Networks of Attribution: The Cultural Origins of Meaning

By Jim Hamlyn.

Published by The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online: November 15, 2016 $US5.00

Despite the fact that we commonly refer to artworks as “meaningful” things, this is not to say that meaning is a property analogous to size or shape. If meaning is not a property, then it seems reasonable to suppose that it can only be a way of using things, of treating them as if they were imbued with features that they do not actually possess. Meaning is thus an attribution in which we agree through social consensus to use objects as tokens of power, prestige, celebration, explanation, instruction and so on. I argue that such symbolic procedures originate in practices of exchange and tool-use in which the use of raw materials instantiates their identity. The purpose of this paper is to show that the ability to interpret artworks and more generally to ascribe meanings, is a highly sophisticated cultural capacity and, more specifically, a verbal skill dependent upon a network of symbolic resources and techniques that only a socially evolved linguistic culture can provide and enable.

Keywords: Art Theory, Representation, Sense-making

The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp.23-28. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: November 15, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 543.938KB)).

Jim Hamlyn

Lecturer, School of Art, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK