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The Science of the TransmissionArt Products, and the Sign Systems and Cultural Meaning of Artistic Activity


Structure and Types of Artistic Generalization

Artistic communication1 establishes intellectual and creative link between author and recipient; it transmits to the latter artistic information containing a certain attitude to the world, artistic conception and stable value orientations. The mediating link in that transmission is the art work, and in the performing arts (music and theatre) also the performer. The transmission of artistic information is isually a two-way communication for it proceeds not only from the author via the work of art to the recipient but also in the reverse direction (feedback). The recipient does not only consume the artistic product but also takes part in its creation. The ontological status, the existence of the art work and its social functioning are determined not only by the author's text but also by the competence of the recipient, his ability to cover his part of the way in the act of communication. The historical, group and individual experience of the recipient interacts with the art text to such a degree as to make it a dialogue between the text and the recipient, and not one-way communication. The recipient only gets from the text as much as his cultural background enables him to read into that text.
In the process of artistic communication the sender (artist) enters into three types of relations: author – reality, author – recipient and author – the creative process. Added to these relations in the process of communication are the relations: recipient – art work, recipient – author and recipient – reality. Each of the essential stages and sides of artistic communication is studied by a separate discipline:
1. Art communication begins with the creative act, with the creation of an artistic text and its subsequent influence on the audience. The study of artistic communication should therefore be preceded by a study of the mental mechanisms that make possible the creative process of materializing the conception into a work of art. That problem is the subject of the psychology of creative work.
2. The psychological mechanism is also involved in the final stage of artistic communication, the assimilation of the art product. It is the subject of the psychology of art perception. The latter combines with the psychology of creative work to form the psychology of art.
3. The creative process is crowned with the creation of an artistic text which is then perceived by the recipient. The artist's thought in that process is encoded into a sign system which constitutes the text of the art work. When the recipient perceives the text he decodes the sign system. All these aspects of the process are the subject of the semiotics of art.
4. The creation of the artistic text and its subsequent perception by the recipient represents the transmission of artistic information, which is the subject of the information theory of art.
5. An essential element in art communication is the perception of art. The latter is more than passive appropriation of the art product, it is the process whereby the ontological status of the artistic text is raised to that of an art work. In other words, it is in the process of perceiving art that art lives as a social phenomenon and becomes a fact of social life. In the process the artistic text and the author's life experience it contains interact with the historical, group and personal experience of the recipient. The artistic text is "enriched" and is capable of communicating with the recipient and acquiring new qualities in the process of this interaction. These processes are the subject of the theory of artistic perception which also concerns itself with aesthetic mechanisms of art perception (identification, synaesthesia, artistic suggestion, aesthetic pleasure, etc.).
6. Artistic communication is effected through understanding the meaning of the art work, and its reading by the recipient in the context of history, social reality, artistic culture and public opinion.
That aspect of artistic communication presupposes that the reader (listener, spectator) understands the historical reality portrayed by the author; the reality contemporary to the recipient; the author's personality; what he wanted to say and what he has actually said; the meaning of the art text; its ambiguities; the spirit of the culture reproduced in the text, and the artistic conception of the text. The theory of understanding is the subject of hermeneutics.
7. Artistic communication includes the perception not only of the meaning of an art work but also of its value. The latter reveals itself as the value of the work for mankind as well as the author's facility (skill) in handling the technical tools and norms of art and the ease with which the conception is materialised in the work. All these aspects are studied by axiology (the theory of values) and the value analysis of the work based on it.
8. The process of artistic communication as interaction between the sender (artist) and the addressee (recipient) through the art work is the subject of the theory of communication.
9. If the recipient is the mass and the art work is brought to it through some powerful modern means of communication ensuring its wide geographical and historical diffusion (i.e. in space and time) the process becomes the object of the theory of mass communications.
There are fundamental differences between the ways an art work is perceived through reading (literature), viewing (theatre), and through a television and cinema screening or radio adaptation, i.e. transmission with the help of mass communications media. In such cases the author's artistic thought is not only expressed by other artistic means and in another language, but is semantically different.
