Davies, Chapter Two, Defining Art


1.       Necessary and sufficient conditions

          a.       Necessary condition (requirements): Something must possess it to be the kind of thing it is

                    i.        Oxygen is nec for fire; being male nec for being an uncle

          b.       Sufficient condition (a guarantee): If something possesses it, that guarantees it is the thing of that kind

                    i.        Being a bear is sufficient for being a mammal

                    ii.       Being in the U.S. is sufficient for being in Northern Hemisphere

          c.       Something can be necessary w/o being sufficient

                    i.        Being a mammal is necessary for being an elephant, but being a mammal is not sufficient for being an elephant

          d.       Something can be sufficient w/o being necessary

                    i.        Being a father is sufficient for being a male, but it is not necessary for being a male.


2.       A definition of art should specify its necessary and sufficient conditions

          a.       What all and only art has in common

          b.       Features that all art must have (nec conditions) and that only art has (sufficient conditions)

          c.       The set of necessary conditions that are sufficient for something being art


3.       Art’s “extension” (as opposed to its definition) is the class of all things that fall under the concept.

          a.       Good definition will cover everything that falls in art’s extension and exclude all that does not

          b.       Some examples people might disagree about: Controversial borderline cases

4.       Good definition must not excludeparadigm artworks

          a.       Like Beethoven’s 9th symphony

          b.       Or Picasso’s painting Guernica

          c.       Bad if it includes paradigm non-artworks

                    i.        Shock absorbers on my car


5.       Essentialism and anti-essentialism

          a.       Definition tries to capture the essence–fundamental distinguishing nature–of what something is

                    i.        Physical kinds like gold: having atomic number 79

                    ii.       Biological kinds: having a specific genetic structure or history of descent

                    iii.      Cultural kinds (e.g., parking tickets): intentions, uses, status in a cultural context


6.       Two types of skepticism about defining art: No essence and def unhelpful

          a.       1) Anti essentialists: No essence of art to define

          b.       2) Defining art will be unhelpful and teach us nothing useful


7.       (1) Weitz’s anti-essentialism

          a.       1st argument:

          b.       No nec conditions for art

          c.       Most likely nec condition is that art must be an artifact

          d.       But since driftwood can be art and it is not an artifact, this nec conditions fails

          e.       But this objection ignores that nec conditions might come in a disjunctive list

                    i.        X or Y or X (Cluster theory of art’s nature)

                    ii.       Nec condition for being a parent that

                              (1)     either one is a bio father, or bio mother, or legally adopt a child

          f.       Art’s disjunctive list of nec conditions might be

                    i.        Piece succeeds as artwork, or is intended as an artwork, or falls in an established artwork category, or has sufficient number of art relevant categories.


          g.       2nd argument:

          h.       Art’s creative, rebellious, transgressive nature prevents its definition

                    i.        Much art repudiates what was thought to be essential to art that came before it

                    ii.       The bewildering variety of artworks and revolutionary character make it implausible that all share common nature

                              (1)     Avant-garde art of 20th century defeated earlier def of art as representative, expressive, or possessing significant form

          i.        Reply: But then these characteristics (rebellious/transgressive) are art’s nature/essence

                    i.        No reason to assume that def of art will require it to have a particular kind of content or style or is unchanging so no new kinds possible


8.       (2) Definitions of art will be unhelpful

          a.       Art can’t be defined usefully/informatively

          b.       Won’t reveal anything

          c.       Art’s essence isn’t/can’t be hidden and so an account of this essence can’t be helpful in addressing questions about art’s nature

          d.       Ordinary people are quite good at identifying art using their own non-theoretical intuitions and philosopher’s definitions won’t help them

          e.       Warehouse example: If warehouse caught fire, ordinary person would succeed if told to rescue the artworks but wouldn’t know what to save if given philosopher’s def

                              (1)     Collect items with (below are proposed definitions)

                                         (a)     Significant form

                                         (b)     Fit into true and coherent narrative that ties them to past art

                                         (c)     Provide intrinsic pleasure when their aes properties are contemplated for own sakes

          f.       Reply:

                    i.        Artworks not always so easy to identify and our intuitions often prove fallible

                    ii.       Also, art might have a hidden nature that is not obvious and that we can identify art w/o knowing this nature doesn’t show it doesn’t have one

                              (1)    Gold example:  People might be able to pick out the gold in a store quite successfully, and yet it still has a hidden nature (atomic number 79)

                              (2)     Witchcraft example: People who believe in witchcraft and astrology might be able to identify these practices but might be surprised by the definition of these that a sociologist would give.


