Davies, Ch. 4, Varieties of Art



2.      Ontology: Study of the matter, mode, or manner in which things exist

3.      Art exists in a variety of forms and manners (has a diverse ontology)

4.      Examples:

         a.      How long do artworks exists? Compare spontaneous jazz improvisation that exists for a limited time with a painting that persist and can be experienced on different occasions

         b.      Is the hip-hop DJ who scratches and samples other’s recordings creating artworks in the process of appropriating others?

         c.      Question 4.4: Jean Tinguely's Homage to New York of 1960 Photo                   More

                   i.       What is the artwork here?

                   ii.      The sculpture, the event of its destruction, the film of the event? All?

         d.      Is the artwork in rock music a recording or a performance?


5.      DAVIES’ VIEW ABOUT ONTOLOGY OF ART: ONTOLOGICAL CONTEXTUALISM                                                                       

6.      Davies’ defends ontological contextualism:

         a.      Artwork’s identity and contents generated in part by relations it holds to aspects of socio-historical setting in which it was created

                   i.       History and context of production important to artwork’s identity

         b.      But later contexts do not affect it

                   i.       How an artwork is interpreted or understood later can’t affect its fundamental characteristics or identity

                   ii.      Artworks do not change over time in response to ongoing interpretation and reception



8.      Davies rejects idea artworks are abstract/formal patterns (eternal and indestructible) that are discovered and not created

9.      Rejects this “ontological Platonism” which claims that

         a.      Artworks are purely formal patterns, distinct from the physical items or events in which they are exemplified

10.    Examples of abstract formal patterns

         a.      The square: An abstract/formal pattern that can be neither created nor destroyed but can be (and was) discovered and exemplified

         b.      If music is abstract formal pattern, then Beethoven drew attention to certain note-sequences when he composed his 5th symphony, but the pattern (which is the artwork) pre-existed his efforts

                   i.       He discovered the artwork, not created it

                   ii.      If all copies of score destroyed (along with everything else from which we could get an accurate copy )

                            (1)    We lost our access to the work, but its existence remains unaffected

11.    Davies criticism of ontological Platonism (artworks are not abstract patterns)

         a.      If someone destroys a sculpture (or all instances of a cast sculpture and the molds), we don’t think of him as simply hiding the artwork from us

                   i.       Very different from private collector who denies access to artwork by keeping it locked in vault

         b.      Mona Lisa is not a abstract pattern, because

                   i.       If someone destroys Mona Lisa, the problem is not that we have lost contact with the abstract pattern it exemplifies, for there are thousands of prints of that pattern

         c.      Platonism clearly does not apply to sculpture or painting

12.    Davies’ ontological contextualism (artworks’ history of production matters) is incompatible with ontological platonism (that artworks are solely abstract patterns)

         a.      If artworks are solely abstract patterns, then as long as the pattern is instantiated, we have (access to?) the artwork and so the pattern’s history, origin or context does not matter

                   i.       **Same pattern could have been produced by a different history of production

                   ii.      If Leonardo had not existed and a different painter 100 years later had painted the pattern that Mona Lisa instantiates, Davies ontological contextualism denies it is the Mona Lisa and Platonism claims it is

         b.      When we accept that artworks depend for identity and content on relations to art-historical and wider context in which produced (note: not context in which appreciated!), can’t be understood as mere abstract formal patterns

                   i.       The formal patterns they present matter to their identity, but that is not the only dimension

                   ii.      Other relevant factors to its identity include:

                            (1)    Genre, style, medium, creator’s intentions, relation of work to other works of artists, art-historical setting in which originated and to wider social/political environment

                   iii.     Parallel criticism to Davies’ criticism of aes formalism in the previous chapter



         a.      Davies argues that some artworks are singular and others can have many incarnations

14.    Two kinds of art works

         a.      Works than can have multiple instances

                   i.       Novels, symphonies, cast statues, prints, poems, movies

                            (1)    Each of us can have a copy of same poem

         b.      Singular pieces (can’t have multiple instances)

                   i.       Oil paintings and sculpted statues (and Jazz improvisations)