Every type of art engenders its own type of artistic perception whose channels exert a specific impact on the individual that cannot be exerted by other types of artistic perception. Thus, in spite of film, television and radio adaptations of literary works their reading cannot be replaced by other artistic impressions.
The strong sides of reading as a type of artistic perception stem from the active involvement of the reader's experience in perception, the age-old tradition, the effectiveness of verbal imagery and expressive means addressed to the reader's imagination, the link with the national character of culture and the fundamental importance of literature (thanks to the word) for the whole culture and the reverse enriching influence of verbal art on the natural language.
Reading is based on the plastic and intellectual potential of literature, on the historical experience of translation and exposure to a foreign-language culture. Reading has on its side the vast cultural treasury of world values created by Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and the capacity of literature to be in a flexible and direct link with philosophy, morality and other forms of social consciousness. Finally, reading demands a considerable intellectual effort and accordingly possesses a high hedonistic value.
Literature in the true sense exerts not a "mosaic" or manipulatory effect, but the effect of shaping a person's world view.
The information theory of aesthetics (Bense, Frank, Moles) divides information into two types: semantic and aesthetic. Semantic (for example, scientific) information emphasises the transmission of meaning and factual experience while aesthetic information has to do with evalution and the experience of relations. Aesthetic information is more susceptible to interference and intolerant of foreign elements than semantic information. Thus, while a scientific text can, without much loss, be rendered in different words and even adequately expressed in the language of mathematics, an artistic text is destroyed in such rendering or translation into other means.
Other differences of aesthetic information from semantic information include the use of a non-standard code and "redundancy" (for example, the artistic message in theatre is conveyed by several systems duplicating one another), and inherent originality.
According to Bense and his followers, aesthetic information exists on the basis of "sign without meaning". In other words, the signs of the art idiom convey meaning but are deprived of objective meaning, that is, carry useless information unrelated to any practical goal.
Bense's proposition paraphrases in terms of the aesthetic information theory the old Kantian idea that art is a play of fertile imagination devoid of external purpose. One cannot go along with that idea because artistic information carries not only sense but also objective meaning, i.e. artistic value as significance for mankind.
Information aesthetics formulates the conditions for the existence of an art work in the following terms. The minimum conditions that determine its physical existence are: materiality (being embodied in a material form), communicativeness (the function of transmitting information), being man-made (the result of human activity). The maximum conditions that determine the aesthetic reality of an art work are: sign character (an object stands in place of some other), order (subordination to message, organised structure), indefiniteness (lending itself to different interpretations of the message), value (global breadth of the objective meaning, relatedness to mankind as a whole).
Considering artistic work only from the angle of the information theory highlights only the communicative function of art leaving out its other important functions. At the same time, the information theory approach, if correctly applied, reveals an important scientific task of aesthetics, i.e. the creation of a theory of artistic communication.

Artistic Text: The Central Link in Artistic Communication

The first treatment of art as a process of communication is found in Plato's dialogue Ion in which he describes the creation and functioning of art. The muse inspires the artist who in turn inspires others down the line, like a magnet imparting its power to iron rings. An art text carries conceptually loaded and value-oriented information. The communication act in art is transmission of the message and artistic value from the sender (author) to the addressee (recipient). Artistic information and value and the very nature of the communication act depend not only on the author's contribution to the act and what is recorded in the artistic text but also on the cultural background and active attitude of the reader (listener, spectator). An art work is an area of "tension" between the sender of the information and its recipient.
The life of an art work, its social ontology, begins from the moment of its social functioning in which the perception, "consumption" of art is the first stage. The latter happens when there is a dialogue between the public and the art work. This dialogue is two-way: not only the work influences the public, but the latter, by its opinion and understanding, influences the social functioning and realization of the art work as a fact of artistic culture. In the process of perception, the flexible structure of an art work turns and rearranges itself as it were to suit the recipients' attitude. The audience is influenced by an explicitly stated idea or conception inherent in the system of images and by the style of the whole work.
