My research concerns the concept of meaning in art and aims of a unified theory thereof.
Both in aesthetic theory and in artistic practice, we often speak of works of art as carrying “meaning”; as things we can “understand”; and as worthy objects of “interpretation”. However, not only have aestheticians differed about the right use of these concepts, but very different accounts have been given for the individual arts.
In my project, I aim at providing a unified explication of these key concepts that is grounded in ordinary language and reflects on our practices of art appreciation. Since especially the notion of meaning is paradigmatically linguistic, my account will have to be informed by theories of language. However, I hold that attempts to understand artistic meaning in semantic terms are futile since the arts are too dissimilar to natural languages due to their lack of conventional lexica and generative grammars. Rather, I draw on pragmatic theories of language, particularly on the work of Paul Grice and speech act theorists like John Austin and John Searle. As these theories regard communicative actions as the foundation of meaning, they can be applied to other practices more easily.
A pragmatic notion of meaning in art will have implications for the theory and practice of artistic interpretation. Particularly, it will help shed light on the role that artists’ intentions should play for the interpretation of their works. I thus hope that my account will not only be of philosophical interests but also relevant for the methodologies of other disciplines like art history, musicology, etc.