History and Intentions in the Experience of Artworks by Alessandro Pignocchi


This is a bit of a side note, but as cognition is coming more into my own research, it’s interesting to see what it has to say about my own discipline.

…For instance, Ramachandran and Hirstein (1999) claimed that the elicitation of a peak-shift effect is an artistic universal.

Interesting! Pignocci adds in contextual factors to this – era, etc., and extends the idea of intentionality – not all interpretation of intention is knowing, and not all intention, either.

In this paper I will argue that local, unconscious and non-propositional intentions are at least as relevant to under-standing our relations with artworks as the kind of general, propositional and abstract intentions generally mentioned in the literature.


Kovacs et al. (2010) showed that a passive agent’s belief about the presence or the absence of an object influences the speed of detection at which the participants who can represent that agent’s belief detect it. This shows that participants explicitly represent the belief of the agent even if they are unaware of  it.


In the philosophy of art, one of the main issues is whether the intentions of the artist are important to determine the ‘‘true meaning’’ of an artwork or its ‘‘correct interpretation.’’ Here, I do not want to frame the problem in terms of meaning since I do not want to ‘‘reify’’ or ‘essentialize’’ the concept of meaning by implying that there is something such as the ‘‘true definition’’ of what the meaning of an artwork is (Shusterman 1999). The intentional model is about the mechanisms that underlie the experience of an artwork, not about what constitutes the ‘‘true meaning’’ of an artwork. However, it is important to verify that the intentional model is immune to the two main arguments given by anti-intentionalist philosophers in favor of the claim that intention attribution plays no role in the correct interpretation of artworks. The two arguments are the following: (1) artists’ public declarations about their intentions are frequently irrelevant to interpreting an artwork (Beardsley 1958) and (2) if the intentionalists were right, there would be only one correct interpretation of an artwork—that which conforms to the artist’s intention— which does not seem to be the case (Gadamer 1975;Ricoeur 1976).



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