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So far two types of interpretive play have been cited as examples of charac-
teristic responses to art that tend to be overlooked when philosophers of art
accord a privileged position to aesthetic responses as the canonical model of our
interaction with art. And if interpretation is ignored as an appropriate art
response while only aesthetic experience is so countenanced, and if art is iden-
tified in relation to the promotion of appropriate responses, then objects
devoted exclusively to engendering interpretive play will be artistically disen-
franchised. But, of course, one may wonder whether it is correct to claim, as I
have, that the philosophers of art tend to ignore the importance of interpreta-
tion. For much of the literature in the field concerns issues of intepretation.
This, admittedly, is true in one sense. However, it must be added that the atten-
tion lavished on interpretation in the literature is not focused on interpretive
play as a characteristic form of the experience of interacting with artworks but
rather revolves around epistemological problems, for example, are artist™s inten-
tions admissible evidence; can interpretations be true or are they merely plausi-
ble; and so forth. This epistemological focus, moreover, tends to take critical
argument as its subject matter.Thus, the fact that philosophers have such episte-
mological interests in interpretation does not vitiate the point that interpretive
play is an ingredient in our characteristic experience of artworks which
philosophers, by privileging the aesthetic, have effectively bracketed from the art
experience proper. Indeed, within the philosophical tradition, the kind of intel-
lective responses I have cited under the rubric of interpretation are not part of
the experience, proper, of art. Hume, for example, tells us that though good
sense is necessary for the correct functioning of taste, it is not part of taste.12
Rather, the picture he suggests is that the prior operation of the understanding,
engaged in doing things like identifying the purpose and related structure of the
artwork, puts us in a position to undergo, subsequently, the central experience
of the work, namely, for Hume, a feeling of pleasure.
This citation of Hume provides us with one reason why philosophers are
tempted to exclude interpretive play from the art experience proper.The essential
experience of art, for them, is a matter of feeling pleasure either of the undifferen-
tiated Humean sort or of the disinterested Kantian variety. Interpretive activity, on
the other hand, it might be said, has no obvious connection with pleasure. But I™m
not so sure of this.
I have asserted that art spectatorship is a practice, a practice linked with other
practices, such as artmaking, within the institution of the artworld. I follow Mac-
Intyre when he writes that

By a “practice” I am going to mean any coherent and complex form of
socially established cooperative human activity through which goods inter-
nal to that form of activity are realized in trying to achieve those standards of
excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of
activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human
conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended.13
12 BEYOND AESTHETICS

Within the practice of art spectatorship, among the goals of the enterprise, we find
the making of interpretations of various sorts. Finding hidden meanings and latent
structures are goods internal to the activity of art spectatorship. Pursuit of these
goals in our encounters with artworks occupies large parts of our experience of
artworks. Our interpretations can succeed or fail.They can be mundane or excel-
lent.When our interpretations succeed, we derive the satisfaction that comes from
the achievement of a goal against an established standard of excellence.That is, sat-
isfaction is connected with success, within the practice of art spectatorship, when
we are able to detect a latent theme or form in an artwork. Moreover, I see no rea-
son to deny that this type of satisfaction is a type of pleasure even though it differs
from the type of pleasurable sensation, or thrill, or beauteous rapture that theorists
often appear to have in mind when speaking of aesthetic experience.The exercise
of the skills of art spectatorship is its own reward within our practice.This is not
to say that interpretive play is the only source of pleasure, but only that it is a
source of pleasure.Thus, the worry that interpretive play is remote from pleasure
should supply no grounds for excluding interpretive play from our characteriza-
tion of the art experience proper.
Apart from the argument that interpretive play is not connected with pleasure,
there may be other motives behind the tendency not to include interpretive play
in the account of the art experience proper. One concern might be that interpre-
tive play is not essential or fundamental to the art experience because it fails to
differentiate the interaction with art from other experiences. In this context, the
putative virtue of the notion of the aesthetic experience of art is that it can say
how our experiences of art differ from other types of experience.The proponent
of the aesthetic experience approach might argue that the interpretive play I refer
to regarding the art response is not different in kind from that activity in which a
cryptographer indulges.
