Stecker, Ch 6: What Kind of Object is a Work of Art?
- INTRODUCTION AND QUESTIONS ADDRESSED
- Chapter about identity conditions for art works and the nature of the object
of interpretation (i.e., the artwork)
- When is an artwork the same (and what changes make it different?)
- Ontology of artworks
- Charlie Chaplin Gold Rush example
- Are there privileged versions of the film?
- The role of original intention and subsequent reception in
constituting this privileged version
- In putting DVD together had to look at many prints of the film that
had different versions
- Chaplin produced different versions
- Sometimes he altered his own originals
- Gold rush once originally a silent movie, but Chaplin later produced a
version with voice-over narrative
- (a) Two similar but different films with same title & director, or (b)
one film that has different versions
- Matter of degree of similarity?
- But silent versus sound film is a pretty radical difference
- Is a colorized version of old black and white film the same film
- Might copyright issues be involved here?
- Consider versions of the film that edited out (or put in) scenes that
Chaplin had not left out or put in
- Clear these are not the same film?
- Artist's role is crucial?
- What if Chaplin publicly said he preferred these versions
- Perhaps they did a better job at conveying whatever he
was trying to convey
- Would this be a better but different film or a better version of
the same film?
- What if a version enriched with previously cut scenes was preferred
by audiences and these scenes shaped critical reception and common
perception of film over the years
- Would these facts shape the (original) work by altering its
properties (would this be a different work of art than original)?
- Can audience/critics response affect the nature of a work of
art? Does the artist fully determine the work of art?
- The question is about typical artworks, not experimental art like "living theatre" or Cage's 4'22"
- Possible examples? These are not all that helpful, can you think of your own?
- What if 50 years from now, "Star Wars" movies had been redone (without George Lucas being involved) so that Darth Vader, Luke and the Emperor took over the Galaxy and made Yoda and the rest of the Jedi their slaves? Would this audience understanding of Star Wars change what it is?
- What if Casablanca didn't star Humphrey Bogart but a different actor?
- What if the director and writer intended the film to be set in
India rather than Morocco
- What if J.K. Rowling had Malfoy kill Dumbledore instead of
Snape, but was forced to change it by the publisher?
- Wizard of oz example
- Two key questions:
- One: Do all artworks belong to a common kind? Or are they too diverse for
a common characterization to be possible
- Stecker claims artworks come in at least two kinds: abstract
structures (in use) and physical objects ( "physical objects and structural types")
- Do objects of art interpretation have an essence or essential
- Essential properties: Properties they must have such that
without them they would cease to be
- Stecker claims they do have essential properties (determined by their context of origin)
- Constructivists say not and contextualists say yes?
- CONTEXTUALIST AND CONSTRUCTIVIST PARADIGMS
- Two types of views about interpretation and its object
- What is one doing when one interprets an artwork?
- Does this change/create the artwork? Or figure out pre-existing nature?
- What sort of object does the interpretation involve?
- Is it an object constituted by one's beliefs about it?
- Chapter One's account of contextualism/constructivism distinction:
- Contextualism: context of a work's origin and creation (its history) is central to what it
is, its meaning and value
- Two distinct works might look or sound exactly the same, but be different due to
facts about their origin (not an exhibited property)
- Constructivists: Art does not have a fixed essence and context of origin does not pin
down the artwork either; what occurs after an artist makes an artifact is at least as
important for the creation and meaning of an artwork as the context of origin; art is the
product of culture (including critics and interpreters) as much as of individual artists
- Moderate constructivists: Artworks change as receive new interpretations and
new cultural contexts; these changes not peripheral to a stable fixed core of
meaning; the distinction between peripheral and core is rejected; artworks are
much more in flux for constructivists than they are for contextualists;
interpretative properties are not discovered in the art work but stuck onto them
- Radical constructivists: Artworks not merely altered in the process of
interpretations but created; three objects of art interpretation, (1) the initial
object, (2) the interpretation and (3) the created object due to interpretation
- Contextualist paradigm of interpretation (one Stecker accepts); When we interpret an artwork (e.g., Macbeth)
- We are attempting to discover certain truths about it
- Truths are fixed when work created
- Artwork exists and has properties that interpretation seeks to
- Due to features of context in which work created
- Context of creations includes more than the artist and her intentions?
