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Philosophy, Science
Audiovisual, aesthetics, communication theory, information aesthetics, message
 German Kunst
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Entries under Work

RAZAFINDRALAMBO, Adrian (01/01/2021, within the course "The Odyssey of Philosophy and Information" facilitated by J.M.Díaz)


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Abstract: “What is Art?” A question that in the first instance is not an easy task because of the polysemy and age of the word. Artistic developments and its social valuation are also factors that make that each philosopher have his own definition of art. There is, however, an interesting point to note in art: its faculty of transmitting knowledge and its relationship in general with epistemology. Here we ask ourselves and study how art can transmit knowledge and what is the beauty of art. Works of art are described here as an infinite body of information that is freely exposed to the individuals contemplating them. Information aesthetics allows art to convey to individuals a message that makes its relationship to knowledge interesting in the sense that it arouses the sensitivity of each individual who will acquire personal knowledge.


[If the voice and name of the page is "art", this epigraph should be more specific, for instance, "What is art?"]

"Art is not the mirror of reality, it is the hammer that shapes it" Berthold Brecht.

Everyone has already consulted or acquainted themselves with a work of art several times in their lives. People collect paintings, watch films, or listen to music. They are present everywhere in our lives, in our environment. We can wonder about their essence because of the multiplicity of arts and works that shape our society. It is also interesting here to study its link with knowledge and philosophy. Let us question its role and how it contributes of giving knowledge to individuals.

What defines art as a concept? What do thinkers say about it? What is it that makes art beautiful? What makes it possible to love a work of art? How can art be part of knowledge?

A history of definitions

Whatever its definition, from the point of view of the philosopher or any individual, art will always be linked to human creation. This is the common core of all the visions, all the definitions we can give to art. The product of this creation, of this activity appears in a second stage and serves to arouse the senses, emotions, intuition, and intellect. Etymologically speaking, art can be defined in the first instance as "skill, craft, technical knowledge". It comes from the Latin "ars, artis". The Dictionary of Philosophical Concepts (p.50) describes the term "ars" as "skill, talent" [Here is where the intext citation mentioned in the general comment (b) should be placed for this quotation]. The term "creation of works" appeared much later.

Throughout history, many philosophers, from ancient times to the present day, have given their own definition of art, which is in line with their predecessors, whether constructive or destructive:

Plato defines art as "an imitator of what others are workers of", an imitator of reality, here is the link with the quest of reality. He defines art as "mimesis", i.e. "imitator, actor" according to the allegory of the Cave. We can therefore say that a work of art contributes to the quest of reality. By creating a work of art, the artist follows this quest by wanting to imitate reality as best as he can. Unlike his contemporaries, Plato distinguishes art from "beauty", which he places as inaccessible, on the same level as the concept of Truth or Justice.

Aristotle, for his part, completes the Platonic definition by distinguishing two types of Mimesis: the simple imitation of nature and the stylization of nature. It is this second case that comes closest to art in our opinion. In Nichomachean Ethics, he defines the action of composing at the center of the work of art and thus asserts that this stylization consists in bringing perfection which nature would be devoid of. Aristotle sees art in particular as the production of material or intellectual objects. This intellectual and material distinction will see this divide art in two:

- Mechanical art (material, physical): painting, architecture, sculpture...

- Liberal (intellectual) art: mathematics, rhetoric, music

A more interesting example would be the point of view given by Immanuel Kant based on "Critique of Judgment" (1790) section 44, 46. According to him, art is distinguished from nature and science, because a work of art is produced by the freedom of the artist. His freedom to produce is opposed to nature, which has effects that man cannot have the freedom to produce.

Immanuel Kant offers us a definition of beauty as "the expression of aesthetic ideas". Consequently, he places art within the framework of aesthetic judgement, which is a judgement of taste. However, this taste differs from one individual to another, so not everyone will make the same judgement on a particular work of art. The artist according to Kant therefore makes things "beautiful", this is what he calls "Genius". This genius, which he describes as "the innate disposition of the mind by which nature gives the rules to art", has four criteria.

- The talent to produce something original

- The exemplary nature of the works, which enables them to establish rules of judgement

- The inability to explain how he produces his work of art.