In some arts (applied arts) the artist thinks in terms of style, as it were, style carrying the main flow of information. Style is a reception-oriented and externally expressed inner necessity of the artistic world. In terms of communication, style is a programme of mutual understanding between author and audience fixed in the artistic text. The type of perception, the character of interpretation and the essence of communication depend on the qualities of the text.
The latter can be of three types: scientific (scientific paper, report or lecture), "practical", business (letter, document, reportage, diary) and artistic. Scientific reading does not require interpretation of the text: it lends itself to only one interpretation owing to the monosemantic nature of the text and the definite volume of thought fixed in scientific terms. The interpretation of a "practical" text depends on the communication situation.
The interpretation of an artistic text involves revealing its analogy with reality "through similarity". Herein lies one of the differences between an artistic and a scientific text. An artistic text may have many readings. However, the polysemy of an artistic text is not infinite, not absolute, it has its limits. The readings of an artistic text by different people tend to vary within a certain range around an "axis" of meaning. Beyond the extreme points of allowable variation a reading stops being valid. Although the perception of an artistic text is variant, it contains an invariant of interpretations and offers a stable programme for perception. For all its dependence the personality of the recipient, his mood and experience of life and art, that programme has some firm and stable parameters stemming from the objective content of the artistic text, the underlying artistic conception and values.
In the process of artistic communication there appears a field of the recipient's relations, a combination of objective and subjective factors determining the perception of the communication.
Perception depends on the perception situation of the period, group perception attitudes, the general cultural background, knowledge, emotions and experiences of the recipent, the character of the communication and the circumstances under which it is received (time and place).
The process of artistic communication is realized when the recipient's field of relations coincides with that of the sender.
As distinct from a business text, an artistic communication is based on a special model of communicative relations. An artistic text is 1) complete, not to be tampered with, and at the same time semantically variable, which forms a certain field of communication; 2) the object of an artistic text does not exist outside that text; 3) the field of relations providing the basis for the recipient's communication with the imagined text does not exist before the perception of the text begins. The recipient in perceiving the artistic text is involved in co-creation which produces meaning. The recipient's attitude to the text is interpretation.


The Sign and Its Role in Artistic Culture

Semiotics is the general theory of signs and sign systems. Parallel to the process of the birth of semiotics (its founders are Charles Pierce and Charles Morris, American philosophers) within the bosom of logic and linguistics there was a growing awareness of the language aspects of art which prepared the ground for a fruitful use of ideas of semiotics in the study of artistic culture. In the Soviet Union, the study of art from the angle of semiotics was pioneered by Eisenstein whose new cinema idiom called for theoretical investigations. He conducted them in collaboration with psychologists.
The semiotics of art and aesthetic activity is an important department of modern aesthetics. Let us consider the main propositions of semiotics with reference to the language of art, notably the following strings of concepts: "signal – indication-sign – statement"; "sign – image – artistic statement – artistic text – art work – meta-sign".
Signal is an object exerting an influence on the senses and carrying a certain information.
Indication is a signal that carries unintentional, unprocessed information unloaded with consciously determined information.
A cloud for example is an indication (but not a sign! ) of an approaching rain. While reflecting cause-and-effect relations, it does not carry encoded information.
Sign is a signal that carries meaning, consciously loaded information; it is an object related to another object which it denotes. The sign in cultural behaviour plays the same role as the tool in a working operation. The sign, like the working tool, has the mediatory function, but unlike the working tool, which is an instrument by which man works on the object, the sign merely replaces the object without altering it. The sign is created for an activity whose prime task is to master the essence and change man himself.
The sign is a sensuously perceived object referring those who perceive it to another object. The sign does not replace but stands for the signified (the object denoted). Eisenstein notes that in situations of stress people sometimes suffer a relapse into pre-logical forms of thinking that do not distinguish between the sign and the referent.
