DRL facebook

Abell, Catharine, and . Art: What It Is and Why It Matters

2012, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 85: 671–91

Content: The first three sections of this paper offer a very useful overview of modern definitions of art. Most major types of definitions are introduced and explained in a succinct way, followed by a discussion of selected objections they face. First, Abell introduces functionalism and discusses its problems with extensional adequacy. Second, procedural theories including Dickie’s institutional and Levinson’s historical definitions are discussed, and criticized for their circularity and inability to account for art’s value. Next, Abell considers two mixed theories, formulated by Robert Stecker and David Davies. She shows how they can overcome the difficulties discussed above, but run into their own problems. Finally, Berys Gaut’s cluster account is introduced and criticized for its circularity and difficulties in determining all sufficiency conditions for being an artwork. In the remainder of the paper Abell focuses on developing her own version of the institutional theory.

Comment: This text can provide the students with an overview of modern definitions of art. Theories are presented in a clear, succinct way, with their main features, strengths and weaknesses identified. The selection of objections discussed, however, is not representative – rather it serves the aim of developing Abell’s own definition. The later sections of the text are excellent, but address much more complex issues and are significantly less accessible for undergraduate students. They might be used in Masters level teaching or as advanced further reading on the institutional definition.

Bishop, Claire, and . Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics

2004, October 110: 51-79.

Summary: Bishop offers a critique of “relational aesthetics” – an approach to installation art that originated in the 1990’s and whose main proponent and interpreter was Nicolas Bourriaud. Bourriaud’s chief claim is that the art movement in question promotes intersubjective relationships (between artist and audience members and among audience members alike) and privileges social and political cohesion over other possible aspects of the aesthetic experience. While Bishop finds this ethos applicable to the work of the artists Bourriaud chooses to discuss (Rikrit Tiravanija, Liam Gillick etc.), she finds it difficult to reconcile relational aesthetics with the realities and concerns of the larger artworld. Antagonism is for Bishop just as viable a driving force in the making and appreciation of art as are social cohesion and intersubjective togetherness. Furthermore, as the history of early performance art and its reception shows, what makes art difficult, and thus politically important, is precisely the tensions that the makers and theorists of relational aesthetics attempt to quell.

Comment: This text offers a good introduction to relational aesthetics. Best if read together with (some of) Nicolas Bourriaud's work on relational aesthetics.

Brand, Peg Zeglin, and . Glaring Omissions in Traditional Theories of Art

2000, in Theories of Art Today, ed. by Noel Carroll (London: The University of Wisconsin Press)

Abstract: I investigate the role of feminist theorizing in relation to traditionally-based aesthetics. Feminist artworks have arisen within the context of a patriarchal Artworld dominated for thousands of years by male artists, critics, theorists, and philosophers. I look at the history of that context as it impacts philosophical theorizing by pinpointing the narrow range of the paradigms used in defining “art.” I test the plausibility of Danto’s After the End of Art vision of a post-historical, pluralistic future in which “anything goes,” a future that unfortunately rests upon the same outdated foundation as the concept “art.”.

Comment: This text offers an overview of the feminist critique of the classificatory project. It assumes some basic knowledge and is best used after the main modern theories of art have been introduced. The pointed critique and clearly stated suggestions for constructing unbiased theories, make it excellent at inspiring a critical discussion on the subject of universalism and discrimination in both art practice and theory. Perhaps more importantly, the argument offered and the long lists of female artists and art theorists which support it, can have an empowering and validating role to many female students.

Coleman, Elizabeth Burns, and . Repatriation and the Concept of Inalienable Possession

2010, In The Long Way Home, edited by Paul Turnbull and Michael Pickering: Berghan Books.

Summary: The concept of inalienable possession often figures centrally in debates about repatriation of cultural artifacts (which are also often artworks). The right of alienability (or the right to transfer title to property) is one of the core rights in Western property theory. If property is inalienable, this means that title to it cannot rightly be transferred. In this paper, Coleman analyzes the concept of inalienable possession, and argues that laws (such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)) can foist a conception of inalienable possession on indigenous peoples that can be inaccurate to past and changing cultural norms. She uses this point to offer a distinction between property and ownership. This opens up conceptual space for a link between objects and identity through ownership that might nevertheless allow for the alienability of such property.