- Artworks have these properties when the artists finish their
- These features are essential to the artwork
- Macbeth is a play written by Shakespeare and if there was no
Shakespeare, there would be no Macbeth
- Constructivist paradigm of interpretation: When we interpret a work of art
- We are constructing the objects we interpret; we are not attempting to find truths about a pre-existing determinate object
- We are putting properties on something which either alters that thing
(moderate) or creates something new (radical)
- Objects of interpretation depend on interpretation people give them
- Prior to interpretation, artwork is incomplete or indeterminate
- Those objects are identified in terms of the properties they are
conceived as having (they are intentional objects)
- An intentional object is an object constituted (in part?) by
beliefs, desires, intentions
- These object lack an essence or fixed nature
- Because the object depends on the interpretation and the
interpretation is constantly changing
- It has no fixed nature that resists change in interpretation
- Does the artwork have any nature that even guides interpretation or is interpretation unguided or guided by only things separate from the art object
- Ned's partial defense of constructivism (about meaning): If meaning is what interpretation seeks, then one might think the meaning of an artwork is partially constructed by the interests of the interpreters
- Artworks can speak to different people/generations differently and what they say in part depends on what the audience/interpreters are interested in (their concerns/interests)
- This is not to say that an interpreter can find anything she wants to in an artwork
- Example: Is Star Wars about war and fighting (as my son insists)? Or is it about friendship (betrayed), courage, father-son love, the seductions of power?
- STECKER'S CRITIQUES OF CONSTRUCTIVIST VIEWS
- One: Objects of interpretation are not intentional objects (at least in certain senses)
- Stecker thinks the object of interpretation is not the artwork under an
interpretation or conceived of in a certain way, but the artwork itself
- "The intentional view" of the object of interpretation says that:
- The object of interpretation (e.g., when interpreting Macbeth) is the
play as it is conceived in the thought of an interpreter (and not the play outside the thought of the interpreter)
- Stecker claims this view confuses the object being interpreted with the
- When we form a conception of something (think of it as an object
having certain properties), the conception is not the object of
thought but the vehicle or content of thought
- Don't confuse what we think about an object with the object
being thought about.
- The view makes some legitimate questions meaningless:
- Is this conception of the play true/false, plausible or implausible,
adequate or inadequate, useful or not useful
- If the object of interpretation is the interpretation itself, then the
answer to all of these questions is yes of course: As the conception is
true, plausible and adequate to itself
- If one claims the original object is an intentional object (the play as conceived a certain way), then we lose any sense that we are interpreting the play itself and lose the ability to consult the play itself to determine which of two interpretations is a better one
- Possible objection: But we can't consult the play itself, only our interpretation of the play.
- Stecker would argue this confuses the interpretation with what it is an interpretation of
- The interpretation of the play is the result of consulting the play and so we can't consult our interpretation of the play?
- Stecker concludes: Object of interpretation is not an intentional object in sense of an object under a conception (i.e., the play thought about in a particular way--as opposed to the play itself)
- Note: It is an intentional object in the sense of an object that is caused by someone with intentions and is (sometimes) constituted by those intentions
- The "three thing" view of interpretation:
- Two objects and one interpretation, namely, the original object, the interpretation and the object resulting from the interpretation (which is intentional)
- Stecker finds the second object superfluous;
- We have the interpretation which selects features of the initial object (the artwork) and that is what we are interested in: the artwork. The interpretation is our way of thinking about it; some additional object constructed by this interpretation is not of interest in interpreting the artwork
- Would contstructivists say that the second object is the artwork and the first object is inaccessible to us?
