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Eaton, Marcia Muelder, , . A Sustainable Definition of “Art”
2000, in Theories of Art Today, ed. by Noel Carroll (London: The University of Wisconsin Press)
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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.

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Lopes, Dominic McIver, , . Art Without “Art”
2007, British Journal of Aesthetics 47(1): 1-15.
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Abstract: Some argue that there is no art in some non-Western cultures because members of those cultures have no concept of art. Others argue that members of some non-Western cultures have concepts of art because they have art. Both arguments assume that if there is art in a given culture, then some members of the culture have a concept of art. There are reasons to think that this assumption is false; and if it is false, there are lessons to learn for cross-cultural studies of art both in anthropology and philosophy.

Comment: Lopes’ light and approachable writing style makes this paper very well suited for undergraduate teaching. It is an excellent study in philosophical method: the structure of all arguments is very clear, the challenged premises are individuated and the requirements for challenging them are spelled out in detail. One major advantage of the text is the way in which it exposes the Western-centric biases present in our views on non-Western art. Various problematic historical and current attitudes are mentioned and discussed, including the division between the West and the rest, paternalism, etc.

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Wingo, Ajume H., , . African Art and the Aesthetics of Hiding and Revealing
1998, British Journal of Aesthetics 38(3): 251-264
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Content: This text focuses on identifying distinctive features of African art. First, African art is virtually always functional and although it can be enjoyed intrinsically, it is rarely created for its own sake. It is a part of the social and political structure and cannot be understood without an understanding of this structure. The function of such art is to ‘veil social functions’: communicate that there exist secrets available to those initiated without communicating those secrets to everyone. Wingo further focuses on masks and dance as examples of African art which are experienced in specific, culturally embedded ways. He offers detailed descriptions and a theoretical analysis of various artistic and cultural practices, showing the uniqueness of the experiences they afford and arguing that they cannot be experienced or understood without a prior immersion in the culture they are part of.

Comment: The primary value of this text lies in the detailed first-hand account and a theoretical analysis of particular non-Western art practices. Most of the other, more theoretical articles in this section talk about non-Western art in a very abstract way. But surely understanding the differences between arts of different cultures requires a grasp of what the art of those cultures is like. Wingo’s text offers a valuable insight into one such cultural context and his text can be very useful when taught alongside more theoretical articles.

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