Davies, Chapter Two, Defining Art
ABOUT DEFINING ART
1. Necessary and sufficient conditions
a. Necessary condition (requirements): Something most possess it to be the kind of thing it is
i. Oxygen is necessary for fire; being male necessary for being an uncle
b. Sufficient condition (a guarantee, enough): 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 the 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 (necessary conditions) and that only art has (sufficient conditions)
c. The set of necessary conditions that are sufficient for something being art
d. Art’s “extension” (as opposed to its definition) is the class of all things that fall under the concept and a good definition will cover everything that falls in art’s extension and exclude all that does not
3. A definition of art will be inadequate if it excludes paradigm artworks or includes paradigm non-artworks
a. Paradigm artworks:
i. Beethoven’s 9th symphony
ii. Picasso’s painting Guernica
b. Paradigm non-art:
i. Shock absorbers on my car
4. Essentialism and anti-essentialism
a. 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
5. Two types of skepticism about defining art
a. Anti-essentialists: No essence of art to define
b. Defining art will be unhelpful and teach us nothing useful
6. (1) Weitz’s anti-essentialism
a. 1st argument: Art does not have necessary conditions
i. Most likely necessary condition is that art must be an artifact
ii. But since driftwood can be art and it is not an artifact, this necessary conditions fails
b. Critique: But this objection ignores that necessary conditions might come in a disjunctive list
i. X or Y or X (like the cluster theory of art’s nature)
ii. Necessary condition for being a parent that either one is a bio father, or bio mother, or legally adopt a child
iii. Art’s disjunctive list of necessary conditions might be (what is necessary is having one or some of the properties on this list, not any one in particular)
(1) 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.
c. 2nd argument: 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 of art make it implausible that all art shares a common nature
(1) Avant-garde art of 20th century defied earlier definitions of art as representative, expressive, or possessing significant form
iii. Reply: But then these characteristics (rebellious/transgressive) are art’s nature/essence
(1) No reason to assume that defiitions of art will require it to have a particular kind of content or style or is unchanging so no new kinds are possible
7. Definitions of art will be unhelpful
a. Art can’t be defined usefully/informatively and any definition won’t reveal anything
b. 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
c. Ordinary people are quite good at identifying art using their own non-theoretical intuitions and philosopher’s definitions won’t help them
d. Warehouse argument: 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 definition of art as
(1) Significant form
(2) Fit into true and coherent narrative that ties them to past art
(3) Provide intrinsic pleasure when their aes properties are contemplated for own sakes
e. Replies to warehouse argument:
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
iii. That we can identify art w/o knowing this hidden nature doesn’t show it doesn’t have one
(1) 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) 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.
8. Family-resemblance view of art’s nature
a. Artworks (like members of a family) are united by a network of criss-crossing resemblances, though there is no one respect (or small set of ways) in which they all resemble each other
b. Category of art is like category of games: no essence or necessary/sufficient conditions but are games in virtue of there being a “family resemblance” between games
d. Can’t explain how first artworks became art (as no predecessors to resemble)
e. Can’t adequately account for ready-made art because such art resembles non-art more than other artworks
i. Ready-made art
(1) Ordinary functional objects acquired, titled, and presented as art by a artist
(2) E.g., Marcel Duchamp/s (1887-1968) In Advance of the Broken Arm (1915)
(a) Duchamp turned a snow shove into art by titling it and presenting it in artworld context
(3) E.g., Tracey Emin’s My Bed exhibited in the Tate (National Museum of Britain) in 1999
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 definition
9. 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 (also see list at end of these notes)
i. 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. A disjunctive definition of art
10. Radical stipulativism
a. Things are art only because they have been listed as art by the relevant experts who have no common or conclusive reasons explaining their decisions
i. Reasons for including something as art take their power from authority of the decision to included them, 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
c. Not “particularism” which says there are good, compelling reasons in each case, though these reasons don’t apply in other cases and might rule out other cases as art
i. What makes one work a piece of art might count against making another work a piece of art
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 radical stipulativism
i. How earliest artworks qualified as art (existence of experts presupposes existence of a tradition about which they are experts)
ii. How do experts (galley directors, art historians, distinguished critics) merit their status as experts 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) Art experts say something is art because they recognize it as art (already) and their saying it is art does not make it art
11. 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. Definition 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 reference to how it is related to art institutions or traditions
THREE DEFINITIONS OF ART
(Aes Functionalism, Institutional Theory, Historicism)
12. Aesthetic functionalism (Beardsley and Zangwill)
i. 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 experience of significant magnitude on the basis of appreciating its aes features (as long as the perceiver is in an appropriate 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 (e.g., photography) get to be included as art (because artistic intention doesn’t require reference to established art)
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
(a) 1953 : Robert Rauschenberg exhibits Erased De Kooning Drawing, a drawing by Willem De Kooning which Rauschenberg erased.
(b) 1962: Christo's Iron Curtain work. This consists of a barricade of oil barrels in a narrow Paris street which caused a large traffic jam. The artwork was not the barricade itself but the resulting traffic jam
(2) Ready-mades chosen for non-aes character
(a) Duchamp’s Fountain (see Davies Figure 2.1)
(i) Purchased by Duchamp, signed by him with the manufacture’s name and issued in repeated “editions”
(ii) Many have claimed it was the most important piece of art in the 20th century: “A major landmark in 20th century art”
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) Davies seems to be interpreting aes functionalism as claiming that art has to succeed in creating positive aes experience, whereas the above definition only says it intends to do this.
