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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Friday, May 2, 2014



By Albert B. Casuga

What is literary appreciation?

Appreciation presupposes the recognition of an experiential object; the apprehension and comprehension of its significance as an independent entity, and as an object that becomes meaningful only when the perceiving subject (appreciator) assigns it sensory, intellectual, and emotional meaning; the evaluation of the object as a phenomenon with a distinguishable form and content, and as an objectification of an experience (1) which reflects certain values that satisfy given purposes and attitudes of the attentive appreciator.

Appreciation involves the analysis of the meanings (2) as expressed and concretized in its formal structure; the criticism of how well the style (author’s use of medium, content, and collateral devices) and the technique (author’s manner of presenting and arranging his materials (3) serve the artistic purpose of objectifying an emotionalized experience; and the evaluation of its significance vis-à-vis the needs of the appreciator. (4 )

Art (in this case, literature as a fine art) as the object of appreciation is itself an experiential object (a result) which stems from the application of human dexterity (5) on certain given or created materials which, when articulated, objectify or concretize an emotionalized or subjectified experience that ultimately satisfies any proceeding or preceding aesthetic purpose. (6) In the appreciation of the meaning of a fine art, certain basic premises have to be understood by the appreciator. The most significant would be the fact that a “result” in the application of dexterity becomes a “virtual reality” upon creation – its subjectification and objectification.

In the first place, the “result” as a fine art is in itself an objective phenomenal reality. It follows the logic of the experience that the artist has tried to express. Its existence is derived from the articulation of its materials in terms of a content that reinforces the meaning of a completed form. (7)

How does this “virtual reality” come about? What does it mean to express one’s idea of some inward or subjective process into some outward image? Since much of intelligent art appreciation depends on the understanding of the artistic process, these are good questions to answer anteriorly.

To the first: the artist’s exercise of skill accomplishes this. By skill is meant the ability (agility, virtuosity, originality, imaginativeness) of the artist to express his otherwise latent experience of a thing, place, or occurrence in terms of objects. Expression could either take the form of re-creation or the creation of an experience. (8 ) Objects could take the form of the articulated materials which become meaningful because a distinguishable content informs it.

Sussanne K. Langer in her Problems of Art provides a definitive answer to the second question, to wit: “It means to make an outward image of this inward process, for oneself and others to see; that is to give the subjective events an objective symbol. Every work of art is such an image, whether it is a dance, a statue, a picture, a piece of music, or a work of poetry. It is an outward showing of an inward nature, an objective presentation of a subjective reality; and the reason that it can symbolize things of the inner life is that it has the same kinds of relations and elements. This is not true of the material structure; the physical materials of the dance do not have any direct similarity to the structure of emotive life; it is the created image that has element and patterns like the life of feeling. But this image, though it is a created apparition, a pure appearance, is objective; it seems to be charged with feeling because its form expresses the very nature of feeling. Therefore, it is an objectification of subjective life, and so is every work of art.” (S.K.Langer, Problems of Art, pg. 9. Routledge & Kegan-Paul, London, 1957.) Several things, therefore, are involved in this creative process. One, that the work of art is an “objective presentation”, and two, that it is a “subjective reality. Let us look into the creative process to understand this.

Appreciating the Creative Process

Suppose a man, “B”, encounters a woman carrying a child while boarding or disembarking from a dirty, sooty, blackened locomotive in a stinking metro station. “B” is struck by the sensory experience, and he associates as well as interprets the scene as resembling the juxtaposition of an ordinary thing against a backdrop of something ugly and repulsive. The ordinary object is thereby contrasted to the backdrop of something ugly. “B” interprets this as a manner of making the ordinary appear even beautiful or interesting. He responds to this scene quite sympathetically. He is delighted by this realization. Forthwith, he sits down and writes about this experience (which obviously has gone through the three levels of experience --- sensory, extero-intellectual, and concupiscibly emotive experience). He chooses to express his experience in the form of poetry (it is the imagination which suggests the form). Thus:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough. (9 ) In terms of linguistic (orthographic symbols) devices, he has managed to concretize or objectify his otherwise abstract emotional response to the scene. If he uses the metaphor at all, it is in pursuit of this same purpose. It gives a “figure” to the aesthetic response he is concretizing. He, therefore, approximates the sudden flash of insight with this pithy two-line haiku-like poem which he entitles “In a Station by the Metro”.

Where is the virtual reality here? The poem in those two lines is the illusion of reality. Now, it is itself a reality --- the reality of the poet’s emotional response, something separate and distinct from the actual experience at the metro. How is this reality supposed to be appreciated? Will it be appreciated as an “imitation” of the scene at the station? Certainly not.

If it were appreciated as an imitation of reality, (10) it would be inferior to the natural experience; therefore, it would not be as significant as “B’s” experience in the stinking station. It should, therefore, be appreciated as in itself another experience shaped up with a certain medium in a certain style and presented in a certain technique.

If this premise is considered prior to analysis, criticism, and evaluation, the appreciator cannot but start with the art as an objective appearance or entity.