Comment: This paper is best for a course unit that is making room for in-depth discussion of the property dimensions of cultural property. It would pair well with Janna Thompson's "Art, Property Rights, and the Interests of Humanity," or James O. Young's "Cultures and Cultural Property." It can be also used together with or in lieu of Sarah Harding's much longer and more detailed paper "Justifying Repatriation of Native American Cultural Property."

Dissanayake, Ellen, and . Doing Without the Ideology of Art

2011, New Literary History 42: 71–79.

Abstract: My invited comment on Steven Connor’s essay, “Doing Without Art,” proposes that a fuller understanding of the implications of my notion of “making special”—referred to by Connor in his essay as somewhat relevant to his own position—would expand his view of the human art impulse and allay some of his disaffections. Rather than contributing to aesthetic theory, the ideology of art, my work proposes an ethology of art: it suggests why members of the human species, in all times and places, made and otherwise engaged with the arts (plural). An ethology of art requires a new way of regarding its subject, not philosophically as an entity or essential quality but as a behavior, something that people everywhere “do.” What characterizes all instances of “doing with art,” from prehistory to the present, is making something (a rock surface, face or body, implement, sound, space, place, movement, utterance) special. A summary of the development and ramifications of the concept of “making special”—called “artifying” in my most recent work—answers Connor’s three questions and suggests that placing our modern ideology or ideologies of art in the wider and deeper context of artification enables an understanding of the arts as intrinsic and even necessary to human lives everywhere.

Comment: Dissenayake makes her points clear and brief, and uses the opportunity to present the main elements of her evolutionary theory. This makes this paper not only an interesting voice in the scepticism about the definition of art debate, but also an excellent introduction to her wider work. The main question worth discussing in class is: should we replace definitions of art with an ethology of art? It might also be worth asking whether Dissenayake is right to claim that even the assumption that a theory of art is needed at all is elitist.

Eaton, Marcia Muelder, and . A Sustainable Definition of “Art”

2000, in Theories of Art Today, ed. by Noel Carroll (London: The University of Wisconsin Press)

Content: Eaton begins with some remarks on the practical need for classification of art and proceeds to present and improve her definition. Her focus is not on specific properties of artworks, but on the fact that they possess properties which within a given culture are considered worth attending to. The modifications made to the theory follow a realisation of Western-centric bias embedded in the original formulation, and the discussion explicitly aims to work towards a definition which acknowledges the cultural differences in art production and appreciation. Eaton moves on to discuss Danto’s and Cohen’s claims that art cannot be defined and points out some Western-centric aspects of their arguments. The paper ends with an overview of what it is for art and its definition to be sustainable.

Comment: Western-centric bias in art classification is explicitly addressed in the article and efforts are made to account for the cultural variations in attitudes to and classification of art. This can offer a powerful motivation for the students to seek similar biases in other definitions and ask whether they entail a preferential treatment of Western art.

Eaton, Marcia Muelder, and . Art, Artifacts, and Intentions

1969, American Philosophical Quarterly 6(2): 165 - 169

Content: The paper is written in support of the claim that artworks have to be artefacts. In a series of thought experiments involving driftwood and poems typed by monkeys, Eaton argues that linguistic objects such as warnings or poems have to result from intentional actions. She supports this argument by distinguishing linguistic objects from linguistic actions. To understand an utterance, it is necessary to not only explicate the meaning of the words used, but also to interpret the linguistic action which resulted in it. Literary works require interpretation, and interpretation requires reference to the linguistic actions of the work’s creator – their intentions. So literary works need to result from intentional actions, i.e. be artefacts. Similarly, artworks are objects of interpretation and thus must be artefacts.

Comment: The artefactuality requirement is involved in various definitions of art and thus Eaton’s paper can be used in many contexts. With its narrow topic and a lack of introduction to any particular definitions, in the context of undergraduate teaching it remains a rather specialised reading. It is best used as a further reading, or as a required reading in higher level modules which already introduced more general works on art classification.

