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Contemporary Theories of Art

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					CONTEMPORARY THEORIES OF ART

Brillo Boxes, Andy Warhol, 1964

WEITZ: ART CANNOT BE DEFINED
• According to Morris Weitz, we are no closer now to defining art than we were in Plato‟s time. • All past attempts to define art have failed to recognize that art changes. (And, as Thomas Munro has emphasized, as the arts change so must our thinking about the arts change.) • For Weitz, we should reject the problem of defining art, since all attempts to define art rest on a fundamental misconception of art.

ART AS REPRESENTATION I

Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Brueghel, 1565

• Attempts to define art in terms of representation say that what distinguishes art from non-art is its property of representing, copying, or imitating something, such as a person, a still life, or a scene in nature. We have already seen that there are problems with representation, and, in addition to those, a problem for the representational view is that not all representational objects are works of art.

ART AS REPRESENTATION II

Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Brueghel, 1565

• For instance, the symbol „1‟ represents the number 1, but it is not a work of art. And if we valued art merely for its capacity to represent, why do we not also value the symbol for the same capacity? As Anne Sheppard has indicated, there must be something other than being representational or imitative in virtue of which we value representational works. Further, not all works of art are representational, such as music and non-objective painting. Thus the view that the defining characteristic of art is representation is subject to refutation by counterexample.

ART AS EXPRESSION
Expressionist theories of art maintain that art is essentially “the expression of emotion in some sensuous public medium,” and that such expression of emotion “uniquely characterizes art.” However a tantrum expresses anger but is not a work of art, and not all works of art are expressive. The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893

ART AS FORM I

Bathers by a River, Henri Matisse, 1916-1917
For Formalist theories of art, what separates art from non-art is significant form, and significant form is that combination of color(s) and shape(s) which produces aesthetic emotion. However, significant form and aesthetic emotion seem to be defined in terms of one another, and so are frequently said to be circular.

ART AS FORM II

Monte Sainte-Victoire Seen from Les Lauves, Paul Cézanne, 1904-1906

In addition, if some things, such as a Norwegian fjord, have significant form but are not artworks, then form cannot be what distinguishes art from non-art. Formalist theories also neglect things of undoubted aesthetic importance, such as subject matter. Art as form is also subject to refutation by counterexample since not all artworks are to be valued because of the interrelationships of their colors and shapes.

ART AND NECESSARY AND SUFFICIENT CONDITIONS
• For Weitz, the fundamental misconception that philosophers have about art is that it can be defined in terms of necessary conditions which are jointly sufficient. • Weitz: “Art, as the logic of the concept shows, has no set of necessary and sufficient properties, hence a theory of it [or trying to give its essential definition] is logically impossible and not merely factually difficult.” “Aesthetic theory tries to define what cannot be defined . . .” • According to Weitz, we should not ask: “what does „art‟ mean?” This is because to ask what art means is to ask how to define art in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. And this is impossible because, as indicated, art is a concept which lacks necessary conditions which are jointly sufficient.

ART AND THE CONCEPT OF ART
• Weitz: “. . .aesthetic theory is a logically vain attempt to define what cannot be defined, to state the necessary and sufficient properties of that which has no necessary and sufficient properties [namely art] . . .” • Weitz say that we should not ask: “What is art?” or “What is nature of art?” – where either is to ask for a definition of art. • We should ask instead: “What kind of concept is „art‟?” • We should ask: “How is the concept „art‟ used in our language?”

ESSENCES VS. FAMILY RESEMBLANCES
• Plato asks “What is x?” and answers “x is what all instances of x have in common.” • Wittgenstein disagreed with Plato that things called by the same name have a common essence. Instead he said that they just have overlapping strands of similarities. • Plato would say that all games have something in common in virtue of which they are games - if they did not have something in common, we would not call them „games.‟ • Wittgenstein says there is nothing which all games have in common. Rather there is just a network of relationships and similarities between things called „games.‟

WEITZ: ARTWORKS HAVE NO ESSENCE, JUST SIMILARITIES
• According to Weitz, art is like games - there is nothing common to all artworks in virtue of which they are art rather than non-art. • For Weitz, artworks have no essence, just similarities. In this respect he follows Wittgenstein rather than Plato. • Weitz maintains that things are called „art‟ because of their similarities to one another, not because they share a common essence, such as being representational, expressive, or formal.

