Networks of attribution: the cultural origins of meaning.
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HAMLYN, J. 2015. Networks of attribution: the cultural origins of meaning. In Proceedings of the 10th international conference on the arts in society and arts in society knowledge community, 22-24 July 2015, London, UK.
Despite the fact that we commonly refer to artworks as 'meaningful' things, this is not to say that meaning is an objective property analogous to size or shape. If meaning is not a physical property, then it follows that it can only be a way of using things, of treating them as if they were imbued with features that they do not actually possess. Meaning is thus an attribution in which we agree through social consensus to use objects as tokens of power, prestige, celebration, explanation, instruction and so on. I argue that such symbolic procedures originate in practices of tool-use in which tools are commonly employed in various different ways depending on context and opportunity. The purpose of this paper is to show that the ability to interpret artworks and more generally to ascribe meanings, is a highly sophisticated cultural capacity and, more specifically, a verbal skill dependent upon a network of symbolic resources and techniques that only a socially evolved linguistic culture can provide and enable.