W.K. Wimsatt and M.C. Beardsley suggest in “The Intentional Fallacy” that consumers of art are wrong to judge the effectiveness of a particular work based solely on what they believe to be the author’s intention. They argue that the poem (art) “is not the critic’s own and not the author’s,” but instead “belongs to the public” (4). Although it is true that an artifact could not come into existence without a creator, it also cannot be meaningful without the attention and communication with an audience comprised of individuals who inevitably all bring their own subjective experiences with them as they seek to “uncover” the meaning of a particular piece of art. Wimsatt and Beardsley do not necessarily claim that an artist and his/her subjective experiences and historical influences are absent or not worth studying within a work. They claim instead that interpretation of this kind cannot and should not definitively define the meaning of a work as it “would have nothing to do with the poem” (21). Even if an artist were to declare publically what they intended for his/her art to mean, Wimsatt and Beardsley would argue that the public would be better off not listening.
To illustrate this theory, I created and videotaped a demonstration titled “The Egg that Hatches into a Meaningful Chicken.”
This demonstration shows the murder of an egg which is symbolic of “the artist.” Upon being asked what “it” (the egg’s art) means by the robotic critic, the egg must be killed or else risk meaning never being developed by the public in communication with his/her art. It is in this way that the egg (artist) is simultaneously killed and hatched into something meaningful. By killing the artist, the public is prevented from (mis)learning the artist’s intention and consequentially limiting the art’s meaning.
This article led me to consider other questions more broadly related to art and communication. As a writer I believe constructive conversation to be productive and meaningful, however I found myself wondering whether Wimsatt and Beardsley were wrong to suggest that any objective meaning could ever be “discovered,” let alone be articulated. It seemed that implicit in their argument was an understanding that the psychological phenomenon of association and influence cannot be fully consciously traced or understood. Thinking about the limits of language and the barrier that stands between it and the human mind, it seems obvious that pure meaning could not expressed with words alone. This is, of course, where art comes in. Since art itself is a (high) form of communication, any verbal communication about it and its meaning must be mediated to a significant extent, being but a limited communication about a communication.