OPEN AND CLOSED CONCEPTS
• Closed concept = df. A concept is closed “if necessary and sufficient conditions for the application of the concept can be stated.”
• Weitz notes that closed concepts only occur in logic and mathematics “where concepts are constructed and completely defined.” A closed concept “cannot occur with empirically-descriptive and normative concepts unless we arbitrarily close them by stipulating the ranges of their uses.”

• Open concept = df. A concept is open if the conditions of its application are changeable and correctable.
• Accordingly, open concepts cannot be defined in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. • A concept is open when a decision can be made to extend the concept to new cases.

ART IS AN OPEN CONCEPT I
• Weitz: “. . .aesthetic theory is a logically vain attempt to define what cannot be defined, to state the necessary and sufficient properties of that which has no necessary and sufficient properties [namely art], to conceive the concept of art as closed when its very use reveals and demands its openness.”

ART IS AN OPEN CONCEPT II
• Art could only be a closed concept either if: a) it in fact had necessary and sufficient properties, which it does not; or b) we arbitrarily decided what is art and what is not, so that the concept of art would become a matter of stipulation. • However, this would eliminate creativity and all progress in the arts, and would turn the arts into something dreary and repetitive. • Because art is an open concept, the concept of art can in theory always be applied to new cases, as it has been applied many times to new cases in the history of art. (The following slides give some examples.)

IMPRESSIONISM

Waterlilies, Green Reflection, Left Part, Claude Monet, 1916-1923

FAUVISM

Landscape with Red Trees, Maurice Vlaminck, 1907

ANALYTIC CUBISM

Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Pablo Picasso, 1910

SYNTHETIC CUBISM

Still Life on Red Tablecloth, Georges Braque, 1936

EXPRESSIONISM

Landscape, Chaim Soutine, 1921

ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM I

Excavation, Willem de Kooning, 1950

ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM II

Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), Jackson Pollock, 1950

POP ART

Marilyn, Andy Warhol, 1964

COLOR-FIELD PAINTING

Untitled, Mark Rothko, 1956

MINIMALISM

Untitled, Donald Judd, 1969

DADAISM - READYMADES

Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917 Bottlerack, Marcel Duchamp, 1914

CONCEPTUAL ART
ALL THE THINGS I KNOW BUT OF WHICH I AM NOT AT THE MOMENT THINKING – 1:36PM; JUNE 15, 1969.

Robert Barry, 1969

ART AND CREATIVITY
• As previously indicated, Weitz says that art can‟t be defined because it is always possible to imagine extending the concept of art to new cases. How art has historically been extended to fit novel cases is amply illustrated in the previous slides. • Weitz emphasizes that part of the nature of art is its inventiveness - its capacity for creative experimentation. • We could “choose to close the concept of art,” but this would remove the possibility of creativity. For instance, we could have stipulated that all painting, in order to qualify as art, must be representational. Notice that, if that had happened, then most of the works of the preceding slides could not have entered the history of art and served to shape its future.

CONCEPT OF ART AS DESCRIPTIVE AND EVALUATIVE
• As descriptive, the concept of art classifies certain objects in a certain way, or marks them off from other kinds of thing. • Saying, “that is a work of art” in the descriptive sense classifies an object. • As evaluative, the concept of art makes a value judgement. • Saying, “that is a work of art” in the evaluative sense praises an object. It is implicit that calling an object „a work of art‟ in the evaluative sense means that it is good.

DICKIE: ART CAN BE DEFINED
• George Dickie says that Morris Weitz is wrong about art being indefinable, it can be defined in terms of necessary conditions which are jointly sufficient. • Recall that Weitz says that it is false that all artworks have something in common in virtue of which they are art. Rather, under the influence of Wittgenstein, he says: “If we actually look and see what it is that we call „art,‟ we will find no common properties – only strands of similarities. Knowing what art is is not apprehending some manifest or latent essence but being able to recognize, describe, and explain those things we call „art‟ in virtue of these similarities.”