Of course, it is not clear that aesthetic-experience accounts can do the differ-
entiating work they are supposed to do. First, those versions of aesthetic experi-
ence that rely on notions of detachment and disinterest may just be implausible.
Second, even an account as detailed as Beardsley™s affect-oriented one doesn™t dif-
ferentiate the aesthetic experience of art from all other activities. For example,
assuming that there are acts of disinterested attention, Beardsley™s affect-oriented
account might not differentiate aesthetic experience from the mathematician™s
experience of solving a problem that is divorced from practical application. So if
the argument against including interpretive play in our account of the art experi-
ence is that interpretive play does not differentiate that experience from other
kinds whereas the notion of aesthetic experience does, then we can say that nei-
ther of the putatively competing accounts succeeds at the task of essentially differ-
entiating the art experience. Thus, essentially differentiating the art experience
from others might not be a desideratum in our characterizations of it.
I suspect that since art evolved over a long period of time and through the
interactions of many different cultures, it may support a plurality of interests such
that the art experience is comprised of a plurality of activities of which having
ART INTERACTION 13
AND


aesthetic experiences of some sort is one, while engaging in interpretive play is
another.There are undoubtedly more activities than only these two. Furthermore,
it may be the case that none of the multiple types of interactions that comprise
the art experience is unique to encounters with art. Of course, this might be
granted at the same time that the proponent of the aesthetic theory urges that
nevertheless aesthetic experience is a necessary component of any experience of
art whereas other responses, like interpretive play, are not. At that point, the aes-
thetic theorist will have to show that aesthetic experience is such a necessary
component.And, at least for those who hold an aesthetic definition of art, that will
not be easy to do without begging the question. Suppose my counterexample to
the notion that aesthetic experience is a necessary component of every art expe-
rience is Duchamp™s Fountain. I note that it is an object placed in a situation such
that it has an oblique significance that supports a great deal of interpretive play.
But it does not appear to promote the kinds of response that theorists call aes-
thetic. So it affords an art experience that is not an aesthetic one. Moreover, the
interpretive play available in contemplating Fountain involves an art experience of
a very high degree of intensity for its kind.The aesthetic theorist can attempt to
block this counterexample by saying that Fountain is not an artwork and that an
interpretive response to it, therefore, is not even an experience of art. But one can
only do this by asserting that aesthetic experience is definitive of art and of what
can be experienced as art.Yet that begs the question insofar as it presupposes that
a work designed to provoke and promote interpretive play cannot be art because
interpretive play is not a criterion of the kind of experience appropriate to art.
One might argue that interpretive play is not fundamental to the art experi-
ence in the sense that it is not the original purpose for which the works we call
art were created. But this faces problems from two directions. First, hermeneutics
has been around for a long time and may even predate our notion of taste. Sec-
ond, if one makes this argument with aesthetic experience in mind, can we be so
certain that promoting aesthetic experience was the original purpose for which
many of the more historically remote objects we call art were made? Moreover, if
it is claimed that many of the ancient or medieval artifacts we call art at least had
a potentially aesthetic dimension, it must be acknowledged that most of the self-
same objects also possessed a symbolizing dimension that invited interpretive play.
Perhaps it will be argued that interpretive play is inappropriate to the art
response proper.This tack seems to me an implausible one since all the evidence “
our training in art appreciation and the behavior of the majority of our leading
connoisseurs “ points in the direction of suggesting that interpretative play is one
of the central and esteemed modes of the practice of art spectatorship. Indeed,
how would one go about showing that a behavior as deeply entrenched and as
widely indulged in a practice as interpretive play in art spectatorship is inappro-
priate to the practice? Practices are human activities constituted by traditionally
evolved purposes and ways of satisfying those purposes. The active traditions of
such practices determine what is appropriate to a practice both in terms of the
ends and means of the practice.Thus, in art, the continuing tradition of interpre-
14 BEYOND AESTHETICS

tation establishes the appropriateness of the kinds of hermeneutical responses that
we have been discussing.