15.    Some argue that even statues and oil paintings are (potentially) multiple

         a.      If we could make identical copy of Mona Lisa, should not care if original destroyed

         b.      What we value is the form which can be instantiated in multiple ways

16.    Davies reply: Some artworks, like people, are singular, and so an identical copy is not the same

         a.      Copy of Michelangelo’s David in piazza near the building in which the original is housed; To see it is not to see David

                   i.       Facts about the replica of David in a piazza in Florence

         b.      If you could clone Your children or spouse, would we not still want the original rather than the clone? Is the clone just as good?

17.     History and origin matter to identity and the copies/clones have different origin so they are not the same

         a.      Question 4.3: Damien Hirst’s Away from the Flock (a sheep suspended in a tank of formaldehyde) was vandalized (black ink was thrown into the tank and re-titled “Black Sheep”) and instead of simply putting another sheep in a tank, they tried to restore it, (which was probably more difficult and expensive)

                   i.       Treated it as singular artwork and not just a pattern

                   ii.      For interesting details see Wiki Hirst entry section on “Career in contemporary art,” 2nd para

18.    Manner and matter of production important (not just abstract form)

         a.      Manner: Important differences between perceptual equivalent sound played by a trumpet versus sound played by pushing a button on preprogramed synthesizer

         b.      Matter: What a work is made of is important (not just abstract patterns)

                   i.       Sandy Skoglund used 80 pounds of raw hamburger meat as medium for Spirituality in the Flesh (a portrait of a seated woman)

19.    How similar must copies of multiple (non-singular) artworks be in order to be faithful instances of the artwork? (It depends)

         a.      Copies of novels or movies need be very similar (ontologically thick)

                   i.       Same word order and same visual appearance

         b.      Performances can vary widely and be fully faithful (ontologically thin)

                   i.       E.g., Two performances of King Lear or Beethoven’s 5th symphony can vary a lot

                   ii.      Work leaves open some details (vague in parts)

                   iii.     Designed to be interpreted

                   iv.     More than one way to legitimately fill them out (such works are "thin" in constitutive detail, as opposed to others that are “thick")                                

20.    When it is permissible for singers to lip-sink might depend on how we understand nature of the relevant artwork

         a.      Faithful reproduction (okay) or interpretative performance (not okay)?

         b.      Is it okay for pop stars (whose studio CDs used electronic intervention)

                   i.       To lip-sink their performances and rely on backup singers (for disc was multi tracked)?

                   ii.      If one hears a singer whose CDs one knows by heart and she/he doesn’t sound like the CD. Disappointing? Would it be better is she mimed her CD?

         c.      Beyonce lip-sinking inaugural “performance” of Stars Spangled Banner

                   i.       Inauguration

                   ii.      Interview of Beyonce

         d.      If opera star does not sing all the parts she cheats

         e.      One an instance (play back?) of a recording, the other an interpretive performance?



22.    Davies argues art-historical context of creation affects artwork’s identity = Davies ontological contextualism

         a.      If two perceptually identical artworks differ in this regard, they are not the same artwork

23.    Does an artwork’s context continue to affect its identity after its creation, so that it remains self-identical, yet crucially altered?

         a.      Do artworks have an evolving identity?

                   i.       Like a given person, young and blond and later old and bald

         b.      Philosopher of art Joseph Margolis says yes

         c.      Davies says no (with a very few exceptions)

                   i.       Exception: if gardens are artworks, they do have an evolving identity as they are intended to change with growth of flowers and seasons

         d.      Some argue that artworks are not self-identical over time as new interpretations change their identity completely!...Davies rejects this too

24.    Davies believes (for most part) identity of artwork fixed when created and do not evolve over time

25.    Most importantly, new interpretations and new meanings for audiences don’t change the artwork (in any important way)

         a.      What about Paul McCartney's "When I'm 64" (he recently turned 64!)?

