I am currently translating course descriptions in to English as part of my job, and I came across this expression in a description for an Art class which I found completely baffling. As far as I know, 「問う」means to ask, but to ask an art piece? What does this mean, and why is it said in this way? Thanks in advance for your answers!

Edit: My apologies, I should have included the original sentence. Here it is!


2 Answers 2


This 問う is not about asking a question, but about asking for a reputation/judgement from many people. What artists will get from the society is not answers but reputations.

According to a dictionary, 問う has the following meanings:

  • 多くの人に判断を求める。
  • 人の能力や物事の価値などを改めて試す。

Perhaps "to test" is the closest single-word equivalent in English.

  • What's the significance of contrasting 社会の中で vs. 社会に向けて in his phrase?
    – macraf
    Jan 4, 2017 at 6:34
  • And as a related question: couldn't it mean that "artists are creators on one hand, but they are also passing judgments on (i.e. questioning) others' art to the society"? Something like: they are creators and public opinion-makers at the same time.
    – macraf
    Jan 4, 2017 at 6:35
  • @macraf ①社会の中で問う is simply unnatural. While 社会 itself is emphasized, there is no contrast between 社会の中で and 社会に向けて. They create in the society, and they 問う to the society. ②Again, this 問う is not "to question." Artists don't make opinions nor criticize others in this context; they only receive opinions from the society after they create something.
    – naruto
    Jan 4, 2017 at 6:52
  • 1) Why is 社会の中で here at all? 2) I implicitly asked for a reason. You responded with "again, because it is so". I can't say I've learnt the reason from your answer.
    – macraf
    Jan 4, 2017 at 6:59
  • Because 社会との関わり is what the author wants to emphasize. The usage of 向けて itself is contrasted to nothing; it's the word that happens to be used with 問う. "It's in the society that artists create, and it's the society that artists ask for the value of their works." We say Aを社会に向けて問う and Aを社会に問う, but usually not Aを社会で問う.
    – naruto
    Jan 4, 2017 at 7:25

This 問う means "ask a judgment". 芸術家は、社会に向けて作品を問う means "Artists ask a judgment about their art to society(people).

For example, Japanese politicians often say 選挙で民意を問いたい(I want to elicit the public opinion in election).

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