I have been thinking a lot about the ethnography of the image, semiotics, and discrimination shrouded by art. I just purchased this book by Morse Peckham, and I am tingling with excitement. Peckham’s pragmatism may not be one for the ages, as I was unable to find any influence of his work beyond the occasional citation. This man is a gem. Here’s what he wrote to the editors at NYRB in 1971:
I believe it to be an error that a theory of art is “rightly and inevitably evaluative.” (1) Any proposition can be used as a basis for judging art. (2) An indefinably wide range of propositions has so been used, and new ones will be thought up. The process will continue as long as there are people and art, and the question cannot be resolved. (3) So to use a proposition is to judge art on the basis of whether or not it is an exemplification of a proposition. Such activity ascribes to art a lesser value than the propositions used to judge it. Individuals intensely concerned with evaluating works of art appear to have as their central interest the severe restriction of the number of works of art to be taken seriously. (4) We judge art because we judge everything else. Value judgments of works of art are of great interest sociologically, but of little or no interest in understanding works of art.
Let’s also note this little sentimental proof was wrapped in his response to a review of five of his books by Christopher Ricks (who, apparently, “really did quite well. To be sure, he made a number of blunders, as was to be expected.”)
So, in contemplating the axiom that the meaning of a sign is the response to it, I’m sharing Kenneth Fitzgerald’s essay in Emigre #48 “Skilling Saws and Absorbent Catalogues.“ It isn’t particularly related to aesthetics and semiotics, but it does feature a great little nug from MP: “It is clear that art is useless, that perceiver and artist are arrogant and indifferent. … Art tells us nothing about the world that we cannot find elsewhere and more reliably. Art does not make us better citizens, or more moral, or more honest. It may conceivably make us worse.”