How should we go about finding meaning in art? Should we ask the artist herself, or is everything we need to understand a piece of art already contained in the artwork itself? Does meaning exist only in the observer, thereby varying from viewer to viewer? Or is the meaning of art determined by the circumstances surrounding the artist? Listen as Ken Wilber describes each of these major schools of interpretation, how they originated, and how they all fit together into a more cohesive vision of art and aesthetics.
“You really need to have a comprehensive philosophy of reality if you’re going to interpret the meaning of art, because all of these dimensions impact an artwork, and therefore art part of the art’s meaning. And if you’re going to unfold that meaning, then you have to have a really rich, comprehensive philosophy of contexts.”Ken Wilber
Think of a piece of art that you are particularly struck by. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a painting, a piece of music, a film, or any other expression of beauty that you find yourself impressed with or inspired by. Visualize the piece in your mind’s eye—or, if you like, open a new tab in your web browser and Google it, so it’s right in front of you.
As you admire your preferred object of beauty, ask yourself a simple question: how can I tell what this means?
How do you answer?
a) The meaning can be found in the original intent of the artist. If I want to know what a piece of art means, I should simply ask the artist.
b) The meaning can be found in the artwork itself. The artwork is a whole unto itself, and everything I need to understand it is fully present in the actual piece of art.
c) The meaning can be found in the response of the viewer, which means that a single piece of art can have multiple meanings, depending on who happens to be observing it.
d) The meaning can be found in all the social circumstances surrounding the artist, since no artwork is created in a vacuum. If you want to know what a piece of art means, you need to consider where and when it was made, its historic and techno-economic influences, etc.
e) All of the above.
If you answered “all of the above” there’s a very good chance this talk is for you. But here’s the weird thing: people don’t always know that’s even an option. In fact, it’s still overlooked most of the time. Most artists, philosophers, and critics have devoted their entire lives and careers to just one of the first four choices, while passionately trying to negate the others. Listen as Ken describes each of these major schools of interpretation, how they originated, and how they all fit together into a more cohesive vision of art and aesthetics.
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About Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.