Corrected subject – Does a work of art always have a meaning?

This subject notably fell in the philosophy test of the 2015 French baccalaureate. See all the exam questions of the 2015 French baccalaureate.



You could introduce your essay with a quote or a reference to a literary work.

For example, Honoré de Balzac’s short story Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu (The Unknown Masterpiece) fits very well with this question that pinpoints the problem of the meaning of the work. The description of painting art is particularly fine and adapted to the question of the meaning of the work. This problem is posed with all the more insistence, and even takes a dramatic turn, when Frenhofer, disappointed by the reaction of his disciples to the sight of his work, sets fire to his studio and dies.


Work of art: the definition of a work of art would deserve a philosophical reflection of its own. This is what you could point out at the outset, and say that you were going to develop this definition throughout the assignment. However, it was good to already start understanding what is meant by a work of art. Immanuel Kant defined it by saying already what it is not: “The product or consequence of art is distinguished as a work (opus) from the product of nature as an effect (effects)”. The art distinguishes itself, moreover, from the craft, and from the science.

To make sense: To be logical, rational, in accordance with reason. But you could also play on the polysemy of the word “sense”, by explaining its different acceptations.

Always: this little word has all its importance in the question: does the work of art have a meaning in all circumstances, whatever happens?


Many issues were possible. We chose here to focus on the word “meaning”.

Is the work of art necessarily characterized by logic? Is it not rather the characteristic of the work of art to make emerge the irrational one? How the work of art by this opening on the insane can it produce its own values which give it since?


We will follow a dialectical plan, which is particularly adapted for this type of subject, of the form “has it”/“has it”. See development.


You could, of course, choose many other ways of approaching and answering the question, there is not only one solution. Give in comments below your ideas, your outlines, your comments.

I. The work of art makes us see reality, it produces truth, and therefore has a meaning

Aristotle in The Poetics posits the essential function of tragedy as that of catharsis: the purification of the passions.

For Hegel, the work of art is the expression of a period and a time, it says something about the period and the people.

For Karl Marx, the work of art is a prism through which one can see the interests of the classes being expressed.

II. The work of art must be free of any interest, without necessarily evacuating the meaning completely

For Immanuel Kant, the work of art must be disinterested. The beautiful is to be distinguished from the useful, the pleasant, and the truth: there is no objective knowledge.

In The Birth of Tragedy, of Friedrich Nietzsche, art is engaged in a fight against the truth. In The Twilight of the Idols: “When one excluded from art the goal to moralize and to improve the men, it does still not follow that art must be absolutely without end, without a goal and deprived of direction.

III. The sense of the work of art resides only in the immaterial relation, freed from the rationality that it implies

Bergson, to understand how the art allows us to perceive reality directly, but to the condition of the disinterestedness: “The art is surely only a more direct vision of the reality. But this pureness of perception implies a rupture with the useful convention, an innate and specially localized disinterestedness of the sense or the conscience, finally a certain immateriality of the life,” he writes in The Laughter.

Merleau-Ponty recalls the raw perception that is at stake in the work of art, the presence in the world that it constitutes, freed from the rational point of view. In L’Œil est l’esprit, he explains how the work of art offers the imaginary texture of reality to the eye.

Give your opinions, your outlines, in the comments below. And feel free to check out the other corrections:

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