"When a girl who has been betrayed tears the 'wicked deceiver's' photograph in anger, she instantly carries out a purely magic operation of destroying the person by destroying his image (based on primitive identification of the image and the object)." The "primitive" form of expressing one's inner state described by Eisenstein is most suitable for art, and the artist would not miss the chance to use it to portray the state of the hero. This led Eisenstein to the assertion that form in art is impossible without a tendency "to regress", while content is impossible without a tendency to "progress". An artistically endowed person must have both these elements in his psyche, with the progressive component predominating. Such is the balance within the creative artist. The regressive component is sensuous thinking without which an artist would not be able to create images. At the same time a person incapable of purposively controlling that field falls at the mercy of the sensuous elements and is doomed to madness rather than creative work. This problem is dealt with in the aesthetics of surrealism which attaches absolute value to the regressive component (the sensuous element of artistic thought) and denies the role of the progressive component (control by reason). This is the theoretical background to the surrealist idea of the "switching off of reason" and automatic writing. In a certain sense it can be said that artistic creation is madness that has a sense of proportion, "madness with method in it".
The sign in art reveals the concrete sensuous basis of thought. In ancient times the name was regarded as the sacred part of the living creature. Calling someone by name, the primitive man revived the essence. The ancient relationship between name and essence provides the basis for the relationship between sign and meaning in artistic work. The sign, like thought in general, is connected with action.
Delving in the depths of archaic consciousness, Eisenstein reveals the link between word and gesture and the primordial gesture meaning of terms. The underlying meaning of the most abstract words can be traced to simple human movements. It is not by chance that Stanislavsky recommends going down to a physical action in order to reproduce an expressive image on the stage. From action, stage behaviour Stanislavsky leads the actor to thoughts and feelings and experiences, which makes it possible to evoke and control the spectator's empathy, which in turn would have a cathartic influence on his soul and change the structure of his consciousness. The actions of the character create tangible signs in stage art from which images, artistic thought and conceptions are made. In a play, objects (parts of the set) also become signs of artistic meanings: they are involved in the action and they must "work". Chekhov liked to say that if a rifle hangs on the wall in the first act in must fire at the end of the play. It is this involvement of stage objects as signs that makes them vehicles of meanings in the theatre.
The functioning of a sign creates a sign situation. The reading of a sign presupposes revealing and understanding the object (the referential meaning of the sign) and the meaning (the semantic meaning of the sign). In a sign situation both meanings manifest themselves. The absence of one component destroys the sign situation. Thus, if a road sign has faded letters it keeps its referential meaning (it refers to a particular stretch of the road) but it makes no sense. On the other hand, if road signs are piled together, each of them has sense but no referential meaning (it is not related to a real object, a particular stretch of the road).
There are different types of signs. One of the early classifications of signs was suggested by Pierce who based it on the way in which meaning and sense are expressed. He singled out three types of signs: iconic, symbolic and index.
Iconic signs resemble the objects denoted giving an idea of the outline of the object, a concrete sensuous image.
Symbols are related to the object by association. They are artificially constructed signs which carry full-scale, sometimes conceptually loaded information, presenting a whole system of concepts in a generalized way. That category usually includes heraldic symbols (coats of arms), trademarks, signs on coins, printing signs, postage stamps, advertising, poster and publishing signs, etc.
Representing a high degree of generalization and conceptual expression, the symbol sign plays an important role in the birth and evolution of artistic culture.
The index sign is naturally and physically linked to the object and presupposes the presence of the object denoted. Thus, in that system of classification, lightning is an index sign of thunder. It would be accurate to say that in this case it is not a sign but an indication, an extra-linguistic sign (in the classification adopted in this book).
The latter has no direct bearing on the semiotics of art.
