Art theory has consistently emphasised the importance of situational, cultural, institutional and historical factors in viewers’ experience of fine art. However, the link between this heavily context-dependent interpretation and the workings of the mind is often left unexamined. Drawing on relevance theory—a prominent, cogent and productive body of work in cognitive pragmatics—we here argue that fine art achieves its effects by prompting the use of cognitive processes that are more commonly employed in the interpretation of words and other stimuli presented in a communicative context. We describe in particular how institutional factors effectively co-opt these processes for new ends, allowing viewers to achieve cognitive effects that they otherwise would not, and so provide cognitivist backing for an Institutional Theory of Art, such as that put forward by Arthur Danto. More generally, we situate and describe the Western fine art tradition as a phenomenon that is a consequence of both the cognitive processes involved in communication, and of cultural norms, practices and institutions.
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DOI 10.1007/s13164-019-00443-y
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Studies in the Way of Words.H. P. Grice - 1989 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Meaning and Relevance.Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber - 2012 - Cambridge University Press.
Studies in the Way of Words.D. E. Over - 1990 - Philosophical Quarterly 40 (160):393-395.

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