Though Sontag speaks and disagrees with the form of interpretation of art that can be invoked as a stereotype for art critics/interpreters in the modern world today, Aristotle’s representational view of art battles that notion and challenges the view of, whether imitational art is a art form in itself, or just simply the product of the egos that critics possess in hopes of polishing their appearances as an connoisseur of finding the latent contents in artworks.
In “Against Interpretation” Sontag discusses of the manner that our present world interprets artworks through a metaphorical sense. For from “the culture of late classical antiquity”(3) there have been texts that weren’t meant to be read literally and thus have been given the interpretation from what it represents allegorically.
Yet this form of interpretation in which we pluck certain elements from an artwork and interpret it towards what we believe it truly tries to convey, is inaccurate as Sontag sees it as nothing more than “an open aggressiveness, an overt contempt for appearances”(4) In terms of this interpretation, Sontag depicts interpreters as those who assume an artwork that has content in which she/he select certain elements to their liking and attach their personal allegorical meaning towards those elements (artwork as a whole) into the artwork that may or may not have convene a message that was already previously stated clearly.
Furthermore, this modern style of interpretation according to Sontag is no more than the attempts to find concealed content in artworks and proceed to claim it as the artworks true meaning. Going further, Sontag believes that this type of interpretation tames the work of art, as it gives a great reduction towards art and its content by making it more manageable and conformable.
For “real art has the capacity to make us nervous”(5) Sontag explains more towards the standard of what she believes true interpretation of artwork should be. It doesn’t matter whether artists intend, or don’t intend, for their works to be interpreted”(6) One of the main points Sontag makes, is that despite the intentionality of the artist to make their artwork allegorical or open to these types of interpretation, the critic themselves should resist the temptation to do so. For, Sontag speaks of artworks such as abstract painting or Pop art in which their contents are purposely blunt, that they are incapable of being interpreted for something more.
Sontag believes that the mode of criticism in art should be of that, that pays “more attention to form in art”(8) or formalism. She believes that by deleting the distinction of form and content and consider them into one, we are able to critic artworks with transparence (the most liberating value in art and criticism according to Sontag). By transparence, Sontag means to state of experiencing the luminousness that the artwork being itself and what they are.
By dealing with an artworks “form” critics will be able to shy away from creating meaning for something other than what it represents. As Sontag puts in her last line “In place of a hermenuetics we need an erotics of art”(10) which suggests that Sontag wishes to be free from the style of interpretation that has the tendency to metaphorically interpret art away from its true meaning and replace it with our ability to sense more(See,hear,feel) and ultimately make our commentary towards art based on our experience that is most real to us.
Going further with the Gallery 152 artwork, Sontag would consider Driss the epitome of what she believes makes for an ideal critic or the way to interpret art. Driss in the movie context, comes from the projects of France and so his knowledge towards the different movements of classical pieces are of nothing but his own experience. He states that “music is something you dance to” and this would correlate directly with Sontag’s definition of interpretation as commentary made towards art should be based on the experience that is most real to us.
In Driss’s context, his interpretation of the pieces are genuine for he correlates them with the experiences he has growing up. He takes no advantage of selecting certain elements of the piece and give it a allegorical spin of what he believes it is meant to represent, but rather, Driss takes up of the musical pieces as a whole and purely interpret it without its possible symbolic intentions of what it brings to his senses and experience. With that said, it would be judgmental to state anything in regards to Philippe, as his dialogues are short and simple in this particular scene.
However, based on the context of the dialogues in which he stated “Don’t tell me you feel nothing”and lightly making fun of Philippe’s Tom and Jerry remarks, and for the sake of explaining Sontag’s view more in depth, we could identify Philippe as a critic that puts values on placing allegories/symbolism into the musical pieces. Aristotle viewed art as an imitation, yet unlike Plato, he believes that imitation can be a foundation for an educational lesson and pleasure rather than be removed from reality.
Aristotle advocates art not through the perspective in that they lack of proper knowledge, but of that it brings the enjoyment and educational learning which allows its audience to grow skillfully and emotionally. In the context of this essay, it wouldn’t be necessary to go in depth of Aristotle’s distinguishing of poetry as that would digress towards a different subject, rather, it is important to understand that Aristotle saw imitational art not as a form of teaching but places only on its values in which it can bring pleasure to us in the aesthetic sense.
For art is not a complete imitation of a reality, but rather the representation of selected works that are meant to portray the artists personal purpose. As imitational art does not bring us farther from the truth, but rather allows us to recognize the reality of what is most real to the artist. For though an imitation may be lacking in the form that is not entirely true to its nature, it can be viewed as a educational stance in that it provides the development of moral and emotional growth.