26.    Consider physical changes in artworks

         a.      Michelangelo’s ceiling and Judgement Wall in Sistine Chapel

                   i.       Completed in 1512

                   ii.      Clothing painted over the loins of many naked figures at a later date

                   iii.     Centuries of candle smoke and pollution darkened the ceiling

                   iv.     Work cleaned at close of 20th century

                   v.      Critics questioned long accepted idea that it was Titian who was master of color and Michelangelo master of form (because the colors were so powerful after cleaning)

         b.      Would Davies say that these artworks have not changed in significant ways?

         c.      Yes? Artwork not changed its identity, but these changes may make it difficult/impossible for present audiences to see it as artist’s contemporaries did

27.    Changes in artwork that are not important to its identity or content (according to Davies)

         a.      Artworks acquire new properties over time but none (of the below) are crucial to its identity or involve significant alterations

         b.      What I’ve called “door stop values/properties” (properties of the artwork that are not relevant to appreciating the artwork as an artwork)

         c.      Examples

                   i.       Older

                   ii.      More influential

                   iii.     Interpreted in new ways

                   iv.     Thought about by different people

                   v.      Banned, neglected

                            (1)    That an artwork was banned in later times might be crucial information to our understanding of it?

                   vi.     Water stained

                   vii.    Digitized

                   viii.   Sent into space

                   ix.     Existed when the President of China sneezed

                   x.      Fetch millions at an auction

                   xi.     Culmination of a stylistic tradition

                   xii.    Last of its kind

                            (1)    Given that we place special value on an individual of an endangered species does this suggests that properties crucial to its identity have changed?

                            (2)    True also of artworks?

         d.      Davies: None of the above changes seem central to its identity, in way in which its creator, genre, time of creation and content are

28.    Changes can make it very difficult for us to appreciate the work as audiences did when created

         a.      E.g., Viewing Mona Lisa, hard to forget that it is most reproduced art image in history, worth a fortune, once shot at

         b.      But these new properties don’t alter factors crucial to its identity

29.    According to Davies: All properties of artwork crucial to its identity are fixed when it is created (including fixed by relational properties of context of creation)

30.    Davies allows that significance of a work can be affected by its later treatment and reception (interpretation), but this does not affect its meaning, content, identity

         a.      An artwork’s significance (=“what we make of its meaning given our values and concerns”)

         b.      What determines the meaning of an artwork?

                   i.       Not significance to latter audiences?

                   ii.      To audiences when produced?

                   iii.     To artist and art experts when produced?

         c.      What role do audiences have in determining meaning, content, identity of art?

         d.      Can meaning (and therefore content) of a work be different when the audience changes over time, so the work changes?

31.    Davies worries about trilogy counterexample

         a.      A book is finished

         b.      Later the author decides its part of a trilogy and writes the following two books

         c.      This seems like a case were later events effect identity of the earlier book

         d.      Davies argues that it’s a case of making a mistake about when the first book was completed

                   i.       I guess he’s saying the first book is not completed until the later books are written

         e.      Consider Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the character of Bilbo Baggins

                   i.       Altered by the Fellowship of the Ring Trilogy?

                   ii.      Altered by the movies?



33.    James Young’s defense of colorization of movies

         a.      Colorized film is a transcription of the original (not a defacing of original artwork)

                   i.       Transcription: Work that is new by virtue of how its medium differs from its source (but retains a close connection to and reflects on its model)

                   ii.      E.g., Bach piece electronically synthesized

         b.      It is a movie of a movie, like a movie of a play or movie of a novel (all are “transcriptions”)

         c.      Colorized movie is a new and separate work

                   i.       Just as Duchamp took image of Mona Lisa and created LHOOQ (the postcard with mustache and goatee was a new and separate work)

                   ii.      Colorizer takes images of old movie and makes a new one

         d.      Colorization is not destructive of original

                   i.       Like the Duchamp case, original work not damaged

                   ii.      Differs from other examples of making new works from old

                   iii.     Robert Rauschenberg created Erased de Kooning by erasing a line drawing by older and then more famous artist

