Published on May 2, 2008
Ideas in the Arts: Ideas in the Arts Wittgenstein, the ‘No-theory’ Theory, and the Institutional Theory of Art Classical Theories of Art: Classical Theories of Art Representationalism Expressivism Formalism All have a certain plausibility. But all have problems. The pluses and minuses of the theories: The pluses and minuses of the theories Representationalism and expressivism both seem to locate the purpose of art outside the work itself. Formalism corrects this by focusing on the work itself – but at the price of an impoverished view of what a work of art is. Formal features are important – but become much more significant when linked to representational or expressive qualities. Does this mean no definition of art is possible?: Does this mean no definition of art is possible? Bell: “Either all works of [visual] art have some common quality, or when we speak of ‘works of art’ we gibber.” Is Bell correct? Why must there be a single common quality? A combined definition?: A combined definition? ‘Art is the creation of significant form for the purpose of representation and emotional expression’? Counter-examples: Not all works of art are representational (Abstract painting, most music, etc.) Not all works of art are expressive. Counter-examples from contemporary art: Counter-examples from contemporary art Ready-mades Conceptual art Free-form music Is the word ‘art’ meaningless?: Is the word ‘art’ meaningless? A view of meaning and language Plato’s Socratic dialogues – ‘What is beauty?’, ‘What is courage?’, etc. Assumption that if we can’t produce a definition, we don’t know what the word means. Assumption that definition must consist in a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. An example of ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’:: An example of ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’: To be a Fairtrade University you must meet the following five conditions: The Student Union and the university authorities both have a Fairtrade policy. Fairtrade foods are available for sale in all campus shops, cafés, restaurants and bars. Fairtrade foods such as coffee and tea are served at all meetings hosted by the university and the SU. There is a commitment to campaign for increased Fairtrade consumption on campus. There is a Fairtrade Steering Group. Can most ordinary words be defined by a set of necessary and sufficient conditions?: Can most ordinary words be defined by a set of necessary and sufficient conditions? Ludwig Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations (1953) A view of language which has influenced much subsequent philosophy of art. Wittgenstein’s example: the word ‘game’ Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, paragraph 66: Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, paragraph 66 ‘Consider for example the proceedings that we call “games”. I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games and so on. What is common to them all? – Don’t say: “There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’ ” – but look and see whether there is anything common to all. For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. Slide11: Look for example at board-games, with their multifarious relationships. Now pass to card-games; here you may find correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ball-games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost. – Are they all ‘amusing’? Compare chess with noughts and crosses. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think of patience. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared… Think now of games like ring-a-ring-a-roses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear…. Slide12: …I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than “family resemblances”; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way.’ Is Wittgenstein right about ‘games’? Morris Weitz, ‘The Role of Theory in Aesthetics’ (1956): Morris Weitz, ‘The Role of Theory in Aesthetics’ (1956) Applying Wittgenstein to aesthetics – ‘art’ is like ‘game’. A mistake to look for a ‘theory’ of art, in the sense of a definition of ‘art’ in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. Why? All theories which have attempted to specify necessary and sufficient conditions have failed. Art is an ‘open concept’ – it has ‘open texture’. Art and family resemblances: Art and family resemblances Even if we accept the comparison, does this mean art cannot be defined? Could there be a disjunctive definition? Something is art if it is either A or B or C… Maurice Mandelbaum, ‘Family Resemblances and Generalisation concerning the Arts’ (1965): Maurice Mandelbaum, ‘Family Resemblances and Generalisation concerning the Arts’ (1965) Wittgenstein is wrong about ‘family resemblances’. Not just a matter of similarities. Resemblances are not ‘family resemblances’ unless there is a deeper connection – a genetic connection. Is the same true of games? Mandelbaum:: Mandelbaum: Distinguish between a definition in terms of directly exhibited (manifest) characteristics and a definition in terms of non-exhibited characteristics. What might this be? A historical definition? A relational definition? George Dickie, ‘Defining Art’ (1969): George Dickie, ‘Defining Art’ (1969) Takes up that last suggestion. Can give a relational definition of art – in terms of the relation of an art-work to (a) a creator and (b) the ‘art-world’. ‘A work of art in the descriptive sense is (1) an artefact (2) upon which some society or some sub-group of a society has conferred the status of candidate for appreciation’. The Institutional Theory: The Institutional Theory A later version (1974): ‘A work of art in the classificatory sense is (1) an artefact (2) a set of the aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld).’ Duchamp – ‘Fountain’: Duchamp – ‘Fountain’ Simon Starling, ‘Shedboatshed’: Simon Starling, ‘Shedboatshed’ Turner Prize Competition 2006: Phil Collins’ “research office”: Turner Prize Competition 2006: Phil Collins’ “research office” A Literary Example: A Literary Example When does a biography become art? When it wins the Booker Prize? When it is on an A-level syllabus? When it is included in a publisher’s ‘Classics’ list (Oxford Classics, Penguin Classics)? Objections to the Institutional Theory:: Objections to the Institutional Theory: What are members of the art-world doing when they decide whether something is an art-work? Can’t the art-world be wrong when it decides that something is an art-work? What about works which have never been exhibited or seen or read or heard by the art-world?