One might try to show the inappropriateness of interpretive play as an art
response by arguing that it interferes with some deeper goal of the practice of art.
But what could that be? Perceiving aesthetic properties might be one candidate.
However, in some cases interpretive play may, in fact, enhance the perception of
aesthetic qualities. Nor does this suggest that interpretive play is subservient to the
goal of perceiving qualities. For in some further instances, perceiving qualities may
be valuable for the way in which it enables the discovery of a richer interpreta-
tion, while in other cases the interpretive play and the aesthetic response may
remain independent of one another, supplying spectators with separate focii of
interest in the work. Of course, proponents of the aesthetic approach may assert
that theirs is the only proper response to art, but that, as I have, I hope, shown, is
only an assertion.
I think that it is obvious that the types of activities I have used, so far, to exem-
plify interpretive play diverge from what was earlier called the content-oriented
version of the aesthetic approach.There the notion was that an aesthetic response
to art was one that was directed at the qualitative features of the object, such as its
perceptible or expressive features. And though interpretation may, in different
ways, sometimes be involved with aesthetic responses, it should be clear that inter-
pretive play is not equivalent to aesthetic or expressive apprehension both because
it is not evident that interpretation is an element in all instances of aesthetic per-
ception, and because the objects of interpretive play extend beyond aesthetic and
expressive qualities to themes and their adumbrations, and to structures and their
complications.
But what about the affect-oriented variant of the aesthetic approach? First, it
should be noted that many of the candidates in this area rely centrally on a char-
acterization of aesthetic experience that rests on notions such as disinterested
pleasure or detachment from practical interest. But one may successfully engage in
interpretive play without being devoid of practical interest “ one may be a critic
whose reputation has been built on clever interpretations. So interpretive play dif-
fers from aesthetic experience as the latter is typically explicated.
But the Beardsleyan affect-oriented account of aesthetic experience is more
detailed than many of its predecessors and it seems to have room for interpretive
play. That is, in later versions of his account of aesthetic experience, Beardsley
includes a new feature to the characterization of aesthetic experience “ namely,
active discovery “ which is not included in previous accounts, either his own or,
to my knowledge, those of others. By the inclusion of active discovery, it may be
felt that interpretive play has been successfully wedded to aesthetic experience.
I disagree. For even in Beardsley™s new variant, a response still requires much
more than active discovery to amount to an aesthetic experience. It would also
have to be at least object-directed as well as meeting two of the following three
criteria: afford a sense of felt freedom, detached affect, or a sense of wholeness. But
surely we could, via interpretive play, engage in active discovery without felt free-
ART INTERACTION 15
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dom “ that is, the absence of antecedent concerns “ and without detached affect
“ that is, emotional distance. Imagine a Marxist literary critic, pressed by a dead-
line to finish her paper on the hidden reactionary meaning of a Balzac novel. Nor
does it seem likely that interpretive play often correlates with Beardsley™s criterion
of wholeness, that is, a sense of integration as a person. Indeed, I suspect that this
is a rather unusual concomitant to expect of many interactions with art.And, fur-
thermore, many instances of interpretive play may not meet the requirement of
object directedness. A work like Duchamp™s Fountain surely supports a great
amount of interpretive play although most, if not all, of this can be derived from
attention to the art historical context in which it was placed rather than to the
object itself.
Even Beardsley™s account of the element of active discovery, as it is involved in
the art response, has an affective component. For under the rubric of active dis-
covery, he not only has in mind that we actively make connections but that this be
accompanied by a feeling of intelligibility. One is uncertain here whether this
feeling of intelligibility is simply seeing a connection or whether it is something
more. If the former, then it is true of every interpretive insight. But if it is the lat-
ter, which is a more likely reading given Beardsley™s overall program, I am not sure
that a sense of intelligibility accompanies every interpretive insight. I may come to
realize that The Turn of the Screw is structured to support at least two opposed
interpretations but that doesn™t result in a sense of intelligibility.
