Philosophy Faculty Publications


Morris Weitz

Document Type

Encyclopedia Entry

Publication Date


Publication Source

The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, Second Edition


Morris Weitz’s initial theory of art was provided in his book Philosophy of the Arts (1950). Here Weitz calls his theory of art “empirical” and “organic,” and he defined “art” as “an organic complex or integration of expressive elements embodied in a sensuous medium." By “empirical” he means that his theory answers to the evidence provided by actual works of art. “Organic,” for Weitz, means that each element is to be considered in relation to the others in a living and not merely mechanical way. Weitz also has a broad understanding of “expressive,” which refers to an artistic property that functions as a semiotic sign, either of a specific emotional feeling, an emotional quality, or another sign of an emotional feature.

These expressive signs are at once presentational and representational in his view, by which he means that they both are something and are about something (at the very least they are about emotion or emotional qualities).

In this way his early theory of the art object can be classified as a formalist one that expands upon the traditions of Clive Bell and Roger Fry in a way that deepens the concept of form so that it provides particular kinds of emotional content, thereby incorporating the theories of John Dewey and a list of practicing artists and critics that includes DeWitt Parker, A.C. Bradley, Albert Barnes, Martha Graham, Frank Lloyd Wright and others. Indeed, in Weitz’ initial theory form and content are identical; he denies that in art these are separable dichotomies, since both refer to the “what” and the “how” of an artwork as a whole.



Document Version



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Oxford University Press



Place of Publication

New York, NY



Link to published version