On the very idea of a “language of art”. Aesthetics and psychoanalysis

Andrea Maistrello


Abstract In a number of writings that were only narrowly circulated, Richard Wollheim took a stand against two pivotal theses often at the center of aesthetic reflection and, even more often, of critical and historical-artistic practices: i) that art is a language (and thus artistic meaning is conveyed in the same way as linguistic meaning); ii) that art inherently is a form of communication. What motivates Wollheim’s deep aversion for i) and ii) depends on the progressive liquidation of the experience of what lies at the center of art, i.e. the object intentionally produced by the artist. This is of immense relevance in Wollheim’s psychoanalytical conception of the mind because the art-object allows the reparation urge to take place making concrete and externalizing the inner world of the artist. The emphasis on the singularity of the object excludes art from the domain of communication: because (one) communication presupposes a specific audience – a rare circumstance in the case of art; and (two) the emotive content of the work cannot be transmitted via language since emotions do not correspond isomorphically to emotion terms. To diminish the object at the center of the experience of art (or the experience itself) means no less than to abdicate to an essential part of human nature.


Richard Wollheim;Psychoanalysis;Communication

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