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Philosophy of Art

Reading Sylvia Plath: Does knowing about an artist help us appreciate their work?

Abstract: The approach that we typically take to art, in the unexamined position, is one that posits that appreciation should be based on a correct understanding and interpretation of the artwork in question. Here I argue that as non-specialists we ought rather to begin from an emotive and personal response to the work and in that way base our appreciation not on knowledge but on phenomenology. To make this case three poems from Sylvia Plath’s Ariel collection (1965) are examined. As Plath wrote confessional poetry a short biography is provided and the selected poems are set against what we know of her life and thus what the poems may ostensively mean, with each poem being progressively less transparent. Within this context of decreasing knowledge the question of appreciation is raised and some potential benefits of a personally emotional and time-specific comportment towards art are offered.

Keywords: art appreciation; knowing about art; Sylvia Plath; understanding art

Reading Sylvia Plath_Andrew Oberg

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the journal Cultural Studies, 5 (2017), 21-40.