- Two: Rejects constructivists' idea that artworks don't have essences
- Constructivists claim artworks don't have a fixed nature or essence
- This allows them to say a work's meaning is altered by interpretation
without these interpretations changing the subject by addressing a
new and different work
- Think of the "three thing view" with the second object being the artwork interpretation addresses, so there would be new artworks each time one interpreted them
- This objection assumes that one work with a fixed nature can't have different and changing meanings for different people/contexts
- Isn't meaning a function of (at least): The nature of the work of art, the intentions of the artist, context of art's creation, any conventional meanings of art object, and the interests and context of the people interpreting the artwork?
- Stecker seems keen to only rule out the last of these.
- Stecker thinks artworks do have essential properties, that is, properties
without which they cease to exist
- Their identity depends on certain historical and structural properties
- Historical-- who created them, structural--the content/nature of the work
- Examples of essential properties of artworks
- Blow up Michelangelo's David
- Surely it would cease to exist even if we collected all the matter that
previously composed it and put it in a pile
- Pile lacks (structural) properties essential to David
- Not a contingent fact (but a necessary truth and essential property)
that David is not a pile of variously shaped pieces of marble (along
with vials of gasses)
- New artist example: Contemporary Italian artist makes a work that looks just like David
- It lacks an essential property of the sculpture David
- Namely, something created by Michelangelo
- Contextualism's view of object of interpretation
- Artworks have essential properties tied to context of origin and they come in different kinds
- Heteronymous contextualism: artworks consist of different types of entities,
but for all of them, their identity is tied to their context of origin
- One: Artworks are ontologically diverse; no single sort of thing that all
- At least two types: Abstract structural types (a movie or a book) and physical objects (a painting)
- Two: All share feature that their identity depends in part on historical
context in which created.
- Three: Music and literary works are "context-sensitive" (abstract) structural
- They are abstract and not physical; can't point to any physical thing
and say that is the work
- Four: Some artworks, e.g., paintings and some (uncast) sculptures, are physical
- SOME ARWORKS ARE ABSTRACT ENTITIES AND NOT PHYSICAL OBJECTS
- What kind of entity is a film?
- No print, reel, electronic copy or screening is the film
- Even the only print of the film is not the film as it can cease to exist w/o the film ceasing to exist (if it is copied before its demise)
- What kind of entity is a musical work or a piece of literature?
- Neither a score nor a performance is the musical work, though the second allows us to hear it
- No copy of a novel/poem is the novel/poem, though it allows us to read it
- Answer: Works of music, literature, and film are abstract entities
- Abstract entities exist, but don't exist as physical objects (e.g., can't touch them)
- Can be many places at once
- Abstract structure is an object capable of many instances
- The Square: an abstract geometrical structure (arrangement of
lines/angles) can be encountered in many instances
- Musical works have sound structures, literary works have linguistic
- Both are abstract: one can encounter them over and over again
- Why music and literature can't be abstract structures independent of context/use
- (And why the must be abstract structures in use in a given context)
- Can't be because
- One: Music/literature is created and these types of structures (i.e., independent of use/context) can't be created (for
they are eternal, uncreated, patterns) (like "The Square" is eternal and uncreated)
- Two: Different works can share same abstract structure, so structure alone can't
be the work
- The Italian sculptor who created a work that was identical to
David did not create a second David, but this works as it is a
- If a monkey, or person from Mars (or a English major at CofC)
wrote a play with identical text to Macbeth, it would not be
Macbeth, as Macbeth was written by Shakespeare
- Three: Works have crucial artistic properties that derive not from their
structure but from their origin, so can't be simply abstract structures
- Instead they must be abstract structures-in-use (used in a context)
- Music/literature as structure-given-a-context ("structures in use")
- This view of Stecker answers the above three worries
- Allows these works to be created
- Allows different works to share same structure
- Has some of their essential properties coming from their context
- Stecker's view: Literature/musical works are "structures in use"
- People often use abstract structures
- For example, they use language (sentences, which are abstract structures)
- Stecker's use of language analogy
- Such as the sentence --- would you like to sit down --- to say
something (slightly different each time use it on a different person)
- Using the sentence makes an utterance
- That utterance in a context of use identifies a particular
proposition (the content of what we say)
- The artwork is like the utterance
- Musical and literary artworks come about when writers/composes use
abstract structures to do something, producing something new-the
artwork-the product of what the artists do
- Works appear when writer/composers uses a structure at a given time in a
- Writers/composers assemble the structures they use
- The structures aren't
found whole like a preassembled trampoline
- Musical and literary works are abstract entities but have properties that abstract
structures considered apart from context of creation don't and couldn't have
- Can different artists make the same artwork? (No)
- Works are essentially tied to the artist who made them on this view (and
- So different artists can't make the same art object
- If different people can make the same utterance (say the same thing) why
can't different artists working at the same time, in same art historical
context, make the same art object?
