The Definition of Art (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

A seventh argument against defining art, with a normative tinge thatis psychologistic rather than sociopolitical, takes the fact thatthere is no philosophical consensus about the definition of art asreason to hold that no unitary concept of art exists. Concepts ofart, like all concepts, after all, should be used for the purpose(s)they best serve. But not all concepts of art serve all purposesequally well. So not all art concepts should be used for the samepurposes. Art should be defined only if there is a unitary concept ofart that serves all of art’s various purposes—historical,conventional, aesthetic, appreciative, communicative, and so on. So,since there is no purpose-independent use of the concept of art, artshould not be defined (Mag Uidhir and Magnus 2011; cf. Meskin 2008).In response, it is noted that an account of what makes variousconcepts of art concepts of art is still required, whichleaves open the possibility of important commonalities. The fact (ifit is one) that different concepts of art are used for differentpurposes does not itself imply that they are not connected insystematic, ordered ways. The relation between (say) the historicalconcept of art and the appreciative concept of art is not anaccidental, unsystematic relation, like that between river banks andsavings banks, but is something like the relation between Socrates’healthiness and the healthiness of Socrates’ diet. That is, it is notevident that there exist a multiplicity of art concepts, constitutingan unsystematic patchwork. Perhaps there is a single concept of artwith different facets that interlock in an ordered way, or else amultiplicity of concepts that constitute a unity because one is at thecore, and the others depend on it, but not conversely. (The last is aninstance of core-dependent homonymy; see the entry on , section on Essentialismand Homonymy.) Multiplicity alone doesn’t entail pluralism.

The definition of art is controversial in contemporary philosophy

Whether art can be defined has also been a matter of controversy

What is AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Alternatively, we might use a visual analogy to explain structuralism. Imagine a sculpture consisting of a number of tin cans and fishing wire. The cans are tied together in a network of thin, practically invisible strings. The whole sculpture hangs suspended in the air. One way to understand the shape of that sculpture would be to focus on each individual tin can as it appears to float in the air. I.e., we could see each can as a separate entity and focus our attention on it, ignoring the rest. In contrast, the structuralist would focus on each of those barely visible strings, and define the shape of the sculpture by how the strings link each can together. The connections themselves become the point of study rather than what they connect.

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As to the over-inclusiveness of aesthetic definitions, a distinctionmight be drawn between primary and secondary functions. Or it may bemaintained that some cars, lawns, and products of industrial design areon the art/non-art borderline, and so don’t constitute clearand decisive counter-examples. Or, if the claim that aesthetic theoriesfail to account for bad art depends on holding that some works haveabsolutely no aesthetic value whatsoever, as opposed to somenon-zero amount, however infinitesimal, it may be wondered whatjustifies that assumption.

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changed , chang·ing , chang·es v

The most prominent and influential institutionalism is that of GeorgeDickie. Dickie’s institutionalism has evolved over time. According toan early version, a work of art is an artifact upon which someperson(s) acting on behalf of the artworld has conferred the status ofcandidate for appreciation (Dickie 1974). The most recent versionconsists of an interlocking set of five definitions: (1) An artist isa person who participates with understanding in the making of a workof art. (2) A work of art is an artifact of a kind created to bepresented to an artworld public. (3) A public is a set of persons themembers of which are prepared in some degree to understand an objectwhich is presented to them. (4) The artworld is the totality of allartworld systems. (5) An artworld system is a framework for thepresentation of a work of art by an artist to an artworld public(Dickie 1984). Both versions have been widelycriticized. Philosophers have objected that art created outside anyinstitution seems possible, although the definition rules it out, andthat the artworld, like any institution, seems capable of error. Ithas also been urged that the definition’s obvious circularity isvicious, and that, given the inter-definition of the key concepts(artwork, artworld system, artist, artworld public) it lacks anyinformative way of distinguishing art institutions systemsfrom other, structurally similar, social institutions (D. Davies2004, pp. 248–249, mentions the“commerceworld”). Early on, Dickie claimed that anyone whosees herself as a member of the artworld is a member of theartworld: if this is true, then unless there are constraints on thekinds of things the artworld can put forward as artworks or candidateartworks, any entity can be an artwork (though not all are). Finally,Matravers has helpfully distinguished strongand weak institutionalism. Strong institutionalism holds thatthere is some reason that is always the reason the art institution hasfor saying that something is a work of art. Weak institutionalismholds that, for every work of art, there is some reason or other thatthe institution has for saying that it is a work of art (Matravers2000). Weak institutionalism, in particular, raises questions aboutart’s unity: if nothing unifies the reasons that the artworld givesfor designating entities as artworks, the unity of the class ofartworks is vanishingly small.

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turned , turn·ing , turns v

Views which combine features of institutional and aestheticdefinitions also exist. Iseminger, for example, builds a definition onan account of appreciation, on which to appreciate a thing’sbeing F is to find experiencing its being F to bevaluable in itself, and an account of aesthetic communication (which itis the function of the artworld to promote) (Iseminger 2004).Another definition that combines features of institutional andaesthetic definitions is David Davies’. Davies adoptsNelson Goodman’s account of symbolic functions that are aesthetic(a symbol functions aesthetically when it is syntactically dense,semantically dense, syntactically replete, and characterized bymultiple and complex reference, which he takes to clarify theconditions under which a practice of making is a practice ofartistic making (Davies 2004; Goodman 1968).

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Functional definitions take some function(s) or intended function(s)to be definitive of artworks. Here only aesthetic definitions, whichconnect art essentially with the aesthetic—aesthetic judgments,experience, or properties—will be considered. Differentaesthetic definitions incorporate different views of aestheticproperties and judgments. See the entry on .