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Aesthetics, Signs, and Icons Author(s): Charles Morris and Daniel J. Hamilton Source: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Mar., 1965), pp. 356-364 Published by: International Phenomenological Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2106096 Accessed: 13/12/2010 09:44
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409-423. Vill. criticismshave appearedconcerming. a certain whistle train were approaching. some of the suggestions and criticismswhich have been made concerningthis earlierposition are noted and discussed. For purposesof presentation. This "thirdsomething" that thing which operatesas a sign and is called the sign vehicle. and. first. AND ICONS In 1939. Finally.with regardto aestheticsand the theoryof signs. a sign must designate." The Journal of Unified Science (Erkenntnis). one may take account of an approachingtrain (act as if a train were approaching) ' "Esthetics and The Theory of Signs. The act of mediated taking account of. how such a theory. secondly. (1939). CharlesMorris. The first section briefly restates the major points of Morris' early position. #1-3 (1939). and Technology. publishedtwo articles on aestheticsand the theory of signs. 1. I Morris'early position. was account of mediately was called the designatum. For example. perThat which is taken formedby an interpreter. and therefore.but it need not denote. itself a structureof signs. the feasibilityof applyinga theory of signs in aesthetics. numerouscomments." Kenyon Review.By definition. if practicable. 356 .suggestions. A sign situationwas formulatedas any situation in which one thing takes account of somethingelse.SIGNS.an interpretant. functions as a sign.AESTHETICS. 131-150 and "Science. which is not directlycausally efficacious. However. called. in all but the simplest the cases. Art. causes one to act as if an otherwiseunperceived train to the person hearingthe the sound then signifies an approaching whistle.' Since that and date.this currentpaper is divided into three main sections. characterized work of art as a sign. which was. In the second section. one of the co-authorsof the present paper.throughthe mediationof a third someis thing. the third section deals with the present status of the relationshipbetween aestheticsand a theory of signs.should be formulated.
An iconic sign is one which denotes any object which has a certaincollectionof propertiesit itself has. but questions certain aspects of the notion of iconicity in art. or.aestheticsmay also be characterized aesthetic as semantics. an iconic sign. no applicationto art.in this case the whistle designatesbut does not denote. and the study of the relation of aesthetic signs to other aesthetic signs may be called aesthetic syntactics.and aestheticpragmatics. The studyof the relationof aestheticsigns to what is designatedor denotedmay be called aestheticsemantics. Many of the details of Morris' 1939 proposal have been eliminated in the above summary. howeverformulated. becomes a branch of semioticor the generaltheory of signs.will serve as a point of referencefor examiningthe numerouscommentsand criticismswhich. Volume 1 of the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. First. A second group of writers.on the Otherhand. and pragmatics. II Some of the many articles and books which have dealt directlyor indirectly with Morris' proposal of an aesthetic semiotic can be broadly classifiedas follows. AND ICONS 357 when in fact no train is coming. .the majorpoints.the study of the relationsof aestheticsigns to interpretersmay be called aestheticpragmatics. Since semioticcontainsas sub-branches sciencesof semantics. Withinsemiotic.Nevertheless. Foundations of the Theory of Signs (University of Chicago Press. This secondgroupof writers. one group of these is representative those of who oppose a theory of aestheticsigns on the basis that such a theory. In addition. aestheticsis distinguished fromother sign-functioning activitiesby regarding aesthetic the sign as a distinctkind of sign. 1938). iconic. Thus. in some instances. the aestheticsign is. SIGNS.therefore.synthe tactics. Hence.the aestheticsign designates valuesand such values are consideredas propertiesof an object or situation relative to an interest. by definition.2 Aesthetics. when an interpreterapprehendsan aesthetic sign vehicle which is. First.AESTETICS. as presented. when formulatedin terms of signs.is in basic agree2 The formulation of semiotic summarized here is contained in detail in C.aestheticsyntactics. have appearedin answerto Morris' outline of an aesthetic semiotic. he apprehends directly what value or values are signified. W. Morris' monograph. both mediated and unmediatedtaking account of these value propertiesoccur. expressesthe view that a theory of signs would be useful in an analysis of the arts. This monograph constitutes Number 2.has has no applicationto certainforms of art. throughthe years.
