Are Representations Symbols?

The Monist 58 (2):236-254 (1974)
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The representational arts seem friendly territory for “symbol” theories of aesthetics. Much of the initial resistance one may feel to the idea that a Mondrian composition or a Scarlatti sonata is a symbol evaporates when we switch to a portrait of Mozart, Michelangelo’s Pietá, or Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. These representational works have reference to things outside themselves. The portrait is a picture of Mozart; the Pietá is a sculpture of Christ and his Mother; A Tale of Two Cities is about London, Paris, and the French Revolution. It is natural enough to consider the relation between these works and what they are of or about a semantic one. And if the representational is to be understood in terms of this semantic relation it is reasonable to hold that to be representational is to be a symbol of a certain kind.



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Kendall Walton
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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