Finally, whatever the thinker's definition, we will define art as the duality "work of art - artist". The artist is described as the person shaping and creating a work of art while the second one is a material or immaterial element aspiring to a certain aesthetic. Finally, everything that the artist decides to call "art" can be considered a "work of art". The aesthetics of a work of art is paramount in this context.

Let us now consider any work of art as belonging to all seven art forms: visual, sound, linguistic. We will focus here on one of the functions of art for the purposes of our topic: its ability to convey information and knowledge as a message.

Art as Information Aesthetics

Information aesthetics proposes to study any work of art as a message transmitted by a creator to another person taken from the social mass. It is a springboard between a transmitter (artist) and a receiver (another individual). They are both part of the same cultural system: society. This system is imbued with a culture carried by elements that the sender and the receiver can recognize and analyze: the letter, the sign, the gesture, the architectural element.

The diagram below is therefore accepted:

True vs. Truth : woahdude

Every work of art is capable of conveying a message: a painting, a novel, a symphony, a film, a circus show, a ballet movement. A work of art is therefore capable of arousing at least one of the five senses from a perceptual point of view: seeing, listening, touching, evoking, symbolizing. Information aesthetics is thus designed so that the message transmitted by the artist through space or time is dissected and recorded by the receiver. Methods such as structuralism are established so that the receiver looks for the rules of assembly of the elements that have been used to create this work of art.

Information aesthetics joined the scientific field when information measures (quantity, complexity) were introduced into the information theory established by Shannon (1948) [I don't know why you use bold for the publication year]. In this framework, the artist makes his "message" as a series of elements taken in a certain order. For example, the message of a painting is perceived through the elements constituting a landscape (mountain, tree, river) or the individuals present on it (clothing, facial expression). Thus, the taste previously defined by Emmanuel Kant (1790) translates into the sensitivity of each receiver to sequence the elements present in the message with a certain precision that will differ according to the individuals.

However, the artist can modify his relationship with his audience by voluntarily choosing to target a certain category of the population: from the most educated to the most novice, from the most specialist to the most general. One way of modifying this relationship for the artist is to create his or her own laws and codes rather than applying those already established and known, for example, to the general public. Their intelligibility, i.e. how difficult it is to identify them, allows the artist to choose his audience. In the future, this public will be able to understand these laws and codes in order to accept them.

In information aesthetics, there is an aesthetics based on the study of pleasure linked or not to the message transmitted by its value. Thus, the receiver consulting a work of art will have a certain degree of pleasure depending on the message due to several factors: its nature, its theme, its transmitted values or even the way in which this message is transmitted. This applies mainly to music, painting, theatre, literature, or poetry.

Thanks to the message delivered by a work of art, the spectator is able to experience pleasure through his or her mastery in analyzing the forms of this work and projecting his or her own spirit into it. This is called "semantic pleasure" and is linked to two questions: "What signs can I recognize?" and "How can I put them together? ».

So, there is a double part in an artistic message: semantic vs. aesthetic. These two parts present signs of a certain level of complexity which are assembled to form a whole which is apprehended by the receiver thanks to something called "cerebral integration".

Information aesthetics thus generalizes the mechanisms of communication through an architectural analysis of a work of art. It does not allow us to state with certainty that there is an objective measure of the "beauty" of a work of art. Rather, it admits that it adapts itself according to several human and social-cultural parameters. We are here in the continuity of Immanuel Kant's judgement of his relationship to "beauty".

Thanks to information aesthetics, we can establish precise rules for making works of art by machine. This is a really interesting application in that today we can create musical works that are totally computer-generated: from the instruments to the sound-design to the words themselves. These works of art that we usually call "generated by Artificial Intelligence" are in fact the product of multiple constructive rules deriving from information aesthetics.

Thanks to information aesthetics, we admit that the messages received by the person consulting a work of art remain anchored in his brain. The receiver assimilates a certain quantity of messages transmitted by the transmitter (artist) and interprets them in order to transform these elements into information, into data.

Obtaining knowledge by Art

Can art be considered as knowledge?

The term "science" comes from the Latin verb "scire" which means "to know". We therefore ask ourselves here about art in terms of knowledge.