In their sensory impact signs of artistic culture are divided into audio (addressed to hearing), visual (addressed to sight) and audiovisual signs. The fact that these types of signs provided the basis for the sign system of artistic culture has the following explanation: first, sight and hearing are capable of carrying information over long distances unlike taste, smell or touch which require either direct contact or physical nearness to the object; second, hearing and later (with the appearance of writing) eyesight became historically linked with verbal communication which socially polished these senses and created a tradition of loading them with social and cultural information.
The typology of signs in artistic culture also distinguishes them in terms of their basis: the character and purpose of their functioning.
The most essential type is the sign of belongingness to culture which shows that a given phenomenon is not a natural but a cultural one. One may recall the famous Stone Garden in Japan where natural stones are arranged in a special way. The visitor gets a sign that this is a cultural and not a natural phenomenon. He observes the garden from a terrace which has steps leading down to the garden. But the last step is missing as if to warn the visitor that he cannot walk in the garden, it is a product of culture and not nature and it can only be looked at.
The reflection of reality in art presupposes a measure of convention.
Violation of convention leads to naturalism when the cultural meaning of art disappears. The practical implication of this for art is that the closer the original signs of art to the natural ones, the greater the degree of convention and contrast to nature it must convey through other signs or their combinations or by assigning a greater role to the subjective element. The problem is particularly relevant to artistic photography. The technique ensures that the image is very similar to reality and the artist must take particular care to emphasize the convention of his art and the subjective aspect of the pictures.
The sign of receptory anticipation warns the reader, spectator or listener about the character (type, kind or genre) of the work he is about to perceive; that sign helps a person to tune in to a certain reception wave (tragedy or comedy, symphony or light ditty) and to prepare himself mentally for the perception of the work. The receptory anticipation signs also include the indication of genre in published literary works, an overture to an opera, introductory musical phrase to a chastushka (light topical ditty), the announcement of the type and theme of an exhibition. Signs are the primary elements of an artistic text. They form themselves into an artistic statement.

The Language of Art. Art Work: The Meta-Sign of Artistic Culture

The language of art, like any other language system, needs a particular code (in the case in hand, the artistic code), i.e. a dynamic system of rules for using signs.
An approach that considers only the inner logic of the system of signs is found wanting in the study of artistic culture. It is also necessary to take into account the real meanings which these signs carry.
In art, the system of meanings and senses of sounds takes the form of the artistic image which in terms of semiotics is an artistic statement. This type of statement carries artistic, universally human, non-utilitarian information. While being of the nature of a sign in its origin and being expressed by signs the artistic image is not itself a sign. The artistic text is a combination of images, a system of artistic statements that form an artistic message.
The sign is the minimal unit of an artistic text. The difference between the signs and the utterance is that in the process of communication the signs must be recognized and the utterance understood. The system of statements (utterances) constitutes an artistic text whose semantic content – the artistic conception – must be interpreted and evaluated.
An artistic text appears by transition from the level of signs to the level of object-semantic content. The attitude to the world and its values contained in the art work is realized in disappearing signs, in a sign system that dissolves itself. An artistic text refers us not to language but to the interpenetrating materiality and spirituality in the inner world of the work.
The structure of an artistic text is formed of artistic images and the latter are made up of signs. However, every transition to a higher level (from signs to artistic statement, i.e. to image, from a system of images to artistic text) involves a qualitative leap, a resolution of the preceding level and the emergence and addition of a new quality of sense and new meanings of artistic thought.
The artistic text (a closed system) acquires the status of an art work (open system) in the process of social being, in the process of cultural communication. The art work, being a minimal unit, an element of artistic culture, is a sign of artistic culture, or rather, its meta-sign, i.e. a sign carrying a higher semantic content and broader object meaning than ordinary signs of which the image is built.
Artistic culture as an entity is made up of meta-signs, i.e. art works.
The dialectics of the artistic process is extremely complex. It combines sign and non-sign elements: signs, through a qualitative leap, shape into an artistic statement, i.e. an artistic image (a non-sign entity); the images make up an artistic text (another leap), whose inclusion in social functioning makes it an art work, a meta-sign of artistic culture. A meta-sign (art work) has sense (artistic conception) and object meaning (value for mankind).
