Key Terms in Philosophy of Art

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If so, then a separate canon and gynocentric definitions of art are indicated Battersby , Frueh In any case, in the face of these facts, the project of defining art in anything like the traditional way is to be regarded with suspicion Brand, An eighth argument sort of skeptical argument concludes that, insofar as almost all contemporary definitions foreground the nature of art works , rather than the individual arts to which most? If these hard cases are artworks, what makes them so, given their apparent lack of any of the traditional properties of artworks?

Are, they, at best, marginal cases? On the other hand, if they are not artworks, then why have generations of experts — art historians, critics, and collectors — classified them as such? And to whom else should one look to determine the true nature of art? There are, it is claimed, few or no empirical studies of art full stop, though empirical studies of the individual arts abound. Such disputes inevitably end in stalemate.

What Is Art? Plato VS Aristotle

Stalemate results because a standard artwork-focused definitions of art endorse different criteria of theory choice, and b on the basis of their preferred criteria, appeal to incompatible intuitions about the status of such theoretically-vexed cases. In consequence, disagreements between standard definitions of art that foreground artworks are unresolvable. To avoid this stalemate, an alternative definitional strategy that foregrounds the arts rather than individual artworks, is indicated.

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See section 4. Philosophers influenced by the moderate Wittgensteinian strictures discussed above have offered family resemblance accounts of art, which, as they purport to be non-definitions, may be usefully considered at this point. Two species of family resemblance views will be considered: the resemblance-to-a-paradigm version, and the cluster version. Against this view: since things do not resemble each other simpliciter , but only in at least one respect or other, the account is either far too inclusive, since everything resembles everything else in some respect or other, or, if the variety of resemblance is specified, tantamount to a definition, since resemblance in that respect will be either a necessary or sufficient condition for being an artwork.

The family resemblance view raises questions, moreover, about the membership and unity of the class of paradigm artworks.

The Definition of Art

If the account lacks an explanation of why some items and not others go on the list of paradigm works, it seems explanatorily deficient. The cluster version of the family resemblance view has been defended by a number of philosophers Bond , Dissanayake , Dutton , Gaut The view typically provides a list of properties, no one of which is a necessary condition for being a work of art, but which are jointly sufficient for being a work of art, and which is such that at least one proper subset thereof is sufficient for being a work of art.

Lists offered vary, but overlap considerably. Here is one, due to Gaut: 1 possessing positive aesthetic properties; 2 being expressive of emotion; 3 being intellectually challenging; 4 being formally complex and coherent; 5 having the capacity to convey complex meanings; 6 exhibiting an individual point of view; 7 being original; 8 being an artifact or performance which is the product of a high degree of skill; 9 belonging to an established artistic form; 10 being the product of an intention to make a work of art Gaut The cluster account has been criticized on several grounds.

Second, if the list of properties is incomplete, as some cluster theorists hold, then some justification or principle would be needed for extending it. Third, the inclusion of the ninth property on the list, belonging to an established art form , seems to regenerate or duck , rather than answer, the definitional question. Finally, it is worth noting that, although cluster theorists stress what they take to be the motley heterogeneity of the class of artworks, they tend with surprising regularity to tacitly give the aesthetic a special, perhaps unifying, status among the properties they put forward as merely disjunctive.

One cluster theorist, for example, gives a list very similar to the one discussed above it includes representational properties, expressiveness, creativity, exhibiting a high degree of skill, belonging to an established artform , but omits aesthetic properties on the grounds that it is the combination of the other items on the list which, combined in the experience of the work of art, are precisely the aesthetic qualities of the work Dutton Gaut, whose list is cited above, includes aesthetic properties as a separate item on the list, but construes them very narrowly; the difference between these ways of formulating the cluster view appears to be mainly nominal.

Definitions of art attempt to make sense of two different sorts of facts: art has important historically contingent cultural features, as well as trans-historical, pan-cultural characteristics that point in the direction of a relatively stable aesthetic core. Whether the concept of art is precise enough to justify this much confidence about what falls under its extension claim is unclear.

