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Eliot Deutsch

Interpreting Artworks: Prolegomenon to a Cross-Cultural Hermeneutic

Hermeneutics operates whenever what is
said is not immediately intelligible.
(H.G. Gadamer)

A great deal has been accomplished in recent times by philosophical hermeneutics in developing our understanding of what it means to interpret a "text", but very little substantive work, it seems, has been carried out to develop a cross-cultural or, in keeping with the terminology of this conference, "transcultural" hermeneutic. This is especially unfortunate insofar as when westerners engage artworks from nonwestern cultures the "unintelligible" does indeed seem to make its strong appearance. It is my intention in this paper to explore in quite general terms (the time constraints being what they are) how interpretation of nonwestern artworks, mainly visual, and primarily
from the Indian tradition, may take place through our understanding the distinctive creative process of artmaking in different traditions and the participant-observer's expectations of, and realizations of, meaning in the artwork.

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Geist, Sidney. "Sidney Geist on Criticism." Artforum. June 1962: 5.

A few quite simple lessons: That statements on art'make the same sense that we expect to find in statementsabout any other subject. That critics be "knowledgeable, sensitive, honest, Iiterate and artistic. That critics know what they are talking about, and talk only about what they know. This is not to say that there are no problems, difficulties, even mysteries in the realm of art. There are many. But it is one thing to admit their existence, and another to write as if they did not exist. 0 That it be possible in reading criticism, to distinguish between statements of facts and other kinds of state- ments. 0 That artists not be silent when their works are wrongly described or when their inten- tions are misrepresented. S I D N E Y ,
GEIST in SCRAP #4, February 16,1961

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Historical Legitimacy, Pictorial Order, and Critical Necessity
Michael Baxandall, Patterns of Intention, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985, pp. 117 – 121.

Let us agree that any account we give of the historical reality will correspond to it in a very summary and diagrammatic form. It is a little like the correspondence between the schematic maps of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System or London Underground and the knotted complexities of the real things: (1) the diagram leaves much out; (2) it is a small-scale registration of a large thing, and a static registration of a moving thing; (3) its emphasis is much distorted by the demands of its own form, whether symbolic lines or symbolic words; (4) the medium is conventional and demands understanding itself; (5) it is directed to a specific sort of use; (6) its meaning lies in its relation to a more complex reality. But the point is that it is within its own limits correct; it could be incorrect within its own limits. If the map showed BART going to Palo Alto it would not correspond with reality even in its own terms. The difference is that whereas we can go out and check the BART map by matching it directly with the running of the trains, we cannot go to the Sansepolcro of 1450 and match our diagram directly with Piero's thoughts and acts. We must find more indirect ways of validating our accounts.

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