9.       Family-resemblance view of art’s nature

          a.       Art is like category of ‘games,’ which have no essence or nec/suff conditions but are games in virtue of there being a “family resemblance” between games

          b.       Artworks (like members of a family) are united by a network of criss-crossing resemblances, though there is no one respect in which they all resemble each other


          c.       Problems:

          d.       Can’t explain how first artworks became art (as no predecessors to resemble)

          e.       Can’t adequately account for ready-made art

                    i.        Ready-made art: ordinary functional objects acquired by artist, e.g., Marcel Duchamp, titled by him and presented as art

                    ii.       Duchamp turned a snow shove into art by titling it In Advance of the Broken Arm” and presenting it in artworld context

                    iii.      **It resembles other non art snow shovels more than it resembles any other art work

          f.       Main problem: everything resembles everything else in indefinite number of ways

                    i.        Eiffel tower resembles battle of little bighorn: both mentioned in large encyclopedias, neither is sold in cheese section of local grocery

                    ii.       Family resemblance account of art’s nature must tell us what kinds and degrees of resemblance are relevant to artwork

                              (1)     This moves us in direction of def.


10.     Cluster theory (Berys Gaut)

          a.       Something is art if it posses a certain number or combination of art-relevant properties, no one of which is common to all artworks

          b.       Properties might be

                    i.        Piece succeeds as artwork

                    ii.       Intended as an artwork,

                    iii.      Falls in an established artwork category

                    iv.      Possesses aes, expressive, formal or representational properties

                    v.       Can communicate complex meanings

                    vi.      Production requires skill

                    vii.     Production requires creative imagination

                    viii.    Source of pleasure in itself

                    ix.      Invites cognitive and emotional involvement of audience

          c.       Davies sees this as giving a disjunctive definition of art and not a denial that art has a def


11.     Radical stipulativism

          a.       Things are art only because they have been listed as art by the relevant experts who have no common/conclusive reasons explaining their decisions

                    i.        Reasons take their power from authority of decision/experts, rather than being independent of the experts' decisions

          b.       Like my shopping list: all it has in common is that I decided to put those things on the list

                    i.        There is no single reason I did or one that applies to all

          d.       Davies thinks radical stipulativism has some appeal

                    i.        What goes on in artworld sometimes seems to depend on who says what and on judgments driven more by fashion and subjective taste than by considered reasons consistently applied


          e.       Problems for this view

                    i.        How earliest artworks qualified as art (existence of experts presupposes existence of tradition about which they are experts)

                    ii.       How do experts (galley directors, art historians, distinguished critics) merit this status if not subject to public standards of reasonableness?

                    iii.      Makes what counts as art arbitrary:

                              (1)     Border between art and non-art is arbitrary

                              (2)     No rationally decisive bases for drawing border between art and non-art

                    iv.      Gets things backward:

                              (1)     Just as God approves of goodness because it is good (already), and not things are good because God approves of them,

                              (2)     So too art experts say something is art because they recognize it as art already and their saying it is art does not make it so


12.     Davies thinks it worth searching for definitions of art

          a.       He thinks the anti-definition arguments fail

          b.       Should learn from them that because of art’s complex variety and rebellious nature we should not try to identify art as having a given structure or content

                    i.        Def of art should have plasticity and complexity needed to accommodate historical variability and cultural volatility that are distinctive features of art

          c.       Perhaps we can define art via its relational properties (properties resulting from their connections to things beyond their boundaries)

                    i.        Rather than their intrinsic properties (properties inherent in the work regarded in isolation from its history and context of production)

                    ii.       Define art relationally by ref to how it is related to art institutions or traditions



13.     Aesthetic functionalism (Beardsley and Zangwill)

          a.       Defines art by its intended purpose/function and says this is to deliver aes experience

          b.       “Something is art if it is intended to provide the person who contemplates it for its own sake with an aes exp of significant magnitude on the basis of app its aes features (as long as the perceiver is in an appro frame of mind)”

                    i.        Emphasis on pleasurable contemplation of aes properties (e.g., grace, balance, sadness)

          c.       Strengths: Can account for earliest art and can explain how new artforms and genres (photography) get to be included as art (because artistic intention doesn’t require ref to established art)

          d.       Problems

                    i.        Can’t account for art that lacks or rejects aes properties

                              (1)     Conceptual pieces–“Everything ever thought by the seventeenth person to parachute from a plane”–that have no sensual, straightforward perceptual features

                              (2)     Some of Duchamp’s ready-mades chosen for non-aes character

                                         (a)     Snow shovel

                                         (b)     Urinal: Fountain

                                                   (ii)     Purchased by Duchamp, signed by him with the manufacture’s name and issued in repeated “editions”

                    ii.       How account for bad art?