                            (1)    That destroyed the original

                   iv.     Might object to creation that involves destruction of another artwork especially when the result is of lower merit

34.    Arguments against colorization

         a.      Even if new and separate work is created, harms may still occur due to colorization of old black and white movies

                   i.       Availability of black and white is likely to be reduced

                   ii.      Disrespect shown to original artist

                            (1)    Forgive Duchamp his cheek, given wittiness of his work and how far removed Leonardo is from us

                            (2)    Colorizers are not artistically clever and are driven by profit

         b.      Colorized print is a defaced version of original; not a new and separate piece

                   i.       Colorization is messing around with the work, not creating a new one

                   ii.      Colorization alters movie for the worse (like scratches on film), but does not change it enough to undermine its identity as an instance of original work

35.    Does the change due to colorization produce a new work (transcription) or merely a version of the old one?

         a.      This depends on whether the absence of color essential to movie’s identity

                   i.       If it is, colorized movie is a different piece

                            (1)    So a new and derivative work

                   ii.      If it is not, colorized movie is a version or print of original

                            (1)    A defective version, just as a scratched version is

                            (2)    Might also argue improved version!

36.    Some films absence of color is part of what makes it the movie what it is

         a.      Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull and Woody Allen’s Manhattan deliberately rejected option of color

                   i.       So probably its absence reflects works identity

         b.      For earlier films where no choice besides black and white we can’t so easily conclude that absence of color was part of work’s identity

                   i.       Only if black and white medium affects the works content does lack of color affect its identity

         c.      Ansel Adams’ photography About Ansel Adams

37.    Changes in color can affect a film’s mood and mood is part of content

         a.      Colored print is less stark and somber in emotional feel than black and white original

         b.      But colorized print can be seen as a performance interpretation and these can have different moods while still being instances of a work

38.    Davies summary of views on colorization

         a.      Reject (general) defense of movie colorization that argues it results in new work; rather we have a version of the original film

         b.      Do these changes disfigure original (and does it matter)?

         c.      Relevant factors

                   i.       Is it a movie that claims to be an artwork or not?

                   ii.      Does it impact availability of B/W version?

                   iii.     How impact audiences appreciation of history of cinema?

                   iv.     Motives of movie-makers and colorizers

                   v.      Consider toleration we show to adaptations of movies for screening on TV

39.    So colorizing films for which absence of color is essential to identity can’t be criticized as messing with a given work, for they are creating a wholly new one

         a.      Seems strange that when absence of color defines a movie and is essential to the work, colorization is less problematic in one respect (can’t be charged with messing with the work)

Study questions for Davies, Ch 4: Varieties of Art


1.      What does Davies mean by “ontological contextualism,” “ontological idealism,” and “ontological Platonism?” Which view does Davies hold and why?

2.      What are Davies arguments against ontological Platonism, that is, the view that artworks are abstract formal patterns (like “the square”) that can neither be created nor destroyed?

3.      Davies argues that there are two (ontological) kinds of artworks: works that can have multiple instances and singular pieces. Give examples of each and explain how they are examples of these kinds.

4.      If we could make an identical copy of the Mona Lisa, should we care if the original was destroyed? What does Davies say about this? Hint: Consider his ontological contextualism. What do you think?

5.      Does Davies believes that artworks change in important ways when they are given new interpretations and new meanings by audiences? That is, does the work’s changing context continue to affect its identity after it has been created?

6.      List four or so (changing) contextual features of an artwork that don’t affect its identity and content (according to Davies). Now mention contextual (or relational) factors Davies does think are central to the identity of artworks.

7.      Davies thinks that all properties of an artwork crucial to its identity are fixed when it is created. Explain how the existence of literary trilogies (like Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring and The Hobbit) support or cause trouble for this view.

8.      According to Davies, does colorizing a movie involve “messing around with a given artwork” or does it involve creating a new artwork? Use examples to discuss this issue.