Consequently, the appreciator, confronting the art as an object, reacts to the articulated materials (elements of medium, content, form, and meaning) sympathetically or antipathetically. His reaction involves the satisfaction of his “aesthetic attitude,” popularly called his “taste”. It is this taste which responds to the virtual reality which is the object of art.

Appreciation demands that this taste respond to the “right things” for the “right reasons”. What it does respond to is the objective composition primarily, as its (composition) appeal is first to the senses. Hence, before assigning any meaning to the object, the appreciator should first make the necessary relations from the formal composition of said object. (11) Otherwise, approaches adopted may go into all kinds of irrelevancies; thus, the incidence of unintelligent, charlatanic judgments about an object of art. (12)

(Next: Part 3 Approaches to Appreciation)


1  “Experience” here refers broadly to anything that occurs to man as the ultimate measure of things. Although experience may occur on three different levels – sensory, intellectual, and emotional – the proper material of art is that which occurs co-functionally on all three levels. Thus, anything that impinges on the senses of the artist is interpreted in the intellect and responded to as a related material by the will (emotional response). There are as many sensory experiences as there are external senses; i.e., visual, olfactory, gustatory, auditory, kinaesthetic, erotic-sensual, visceral, and thermal. Intellectual experience may be those that proceed from within – reflective (intero-intellectual), and those interpreted from without (extero-intellectual). Emotional experience may either be concupiscible or irascible, sympathetic or antipathetic respectively.

There is no sense limiting the realm of celebration for art – it spans the whole universe of experience. The classical standard of magnitude or sufficient significance for the object of art is utterly controversial to remain as a universal standard for measuring experience fit for artistic attention. From the time of the Romantics, the area of experience proper for artistic celebration has been radically expanded to mean total liberation; hence, any experience may be used by the artist for his content. It is, after all, the skill that he applies on this content and his medium which makes any experience significant and artistic.

2  “Meaning” or significance is derivable from as many planes as there are experiential levels. Thus, the beholder may realize a simple sensory meaning (using the word loosely to signify organic responses --- the physical sensory structures responding to their proper stimuli; viz., visual sense to light and its various compositions like colour). The significance is normally derived from the primary materials of the medium; i.e., the colour in painting, the orthographic symbols used by written language in literature, etc. The content or subject matter of the work of art is the proper material for intellectual associations and/or relations; viz., the figures of a mother and child in Picasso’s “Artists” may be responded to by the appreciator apart from the colours used by the artist, (in this case, pale grey for the flesh, and cool colours for their clothes). The figures provide a shape to the articulated medium. It is this element which provides the intellectual meaning of the physical structure coming to the beholder as a painting (intellectual, because the figures are those chosen by the imagination and interpreted by the intellect as appropriate to the artist’s aesthetic experience.) Intuitively, an appreciator may respond forthrightly to discerned form – and sans sensory or intellectual apprehension and comprehension of said form (unified in a gestalt), he feels a significant reaction. Thus, the age-old “goose pimples,” “chill,” or “thrill” criteria for good art. This may be categorized as the emotional meaning of the work of art. Strict interpretation of “meaning”, however, demands the three levels co-functioning with each other in the unified form concretizing the artist’s aesthetic response to any type of stimulus he “takes fancy on.”

3  Style refers to the author’s use of his medium in the concretization of his experience. It involves the use of words, for instance, (their denotations, connotations) and their various arrangements, their tonal energies (predominant content sounds, rhyme, rhythm, organized sounds), the figures (of thought, speech, and language), and the selection of details used for the objectification of the experience.

Technique is the manner of presentation adopted by the artist in achieving his artistic purpose. A study of style and technique is a study of the artistic design in the form. In literature, the artistry of the literary piece is best perceived in the study of these two elements.

4  Since meanings are assigned by the appreciator, he will have to be the same arbiter of the value of such meaning to his various needs. If the value he is looking for has something to do with the reflection of the social conditions in the work of art, then that work of art will be valuable only to the appreciator if he realizes the presence of social values in the work confronting him. Evaluation, or the rendering of judgment on the values of the work of art, may be based on: 1. Universal values of art as a communicator of experience; 2. Particular values of the literary form or genre; and, 3. the subjective values of the appreciator (those he realizes from his reading of a liberal sampling of works in different literary forms and values derived from his life style).

5  “Dexterity” here refers to the skill of the artist in shaping up his experience in terms of his objective materials. In the process of creation, he hews his skill close to his style and technique. “Materials” in fine arts are objective in the sense that they are primarily concrete and material. They may be classified into the primary and secondary. For instance, colour, line, and chiaroscuro are primary materials in painting; brush strokes and texture of the canvas are secondary. In literature, language is the primary material; it is charged in terms of literary devices so that it could emotionalize an experience; viz., a metaphor charges a group of words by making that which is abstract concrete: “love” is abstract; “love is a red, red rose” makes it concrete. Now, the appreciator can react emotionally to the phantasm he would make of the “red, red rose” which is the objective correlative of the concupiscible emotion “love.”

