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A Summary of David Summers Meaning in the Visual Arts as a Humanistic Discipline

At his work, David Summer mostly concerned about Erwin Panofskys lecture named On the Problem of Description and Meaning in the Visual Arts, which is considered by Panofsky as his methodological article, and the basis for the introduction to Studies in Iconology. He starts his explication of Panofskys methodological article with Panofskys concluding arguments which he made against Heidegger with the guidance of his friend and mentor Ernst Cassier who was the last great representive of Neo-Kantianism. Then David Summer proceed to consider Panofskys three distinguishable levels of meaning for works of art. The first is the recognition of images arising from the subjective basis of our everyday experience of our own persons and of the practical world which is called phenomenal meaning. Panofsky was leery of the notion of the aesthetic because of his Neo-Kantian ideas and he thinks that art may be adequately understood intuitively, simply on the basis of its presumedly expressive forms. The second level arises from the subjective basis of our own education or culture. This level of meaning is the level of subject matter or iconography, which depends upon our literary knowledge. Iconography is more than the reunion of image and text by this way the work of art is more and more able to be understood in terms of the historical world from which it came.

The third level Panofsky called essential or documentary meaning the subjective origin which is our own world-view, finally be called iconological. Panofsky emphasized that world-views are unconscious and our own world-view formed by our beliefs and to have beliefs means to act as if certain things were true. Panofsky also stated that content or essential meaning is only to be found in the work itself and cannot be reduced to any other kind of meaning. In his work David Summers also noticed Panofskys Neo-Kantian philosophical background and dominant influence of Ernst Cassiers and understands their Neo-Kantian thinking that art is like cognition, and states that cognition itself is a shaping force and this does not mean that art is rational. I think that Panofskys Neo-Kantian philosophy and his three levels of meaning play an important role for art history to become interdisciplinary and to understand work of art scientifically, however also considers work of art as only a historical evidience.