Philosophy of the Arts


Artists intend something to be art …

As was proffered in class, artists aim at making works of art. But … when is someone an artist?
Someone is an artist when … (fill in the dots)
An institution is an art institution when …

Well, artists must mean their work to be art and must at one time or another be recognised as artists (not necessarily in their own time).
Institutions are art institutions when they are recognised as such by other acknowledged art institutions (such as academies, museums, concert halls, art critics, artists, etc.), preferably on the basis of considerations that are recognisably relevant.
So one artist may say of someone’s works that they are revolutionary and bring a particular art form to cross new boundaries, and that they have merit comparable to the best works of Stockhausen, or something like that; but it would be irrelevant if he were to advertise someone’s work by saying that there is so much pink in it, or that it smells so funny, or that the materials used in them are expensive, etc.
These rather circular thoughts clearly show how art as we know it is a historical phenomenon: we have in a certain time-span decided that these elements together make up a practice with certain rules, traditions, forms and conventions.

Art’s beginnings

The ‘beginnings’ of our art practice need not have been instantaneous, they may have taken up a period of time, as indeed they have, involving a slow process reaching from 15th century secularisation of art (Giotto) through the 18th century rise of philosophical aesthetics (Batteux, and Baumgarten).
Also, art may be finite.
In fact, some theorists have argued that the times of art as art were over. Hegel, at the beginning of the 19th century, argued that both religion and, even more so, philosophy were better means for us to get to grips with reality. And Arthur Danto, more recently, argued that with Warhol’s Brillo Boxes art has become philosophy. These ‘endings’ depend on particular conceptions of art which are, rather debatable. But one might argue that with the advent of computer art (i.e. art without a creative human intention at its basis) our concept of art must be changed so profoundly as to become different altogether.

– de Batteux, Abbé Charles. 1746. Les Beaux-arts réduits à un mème principe. Paris: Durand.
– Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb. 1961 (1750-1758). Aesthetica. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung.
– Danto, Arthur C. 1981. The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. A Philosophy of Art. Cambridge, Massachussetts: Harvard University Press.
____________. 1992. Beyond the Brillo Box. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
– Gerwen, Rob van. 1996. “The Definition of Art.” Chapter 3 of Art and Experience, Volume XIV of Quaestiones Infinitae, 57–71. Utrecht: Dept. Philosophy.
– Haapala, Arto, Jerrold Levinson, and Veikko Rantala, eds. 1997. The End of Art and Beyond: Essays after Danto. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press.
– Hegel, G.W.F. 1993. Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics. Translated by Bernard Bosanquet. London: Penguin.
– Levinson, Jerrold. 2004. “Defining Art Historically.” In Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. The Analytic Tradition, An Anthology, edited by Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen, 27–35. Oxford: Blackwell.
– Tilghman, Benjamin R. 1984. But is it Art? Oxford: Blackwell.

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