6  Art in general assumes several types and forms depending on what purpose is taken by the human being as purveyor of skill. While all art stems from the expression and concretization of an experience, what makes them different from one another is the purpose behind their creation. Thus, if the object serves a practical purpose, it may be classified under the practical or mechanical arts; if the object by its operation serves an ideational (definition, clarification, and utilization of ideas) purpose, it may be termed a “liberal” art; if the object serves primarily to solicit and satisfy a human feeling or emotional response (aesthetic pleasure – delight, attention, interest, etc.), it may be classified as a “fine art.”

The fine arts may be classified into: 1. Static, or 2. Dynamic by reason of the articulation and nature of their materials. The static arts are: architecture, painting, and sculpture. Still photography may also be considered as such. The dynamic arts are: music, literature, dance, drama as theatre, film as movies (cinema).

7  Form refers to the combined and articulated structure made up of the medium shaping up the content and vice versa. Content is the subject matter of the artistic result. It may either be the human being or his various appurtenances. It is that which is interpreted intellectually.

8  Expression in art actually involves the two processes of “re-creation” and “creation.” When an experience is re-created by an artist, it is understood that the result is an imitation of the artist/s aesthetic conception of the stimulating experience which he has interpreted and responded to. Re-creation may also be interpreted as the interiorization of the stimulating experience which results in the artist’s aesthetic experience.

Creation may be understood as the making of a virtual reality our of the artist’s aesthetic response to any stimulating experience within or without. The medium plays a great role in the creation. It is sometimes the medium which defines the experience or content for the artist. Thus, language and its peculiar combinations can sometimes complete a peripheral experience which at the moment of creation is impinging on the artist’s ken. If the artist proceeds from a well-defined idea of what he will concretize, creation takes the “centrifugal” movement of the kernel idea getting developed in its various aspects by other ideas. It takes the “centripetal” movement when the artist proceeds from something vague and peripheral and he uses his medium and content to complete or define such an experience. So he gives vent to his intuitive faculties and “plays” around with his medium until he stops with something that excites him into an aesthetic experience – this is interpreted as the completion or objectification of the erstwhile vague or nebulous experience.

9  Ezra Pound, “In a Station by the Metro”

10  “Imitation” here is being taken in its narrow sense – that it is a de rigueur (because photographic) copying of the experience that stimulated the artist. Imitation from the point of view of the Classical Art critics is the artist’s representation or reproduction of his conception of the essential nature of reality. (For a discussion of Aristotle’s theory of imitation, see Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Art, “Imitation as an Aesthetic Term,” II, pg. 121. s. H. Butcher, trans. Dover Publications, 1951).

11  The objective composition alluded to here is the “form” which consists of the articulated medium and content. As a physical and structural appearance, its appeal is first through the senses. Even at this point, impressions on the meaning of the objective artistic form may already be obtained. Mood and tone may even be pronounced. In painting, it is how the lines, colours, and chiaroscuro are shaped in terms of a content or subject matter (if the artist is using the Objective Style or Representational Style) which strikes the senses.

Since the physical appearance of the artistic result is first apprehended by the senses, what normally comes next is the comprehension of these sense experiences. The intellect ordinarily works on the images and phantasm provided by the imagination and associates these with stock experiences and/or vicarious experiences in order to place the new experience in a “point of reference or departure.” What is being emphasized here, therefore, is that the intellectual references proceed from the formal presence of the work of art. That is its empirical basis.

In the interpretation of the significance of contextual and structural units of the work of art, the appreciator who is abstracting meaning from the objective elements of the physical structure may attribute significance which may not logically proceed from the perceived elements. This mnemonic irrelevancy is caused by his attributing meaning or associations (references) which are not verifiable because they do not have a correlative in the objective composition of the work of art. Thus, a word in a poem may excite in the appreciator a meaning which is out of the poem’s purview. This may be caused by certain free associations made by the appreciator from the images he “senses” in the words and their peculiar semantical and syntactical arrangements.

(See I.A. Richards, “Analysis of a Poem”, Principles of Literary Criticism, pg. 114 etseq, Routledge & Kegan-Paul, Ltd. London, 1961. This essay provides a discussion of how the words suggest images which are interpreted and evaluated by the reader through various modes of associations and references. Richards suggests the incidence of irrelevant assignation of meaning in these terms: “This common mistake of exaggerating personal accidents in the means by which a poem attains its end into the chief value of the poem is due to excessive trust in the common places of psychology.”)

12  Because one’s judgments are not based on values obtained from meaning analyzed from the empirical base of art or a work of art (the objective form), they often become arbitrary, if not overbearingly unintelligent. They are best myopic impressions which ultimately do not lend justice to the effort employed by the artist in the work of art. Normally, before a value judgment is given, the appreciator must have analyzed the work for its meaning and must have criticized the artist’s use of his medium and the presentation of his concretizing details (style and technique respectively). Evaluation is the expression of an opinion based on an intelligent and discriminating exercise of taste.


(Second Part in a series of essays on Literary Theory for Teaching Literature as a Humanistic Discipline.)

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