13. Institutional Theory of Art (George Dickie)
i. Art defined in terms of institution of the “artworld”
b. Artwork is an artifact created by artist to be presented to artworld public
c. To be artwork, artifact must be appropriately placed in web of practices that constitute artworld
d. Focus is not on intended function, but on social procedures by which something attains arthood
e. One of Dickie’s early definitions: “An artwork is an artifact that has had conferred on it the status of candidate for appreciation by someone acting on behalf of the artworld”
f. Institutional theory not same as radical stipulativism
i. 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
ii. But Dickie is not promoting stipulativism and says it is the artist who creates artwork, not independent experts
(a) Creates not just the artifact but its status as art?
(2) Status of art is something achieved, not conferred. (???)
g. 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
h. Golf example: Knocking a ball into a hole can count as making a par only against background of conventions of golf
i. Act of applying pigments to canvas counts as creating art only against background of practices of artworld
i. So “painting” in a indigenous culture with no such practices is not art?
j. It is the decisions of the artist that makes something art (if done in this context)
k. Because ordinary objects can be appropriated by artists who turn them into artworks w/o modifying them (e.g., ready-mades), the ususal creative actions that precede the decisions to make art are not necessary
i. Can explain how something can be art although poor in aes value
i. Cannot account for earliest artworks,
(1) For when first artworks created there were no artworld institutions/practices which only come about with art.
(2) Paintings and sculptures of 10,000 years ago either are not art or there were art institutions back then (neither seems plausible)
ii. Circularity: Can ‘t define artist and artworld w/o ref to artworks and so this definition presupposes we already have an understanding of artworks
a. Something is art if stands in appropriate historical relations to its artistic predecessors (there are divergent views on what this relation is)
(1) Stylistically similar to prior works
(2) New art must be intended for regard typical of regard invited for past art (Jerrold Levinson)
(3) New art is art if “can be fitted into a true and coherent narrative tying it to past art” (Noel Carroll)
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 appropriately 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
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 while excluding many non-artworks that also differ and depart from what was previously counted art?
(2) 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?
15. 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
16. Non-Western Art and the Artworld Relativity Problem
a. Some art-like activities in non-western, small scale, pre-industrial cultures don’t fit well into our institutional art world
i. Might not have structures of patronizing arts, training artists, and preserving art
ii. So perhaps they have their own “artworld” different from ours and what counts as art is relative the a particular artworld
b. Aes functionalism seems to avoid artworld relativity
i. Because aes functionalism does not tie art status to the artworld traditions & institutions, it avoids artworld relativity
ii. Items made in non-western culture are art if their primary purpose is to engender worthwhile aes experiences via contemplation of their aes qualities
c. Aes functionalism has problems with non-aesthetic functions of art (education, ritual, entertainment)
i. 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, as well as popular and domestic art more generally
ii. Functionalism rules out possibility of artworlds where art is not mainly intended for aes contemplation apart from practical function it may have.
d. Need inclusive account of art’s functions and institutional nature
i. If we accept that small-scale non-western cultures possess art and have own artworlds, and that art can be intended more for ritual use, educative enlightenment and entertainment than for contemplation for its own sake alone
ii. Need rich account of art’s function
iii. Need to allow for a variety in art’s institutional nature
17. Can something be art even if no one recognizes it as art?
a. Yes, if a fire destroys a completed painting before publicly displayed it is still art even if not recognized
i. So endorsement by experts not necessary to be art
ii. Unless we think of artist as expert who endorses it
18. Does public determine what is art? (de Kooning's three seater)
a. 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?
b. Does artist’s judgment (about whether or not it is art) play a role here? Does artist intention play a role?
19. Three constituencies that might affect if something is art
20. 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
21. 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”
22. Response to the warehouse argument
a. Can’t rely on common sense intuitions about what is art, because people radically disagree
b. Account/definition of art may help us resolve such cases
23. Controversial examples: Are the following art? Important art? Clearly not art? Provide important commentary about art?
a. Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII
i. Comprised of 120 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) (See Davies figure 2.2)
i. Painted plywood, made to look identical to cardboard cartons in which Brillo scouring pads were delivered to supermarkets
c. Duchamp’s Fountain
24. Davies Questions (p. 48)
25. 2.1: Can something become art by referring to and repudiating earlier art?
a. Duchamp’s LQOOQ and Sherrie Levine
26. 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
h. Scrimshaw carving
j. Painting race cars with logs and ads
27. 2.4: Altering one’s body as art?
a. Performance artist Chris Burden
i. Shoot, 1972:
ii. Transfixed, 1974
iii. Through the Night Softly
(1) Crawled over broken glass
c. Orlan (a French Performance artist)
i. 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. Are other forms of personal decoration art: tanning, tattooing, scarring?
i. Could individuals claim to be works of art by virtue of such bodily alterations?
28. 2.3 Must artworks be artifacts (made by humans) or could they be found readymade in nature
a. 2.5 Can animals make art? Consider the Bower bird.
29. 2.6: List of possible art-relevant features
a. Intended to be art
b. Falls squarely in what is an established art category
c. Possess aesthetic, expressive, formal, or representational properties
d. Can communicate complex meanings
e. Production requires skill
f. Production requires creative imagination
g. Is a source of pleasure in itself
h. Invites cognitive and emotional involvement of its audience
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?