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Monseré, Annelies. Non-Western Art and the Concept of Art: Can Cluster Theories of Art Account for the Universality of Art?
2012, Estetika 49(2): 148-165.
Added by: Simon Fokt
Abstract: This essay seeks to demonstrate that there are no compelling reasons to exclude non-Western artefacts from the domain of art. Any theory of art must therefore account for the universality of the concept of art. It cannot simply start from ‘our’ art traditions and extend these conceptions to other cultures, since this would imply cultural appropriation, nor can it resolve the matter simply by formulating separate criteria for non-Western art, since this would imply that there is no unity in the concept of art. At first sight, cluster theories of art seem capable of accounting for the universality of art since they (can) start from a broad cross-cultural range of artworks and nowhere seem to extend one conception of art to other conceptions. Yet cluster theories remain unsatisfactory, because they can neither avoid misapplication of the proposed criteria, nor clarify the unity in the concept of art.

Comment: Due to the focused character of this paper it is best used as a further reading, or a core reading in courses focusing on cluster theories or non-Western art. The first part offers an interesting discussion of the requirements which a successful theory of art should meet: it should be able to account for the cultural diversity of art. The critique of cluster accounts offered in the second part of the paper focuses on their Western-centric character. It can be useful to discuss whether they could be modified in ways which would allow them to stand against Monseré’s criticism, or whether it is in fact at all possible to formulate a definition which will be flexible enough to account for arts of all cultures, yet general enough to capture ‘art’ as a unified concept.

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