The messages received by a work thanks to informational aesthetics allow us to consider them as information or data. Let us recall that knowledge results from a sum of information rearranged in a coherent and stylized manner that depends on each individual. To this sum is also added the individual's beliefs, more precisely those that are true and justified. The artist, on the other hand, is not the main actor in this transfer, since he does not directly give his own knowledge in a work of art. It is therefore not possible to link art and knowledge through the artist's knowledge and the interpretations given by the receivers. We have seen moreover that the different degree of sensitivity in each individual does not make it possible to find recognizable artistic elements in every circumstance.

In our opinion, there is a concept that creates a bridge between knowledge and art, and that is culture: When we look, for example, at a work that is supposed to retrace a historical period, we can learn more about the history of our world: Works of art that focus on our world allow individuals to acquire knowledge that is limited by the artist's vision of that knowledge. We cultivate ourselves through consultation and contemplation of works of art, because by prompting us to contemplate the work even more deeply, our brain obtains information about the context of the work, its history, and typical elements of the work itself, which creates knowledge. Our brain tries to retain the different characteristics of the work of art we are seeing, such as the colors, the instruments being heard or the shapes that make it up. The more we consult a large number of works of art and carry out this work of analysis in our head, the more our culture expands and thus the specific features of each of them will appear as knowledge. We know, for example, what the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris is made of, which is the character depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. From Aristotle's point of view, we could assume that liberal art is the one that most easily brings knowledge: From mathematics derives physical science, which is literally described as "knowledge". In painting and architecture, the observer can be interested in its context, its history. He thus acquires historical knowledge that the work of art has transmitted to him through its style, its colors, its aesthetics.

It is therefore possible to acquire knowledge through art in other different ways. The first is to use art as a means of rejecting justified beliefs and transforming them into knowledge. Another way would be to focus on the moral knowledge that art transmits. According to Eileen John (2001), art has the potential to evoke or transmit to us situations that we may never encounter in our lives. The scenes told in literature or cinema, for example, are a good example to illustrate the stimuli that art provides. Then there is the emotion aroused by art. This is one of the most interesting points in the sense that provoking a reaction in the receiver can be done in so many ways that it is impossible to precisely describe the universal way in which different art forms convey sadness, anger for example. Works of art are therefore designed to allow our imagination to do much of the epistemic work, especially in the literary arts or cinema. We react emotionally to situations experienced by fictional characters, dramatic situations, or plot twists in a story. These moral reactions are knowledge-bearing when they allow the receiver to project himself among the characters and thus learn more about the character, his life. However, this is knowledge that does not allow individuals to situate themselves in an everyday life situation, since it is knowledge that is directly related to the work of art in question but not to the world around the individual. Knowledge and art are related to reality in a completely different way.

Art as a Reality shaper

Let us consider four people standing in front of Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral: Each of them is placed in front of one of the facades among the four cardinal points. Since it is not a symmetrical structure, they will not see the same thing. Everyone will perceive a different reality: from the front or from the side. However, they are indeed facing reality, a reality perceived in two dimensions. Thus, the truth as for it encompasses all the realities perceived by the four individuals since it is a three-dimensional structure. Since this experience is valid for any existing object, what makes it more relevant to art is the fact that the artist has the power to deliberately choose which reality the observer will perceive. 

We recall that this freedom is here proposed by Immanuel Kant's vision and his way of separating art from nature. The quest for reality can be carried out by individuals when the work of art aspires to imitate this reality. Of course, it is also possible that this reality is art itself, especially in the case of architectural works that do not seek to imitate any object in nature. According to Plato, if art should be used to get closer to reality, it is because of its ability to imitate nature.

Thus, if art and knowledge are linked, it is above all the work of the artist who seeks to put himself in the place of his receivers in order to try to understand how they will apprehend his work of art. The artist can question himself on the knowledge of the public he is targeting by giving them new knowledge through a message anchored in the work. He can thus choose to do so by seeking emotional reactions or not. The receivers, for their part, in examining a work of art, use their imagination based on their already acquired knowledge to analyze from an epistemic point of view the elements present in a work of art in order to extract its message to a more or less pronounced sensitivity depending on the individual. Imagination does at least three quarters of the work when looking at a work of art, because we ask ourselves questions about what a work of art does not show explicitly, questions whose elements of response are not directly visible. It is this imagination that enables art to transmit knowledge that the individual will keep in him or her throughout life.


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  • SHANNON, C (1948) “A Mathematical Theory of Communication”, Bell System Technical Journal, R.W King & Julian D. Tebo