Artist’s intention

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M011-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from

Article Summary

W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley’s famous paper ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ (1946) began one of the central debates in aesthetics and literary theory of the last half-century. By describing as a fallacy the belief that critics should take into account the author’s intentions when interpreting or evaluating a piece of literature, they were rejecting an entrenched assumption of traditional criticism – and a natural one, since we normally take it for granted that understanding actions, including acts of speech and writing, requires a grasp of the intentions of the agent. But they were expressing an idea that has been greatly influential; it was a central claim of the ‘new criticism’, while the marginalization of the author is also a marked feature of structuralist and poststructuralist literary theory. Most of the debate over the artist’s intentions – ‘artist’ here being used as a general word for writer, composer, painter, and so on – has centred on their relevance for interpreting art works. More particularly, the question has been whether external evidence about the artist’s intentions – evidence not presented by the work itself – is relevant to determining the work’s meaning.

    Citing this article:
    Taylor, Paul. Artist’s intention, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M011-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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