Semiotics interprets the language-communicative aspects of the artistic process. Style in terms of semiotics is the phenomenon of a "a diversity of languages within a language", as recognition of basic equivalence of various styles, as the possibility, within certain limits, of translating the sense of a statement from one micro-language (style) into another. The translatability of style (similar to translation from one language into another with the preservation of the original sense) is readily observed in the performing arts where the same work can be performed in different styles. Within the same language (macro-system) there exist stylistic varieties (micro-languages), and in that sense artistic culture presents us with stylistic diversity just like multilingualism. The semiotic approach to style in art detects and interprets an author's "hand", the "pronunciation" of the signs of the artistic culture.



The Multi-Lingual Nature of Artistic Culture

All types of artistic and aesthetic activity produce their own ramified, synonym-rich languages which alone make possible the existence of different branches of art.
The word is the verbal sign. Accordingly one can interpret semiotically many important problems in the relationship between the different arts, and the leading role of literature in their system.
The word accompanies or comments on all the non-verbal arts. The constructive quality of the word is polysemy.
Theatre is a communication unfolding in the space of the stage and over time. The key element of the stage language is the spoken word.
But the sign system of the theatre language includes both verbal and non-verbal signs. Non-verbal signs include index signs (e.g., thunder in the performance of Shakespeare's King Lear2), iconic signs (stage sets) and symbolic signs (e.g., the picture of a seagull on the curtain at the Moscow Art Theatre).
Theatre is informational polyphony and organized dynamics of stage signs. The spectator sometimes gets as many as six to seven messages simultaneously coming from the sets, costumes, lighting, position of the actors on the stage, their gestures, mime and speech.
A stage play is a complex, multi-code system of signs. The multi-code nature of the play makes it possible for theatrical art to address itself at once to the connoisseur spectator who is capable of grasping the full meaning of the performance because he has mastered all its codes, and the general public which understands the stage action knowing only several of the codes. The duplication and mutual complement of channels of information and codes makes a stage play a particularly reliable and effective means of artistic communication.
Music generalizes and processes the intonations of human speech into its own language which has a hierarchy of levels: individual sounds, sound combinations and chords. The sound scale of European music consists of seven main tones. Simultaneous combination of three or more tones yields a chord. Volume, tempo and rhythm also play a meaningful sign role in music. These signs combine into the musical phrase which is an artistic utterance, a musical image, and the system of images forms a musical text.
Nature has no musical sounds, but merely noises showing varying degrees of organization. The musical sound is a phenomenon of culture. While colour in painting can be described in terms of comparison with objects (yellow is like lemon), the musical sound can only be described through a metaphor ("the long sobs of autumnal violins"). "Concrete music" deprives noises of their natural qualities turning them into pseudo-sounds. Semiotic analysis shows that in changing the nature of the signs of musical language, "concrete music" destroys music.
In the cinema the minimal artistic utterance is the montage phrase which in the silent cinema was often accompanied by a written utterance and in the sound cinema is indicated by a frame-episode.
The sign system of the visual arts has evolved over the years and continues to evolve. Among the semantic elements of the system of painting are the processed flat surface, regular edges of the picture and the frame (these factors were absent in cliff drawings).
In modern times there has appeared a kind of painting that does not portray depth of space and is unframed. Its analogue in sculpture is a statue without a pedestal, suspended or standing on the ground.
There is sign meaning in parts of the picture surface and the position of the object of potrayal in that surface. In a portrait by Munch the introspective subject is placed to one side in an empty space. That produces an artistically meaningful effect enhanced by the concentrated pose and other elements which add up to an expression of sadness and alienation. The artist J. Gris pointed out that a yellow spot carries different visual "weight" in the upper and lower fields of the picture. The sign meaning of "up" and "down" in painting is connected with the vertical position of the human body, the direction of the force of gravity, and the experience of observing the earth and the sky. "Right" and "left" as parts of the picture space carry meaning owing to the traditions of culture, notably the historical type of writing (direction) and owing to the asymmetry between the right and left hands.
