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Reading: Henryk Elzenberg as a Forerunner of Anglo-American Concepts of Expression


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Henryk Elzenberg as a Forerunner of Anglo-American Concepts of Expression


Krzysztof Guczalski

Institute of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University, Grodzka 52, 31-044 Kraków, PL
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Classic expression theory identified the emotional content of works of art with the feelings of the artists and the recipients. This content thus appeared to be external to the work itself. Consequently, formalism declared it to be irrelevant to a work’s value. A way out of this predicament – one which the Polish aesthetician Henryk Elzenberg (1887–1967) was among the first to propose – was suggested by the idea that physical, sensory objects can themselves possess emotional qualities. Thanks to Bouwsma and Beardsley, this concept – of expressiveness as a quality – became common in Anglo-American aesthetics from the 1950s onwards. At the same time, these authors demanded that the term ‘expression’ be expunged from the language of aesthetics. But the widespread tendency to conceptualize the emotional content of art in terms of the expression of a certain subject (most often the artist) still requires some explanation – interpretation, rather than negation. One interpretation construes the expressiveness of works of art in terms of the expression of a fictitious subject, the ‘work’s persona’, conceived by Elzenberg in the 1950s and 1960s. This article discusses his concept and explains some of its more complex aspects, before addressing the emergence of a very similar concept within Anglo-American aesthetics. This concept was gradually elaborated in the 1970s and 1980s, but only in the 1990s did it become more fully developed and widely discussed.
How to Cite: Guczalski, Krzysztof. “Henryk Elzenberg as a Forerunner of Anglo-american Concepts of Expression”. Estetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics 49, no. 2 (2012): 191–231. DOI:
Published on 25 Nov 2012.


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