- Example: What if Haydn's lost last symphony was note for note identical with
Beethoven's First Symphony
- Would they be the same symphony?
- Plausible that these symphonies would have essentially some
very different musical and historical properties
- Perhaps relational properties connecting this work with other
works of the artist
- Type/Token distinction
- Tokens of types (an instance of a type)
- A particular American flag is a token of the type--American flags
- Nothing could be such a token w/o structural properties that it shares with the type (red, white, blue, stars and stripes)--these are essential
- These essential properties don't rule out historically grounded changes in structure of the flag overtime
- Are types eternal (hence uncreated, or can they be created?)
- Are types (including abstract structures in use) (as opposed to
tokens) eternal or can they be created
- Not clear all properties are eternal
- Did the property of being a father exist before or after there were
- Stecker thinks they can be created
- Require that for a type to exist there has to be tokens of the type in
existence or at least instructions or designs for creating such tokens
- 1995 Buick Skylark, the clarinet, and Mozart's Clarinet Quintet
didn't exist in the age of the dinosaurs (these types did not exist, and
of course the tokens don't)
- Did the square not exist until someone conceptualized it????
- Discussion of paintings and uncast sculptures being physical objects
- Some might object that these are also structures (in use), with potentially
multiple instances, even if not so in practice.
- If Van Gogh painted a second Starry Night, identical to the first, are
these two different paintings or one painting with two instances of it?
- If second, then it is a type and not a physical object
- Does Stecker rejects this?
- Constructivists think artworks are intentional objects that lack
essences (but all belong to a single kind)
- Stecker favors heteronymous contextualism ; some art is context-dependent abstract structures (in use); others are physical objects
- No doubt other types of artworks that belong to other onto
- Not shown whole constructivists conception of interpretation is implausible
for it is not logically tied to ontology considered likely to be held by
Miscellaneous (ignore below)
- Joseph Margolis view of ontology of art
- Artworks are culturally emergent (have intentional properties), physically embodied entities
- Artworks are constituted in part by appreciators response and cultural/art historical context
- Discussion of Levinson's idea works are structures indicated by artists at a time in an art-historical context
- Discussion of work is a structure made normative in art-historical setting (made normative means structure is put forward in way to determined correct/incorrect instances of it)
- Seems like there is a debate about whether two artists who produce same structure at same time and context in art history produce one or two artworks (turns on if artist's identity is essential; Stecker thinks it is, I believe)
- Two works with identical structures coming from same art historical context
- One could parody the other and so not be the same
- Same art historical context leaves room for artists to do quite different things with the same structure and this makes the works different
- So intention of artist is important to identity?
- Discussion of objection that if they are physical objects that absurdly entails that there are many very different physical objects occupying the same place at the same time
- The man shaped piece of clay and the sculpture have different essential properties (piece of clay can continue to exist even if not man shaped, but sculpture can't), and so they are different physical objects, but they occupy the same space
- Stecker's response is this is not a problem: can have dif physical objects in same place/same time as long as they are different kinds of physical objects
- Physically objects whose identity is interest relative or culturally conditioned can be at same place/time as other whose identity is similarly contingent