                              (1)     “A great deal of art is w/o aes or other merit, though no failure in execution of artist’s intentions, no lack on part of audience–nothing prevents the aesthetic results or uptake that aes functionalism regards as crucial within art

                              (2)     He’s now interpreting aes functionalism as claiming that art has to succeed in creating positive aes experience, whereas the above def only says it intends to do this.


14.     Institutional Theory of Art (George Dickie)

          a.       Artwork an artifact created by artist to be presented to artworld public

          b.       To be artwork, artifact must be appropriately placed in web of practices that constitute artworld

          c.       Focus is not on intended function, but on social procedures by which something attains arthood


          d.       This view would be consistent with radical stipulativism if people who make things art (by declaring them such) get that authority by occupying the position of expert in artworld

          e.       But Dickie is not promoting stipulativism and says it is the artist who creates artwork, not independent experts

                              (1)     Creates not just the artifact but its status as art?

                    ii.       Status of art is something achieved, not conferred. (???)

          f.       The insistence on the role of artworld institution is not to claim that what is art is arbitrary and that art has no essence, but to claim that art-making acts qualify as such (only) in context of artworld practices

                    i.        Golf example: Knocking a ball into a hole can count as making a par only against background of conventions of golf

                    ii.       Act of applying pigments to canvas counts as creating art only against background of practices of artworld

                              (1)     So “painting” in a indigenous culture with no such practices is not art?

          g.       But it is the decisions of the artist that makes something art (if done in this context)

          h.       Because ordinary objects can be appropriated by artists who turn them into artworks w/o modifying them, the ususal creative actions that precede the decisions to make art are not nec.


          i.        Strengths

                    i.        Can explain how something can be art although poor in aes value

          j.        Weaknesses

                    i.        Can’t account for earliest artworks, for when first artworks created there were no artworld institutions/practices which only come about with art.

                              (1)     Paintings and sculptures of 10,000 years ago either are not art or there were art institutions back then (neither seems plausible)


15.     Historicism

          a.       Something is art if stands in appro historical relations to its artistic predecessors (there are divergent views on what this relation is)

                    i.        Stylistically similar to prior works

                    ii.       New art must be intended for regard typical of regard invited for past art (Jerrold Levinson)

                    iii.      New art is art if “can be fitted into a true and coherent narrative tying it to past art” (Noel Carroll)


          b.       Strengths:

                    i.        Can explain why not everything can be made to be art at every time

                              (1)     Duchamp’s fountain could not have been art in the 18th century

                    ii.       Each new work of art must be appro related to established work of art, even if departs from them

                    iii.      What is artistically possible at any given moment depends in part on previous history of art


          c.       Objection

                    i.        Not account for earliest art, which by definition lacks predecessors

                    ii.       Difficulty in explaining how historically unprecedented genres–photography, jazz, interactive computer creations--merit inclusion in artworld

                    iii.      Has trouble including revolutionary art w/o including other things which have no credible claim to status of art

                    iv.      Much art, instead of following, amplifying or extending previous traditions, set out to invert, reject or repudiate it

                              (1)     How then allow such pieces to be art by virtue of relation to tradition they hold while excluding may non-artworks that also differ and depart from what was previously counted art?

                                         (a)     But the non-art–though different from traditional art–is not setting out to repudiate the earlier art and it is that relation to previous art (criticizing it) that distinguishes revolutionary art from non-art?


16.     Hybrid definitions combine functionalism, institution theory and historicism

          a.       Something an artwork iff it is in one of central artforms of time and intends to fulfill a function of art at that time, or it achieves excellence in fulfilling a function central to art

          b.       These definitions are achieving a growing consensus

                    i.        Need functional accounts to accommodate earliest artworks and introduction of novel artforms

                    ii.       Need institutional and historical traditions to explain how items qualify as art when they are intended to be non-aes or anti-aesthetic