Such classically-flavored definitions take traditional concepts like the aesthetic or allied concepts like the formal, or the expressive as basic, and aim to account for the phenomena by making those concepts harder — for example, by endorsing a concept of the aesthetic rich enough to include non-perceptual properties, or by attempting an integration of those concepts e.

Conventionalist definitions deny that art has essential connection to aesthetic properties, or to formal properties, or to expressive properties, or to any type of property taken by traditional definitions to be essential to art.

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Conventionalist definitions have been strongly influenced by the emergence, in the twentieth century, of artworks that seem to differ radically from all previous artworks. Conventionalist definitions have also been strongly influenced by the work of a number of historically-minded philosophers, who have documented the rise and development of modern ideas of the fine arts, the individual arts, the work of art, and the aesthetic Kristeller, Shiner, Carroll, Goehr, Kivy.


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Conventionalist definitions come in two varieties, institutional and historical. Institutionalist conventionalism, or institutionalism, a synchronic view, typically hold that to be a work of art is to be an artifact of a kind created, by an artist, to be presented to an artworld public Dickie Historical conventionalism, a diachronic view, holds that artworks necessarily stand in an art-historical relation to some set of earlier artworks.

The groundwork for institutional definitions was laid by Arthur Danto, better known to non-philosophers as the long-time influential art critic for the Nation. Clause iv is what makes the definition institutionalist.

The view has been criticized for entailing that art criticism written in a highly rhetorical style is art, lacking but requiring an independent account of what makes a context art historical , and for not applying to music. The most prominent and influential institutionalism is that of George Dickie.


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  • According to an early version, a work of art is an artifact upon which some person s acting on behalf of the artworld has conferred the status of candidate for appreciation Dickie Both versions have been widely criticized. Philosophers have objected that art created outside any institution seems possible, although the definition rules it out, and that the artworld, like any institution, seems capable of error. Davies , pp. Early on, Dickie claimed that anyone who sees herself as a member of the artworld is a member of the artworld: if this is true, then unless there are constraints on the kinds of things the artworld can put forward as artworks or candidate artworks, any entity can be an artwork though not all are , which appears overly expansive.

    Finally, Matravers has helpfully distinguished strong and weak institutionalism. Strong institutionalism holds that there is some reason that is always the reason the art institution has for saying that something is a work of art. Weak institutionalism holds that, for every work of art, there is some reason or other that the institution has for saying that it is a work of art Matravers Manipulating an artistic vehicle is in turn possible only if the artist consciously operates with reference to shared understandings embodied in the practices of a community of receivers.

    The valued functions collective belief in which make an institution an art institution are those spelled out by Gaut in his cluster account see section 3. Some institutional social kinds have this trait: something can fail to be a token of that kind even if there is collective agreement that it counts as a token of that kind. Suppose someone gives a big cocktail party, to which everyone in Paris invited, and things get so out of hand that the casualty rate is greater than the Battle of Austerlitz.

    Even if everyone thinks the event was a cocktail party, it is possible contrary to Searle that they are mistaken: it may have been a war or battle. All of them are, or resemble, inductive definitions: they claim that certain entities belong unconditionally to the class of artworks, while others do so because they stand in the appropriate relations thereto. A second version, historical narrativism, comes in several varieties.

    On one, a sufficient but not necessary condition for the identification of a candidate as a work of art is the construction of a true historical narrative according to which the candidate was created by an artist in an artistic context with a recognized and live artistic motivation, and as a result of being so created, it resembles at least one acknowledged artwork Carroll On another, more ambitious and overtly nominalistic version of historical narrativism, something is an artwork if and only if 1 there are internal historical relations between it and already established artworks; 2 these relations are correctly identified in a narrative; and 3 that narrative is accepted by the relevant experts.

    The experts do not detect that certain entities are artworks; rather, the fact that the experts assert that certain properties are significant in particular cases is constitutive of art Stock The similarity of these views to institutionalism is obvious, and the criticisms offered parallel those urged against institutionalism. First, historical definitions appear to require, but lack, any informative characterization of art traditions art functions, artistic contexts, etc.