6He asserts that if the interpretant of the aesthetic sign process is consideredas a disposition to respond. "In Defense of Symbolic Aesthetics.358 RESEARCH AND PHILOSOPHY PHENOMENOLOGICAL ment with certainpartsof Morris'generalposition. at that time. and there are many problemswith the notion of iconicity. a semiotic could still have some application in aesthetics. L. then one cannotcharacterize that taking accountof" and a the aestheticexperienceas both an "immediate the takingaccountof. One way to combinethe mediateand immediateaspectsof the aesthetic experience.meet this criticismof Rudner. is not functioningas a sign. (1953). Argumentsagainst consideringthe work of art as a sign.if not completely One writerwho arguesthat all semiotictheories are systemeliminated. it can be maintainedthat the is work of art.3 He is aticallydefectivewhen appliedto aesthetics RichardRudner. however. 1958).This is the position taken by Morris in his earlier articles. we characterize aestheticexperienceas a process of "mediated taking accountof.A third group can be consideredas preaesthetics. maintain that even though the work of art is not a sign." Rudnermaintainsthat there is no way to distinguish the aestheticexperiencefrom other experienceswhich involve mediation. and. The most basic argumentagainst a semiotic theory of art is the argumentthat a work of art is not a sign. and Culture. senting various other criticisms against a semiotically-based Each of these three groups will be considered.. then the work of art.. 4 "On Semiotic Aesthetics. therefore. therefore. Such a position depends on the sign being iconic.such as a work of art. XII (Sept. X (Sept. See also Kingsley Blake Price.5 The sign presents values mediately. to the extent that it involves an interpretant.and." Language. then the applicationof a semioticin the area of aestheticsis greatly reduced. 1953)." If we characterize aestheticexperience "mediated as an immediatetakingaccountof something. Thought. If this argumentholds. functioning 3 One could. 6 "Symbolism in the Representational Arts. If. Another way of answeringthe problem of combiningmediation and immediacyis given by CharlesStevenson. 38-43. 67-77. Ballard. .is to arguethat the work of art involvesboth a sign vehicle and its functioningas a sign. 226-257. "Is a Work of Art a Symbol?. it is composed of signs.." Journal of Aes and Art Crit. and differsfrom him with respectto how such a theory of signs should formulatethe role of the iconic sign in aesthetics. while the sign vehicle presents the same values immediately. of course."Journalof Phil. as will be shown. 1951). pp. 5 For an additional treatment of this problem see Edward G.rather than an actual response. 485-503." Journal of Aes and Art Crit.4 argues if a work of art is consideredas a sign. Paul Henle (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. on the other the hand. ed.
A formalvalue is a value which satisfiesan interestwhich has been arousedby some aspectof the aestheticobject. but desires to amplify what he calls "formaliconicity. referentialaspects of art supportand contributeto representational arts. is a value which satisfies an interestwhich has been broughtready-madeto the work of art." The Problems of Aesthetics. accepts the notion of iconicity in art. 225-233. 1954)." Journal of Aes and Art Crit.Stevenson. reduces the area of practito the representational cable applicationfor a semiotic in aesthetics. E. which does not require treating examine the non-representational of them as symbolic. . of representational and.Hence. to that extent. ed. 196-225." ibid. AbrahamKaplan. limits the application a semiotic arts.and at the same time results in no subsequent overt behavior." The Problems of Aesthetics.. and in doing so. on the other hand. 1953).9 for example. Problems concerning iconicity. Krieger (New York: Rinehart & Co.. Krieger. pp.in effect. "Symbolism in the Nonrepresentational Arts. Vivas and M. such expressions In the non-representational however. pp.AESTHETICS. deny that non-representational art has any symbolicfeatures. pp. and also questionedthe concept of iconicity in aesthetics. 