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Thompson, Janna, and . Art, Property Rights, and the Interests of Humanity

2004, Journal of Value Inquiry 38(4): 545-560.

Summary: In this paper, Thompson sets up a potential tension between two kinds of cases. On the one hand, we might think it is wrong for a wealthy collector to destroy great works of Western art that have value for all of humanity. On the other hand, we might think it is acceptable for indigenous peoples to rebury or ritually destroy artifacts from their culture, even though these works might also have value for all of humanity. How do we reconcile these intuitions? After discussing and dismissing attempts to resolve the problem by appeal to the value of the property for its possessors or the desires of non-owners, Thompsons suggests that by looking at the value of art in the context of different cultural traditions we can see why a certain universalism about the value of art will tell against allowing the destruction of artwork by the wealthy collector, but allow for the reburial or destruction of artifacts by certain indigenous communities.

Comment: This paper pairs well with Kwame Anthony Appiah's 'Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?' or Peter Lindsay's "Can We Own the Past? Cultural Artifacts as Public Goods." It is particularly good at engaging questions about the universal value of art and its implications for ownership introduced in those texts.

Werhane, Patricia H., and . Evaluating the Classificatory Process

1979, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 37: 352–54.

Content: In this short discussion paper, Werhane challenges the distinction between the classificatory and evaluative senses of ‘art’ defended by George Dickie. Many of the criteria which matter in the selective classificatory process are evaluative in nature, and thus even institutional classification of art depends on evaluation. This means that sometimes people whom institutionalists would interpret as using ‘art’ in the evaluative sense (e.g. in saying: ‘this is not art!’), should rather be seen as using it in the classificatory sense, evaluating the classificatory process (e.g. meaning: ‘the process which led to classifying this as art is wrong, because this should not be classified as art’).

Comment: Despite its focus on the institutional definitions of art, this paper can have a wider application to the general discussion on the possibility and appropriateness of separating the classificatory and evaluative uses of the concept ‘art’. This makes it particularly well suited as a further reading in teaching on the proceduralist-functionalist debate (or, since it is very short, an extra required reading).