    Correlatively, non-Western art, or alien, autonomous art of any kind appears to pose a problem for historical views: any autonomous art tradition or artworks — terrestrial, extra-terrestrial, or merely possible — causally isolated from our art tradition, is either ruled out by the definition, which seems to be a reductio , or included, which concedes the existence of a supra-historical concept of art.

    So, too, there could be entities that for adventitious reasons are not correctly identified in historical narratives, although in actual fact they stand in relations to established artworks that make them correctly describable in narratives of the appropriate sort.

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    Philosophy of art and aesthetics pdf

    Second, historical definitions also require, but do not provide a satisfactory, informative account of the basis case — the first artworks, or ur-artworks, in the case of the intentional-historical definitions, or the first or central art-forms, in the case of historical functionalism.

    Third, nominalistic historical definitions seem to face a version of the Euthyphro dilemma. If, on one hand, they include no characterization of what it is to be an expert, and hence no explanation as to why the list of experts contains the people it does, then they imply that what makes things artworks is inexplicable. On the other hand, suppose such definitions provide a substantive account of what it is to be an expert, so that to be an expert is to possess some ability lacked by non-experts taste, say in virtue of the possession of which they are able to discern historical connections between established artworks and candidate artworks.

    Defenders of historical definitions have replies. First, as regards autonomous art traditions, it can be held that anything we would recognize as an art tradition or an artistic practice would display aesthetic concerns, because aesthetic concerns have been central from the start, and persisted centrally for thousands of years, in the Western art tradition.


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    • Hence it is an historical, not a conceptual truth that anything we recognize as an art practice will centrally involve the aesthetic; it is just that aesthetic concerns that have always dominated our art tradition Levinson But this principle entails, implausibly, that every concept is purely historical. Suppose that we discovered a new civilization whose inhabitants could predict how the physical world works with great precision, on the basis of a substantial body of empirically acquired knowledge that they had accumulated over centuries.

      The reason we would credit them with having a scientific tradition might well be that our own scientific tradition has since its inception focused on explaining things. It does not seem to follow that science is a purely historical concept with no essential connection to explanatory aims.

      Second, as to the first artworks, or the central art-forms or functions, some theorists hold that an account of them can only take the form of an enumeration. Stecker takes this approach: he says that the account of what makes something a central art form at a given time is, at its core, institutional, and that the central artforms can only be listed Stecker and Whether relocating the list at a different, albeit deeper, level in the definition renders the definition sufficiently informative is an open question.

      Experts are able, it is said, to create new categories of art. When created, new categories bring with them new universes of discourse. New universes of discourse in turn make reasons available that otherwise would not be available. Traditional definitions take some function s or intended function s to be definitive of artworks.

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      Here only aesthetic definitions, which connect art essentially with the aesthetic — aesthetic judgments, experience, or properties — will be considered. Different aesthetic definitions incorporate different views of aesthetic properties and judgments. See the entry on aesthetic judgment. As noted above, some philosophers lean heavily on a distinction between aesthetic properties and artistic properties, taking the former to be perceptually striking qualities that can be directly perceived in works, without knowledge of their origin and purpose, and the latter to be relational properties that works possess in virtue of their relations to art history, art genres, etc.

      It is also, of course, possible to hold a less restrictive view of aesthetic properties, on which aesthetic properties need not be perceptual; on this broader view, it is unnecessary to deny what it seems pointless to deny, that abstracta like mathematical entities and scientific laws possess aesthetic properties. The latter are ways of being beautiful or ugly; aesthetic in virtue of a special close relation to verdictive judgments, which are subjectively universal.

      Other aesthetic definitions build in different accounts of the aesthetic. Or one might define aesthetic properties as those having an evaluative component, whose perception involves the perception of certain formal base properties, such as shape and color De Clercq , and construct an aesthetic definition incorporating that view. Views which combine features of institutional and aesthetic definitions also exist.

      Aesthetic definitions have been criticized for being both too narrow and too broad. Duchamp famously asserted that his urinal, Fountain , was selected for its lack of aesthetic features.

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