17.     Definitions of Art and Non-Western Art

18.     Artworld relativity problem

          a.       If we define art in terms of an artworld and there are different artworlds, then we have no single definition of art

          b.       What counts as art according to one artworld tradition (Western culture’s) may not be art according to another artworld tradition (non-western small scale, pre industrial cultures)


          c.       Some non-Western cultures of Japan, China, India, Iran, Iraq, and Indonesia have artworld institutions that fairly closely parallel the West’s

          d.       Art-like activities in non-Western small scale, pre-industrial cultures are a lot less institutionalized then in the West and members of those cultures might not think about these activities as we think of art

                    i.        E.g., Might not have structures of patronizing arts, training artists, and preserving art


          e.       Because aes functionalism does not tie art status to artworld traditions & institutions, it avoids artworld relativity issue

                    i.        Items made in non-western culture are art if their primary purpose is to engender worthwhile aes exp via contemplation of their aes qualities

                    ii.       Problem: Aes functionalism can’t recognize items as art if intended primarily to have educative, ritual or other instrumental functions and this rules out much of what might count as art in small scale societies, and also popular and domestic art more generally

                    iii.      Functionalism rules out possibility of artworlds where art is not mainly intended for aes contemplation apart from practical function it may have.


          f.       If we accept that small-scale non-western culture’s possess art and own artworlds, and that art can be intended more for ritual use, educative enlightenment and entertainment than for contemplation for its own sake alone

                    i.        Need rich account of art’s function

                    ii.       Need to allow for a variety in art’s institutional nature


19.     Applications


20.     Response to the warehouse argument

          a.       Can’t rely on common sense intuitions about what is art, because people disagree radically

          b.       Account/definition of art may help us resolve such cases

21.     Are the following art? Important art? Clearly not art? Provide important commentary about art?

          a.        Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII

                    i.        Comprised of 129 firebricks arranged two-deep in pattern of 10 by 6

                    ii.       Is this art?

                    iii.     Is this art, but identical pile of bricks stacked by bricklayer across town is not?

                    iv.      How do the definitions of art above handle this case?

          b.       Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes (1964)

                    i.        Painted plywood, made to look identical to cardboard cartons in which Brillo scouring pads were delivered to supermarkets

                    iii.      See Davies figure 2.2

          c.       Duchamp’s Fountain


22.     Can something be art even if no one recognizes it as art?

          a.       Yes, if a fire destroys a completed painting before publicly displayed

                    i.        So endorsement by experts not necessary to be art

                    ii.       Unless we think of artist as expert who endorses it

          b.       But not plausible that something brought to public and offered as art for a long time and yet always rejected might be art after all

                    i.        After a while, rejection defeats claim to be art

                    ii.       What if the public accepts it as art and the experts reject it?

          c.       Does artist's judgment (about whether or not it is art) play a role here? Does artist intention play a role?

23.     Three constituencies that might affect if something is art

          a.       Artist

          b.       Experts

          c.       Public


24.     Has there been a sexist bias by art experts in what counts as art?

          a.       Undervaluing women’s efforts as artists and relegating kinds of artifacts traditionally produced by women – quilts, needlework, weaving, and pottery–to the diminished status of craft or “decorative art”


25.     Prejudice sometimes influences the artworld power brokers

          a.       Davies thinks that there are arbitrary socio-political elements of power and fashion that skew the conduct of the artworld, which is often misrepresented as governed only by universal standards of objective value


26. Davies Questions (p. 48)

  1. 2.1: Can something become art by referring to and repudiating earlier art?
    a. Duchamp LHOOQ
  2. 2.2: Are the following artforms?
    a. Fireworks displays
    b. Figure skating
    c. Flower arranging
    d. Laser light shows
    e. Cake decorating
    f. Crafting pop song videos
    g. Gardening
    h. Scrimshaw carving
    i. Quilting
    j. Painting race cars with logs and ads
  3. Altering one's body as art?
    a. Performance artist Chris Burden:
    i. Shoot, 1972:
    ii. Transfixed, 1974
    iii. Through the Night Softly
    b. Stelarc
    c. Orlan (a French Performance artist): Exhibits videos of surgery performed on her face to make it look like art-historical beauties like Leonardo’s Mona Lisa
    d. Is cosmetic surgery art?
    e. Are beauticians aestheticians?
    f. Other forms of personal decoration art: tanning, tatooing, scarring?
    i. Could individuals claim to be works of art by virtue of such bodily alterations?
  4. 2.3 Must artworks be artifacts (made by humans) or could they be found readymade in nature?
    a. 2.5 Can animals make art?
  5. 2.6: List of possible art-relevant features
    i. Are some more relevant?
    ii. Are some necessary for art?
    iii. Are some a guarantee of art?
    iv. Combination of these sufficient for art?
  6. The list:
    b. Intended to be art
    c. Falls squarely in what is an established art category
    d. Possess aesthetic, expressive, formal, or representational properties
    e. Can communicate complex meanings
    f. Production requires skill
    g. Production requires creative imagination
    h. Is a source of pleasure in itself
    i. Invites cognitive and emotional involvement of its audience