The language of painting includes among its signs the format of the picture and the size of this or that figure. Larger-than-life figures in painting or sculpture convey the grandeur of the individual portrayed, while a miniature format confers intimacy, elegance and preciousness on the object. In ancient art the main protagonist was often larger than other figures and even larger than the trees and the mountains. In the Renaissance period new signs were introduced to indicate the social significance of a figure: the dress, signs of distinction, pose, place in the picture and position relative to other figures.
Meaning is carried also by such elements of the painting as sign-carrying matter, i.e. artificial marks made in pencil, pen, or brush (lines and spots). The impressionists introduced new signs capable of conveying light, the air texture, the interplay of colours. The tree in their paintings is a blob of colour. The shape and colour of these blobs on the canvas bear little resemblance to the shape and colour of parts of a real tree. The sign of a tree put on a canvas is identified as a tree thanks to the context, but individual dashes and strokes of the brush do not remind one of leaves and branches.
As soon as a flexible, ramified and synonymically rich sign system emerges speech in that language acquires artistic qualities (cinema and television as arts arose in that way), and the signs making up the text acquire artistic expressiveness (this underlies the art of calligraphy and the artistic value of old manuscripts and heirogliphic documents which have no artistic content in themselves). Not only art proper but aesthetic activity in general develops a specific language which subsequently influences artistic culture.
For example, carnival as a form of aesthetic activity with its own language penetrates art culture conferring some of its features on it. The carnival has produced a whole language of symbolic concrete-sensuous forms. This language is used to "pronounce" whole "utterances" (for example, large and complex mass events) and some signs enter a sign system (for example, certain gestures during the carnival). This language has articulated a carnivalesque perception of the world which informs it. It cannot be adequately translated into a spoken, let alone a scientific language. But a relatively accurate translation of "carnival speech" can be made into the speech of literature which is akin to it in its concrete-sensuous character.

Mechanisms of the Functioning of Artistic Culture

Culture is an activity itself and a product of human activity, the non-genetic, social memory of mankind. Culture is the "man-made" nature and the process of its production. Culture is a means of organizing a social entity, a means of man's reproducing himself as a spiritual being and revealing his inherent potential. Artistic culture is the most stable humanistic area of culture, for all its variability.
Artistic culture has a complex structure and includes two systems: 1) a system of institutions ensuring the production, personnel training, management, distribution, diffusion and consumption of artistic culture; 2) the system of art and its works. Each of these systems falls into subsystems.
The existence and social functioning of artistic culture involves three essential processes (and in that respect an art work is similar to other types of production in society): 1) the production of artistic values; 2) the distribution of artistic values; 3) the consumption of artistic values. These three processes involve both systems of artistic culture, i.e. the institutions and art proper.
Art as a cultural phenomenon is divided into branches each having, as shown above, its specific language and its sign system. The multilingual nature of artistic culture presupposes that an artistic person is a cultural polyglot. Indeed, the simplest model of a creative act in culture is reverse translation. In the translation of a message, say, from a verbal language into the visual language the original message is encoded into another sign system. If one makes a translation back into the initial sign system the original statement would in the process undergo such a change that the resulting text will be a new product of a creative act. Any cultural artistic activity thus presupposes at least two language systems.
The multiplicity of the language systems in artistic culture ensures the effectiveness of one of the key functions of art, the aesthetic function: art awakens in man a creator of material and spiritual values in accordance with the laws of beauty. By ensuring the creativity of the human spirit artistic culture acts as a guarantor, as it were, of the extended self-reproduction of culture. Thus, the process which consists of production – distribution – consumption of artistic values is a process developing in an upward trend.
The artistically created phenomena of artistic culture obey many social factors and laws in their production, social functioning, distribution and consumption. Only by revealing these laws is it possible to understand and predict the phenomena of artistic culture.