MANDELBAUM‟S CRITICISM OF WITTGENSTEIN
• Wittgenstein‟s view can be questioned. Maurice Mandlebaum points out that family resemblance is a twofold relationship: family members may look alike, but they also share a common ancestry. • Wittgenstein only focuses on manifest properties things that can be perceived, and not on other imperceptible things which may nevertheless be of importance to a particular concept. • For instance, having a common causal ancestry is not manifest - can‟t be perceived – but is an important property of belonging to a certain family.

MANDELBAUM‟S CRITICISM APPLIED TO WEITZ
• An object‟s look – its manifest properties - may not tell you whether it is art or not. • You may have to know something about its background - how it came into being. • Wittgenstein only considers one kind of similarity – the kind of similarity which holds between observable properties. Accordingly, his theory is incomplete. • If it is possible that artworks have something in common which is not directly perceptible, then this imperceptible property or properties which they have in common may be used to define art.

THE ARTIFACTUALITY CONDITION I
• The artifactuality condition = df. Every work of art either is an artifact or dependent on an artifact for its identity. • An artifact in the traditional sense is something which originates from or is modified by human work, and which is distinguished from a natural object. • An artifact might also be said to be anything which results from or which is modified by human intention. This more liberal definition of artifact would accommodate „artifacts of consciousness,‟ such as Robert Barry‟s all the things I know . . .

THE ARTIFACTUALITY CONDITION II
• The artifactuality condition is typically taken to be a necessary condition for art. That is, that all works of art are artifacts, at least in the second more liberal sense of that term, is taken to be true. • Weitz says that the artifactuality condition is false. This is because he says that we might say of something like a piece of driftwood, “that is a lovely piece of sculpture.” Because a sculpture is a kind of artwork, and driftwood is a natural object, not an artifact, Weitz thinks that this shows that “artifactuality is not a necessary condition for art.”

THE ARTIFACTUALITY CONDITION III
• Dickie says that Weitz is wrong because “he fails to take into account the two sense of „work of art‟ – the classificatory and the evaluative.” • In the classificatory sense, „artwork‟ “is used simply to indicate that a thing belongs to a certain category of artifacts.” And Dickie says that “the classificatory sense of „work of art‟ is a basic concept which structures and guides our thinking about our world. • In the evaluative sense, „artwork‟ is used to praise an object. Thus calling a piece of driftwood or a painting a „work of art‟ is to say that it is good because it is visually appealing, and hence to express admiration for certain of its properties.

THE ARTIFACTUALITY CONDITION IV
• In fact, Dickie notes that Weitz himself recognizes the distinction, but does not realize that he is using „work of art‟ in the evaluative sense when he refers to a piece of driftwood as a work of art. To talk of the driftwood in this way is to recognize its beauty – beauty that it has in common with some works of sculpture. • However, it is not a work of art in the classificatory sense of that term since it is not an artifact. And it is certainly not an artifact which has been made by someone to form part of art history. Accordingly, that it is not an artifact does not affect the artifactuality condition. • Weitz has confused art with the aesthetic.

CLASSIFICATION AND EVALUATION
• Dickie points out that one must recognize a distinction between the classificatory and evaluative senses of „artwork,‟ since, if we did not, it would make it impossible to speak of „bad works of art,‟ and “this is clearly undesirable.” • In addition, if „work of art‟ were confined to the evaluative sense, then we would be forced to place natural objects like the Swiss Alps and paintings such as those in the Louvre in the same category. And it seems clear that there are important differences between them which placing them in separate categories would help to recognize.

THE ARTWORLD
• Arthur Danto: “To see something as art requires something the eye cannot descry – an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of history of art: an artworld.” • Dickie notes that this quote recognizes “the importance of nonexhibited properties” in talking about “what the eye cannot descry [to catch sight of or discover by observation]. Hence he seems to agree with Mandlebaum.

THE INSTITUTIONAL THEORY OF ART
• Talk of an „artworld‟ which is necessary for distinguishing art from non-art leads to the institutional theory of art. • The institutional theory of art = df. Art is defined in terms of the activities of certain members of the artworld, namely artists making art, and in the recognition of the legitimacy of those activities by other members of the artworld.

