Davies, Chapter Two, Defining Art



2.      Necessary and sufficient conditions

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

                   i.       Being male is 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

         c.      Something can be necessary w/o being sufficient

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

         d.      Something can be sufficient w/o being necessary

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

3.      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)

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

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

5.      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

6.      Essentialism and anti-essentialism

         a.      A definition tries to capture the essencefundamental distinguishing nature–of what something is (e.g., necessary & sufficient conditions)

         b.      Essentialism claims that art has an essence and hence can be defined

7.      Two types of skepticism about defining art

                   i.       (1) Anti-essentialists: No essence of art to define

                   ii.      (2) Def not helpful: Defining art will be unhelpful and teach us nothing useful

8.      (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 (selected and placed in a gallery) can be art and it is not an artifact, this necessary conditions fails

                   iii.     Critique: But this objection ignores that necessary conditions might come in a disjunctive list (=either/or)

                            (1)    What is necessary is to possess either X or Y or X (like the cluster theory below)

                            (2)    Necessary condition for being a parent that either one is a bio father, or bio mother, or has legally adopted a child

                            (3)    Art’s disjunctive list of necessary conditions might be

                                      (a)     Piece succeeds as artwork, or is intended as an artwork, or falls in an established artwork category, etc.

                                      (b)    What is necessary is having one/some on this list; each is not necessary

         b.      2nd argument: Art’s creative, rebellious, transgressive nature prevents its definition

                   i.       Much art repudiates what was thought to be essential to previous art

                   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.     Critique: But then these characteristics (being rebellious or transgressive) might be art’s nature/essence

                            (1)    No reason to assume that definitions of art will require it to have a particular kind of content or style or is unchanging so no new kinds are possible

9.      (2) Definitions of art will be unhelpful

         a.      Art can’t be defined in a useful, informative or revealing way

                   i.       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

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

         c.      **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

                   i.       For example, art has been defined as what

                            (1)    Has significant form

                            (2)    Fits into true and coherent narrative that ties the object to past art

                            (3)    Provides intrinsic pleasure when their aes properties are contemplated for own sake

         d.      Replies to warehouse argument:

                   i.       Art might have a hidden nature that is not obvious

                            (1)    That we can identify art w/o knowing this hidden nature doesn’t show it doesn’t have one

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

                   ii.      Can’t rely on common sense intuitions about what is art, because people radically disagree or can be ignorant about art

                            (1)    Definition of art may help us resolve such cases

                   iii.     Counterexample to warehouse claim: Cleaning woman damaged 1.1 million sculpture

10.    Controversial examples that might be helped by a definition of art

         a.       Are the following art? Important art? Clearly not art? Provide important commentary about art? Would an ordinary person save them as art from a burning warehouse?

         b.      Carl Andre Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII: Comprised of 120 firebricks arranged two-deep in pattern of 10 by 6

         c.      Andy Warhol Brillo Boxes (1964) (See Davies figure 2.2) Painted plywood, made to look identical to cardboard cartons in which Brillo scouring pads were delivered to supermarkets (Pop Art)

         d.      Angela Ellesworth's Actual Odor    (Performance Art)

         e.      Willem de Kooning Three Holed Toilet Seat

11.    Family-resemblance view of art’s nature

         a.      Artworks (like members of a family) are united by a network of criss-crossing resemblances

         b.      Even though there is no one respect (or small set of ways) in which they all resemble each other

         c.      Category of art is like category of games: no essence or necessary/sufficient conditions. But they are games in virtue of there being a “family resemblance” between games

12.    Problems with family resemblance view:

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

         b.      Can’t adequately account for ready-made art because such art resembles non-art more than other artworks

                   i.       Ready-made art: Ordinary functional objects acquired, titled, and presented as art by a artist

                   ii.      E.g., Marcel Duchamp’s (1887-1968) “In Advance of the Broken Arm” (1915): Duchamp turned a snow shove into art by titling it and presenting it in artworld context

                   iii.     E.g., Tracey EminMy Bed” exhibited in the Tate (National Museum of Britain) in 1999

         c.      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 (or similarity)are relevant to artwork

                            (1)    This moves us in direction of definition

13.    Cluster theory (Berys Gaut)

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

         b.      Properties might include

                   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

14.    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

         b.      *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

         c.      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.      Radical stipulativism is not “particularism

                   i.       Particularism 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

                            (1)    What makes one work a piece of art might count against making another work a piece of art

         e.      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

                   ii.      Prejudice sometimes influences the artworld power brokers

                            (1)    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

15.    Problems for radical stipulativism

         a.      Can’t explain how earliest artworks qualified as art (existence of experts presupposes existence of a tradition about which they are experts)

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

         c.      Makes what counts as art arbitrary

                   i.       No rationally decisive bases for drawing border between art and non-art

         d.      Gets things backward

                   i.       Art experts say something is art because they recognize it as art (already) and their saying it is art does not make it art

16.    Davies views about the attempt to define art

         a.      Thinks it worth searching for definitions of art

         b.      Thinks the anti-definition arguments fail

                   i.       But we should learn from them that because of art’s complex variety and rebellious nature

