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Does The Artist’s Intention Matter, Or Is It Indeed All In The Eye of the Beholder?

Who decides what art means?

There is a question that has been tossed around by philosophers and art critics for decades: how much should an artist’s intention affect your interpretation of the work? Do the artist’s plans and motivations affect its meaning? Or is it completely up to the judgment of the viewer? Hayley Levitt explores the complex web of artistic interpretation.

You’re staring at a painting in a gallery and see a symbol of love. In the same image, your friend sees a symbol of war. To settle the debate you Google the work only to learn that the artist had neither topic in mind when they created it. Was anyone wrong? Or, perhaps, is everyone right? Should this change how you see the painting, or should your personal interpretation be safe from this new information? This animation from TED-Ed traces the history of this ongoing debate over art and intention, exploring the contending viewpoints of philosophers and art critics such as Monroe Beardsley, Walter Benn Michaels and Noël Carroll, each of them – either ironically or appropriately – with their own unique perspective.

Source: TED-Ed by Hayley Levitt

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