DICKIE‟S INSTITUTIONAL THEORY OF ART I
• The earlier version: • A work of art in the classificatory sense is 1) an artifact 2) upon which some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld) has conferred the status candidate for appreciation. • That a selected object such as Duchamp‟s Fountain can become an artwork is explained by its being presented by an artist to the artworld as a candidate for appreciation.

DICKIE‟S INSTITUTIONAL THEORY OF ART II
• The later version: • 1. An artist is a person who participates with understanding in the making of a work of art. (This recognizes the necessity of conscious agency.) • 2. A work of art is an artifact of a kind created to be presented to an artworld public. (This recognizes the necessity of publicity.) • 3. A public is a set of persons the members of which are prepared to act in some degree to understand an object which is presented to them. • 4. The artworld is the totality of all artworld systems. • 5. An artworld system is a framework for the presentation of a work of art by an artist to an artworld public.

DICKIE‟S INSTITUTIONAL THEORY OF ART III
• Dickie maintains that the preceding each of the preceding five conditions are individually necessary and are jointly sufficient for defining art. • He says that these five notions which are central to the theory make use of what he calls “„inflected concepts,‟ a set of concepts that bend in on themselves, presupposing and supporting one another.” And he says that the five definitions constitute a “circular set.”

DICKIE‟S INSTITUTIONAL THEORY OF ART IV
• Dickie: “The first four definitions of the later version have been produced by means of a linear descent, that is „artist‟ is defined in terms of the notion of work of art. „Work of art‟ is defined in terms of the notions of public and artworld. „Public‟ is defined generally and thus stands outside the linear descent. „The artworld‟ continues the linear descent and is defined in terms of the notion of artworld system. The definition of „artworld system,‟ however, instead of extending the linear descent using more fundamental notions, reaches back and uses all four of the earlier defined notions. Thus, what begins as a linear descent ends up being a circle – the five definitions constitute a circular set.”

DICKIE‟S INSTITUTIONAL THEORY OF ART V
• Dickie maintains that the circularity involved in the five definitions which form the core of the later version of the theory is not a problem since “the five central notions of the institutional theory are all notions that we all learn at a tender age, and we learn them together as a set.” Accordingly, “They are not technical notions generated within a theory which stand in need of theoretical explanation.”

AFTER ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

Collection, Robert Rauschenberg, 1953-1954

Yellow Body, Robert Rauschenberg, 1968

Monogram, Robert Rauschenberg, 1955-1959

White Flag, Jasper Johns, 1955

Map, Jasper Johns, 1962

Target with Plaster Casts, Jasper Johns, 1955

Target on an Orange Field, Jasper Johns, 1957

0 through 9, Jasper Johns, 1961

DANTO AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ART AND NON-ART
• Certain artworks – such as Marcel Duchamp‟s readymades, Joseph Kosuth‟s Information Room, and Andy Warhol‟s Brillo Boxes – precisely resemble certain objects in ordinary reality which are not works of art. • Because of this precise resemblance, it cannot be the visual properties of such artworks which distinguish them from objects which are not works of art. And this is why Danto says that “To see something as art requires something the eye cannot descry – an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of history of art: an artworld.” Thus we need the mind in addition to the eye.

THE ARTWORLD I
• The idea is that, because an object x may be a work of art, while an object y which is perceptually indistinguishable from x is not art, we need a theory which accounts for the conceptual distinction between objects which are perceptually indistinguishable. • It is the theories, practices, and history of the artworld which enables the mind to detect a difference between objects which reside in different categories when the eye cannot tell them apart.

THE ARTWORLD II
• The preceding points suggest that it is not the properties of an object which make it a work of art, but is rather the object‟s being recognized by the artworld to be a work of art. • The recognition of the artworld with its theories and practices is the beginning of the institutional theory of art, that art is defined in terms of the theories and activities of members of the artworld, and not in terms of perceptible properties of an object, such as its being representational, expressive, or formal.