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

         d.      Consider defining art via its relational properties rather than by its intrinsic properties

                   i.       Relational properties: Properties of an artwork resulting from its connections to things beyond its boundaries

                   ii.      Intrinsic properties: properties inherent in the work regarded in isolation from its history and context of production

         e.      Should define art relationally by reference to how it is related to art institutions or traditions


17.    THREE IMPORTANT DEFINITIONS OF ART (Aes Functionalism, Institutional Theory, Historicism)

18.    Aesthetic functionalism (Beardsley and Zangwill)

         a.      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)

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

         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)

19.    Problems with aesthetic functionalism

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

                   i.       Conceptual art Often has no sensual, straightforward perceptual features. Consider

                            (1)    1953 : Robert Rauschenberg’s exhibit of Erased De Kooning Drawing, a drawing by Willem de Kooning which Rauschenberg erased.

                            (2)    1962: Christo's Iron Curtain: 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

                   ii.      Ready-mades often chosen for non-aes character

                            (1)    Duchamp’s Fountain or In Advance of a Broken Arm


20.    Institutional Theory of Art (George Dickie)

         a.      Artwork is 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.      Art defined in terms of institution of the “artworld”

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

         e.      Institutional theory not same as radical stipulativism

                   i.       Radical stipulativism claims it is art experts who arbitrarily make things art (by declaring them such)

                   ii.      Dickie is not promoting stipulativism and says it is the artist (in the context of an artworld) who creates artwork, not independent experts

                            (1)    Artists creates not just the artifact but its status as art

         f.       Art-making acts qualify as such (only) in context of artworld practices

         g.      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

                   ii.      So “painting” in a indigenous culture with no such practices is not art . . .

         h.      It is the decisions of the artist that makes something art (if done in artworld context)

         i.       Allows for found art and ready-mades: 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

         j.       Strengths

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

21.    Problems with the institutional theory

         a.      Can’t account for earliest artworks,

                   i.       For when first artworks created there were no artworld institutions/practices (because there can be no artworld without art!)

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

         b.      Circularity: Can’t define artist and artworld w/o ref to artworks and so this definition presupposes we already have an understanding of artworks


22.    Historicism

         a.      Something is art if stands in appropriate historical relations to its artistic predecessors

         b.      There are divergent views on what this relation is; Examples:

                   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)

         c.      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 nor could Tracy Emin’s Bed

                   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

23.    Problems with Historicism

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

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

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

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

                   i.       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?

                   ii.      Reply? 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?


24.    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


25.    Non-Western Art and the Artworld Relativity Problem (i.e., what is art in one culture, might not be art in another culture)

         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



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

         a.      Consider De Kooning’s three-holed toilet seat

         b.      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

27.    Does public determine what is art?

         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?

28.    Three constituencies that might affect if something is art

         a.      Artist

         b.      Experts

         c.      Public


29.    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”


30.    Davies Questions (p. 48)

31.    2.1: Can something become art by referring to and repudiating earlier art?

         a.      Duchamp’s LQOOQ


32.    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

33.    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

         b.      Stelarc Fish Hooks

         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?

34.    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.           

35.    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.       Questions

                   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?

Study questions for Davies, Ch 2: Defining Art

1.         Using examples, explain the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Can something be necessary without being sufficient? Can something be sufficient without being necessary?

2.         Explain the difference between the definition and the extension of the term “art.

3.         Give a clear-cut example of something that any definition of art must include under the category of art and then a clear-cut example of something that a definition of art must exclude from that category.

4.         What is anti-essentialism about art? Explain one of Weitz’s reasons for his anti-essentialism.

5.         Must artworks be artifacts (made by humans) or could they be found ready-made in nature? What about a piece of driftwood in a museum?

6.         Describe the “warehouse test/example” and explain how it relates to the issue of defining art. Why does people’s agreement or disagreement about what is art matter to the warehouse test?

7.         Explain the “family-resemblance” view of art’s nature and explain two of the weaknesses/problems with this view that Davies identifies.

8.         Explain “radical stipulativism’s” account of the nature of art. How is this view different from the view that says: “Whatever anyone says is art is art for them” (“subjectivism about art”)? How is radical stipulativism different from the institutional theory of art?

9.         Explain why Davies thinks radical stipulativism “gets things backwards.”

10.       How is defining art by its intrinsic properties different from defining it by its relational properties? Give examples. How are aunts and uncles defined by their relational properties?

11.       What account of art is given by “aesthetic functionalism.”

12.       Why does Davies think that aesthetic functionalism can’t account for some of Duchamp’s ready-mades or some other conceptual pieces of art?

13.       Explain the institutional theory of art. Use the golf example to explain this theory. How is it different from aesthetic functionalism?

14.       What is “historicism’s” account of art. Explain how historicism would view the claim that if something can be art at one time it can be art at other times. Identify and explain one weakness of historicism.

15.       Using examples, explain and evaluate the following: Arthur Danto argues that what can become art--and the significance that art has--depends on when and where it is offered and by whom.



            a.         Aesthetic functionalism can’t account for certain types of bad art: Art that succeeds in what the artists was trying to do, but lack any aesthetic merit.

                        i.         “A great deal of art is w/o aes or other merit, through 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”

                        ii.        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.