Freeland, Cynthia, and . But is it Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory

2001, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Publisher’s note: From Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes to provocative dung-splattered madonnas, in today’s art world many strange, even shocking, things are put on display. This often leads exasperated viewers to exclaim–is this really art? In this invaluable primer on aesthetics, Freeland explains why innovation and controversy are so highly valued in art, weaving together philosophy and art theory with many engrossing examples. Writing clearly and perceptively, she explores the cultural meanings of art in different contexts, and highlights the continuities of tradition that stretch from modern often sensational works, back to the ancient halls of the Parthenon, to the medieval cathedral of Chartres, and to African nkisi nkondi fetish statues. She explores the difficulties of interpretation, examines recent scientific research into the ways the brain perceives art, and looks to the still-emerging worlds of art on the web, video art, art museum CD-ROMS, and much more. She also guides us through the various theorists of art, from Aristotle and Kant to Baudrillard. Throughout this nuanced account of theories, artists, and works, Freeland provides us with a rich understanding of how cultural significance is captured in a physical medium, and why challenging our perceptions is, and always has been, central to the whole endeavor. It is instructive to recall that Henri Matisse himself was originally derided as a “wild beast.” To horrified critics, his bold colors and distorted forms were outrageous. A century later, what was once shocking is now considered beautiful. And that, writes Freeland, is art.

Comment: Chapters 2,3 and 5 of But is it art? can serve as a good basic introduction to art theory. The book is written in a light, narrative style and does not focus on the details of particular theories; instead, it is arranged in a useful historical narrative which presents theories in their contexts, showing the types of art they were inspired by. This text is best used in introductory teaching, as a background reading, or as a pre-read for higher level courses where it should be followed by more focused and specialised texts.

Goldberg, RoseLee, and . The Art of Ideas and the Media Generation

2001, in: Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. New York: Thames & Hudson. 152-155.

Summary: In this brief historical note, Goldberg outlines the artistic response to the political upheavals of the 1960’s. The general spirit of civic disillusionment offered the best conditions for the re-evaluation of art and its supporting social institutions. Not surprisingly, a new animosity emerged towards the objects of art and their claim to aesthetic pleasure. The farthest possible opposite, which many artists readily embraced, was found in conceptual art, which prioritized ideas, relations and experiences over traditional aesthetic categories. Goldberg sees performance art as a potent embodied application of these new artistic concerns, and thus as a rightful heir to conceptual art. Furthermore, each sub-genre of performance art – from body art to live sculpture to discussions and performative scripts – retains a conceptual core that finds its roots in that decade of strife and controversy.

Comment: This text offers a historical note on the relationship between conceptual art and performance art, and could be used in aesthetics classes focusing on either of those arts

Goldberg, RoseLee, and . The Body: Ritual, Living Sculpture, Performed Photography

2004, In: Performance: Live Art Since the 60's. New York: Thames & Hudson. 94-127.

Summary: Goldberg sees the human body in performance art as a transmitter of erotics, gender tensions, cultural norms and political deviations. While two of the notable early works of performance art featured fully clothed male artists using naked female bodies (Yves Klein’s Anthropometries of the Blue Period from 1960 and Piero Manzoni’s Living Scupture from 1961), the work of female artists like Shigeko Kubota and Yoko Ono addressed the gender imbalance soon after. Goldberg sees the recognition of the body as “prime, raw material” as one of the central accomplishments of performance art. Through numerous examples she demonstrates how this notion enabled a spectrum of physical signification – from regarding the human body as a mere lump of undifferentiated flesh to capitalizing on its biological intricacies. Because of the irreducible intimacy of shared bodily experience, all creative choices along this spectrum – from the disquietingly erotic, to the anachronistically ritualistic, to the viscerally sacrificial – have affected the way we see art and the world around us.

Comment: This historical overview of the use of the human body in early performance art can be in any class on body aesthetics or performance art, and can offer an interesting background reading on erotic art.