DADAISM - READYMADES

Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917

Bottlerack, Marcel Duchamp, 1914

Notice that Bottlerack and Fountain are perceptually indistinguishable from innumerable other such objects in the world which are not works of art. If Bottlerack and Fountain are artworks, but these other look alike objects are not, then such artworks are theoretically and not visibly distinguished from their real world counterparts.

Brillo Boxes, Andy Warhol, 1964

It was Andy Warhol‟s Brillo Boxes which made Arthur Danto realize that artworld theory was required to distinguish works of art from objects which are not works of art. Warhol‟s artwork Brillo Boxes so resemble ordinary Brillo boxes in daily life which are not works of art that something must account for their categorial difference. According to Danto, this difference is accounted for in terms of the artworld and its practices. And speaking of the artworld and its practices is an early version of the institutional theory of art developed more fully by George Dickie.

Information Room, Joseph Kosuth, 1970

INFORMATION ROOM I
• Information Room is like Bottlerack and Brillo Boxes in precisely resembling certain objects in ordinary reality – in this case a philosopher‟s study. • Kosuth‟s piece is an example of Conceptual art, which is an art of ideas, and this work is produced like Duchamp‟s readymades, through a process of selection.

INFORMATION ROOM II
• Because philosophy books are about or contain ideas, Kosuth‟s use of them might be said to embody in silent perceptual format Conceptual art‟s assertion that it is an art of ideas. Or the idea of this work is that the idea of the work, rather than its look, is the idea or the matter of importance. • And in embodying that assertion in a group of silent perceptual objects which point beyond themselves to the ideas which they concern, the idea of the work is exhibited rather than stated in language.

INFORMATION ROOM III
Information Room might be thought to use objects to get beyond objects. However, it can get beyond objects – where this means that the point of the objects is not their look, but ideas which the objects an be used to convey – because of the nature of the objects used. Each individual text points beyond itself to ideas, and the use of the texts collectively point beyond themselves to the idea of the work.

ART AND PHILOSOPHY I
• Danto thinks that artworks such as Information Room indicate that “some deep transformation in artistic consciousness had taken place” from earlier thinking about art and its relation to ideas. • Danto: “It was, almost, as if philosophy were somehow now part of the artworld, a fact for which this work was a metaphor, [before that] philosophy stood outside that world and addressed it from across an alienating distance.”

ART AND PHILOSOPHY II
• The earlier view that art and philosophy had nothing in common is expressed in Barnett Newman‟s view that “Aesthetics is for art what ornithology is for the birds.” • Danto: “Now it was as though art were beckoning to philosophy to articulate a relationship such works as [Information Room] could but symbolize.”

ARTWORKS AND ORDINARY OBJECTS
• For Danto, the importance of artworks such as Bottlerack, Brillo Boxes, and Information Room is that they raise the philosophical question of how to account for the conceptual differences between objects which are perceptually indistinguishable. • And if aesthetic properties are based on perceptual properties, then we could not discern any aesthetic difference between a work such as In Advance of the Broken Arm and an ordinary snow shovel since they are visually indistinguishable. • For Danto, this shows that aesthetics “cannot be part of the definition of art if one of the purposes of the definition is to explain in what way artworks differ from real things.”

ART AND ART HISTORY I
• Danto says that part of an artwork‟s identity is due to where it resides in art history, and thus its relation to the art which has come before it. • Danto: “something being the work it was, or even being a work of art at all, was a partial function of where in the historical order it originated, and with which other works it could be situated in the historical complex to which it belonged.”

ART AND ART HISTORY II
• The preceding points about an artwork‟s contextual relation to other artworks in art history is important too to understanding that, as Heinrich Wölfflin puts it, “Not everything is possible at all times.” • For instance, it would not have been possible to have either abstract paintings or readymades at earlier points in history – other things had to occur first. • Danto: “History, and art history in particular, was then not something that provides interesting but largely external facts about works already fully accessible without knowledge of those facts.”

ART AND ART HISTORY III
• That art is essentially historical means that there is no timeless power of artworks. Because the arts change over time, “historical circumstance penetrates the substance of art.” • Accordingly, an object which could only be seen as a urinal at one point in history can be seen as an artwork at another. And this indicates that “two indiscriminable objects from different historical periods would or could be vastly different.” And hence have different “meanings and call for different responses.”