9 "The Formal Structure of the Aesthetic Object. AND ICONS 359 as a sign (is mediational).An extra-formal value.in anotherarticle. and in the arts. E.."In explainingwhat is meant by "formal iconicity. Inc. Stevensonpresents this theory of an interpretantas a dispositionin arts."Ritchie divides aesthetic value into formal values and extraformalvalues. XHI (June. 457-474. SIGNS.also attemptsto limit the applicationof semioticto the representational arts. an immediateexperience.Benbow Ritchie. Many writers have agreed that a semi- otic would be useful in aesthetics. at the same time. Kaplanalso attemptsto explainthe symbolicaspects art.but have questionedvarious aspects of Morris'emphasisupon the aestheticsign as an iconic sign.in settingforth a theory of aestheticsdifferentfrom Stevenson. "Iconic Signs and Expressiveness.however. or an extra-formal of the Since Ritchie emphasizes importance formalvalues for the over7 Charles Stevenson.and is.7 His main purpose in this the non-representational article is to show that an alternativeframeworkcan be constructedto arts.no reference is involved. 234-239. Iconic signs are then clasicons. Vivas and M. Kaplan asserts that all art is expression. 8 "Referential Meaning in the Arts. signify a formal value. Hungerland. dependingon whetherthey sified as formalicons and extra-formal value. An additional example of emphasis upon expression in art can be found in Isabel C. that there is no need to consider arts as symbolic. He further showinghow symbolismfunctionsin the representational maintains. ed.
is a syntacticalproblem. have had to consider the relation between iconic signs as they function as componentparts of a work of art.1oalso considersthe function of the iconic sign in the aestheticexperienceas important.360 RESEARCH AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL PHILOSOPHY all appreciation of art. is necessary. p... he places major importance upon the formal iconic signs in art.. The major problems center around the ambiguous betweenconventionalsigns and iconic signs. of An additionaltreatment the questionsraisedby Ritchie and Roberts concerningthe differencebetweenthe work of art as an iconic sign. A syntactical problem lies in the organization of signs within a work of art. beside being an iconic sign. This is complicated by the fact that some of these signs may be conventional. pp. can be found in an articleby CliffordAmyx.12Amyx maintainsthat the conceptof iconicity as originally formulated was a semantical concept.Amyx then arguesthat many writers. such as Ritchie. IV (1955). a work of art. consideredas a sign. and the distincrelationship tion between signs as they function within a work of art. W. and the work of art itself.. 11 Ibid. Louise Roberts. VI (Sept. considersMorris'formulation iconicity as essentially in various places. Morris. 54-60. Accordingly. may contain other iconic signs. others may be predominantly iconic with little conventionalization. however..ratherthan a semanticalproblem..She does not. and its function in art.semiotic should formulatemore clearly the role of formal icons of value within a work of art. 1947)." Tulane Studies In Philosophy. ." Robertsconcludesthat the notion of iconicity is useful in aesthetics. It is further complicated by the relation between these signs and the iconic function of the work of art as a whole.Amyx's disWhilewe may not agree that this is a syntactical the cussion does again point up the problemof clearly formulating rela10 "Art As Icon: An Interpretationof C. This.. Another writer.but the above complicationsand problems show that a detailed analysis of iconicity. and iconic signs as componentparts of the work of art. It is a product of the selections of the artist and as such is indicative of his values. She says. 12 "The Iconic Sign in Aesthetics. of she Furthermore. accordingto Amyx.. Furthermore. and questionsabout a sign's determining denotingare questionsof semantics. maintainthat a semiotic can furnish a complete analysis of art.. some may be both conventional and iconic. 75-83. in attemptingto develop a theory of iconicity within a work of art. 82.." Journal of Aes and Art Crit.. problem. The concept was semanticalto the extent that a sign's denotatahad to be consideredin whethersuch a sign was iconic. A work of art as a whole may be an iconic sign in a simpler sense of imitation.
