Classificatory Theories of Art: Resemblance and the Artworld

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1 Classificatory Theories of Art: Resemblance and the Artworld Family Resemblance A philosophical idea due to Ludwig Wittgenstein ( ); developed into an account of art by Paul Ziff and Morris Weitz (and others) since the 1950s. The Basic Idea: According to Wittgenstein, it is not necessary (and, maybe, not possible) to provide a definition of concepts like art (or game ) in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions 1

2 But this need not be any great philosophical embarrassment, according to Wittgensteinian philosophy, since we can instead account for art in terms of the family resemblance among things that we recognize as art. Art, is an open concept : Its connotation cannot, or at least need not, be precisely specified. Instead, we recognize members of the class art by their resemblance to paradigm instances of the concept. Closed & Open Concepts The Wittgensteinian idea: Meaning is use Implication: For at least some concepts, we do not need to be able to specify necessary and sufficient conditions in order to understand the meaning of those concepts. Closed Concept: Completely specified in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. (e.g., stipulative definitions in math; operational definitions in science) Open Concept: We recognize members of the class by their resemblance to paradigm instances of the concept. 2

3 Why Art is an Open Concept Weitz: Creativity & Novelty Any attempt to define art in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions forecloses on the very conditions of creativity in art (W 73) Specifically, we need an open concept of art in order to allow for novelty in particular, to allow for art works that are presented precisely in order to challenge dominant conceptions of art According to Weitz, it will be up to people who care about art (i.e., people who use the term art ) in particular, professional critics (76) to decide which new types of work ought to be admitted under the concept. For Weitz, this applies to sub-categories and genres of art as well as to specific works. For instance, if we were to stipulate representation as a necessary feature of painting, we would illegitimately rule out works that some people are in fact willing to call art 3

4 But why value creativity and novelty? Lessing: Art that was merely beautiful would quickly become boring artists would simply reproduce what was found to please in the past. (Cf. Aristotle and the technical theory of art ) Great art, by contrast, (necessarily?) strives not only (or even?) to be beautiful, but also to be original. Burke (& Aristotle): Moreover, we human beings are naturally curious and take pleasure in novelty (78) A Logical Constraint? Weitz seems to assert that it is somehow logically impossible to define art in terms of a closed concept. Yet while some closed concepts (Bell s, Collingwood s) may run afoul of the creativity criterion, couldn t a sufficiently broad definition of art still allow for novelty and creativity? Indeed, are there possibly at least two distinct things going on here? Novelty may be good (i.e., a source of pleasure), but not all good art is novel and creativity can be expressed even within highly delimited forms (fugue, haiku, mime) 4

5 Institutional Theories (IT) In contrast to evaluative theories (e.g., Bell, Collingwood) a purely classificatory approach like that of Martian anthropologist. (W 96) Its central question: Not good art/bad art?, but simply art/non-art? George Dickie (1926-): A work of art in the classificatory sense is (1) an artifact (2) a set of the aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or person acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld) (W 95) Dickie s definition implies (contra Weitz) necessary and sufficient conditions: (a) artifactuality (necessary condition) (b) conferral of status (necessary condition) (a) + (b) are jointly sufficient for something to deemed a work of art But while (a) according to Dickie is logically necessary, it is still highly flexible: Even a piece of driftwood would qualify as an artifact provided it is used for some human purpose. (No foreclosure on creativity ) 5

6 Institutional Theory: Some Criticisms 1. It excludes (or at least temporarily excludes) art that happens to have not (yet) met the conferral of status criterion. E.g., outsider art ( art brut ) Outsider artists certainly make artifacts, but, more or less by definition, they do not offer them to the artworld as candidates for conferral of status 2. Possible Arbitrariness If members of the artworld have good reasons for conferring art status on certain works, then, presumably, those reasons could be offered as (normative) theories in place of IT. If they have no good reasons well, then, conferral is arbitrary; any old crap could end up counting as art (!) But notice that this has force only to the degree that you believe that there must be (should be) some restrictions 6

7 Plus as Dickie is careful to point out (though Warburton is not), the artworld is not monolithic it is a complex set of social processes. There is plenty of room for disagreement. Notice that this also addresses the Warburton/Levinson worry about some artist declaring everything a work of art (or some anti-artist de-conferring all existing works of art): Go ahead. But don t expect the entire artworld system to go along with you. 7

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