In other words any prognostication of artistic culture is only possible if there is a theory which accurately reflects the laws of the existence of art.
The sphere of art culture is the sphere of artistic values, which represent the highest man-made forms of aesthetic values. Aesthetic values are always involved in culture although they may preserve their natural autonomy (beauty in nature). In that case the inclusion of aesthetic values in culture takes the form of a certain value being attached to a natural phenomenon in real life. In other words, the beauty of a natural object is its quality born by society, it has a cultural origin (being the result of human activity) although the object is natural and owes neither its origin nor its existence to man.
Aesthetic values may be part of culture (design products). If one were to summarily describe the difference between artistic values and aesthetic values in nature one can say that the former express the objective aesthetic richness of the world, the aesthetic attitude of man to reality and are an embodiment of that attitude in a skillfully fashioned cultural phenomenon. This description of artistic values has been given in terms of the philosophical-axiological approach which is aimed at revealing not the differences but the common nature of all aesthetic values (the objective significance for mankind and the sphere of freedom)3. A look at the problem from the point of view of culturology and semiotics with the use of their conceptual apparatus would reveal some important specific differences between art values and aesthetic values in nature.
As distinct from the aesthetic value of a natural phenomenon an artistic value is a value arising in a language communication situation, transmitted by language signs.
Let us consider a concrete example. The rainbow is a sign of the change of weather from rain to sunshine. That natural phenomenon is very beautiful (aesthetically valuable). The beauty of a rainbow is an index sign (in accordance with the above-given classification of signs) or an indication of an objective aesthetic quality of the phenomenon. That sign is involved in a reception situation and not in a language or communication situation, i.e. there is only the object (rainbow), its qualities (beauty), and the sensuous form of expression (the combination of seven colours in the rainbow) which plays the role of an index sign or quality. The quality is the beauty of the rainbow. But here there is no language communication situation, e.g. there is no sender of the information.
In contrast, art values are conveyed only in iconic and symbolic signs (but not in index signs). These signs are included in a communication (transmission of the artistic message from author to recipient) and language situation: there is a cultural code for reading the signs; they are related to artistic sense (and not a quality) and are a specific form of communication, they have been consciously created in order to pass information from man to man.
An artistic value is an international (purposive, directed) language sign. Unlike the aesthetic value of a natural phenomenon, an artistic value is a means of communication, a means of conveying value orientations from person to person. To understand an artistic value it is important to treat a work of art as a meta-sign (an indivisible element) of artistic culture.
All the above qualities of an artistic value apply to a man-made aesthetic value (the product of design). The difference between them is merely that the aesthetic value of a design product is expressed through a system of signs which carry not only a value (object) meaning, but also indicate a practical function of the given aesthetic product. The function of an artistic value is so broad and universal that it merges with value meaning. To the extent that the practical significance of a design product historically declines and the product becomes outdated, its aesthetic value rises to the level of artistic value. For example, with the advent of the water pipe the direct (utilitarian) value of ceramic vessels (to help carry and store water) disappeares and they acquire the universal human significance of a finely conceived and wrought form, i.e. their aesthetic value rises to the level of artistic value. It is not by chance that in our day ancient Greek vases and other ceramic vessels are kept in art museums. They were made as objects of practical necessity which had aesthetic value. But their evolution in the cultural context led to their acquiring the value of a work of art. Such is the mechanism of the movement of man-made aesthetic values, such is the historical dialectics of their entering the sphere of artistic culture.

1 Some kinds of art (e.g., didactic and manipulatory forms) have only a communicative function. But art in the high sense is always artistic generalization.
2 Strictly speaking an index sign (thunder, etc.) in art acquires the funktion of a symbol sign, for it brings the viewer information not about a storm (the spectator is sitting in the theatre and no storm will break out over his head), but about the tragic situation of the hero. In art, then, only symbol and iconic signs are possible.
3 These problems are considered in detail in the section "Aesthetics: the Axiology of Universal Human Values".