections of the same
logical form, which the spherical earth exhibits in still
another-that is, a spherical-projection.
An expressive form is any perc.eptble or imaginable
whole that exhibits relationships of parts, or points, or
even qualities or aspects within the whole, so that it
may be taken to represent some other whole whose ele­
ments have analogous relations. The reason for using
such a form as a symbol is usually that the thing it
represents is not perceivable or readily imaginable. We
cannot see the earth as an object. We let a map or a
little globe express the relationships of places on the earth,
and think about the earth by means of it. The under­
standing of one thing through another seems to be a
deeply intuitive process in the human brain; it is so natu­
ral that we often have difficulty in distinguishing the sym­
bolic expressive form from what it conveys. The symbol
seems to be the thing itself, or contain it, or be contained
in it. A child interested in a globe will not say: “This
means the earth,” but: “Look, this is the eanh.” A
similar identification of symbol and meaning underlies
the widespread conception of holy names, of the physical
efficacy of rites, and many other primitive but culturally
persistent phenomena. It has a bearing on our perception
of artistic import; that is why I mention it here.
The most astounding and developed symbolic device
humanity has evolved is language. By means of language
we can conceive the intangible, incorporeal things we
call our ideas, and the equally inostensible elements of
our perceptnal world that we call facts. It is by virtue of
language that we can think, remember, imagine, and
finally conceive a universe of facts. We can describe
things and represent their relations, express roles of their
interactions, specnlate and predict and carry on a long
symbolizing proc� known as reasoning. And above
all, we can communicate, by producing a serried array
of audible or visible words, in a pattern commonly
known, and readily understood to reflect our multi­
farious concepts and percepts and their interconnections.
This use of l anguage is discourse; and the pattern of

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