Through the example of imitation art in the case of Aristotle, he states tragedies as the better option in pursuit of knowledge for tragedies are capable of producing pity and fear amongst the audience. It is through this two fold experience named catharsis, that people gain the effect of being more knowledgeable in the field of tragedy that they have witnessed, but also gain the understanding of how and why to better themselves if found in a similar situation or even make it applicable to their very own circumstances. Aristotle’s view on the scene in “The Intouchables” would focus rather more on the concert band than Driss and Philippe.
For despite there being a large genre difference in that of tragedies and symphonies, it is that the symphonies are imitated by the concert band that confirm Aristotle’s views. For though the concert band may not interpret the musical pieces with similar passion/emotions or experience as the original composers might have possessed, Aristotle would state that that wouldn’t make it any less in regards to its aesthetic beauty. For it is the under the view and experience of the concert band members that influenced their playing style.
This then, can target those who are under similar disciplines/careers(music) are capable of learning from whether it is through the different melodies or addition of different musical sounds of the imitated art/music piece. It is with exaggeration to say that musicians would feel catharsis while listening to the concert band play their renditions of each of the classical pieces, but for the sake of this example, it would also then bring an educational value to these musicians of understanding the mistakes that they may have learned from listening and gain knowledge towards how to better themselves in their own discipline.
Yet Aristotle would finally regard that even if the performance was unable to produce catharsis amongst the audience, so long as the performance succeeds in pleasing us in a aesthetic sense, then that will be all that is needed to measure whether they are a good artist or not. In comparison of Sontag and Aristotle’s view on art together, there are similarities and objections that they may possibly raise towards each others work.
Sontag believes that the metaphorical interpretation stands for the opinion of the critic her/himself which then deviates from the direct message that the artist may or may not have directed towards. Yet, Aristotle may object to this with that though the critic/artist may have attached the allegorical meaning towards the artwork that may wish upon the complete opposite of that, it is not the duty of the artist to replicate but rather create something more than the reality given.
For though the concert band may have played the “Four Seasons” different from Vivaldi’s original piece, it isn’t in the “flawed” performance that represents the true meaning of art. Rather, it is through the concert bands ability to not only please the audience in the aesthetic sense but also bring a companion-like piece that not only diversifies the artwork itself but the range of interpretation from critics.
Sontag objection towards this however, could follow that our task as critics does not revolve around finding the untapped potential of contents that are in a work of art but rather to cut back in content so that we are capable of seeing what it is as a whole. For our commentary on art should only revolve around the subject of what it is and how it is what it is. Despite Sontag’s logical claims, I disagree with a point she makes in which she praises the work of abstract painters and pop art for deviating from creating symbolism/metaphors in the work of art.
For wouldn’t this very argument contradict her previous claim? For she made an point that despite the intentionality of the artist for their work to be interpreted, it isn’t the duty of the critic to indulge in that temptation. This very contradiction then should be on Sontag to understand and better phrase that the authors intentions aren’t what matters, and she shouldn’t possess the slightest care of whether the author had intentions or not but simply state that all metaphorical intentions are wrong or at least irrelevant in her case.
This then shows to Sontag that despite her likings or not, there are works of art that possess symbolism/allegories with the intention that are purely from the artists. Then it is to say that, maybe the critic of works shouldn’t shy away from allegories so long as they are present in the artwork itself, as only it is when the critic deviates from what is being expressed and builds an allegory based on personal preference of the elements of work does the critique deviate from its original intention and stack their personal critique with biases.
Yet the answer towards whether imitational art is truly an art form lies in the hybrid of the answer of both Sontag and Aristotle. For though critics may evaluate their work on the basis of their personal favorings towards certain elements of an piece, this would indeed create an addition of idea of reality/meaning that is rather biased to the artist itself.
By this account then, it is important to differentiate then the biases that are considered good in Aristotle’s account as they are capable of producing a pleasurable aesthetic sense towards the audience rather than the bad in which they not only deviate from the artists true intention but also that they may completely destroy the original representation of the artists and bring it towards to an more ominous setting in which they provide no aesthetics or emotions that are helpful towards the development for the better of the audience.
So it is important to find the grey area in both Sontag and Aristotle’s arguments in that the true form in evaluating art and imitational art lies not in the method of the critic and art, but rather the content of the art itself.
Furthermore, this is not to say that Sontag’s belief in a world where metaphorical interpretation is destroyed and the placement of only criticism that are based on transparence is the true method of critiquing and performing art, but should be valued on its own individuality of whether it is capable of brining aesthetic pleasure to its audience and its ability to represent life in that experience that is most real to us. For then, does the critic/artist not only represent accurately the emotions/experience that the original work may have tried to convey, but also puts his/her dosage of reality into the work.