for city. This would emphasizethe fact that iconicityof a sign is. These problems indicatethat some study is requiredin order to distinguishbetween an iconic sign and a non-iconic sign. It also indicatesthat additionalwork is requiredin formulatingthe roles of aesthetic semanticsand aesthetic syntacticswithin an aestheticsemiotic. and replace it with a scale of iconicity.AESTHETICS.and. Unfortunately. "everything resembles itself. what common propertiesare to be conmust sideredas relevantto iconicity. seems to lend sign to the desirabilityof formulatinga scale of iconicity.Furthermore. and at the other end. such a matterof degree. in attacking symbolism in the non-representational everyarguesagainsticonicityby assertingthat underone interpretation. as originallyformulatedby Morris. we need only the principle. SIGNS. An difficultyof determining iconic sign. Furthermore.problem propertiesa sign vehicle and its denotata must possess in order to call the sign iconic. therefore. signs with a high degree of iconicity. He says. The major problems with this formulationare. since a sign becomes iconic in virtue of a similarity between itself and its designatum. common with the propertiesof those objects which the sign did or might denote.signs could be placed dependingupon their degree of iconicity.having at one end signs with little or no iconicity. One method of partially avoiding the above problems would be. propertieswhich are relevant to the iconicity of a sign vehicle in one situationneed not be relevantin anothersituation. -A furtherproblemassociatedwith the role of iconic signs in art is the which signs are to be consideredas iconic.the notion of iconicitywithin art is trivial. how many common of determining a scale would eliminatethe. . and not governedby a strict rule. was a sign whose sign in vehicle possessed certain properties. Such a scale would be broadly formulated. Note that the same thing can be said of anything on earth.how many properties be found to be common in order to call the sign iconic." to conclude that a Greek border can be an iconic sign of itself." p. presumably. AND ICONS 361 tion between the work of art as an iconic sign. and iconic signs within the work of art.would vary with different sign situations. thing can be consideredas an iconic sign of itself. support 13 Stevenson.13 between an iconic sign and a non-iconic The difficultyof distinguishing it is pointedup by Stevenson'scriticism. to eliminatethe dichotomybetween iconic signs and non-iconic signs. Stevenson. In between these two extremes. provided that it is perceivable and of sufficient interest to get a second look. arts. and. first.a scale of iconicity would not eliminate just which propertiesare essentialto iconithe necessity of determining This. "Symbolism in the Nonrepresentational Arts. 200. to a large extent. Moreover. secondly.
and this is in contradictionto the previous position that all signs must designate but need not denote. some act value propertieswithout performing apprehends the interpreter of cognition. has a "direct apprehension" of such value properties. argue that Morris' proposal of a semiotic does not adequatelytake into account the role of cognition in the aesthetic experience. Another issue is concernedwith extendingthe subdivisionsof semiotic (syntactics. the main argumentswhich have been presented against a semiotic for aestheticshave attemptedto show.an iconic sign. under this formulation. The New Criticism (Norfolk. the whole question of the denotationof iconic signs needs careful investigation. in some sense. as has been previously noted.In his formulation.aestheticsemantics.Therefore. 20-62.14 and others. As has been noted. and. Allen Tate. however.Morris maintained that value propertiesof an aestheticobject.362 RESEARCH AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL PHILOSOPHY One final point which is of interest may be mentioned as relevant to iconicity within aesthetics. 14 15 . its own sign vehicle. Additionalproblemswithin an aestheticsemiotic. Obviously. various other isolated problems have been raised in connection with applying a semiotic in aesthetics. which he never adequatelyinterprets.and pragmatics)into the area of aesthetics. why Morris'formulationof the aestheticsign as an iconic sign presentscertainproblems.semantics.however.: New Directions. "stand out" for inspection. For one example. as was noted previously. results in characterizing aestheticsas aestheticsyntactics. such as stand out and direct apprehension.In Morris' early formulationof semiotic. therefore. first. Tate's criticismsuffers somewhatfrom his use of the word cognition. such as direct apprehension of value properties.Tate's main criticismis that the use does not show how of terms.and aestheticpragfactor matics.Nevertheless.Such an extension.For example. pp.John Ransom15 maintainsthat the pragmatic of an aesthetic semiotic is of considerablyless importancethan is the Reason In Madness (New York: Putnam's Sons.his criticism does point up certain difficultiesin using terms. by definition. will always denote at least one object. The iconic sign. and the perceiver.all signs. secondly. was said to have its sign vehicle amongits denotata.In additionto these two main areas of disagreement.and indicates that additionalclarificationis necessary on this point.but they need not denote. such as the inclusionof variousexamplestaken from the arts. 1941). Conn. 1941). must designate. why a work of art should not be consideredas a sign.