What these considerations are meant to show is that even with the inclusion of
active discovery in Beardsley™s formula, interpretive play remains a mode of response
to art that is independent of and not subsumable under aesthetic experience. Often,
instances of interpretive play will not amount to full-blown, Beardsleyan-type aes-
thetic experiences because they will not score appreciably in terms of the criteria he
requires over and above active discovery.And it may also be the case that instances of
interpretive play may not even count as examples of Beardsleyan active discovery
because they will not result in the appropriate sense of intelligibility.
But interpretive play nevertheless still remains a characteristic form of interac-
tion with artworks.And, pace aesthetic theorists of art, I think that if we encounter
an object designed to support interpretive play, even though it affords no aesthetic
experience or aesthetic perception, then we have a reason to believe it is an art-
work. Of course, an aesthetic theorist might try to solve this problem by saying
that interpretive play, sans any particular affect or perceptual focus, is a sufficient
condition for calling a response “aesthetic.” However, this move involves abandon-
ing not only the letter but also the spirit of the aesthetic approach, for the tradi-
tion has always used the idea of the “aesthetic” to single out a dimension of
interaction with objects that is bound up with perceptual experience, affective
experience, or a combination thereof. In short, to assimilate interpretive play as a
mode of aesthetic experience misses the point of what people were trying to get
at by use of the notion of the “aesthetic.”
One key feature of the notion of the aesthetic, mentioned by Beardsley and
others,14 is object directedness. In this light, having aesthetic experiences or aes-
16 BEYOND AESTHETICS

thetic perceptions is, in large measure, a matter of focusing our attention on the
artwork that stands before us. The implicit picture of spectatorship that this
approach suggests is of an audience consuming artworks atomistically, one at a
time, going from one monadic art response to the next. But this hardly squares
with the way in which those who attend to art with any regularity or dedication
either respond to or have been trained to respond to art. Art “ both in the aspect
of its creation and its appreciation “ is a combination of internally linked prac-
tices, which, to simplify, we may refer to as a single practice. Like any practice,15
art involves not only a relationship between present practitioners but a relation-
ship with the past. Artmaking and artgoing are connected with traditions. As art-
goers we are not only interested in the artwork as a discrete object before us “ the
possible occasion for an aesthetic experience “ but also as an object that has a
place in the tradition. Entering the practice of art, even as an artgoer, is to enter a
tradition, to become apprised of it, to be concerned about it, and to become inter-
ested in its history and its ongoing development.Thus, a characteristic response to
art, predictably enough, is, given an artwork or a series of artworks, to strive to fig-
ure out and to situate their place within the tradition, or within the historical
development and/or tradition of a specific art form or genre. This implies that
important aspects of our interaction with artworks are not, strictly speaking,
object directed, but are devoted to concerns with issues outside the object. We
don™t concentrate on the object in splendid isolation: our attention fans out to
enable us to see the place of the art object within a larger, historical constellation
of objects. Nor is this attending to the historical context of the object undertaken
to enhance what would be traditionally construed as our aesthetic experience.
Rather, our wider ambit of attention is motivated by the art appreciator™s interest
in the tradition at large.Yet this deflection of attention from the object is not an
aesthetic aberration. It is part of what is involved with entering a practice with a
living tradition.
To be interested in the tradition at large is to be interested in its development
and in the various moves and countermoves that comprise that development. For
example, encountering one of Morris Louis™s Unfurleds, we may remark upon the
way in which it works out a problematic of the practice of painting initiated by
the concern of Fauvists and Cubists with flatness. The painting interests us not
only for whatever aesthetic perceptions it might promote, but also for the way in

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