Note on Expressiveness

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Source: Susanne
Source: Susanne


In the essay “Expressiveness” Langer deals with the definition of art and question of creativity, abstraction, relation of the emotion to the arts. The essay attempts to establish the ways in which a work of art will express human emotions. She maintains that arts are somehow congruent with our emotions that they express those emotions. Her idea is that work of art will express human emotions. Her idea is that works of art are by nature ineffable that is they cannot be describing in a word or language or discourse. They simply are emotional that are also not reducible to language. Langer is interested in the ways in which the art extend our capacity of understanding beyond language. She tells that it is by virtue of language that we can think, remember and imagine. But she also tells us that language has limits and that many human experiences are beyond the reach of language to describe. The arts reach into those areas because they are areas dominated by feelings.

Langer begins her essay with the discussion of art. According to her, there are difference forms of art like painting, sculpture, architecture, the potter’s and goal smith and other designers are music, dance, poetry, prose, fiction, and film. The common quality among all these forms of art is expressiveness. Each art is an expression of human feelings. The writer further argues that the principle of creation is same in all the arts. The forms of art are different from one other in terms of materials and techniques but the principles are all the same. According to her in pursuing the differences among the forms of art, a point appears where there are no differences that are expressiveness. Expressiveness in a definite and appropriate sense is the same in all works of any kind. What is created that is the physical shape is not the same in any two distinct art. This is in fact what makes them distinct but the principle of creation is the same. Langer defines the work of art as an expressive form created for our perception through sense or imagination and what is expressed is human feeling. According to her, feeling here should be taken in its broadest sense. Here, it means everything that can felt from physical sensation, pain, comfort and excitement to the most complex emotions and intellectual tension.

Now Langer has discussed form. According to her, a form has various meanings for various purposes. For example, it may mean the familiar structure of art known as sonnet form, the sestina, ballad form in poetry or the sonata form or symphony in music. This is not what she means by form. In its most abstract sense, form means a structure, articulation, a whole resulting from the relation of mutually dependent factors. In short, it is the way the whole is put together. The more obvious cured concept of form is a material shape. She gives the example of a lampshade. There can be different kinds of the lampshade in terms of color, shape, size, good or bad to fit one’s room. Nothing is same among them but interrelation among their respective spatial factor is the same.

Dynamic forms have more permanent manifestation because the stuff that moves and makes them visible is constantly refilled. For example, waterfalls seem to be hung from the cliff, waving streamers of foam. When water flows, water is always passing. There is no gap in midair. New water is there but it is not visible. It shapes static but it expresses the dynamic forms is the abstract concept of form. It is the structure, articulation a whole were mutually dependent factors are put together it means a physical shape. For example, shoe makers guess a hollow shape inside a wooden shoe from the shape of a human foot. Logically puts his thought that this will fit. Similarly, many people perceived that to hands are similar without thinking of them as conversely related. Thinking that to hands are similar is logical form. An expressive form is any perceptible or imaginable whole that shows the relationship of parts or points or qualities within the whole so that it may represent so other whole whose elements have similar relations. A symbol is used to indicate an expressive form. For example, we cannot see the earth as an object the way we can see a pain. So we take a map or a little globe to express the relationship of places on the earth and think about the earth by means of it.

A discursive form is any whole or articulation describe in language. By virtue of language, we can communicate by producing series of audible or visible words in the way commonly known or understood to reflect our various concepts and percepts and their relation. Language is used as a discourse and the form that language gives is known as discursive forms. Through language, we can think, remember and finally conceive a universe of fact. Langer argues that this cursive form enable very much to represent things in the universe. However, the discursive form has limits of usefulness. There complex unspeakable, ineffable conceptions that language cannot express. According to her, language cannot transform the elements of subjective reality. Though language can name the subjective aspect such as anger, hate, love, fear collectively called emotions.

According to the writer, our genuine knowledge or understanding is consider wider than our language or discourse. The language has words and phrases only for the familiar notion. When we want to name something that is too new we do not have equivalent in language. Then we shift to metaphor, we find some similarity between the new object and the metaphor. A metaphor is not language it is an idea expressed by language. It is an idea that functions as a symbol to express something this is called symbolic form.

Lastly, Langer concentrates on the concept of art. The work of art presents feelings for our contemplation making them visible or audible or in some understandable way through symbol. Artistic form is congruent with the dynamic forms of our direct sensuous, mental and emotional life. The works of art are the projection of felt life. Expressiveness is the quality of giving and outlet to one’s feelings and ideas. It is made of our feeling and idea known in general. So it is to give an outlet to our feelings, emotions, opinion and ideas. Something becomes an art if that has the quality of expressiveness. It is the essence of art. So art is the medium of expression. Art is expressed their inner feelings, emotions, and ideas through the art. This essay is written in every form of art. Langer here not only describes bt also express in detail about art and its implication. When we talk about art it is misleading and wrong to generalize every form of art because every form of art is specific so it is dangerous and misleading to regard every time of art with the same standard. An artist then expresses feeling in an objective way. He objectifies the subjective reality which is commonly held as chaotic. What he expresses is not his own actual feelings but what he knows about human feelings.


Lohani, s. (2012). Western Intellectual Tradition.Kathmandu: M.K. Publishers.

  • What are expressed is not an actual feeling but ideas of feeling as language does not express actual things and events but ideas of them.
  • Art is an expressive form which presents what is linguistically on presentable.
  • Artistic forms are more complex than any other symbolic form.
  • Expressiveness is the quality of giving an outlet to one’s feeling and ideas.
  • Anything becomes an art only if that has the quality of expressiveness.



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