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Susanne K. Langer
From: Problems of Art

Susanne Langer, one of the greatest philosophers in American tradition, was recognised for her understanding of philosophy, poetry, music, and language. Langer's work demonstrates, among other philosophical values, a broad sense of inquiry into and observations of the human experience.

Her most widely read and discussed book is Philosophy in a New Key (1942), which is a systematic theory of art that became a standard text in numerous undergraduate philosophy classes. Susanne Langer's work is not easy to summarise, but one of her major ideas was that works of art are expressive forms, or "iconic symbols" of emotions.

Expressiveness is a long essay taken out from 'Problems of Art'. This essay is important because it attempts to establish the ways in which a work of art will express emotion. She values the total experience that the work of art presents about the writer’s feelings.

Art is a broad term. It includes painting, sculpture, music, dance, poetry, prose, drama and film. Though music is for ear, painting is for eyes, and literary writing for reading, art is great in itself. The artistic form can be found in totality. 'Form' here does not refer to the visible shape rather it is the living form that contains life within. In poetry, 'form' refers to the structure, in music it refers to the symphony and so on. What is equally important is the logical form of art. 

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 expressed through and through – every line, every sound, and every gesture; therefore it is a hundred per cent symbolic. It is not sensuously pleasing and also symbolic; the sensuous quality in its service of it is vitally important. 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 importance directly to any beholder who is sensitive at all to articulated forms in the given medium.

Work of art should not be taken only as static form rather it must be taken in dynamic forms as well. Dynamic forms have more permanent manifestations because the stuff that moves and makes them visible is constantly refilled. For example, a waterfall seems to hang from the cliff, waving streamers of foam. Though we get its foam, different from the colour of water, it impresses us. The essayist values the form in totality. What she thinks more is an expressive form.

Logical form is an abstract concept. Projection of different thoughts in terms of logic is logical form. The expressive form is any imaginable whole that exhibits relationships of parts, even qualities, within a whole. This form is usually used to represent the thing that is not perceivable or readily imaginable. A symbolic form of art is created to express the feelings and emotions that language cannot express. Art expresses inner feelings, emotions and experiences through symbols and metaphors. Langer argued that man is essentially a symbol-using animal. Symbolic thought is deeply rooted in human nature - it is the keynote to questions of life and consciousness, all humanistic problems. Langer defines, "Art is the creation of forms symbolic of human feeling".

This is a perceptible or imaginable whole that shows the relationship of different parts together. Though we cannot see the earth in totality, we can get it through a map or globe. We realise that this globe is the representation of the earth. The universe and its form are presented by writers. There is inward life of human beings in the work of art. We have to express our feelings through a work of art. Even the things that cannot be communicated in a real-life situation can be expressed symbolically through the work of art. The expression of feelings is the basic function of art. It presents our contemplation making it visible or audible. As our sensuous, mental emotional life desire dynamic form. That’s why artistic forms are more complex than any other forms.

In the essay "Problems of Art", Langer refined her views: a work of art was a form expressive of human feeling, created for our aesthetic perception through sense or imagination. Emphasising the role that artistic intention played in creative activity, she traced the unity of the arts to their semblance of organic form. Insight (understanding of the essential life of feeling) designates (choose/pick) the aim of art. Reflections on Art, a collection of twenty-six essays ranging over music, art, dance, poetry, film and architecture, focused on two main issues: expressiveness and semblance. Her list of contributors included artists and ‘lay aestheticians’, as well as professional philosophers. Her final work, Mind, ambitiously sought to explicate the role feelings play as the mind functions uniquely in humans, and in particular how an artist projects an idea of feeling by means of art.

To conclude, in her essay Expressiveness, Langer argues about the function of art; as art expresses our emotional feelings, we have to have a minute analysis of any work of art. 


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