HISTORY AND INTERPRETATION
• Danto remarks that, in order to respond to an artwork, what is required is “an interpretation constrained by the limits of historical possibility.” • For Danto, history is “inseparable from interpretation,” and indeed is “inseparable from art itself.” • And this is because “artworks are internally related to the interpretations that define them.” • This is the idea, once again, that for an object such as a readymade to be viewed as an artwork it must be interpretable as such. And it becomes interpretable as such due to the artworld with its theories and practices.

ART AND RESEMBLANCE
• Art in the west begins with resemblance, and attains a very high order of likeness in Renaissance works, such as in the paintings and sculptures of Leonardo and Michelangelo, which are meant to represent aspects of the external world. • Whereas the importance of resemblance in earlier works was its figuring significantly in representation, the importance of resemblance in works such as those of Duchamp, Warhol, and Kosuth mentioned, is conceptual. This is because resemblance is used in these works to raise the question about their categorial distinction from objects from which they are perceptually indistinct. • Or one might say that resemblance in earlier art is used to point a work beyond itself to objects in the external world, whereas resemblance in certain later works is used to point a work beyond itself to philosophy.

THE PHILOSOPHICAL DISENFRANCHISEMENT OF ART I
• Danto thinks that, although artworks such as Bottlerack, Brillo Boxes, and Information Room can raise the philosophical question of how to account for the conceptual differences between objects which are perceptually indistinguishable, they cannot, as works of art, answer that question. For that you need philosophy. • Thus, according to Danto, art reaches a stage in its history in which it can go no further intellectually, and thus must be converted into or replaced by philosophy. This is because art lacks the power to answer a question which it has nevertheless raised. And because it cannot answer it, but philosophy can, art is “disenfranchised” by philosophy.

POST-HISTORICAL ART
• For Danto art has come to an end because it has reached a point in its history at which it has raised a question about its own nature which it cannot itself answer. • Because it cannot answer this question, art becomes intellectually impotent, and so “we have entered a period of post-historical art, where the need for constant self-revolutionization of art is now past.” • Any apparent novelty in art now will be just that – apparent, not real, and the search for novelty will be driven by such things as the art market.

PROBLEMS FOR DANTO I
• 1. Why should art‟s raising the question of how to account for the conceptual difference of certain art objects from certain other objects outside the artworld which they exactly resemble be the only question of philosophical interest or importance that art has the ability to raise? • 2. We cannot anticipate such things as the future direction of technology and what new media may result which artists could successfully employ. Accordingly it cannot be asserted dogmatically that there is nothing of aesthetic and perhaps even philosophical interest left for art to do.

PROBLEMS FOR DANTO II
• 3. We also cannot predict how we as a species and our civilization may evolve in the centuries. Such biological and social evolution may result in capacities for thinking and feeling which are currently unavailable to us which art could address. • 4. Danto‟s view contains the implicit assumption that the more intellectual art is the more significant it is. However, there can be no proof of the general superiority of thought to feeling in art.

PROBLEMS FOR DANTO III
• 5. Danto not only seems to assume that art has the power to raise but a single question of philosophical interest, but further assumes that any potential of art to examine artistically a philosophical query which it has raised is precluded, since art‟s intellectual resources are depleted in the act of raising the question. • 6. It cannot be assumed that art‟s philosophical importance is restricted to asking questions which the techniques of philosophy must then be utilized to solve. It may be that art can answer a least certain intellectual questions which can be framed linguistically, but which are addressed in a manner in which the solution is exhibited artistically, and with an aesthetic dimension that would be lacking in a book or essay.

PROBLEMS FOR DANTO IV
• 7. We cannot know, as a purely epistemological matter, that the end of art has been reached even if it has been reached. We are not now nor can we ever be in a position to examine the evidence and conclude that the end has been reached since, lacking omniscience, we must be forever ignorant of what possibilities may or may not remain. This results in an interesting epistemological situation, namely, that we can know a priori apart from the evidence that we can never conclude a posteriori from examining the evidence that the end of art has in fact been reached.


				
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