29 April 2007

Suzanne K. Langer

[from Suzanne K. Langer's Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art, 1953]

what art expresses is not actual feeling, but ideas of feeling; as language does not express actual things and events but ideas of them. Art is expressive through and through — every line, every sound, every gesture; and therefore it is a hundred per cent symbolic. It is not sensuously pleasing and also symbolic; the sensuous quality is in the service of its vital import. A work of art is far more symbolic than a word, which can be learned and even employed without any knowledge of its meaning; for a purely and wholly articulated symbol presents its import directly to any beholder who is sensitive at all to articulated forms in the given medium.

An articulate form, however, must be clearly given and understood before it can convey any import, especially when there is no conventional reference whereby the import is assigned to it as its unequivocal meaning, but the congruence of the symbolic form and the form of some vital experience must be directly perceived by the force of Gestalt alone. Hence the paramount importance of abstracting the form, banning all irrelevancies that might obscure its logic, and especially divesting it of all its usual meanings so it may be open to new ones. The first thing is to estrange it from actuality, to give it "otherness," "self-sufficiency"; this is done by creating a realm of illusion, in which it functions as Schein, mere semblance, free from worldly offices. The second thing is to make it plastic, so it may be manipulated in the interests of expression instead of practical signification. This is achieved by the same means — uncoupling it from practical life, abstracting it as a free conceptual figment. Only such forms can be plastic, subject to deliberate torsion, modification, and composition for the sake of expressiveness. And finally, it must become "transparent" — which it does when insight into the reality to be expressed, the Gestalt of living experience, guides its author in creating it.

1 comment:

  1. I just bought Philosophical Sketches at B&N in their Rediscovers series, cheap. I find that recent developments in Biology of Mind make Langer more important than ever. I wish she were still available to write about internet, blogs, twitter, 750 TV channels, and kids who don't read.I'll be putting something up at my blog, Believable Lies.