. '6 17 Ibid. 201.For this reason. Presumably.and necessaryin characterizing aestheticpragmatics. and. Also.in order to insure the usefulnessof the distinction. 287.. SIGNS. With these criticisms and suggestionsin to mind. the large number which appearedfollowingMorris'early articleson semiotic of discussions and aestheticsis gratifying..AESTHETICS.aesthetic semantics. . Is its syntactical validity comparable with that of science? Is its syntactical validity comparable with its own semantical validity . it is now advantageous examine the present status of the relationshipbetween aestheticsand a theory of signs. the syntactical rules of music are no more than the rules of harmony and counterpoint. And it is not clear that these familiar disciplines. ? 16 Stevenson. once they are classified as "syntax. etc. but offers almost no study of how art makes a syntax out of its peculiar mixture of pure symbols and iconic signs. and more extensive.this article has not been concernedwith answeringcriticisms. .. or the syntax of logic. perhaps.the examination of criticalmaterialand suggestionsin the precedingsections does indicate certain generalizations. He [Morris] claims that art is especially interested in the syntactical dimension of discourse.questioningthe same point. because of its generality.Ransom says."will have enough in common with the syntax of ordinary languages. says.for it is these subsequentsuggestionsand criticismswhich point up weaknesses and also areas which need expansion. to make the classification useful. p.Nevertheless. In general. Stevenson. One way. This would be a task for a later. III of The early formulation a semioticfor aestheticscan be consideredas a generalproposal of a terminologyfor talking about art. Furthermore.study.'7 These criticisms make evident the fact that additionalwork may be aesthetic syntactics. together with those broader rules of composition that concern the form of the sonata. Althoughother criticismshave been raised againstapplyinga semiotic within aesthetics. nor in preparinga defense of an aesthetic semiotic. it has not in most cases offered any expansion of troublesomeissues which were indicatedin the various suggestionsby other writers. AND ICONS 363 both Ransom and Stevensonquestion the semanticfactor.those selected for examinationin this section seem to be the more significantones.. the fugue.many individualpoints and issues were not elaborated. to determinethe significance of a proposal is to examine the amount of comments and criticismsit engenders." p. "Symbolism in the Nonrepresentational Arts. importanceof syntacticsfor aesthetics.
Subsequent criticismsand suggestions now make it evidentthat serious problemsare.is completed. an open question. CHARLESMORRIS DANIEL J. it is not maintainedthat aestheticscan be exhaustivelyanalyzedthrougha semiotic. The degree. emphasiswas placed upon the.of significanceof such a semiotic in the area of aesthetics is a question which cannot be resolved until additional study. . it is evidentthat to what extent a semioticcan be appliedwithin aesthetics is an open question. althoughthe degree of this significanceis.role of the iconic sign in art. at In conclusion. However. Moreover. it is apparentthat signs do functionin art. along the lines indicated.in his article on symbolismin the representational arts. At present.the major requirement. present. seems to be recogfor nition that a theory of signs offers one possible framework analyzing works of art. HAMILTON. and. has attemptedto elaborate and analyze in detail the way in which signs function in art and also enrich the aesthetic experience. More detailed work is required to show the role of signs in art.associatedwith the notion of iconicity.in the early formulation. It is. and additionalanalysis is requiredhere. again. believed at this. and it is hoped that it will be continued. in this respect a semiotic would be helpful.time that the iconic sign functionssignificantlyin art. UNIVERSITYOF FLORIDA.The results of such work are encouraging.364 AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH PHILOSOPHY First. Stevenson.
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