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Intention, Interpretation and the Unconscious: Reconsidering the role of intention in artistic interpretation

Hulbert, Frederick Thomas (2022) Intention, Interpretation and the Unconscious: Reconsidering the role of intention in artistic interpretation. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.97037) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:97037)

Language: English

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This thesis is concerned with the relationship between intention, interpretation and the unconscious. Broadly speaking, it is a defence of moderate actual intentionalism that also acknowledges the presence of both natural and unconscious meanings in creative works, whilst arguing that interpretive monism still offers the most logical way of understanding these works. In Chapter One I develop a definition of intention. It is my belief that you cannot critique intention-based theories without first properly understanding the foundational concept on which they are built. I argue that conceptions of intention found in the recent academic literature are insufficient and we should return to the linguistic philosophies of Wittgenstein and Anscombe for a clearer understanding of intentional action. I sketch out a definition of which acknowledges that intentional actions require reason-based explanations and are not reducible to kinds of mental states. In Chapter Two I discuss the nature of interpretation and the Gricean distinction between natural and non-natural meaning. I argue that whilst the distinction is both legitimate and valuable the category of natural meaning is too broad because it aims to account for unintentional but artistically relevant features of a work as well as the complex methods of Marxist and Freudian derived hermeneutics. I suggest that there should be a third category which stands at the intersection between natural and non-natural meaning. This category recognises that unconscious intentions can be recovered from the work but these interpretations are symptomatic, therefore they require similar interpretive methods to natural meaning. In Chapter Three I offer two new test cases in defence of moderate actual intentionalism, arguing that private avowals of intention made by the artist are a legitimate epistemic consideration when forming an interpretation of their work. The first case is taken from contemporary visual art and the second comes from the field of literary theory. I argue that in both cases the pronouncements of intent made by the artist and author respectively are a defining factor in establishing the correct interpretation of their work. The work in the first three chapters raises a potential issue, namely it is not clear what we should do when the unconscious meanings contradict the pronouncements of intent made by the artist. I argue that in these cases we should either preference one form of intention over another or aim to establish the true intentions hidden in the unconscious. We should aim to establish the correct interpretation based on which theory is better supported by the content of the work and the relevant contextual information. If the statements made by the artist are not sufficiently supported by the content of the work or if the evidence for the unconscious interpretation is just more compelling we can opt to defend the latter. In Chapter Five I confirm what readers will have suspected, that I believe there is a single, correct interpretation for any given work. I argue that in cases where there are multiple correct interpretations they must be conjoinable into one comprehensive interpretation consonant with the intentions of the artist, be it stated or unconscious. Whilst critical monism does not have popular consensus in the contemporary literature I argue that it is the most compelling interpretive approach. Ultimately, I believe we have a responsibility not to misrepresent the work of the artist and so we should pay close attention to what they intended to convey. When we interpret the words and actions of others we do not usually allow for a plurality of contradicting interpretations to apply and so we should treat art making like any other form of human action.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Maes, Hans
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.97037
Uncontrolled keywords: Interpretation, Intentionalism, Aesthetics, Unconscious
Subjects: N Visual Arts
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 22 Sep 2022 07:24 UTC
Last Modified: 03 Nov 2023 16:11 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Hulbert, Frederick Thomas.

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