Arthur Danto “Works of Art and Mere Real Things” 1981 Consider various all-red paintings that look exactly alike

Download 36.38 Kb.
Date conversion03.05.2016
Size36.38 Kb.

Arthur Danto “Works of Art and Mere Real Things” 1981

Consider various all-red paintings that look exactly alike:

  • one once described by Kierkegaard as of Israelites crossing the Red Sea,

  • one by a Danish portraitist titled Kierkegaard’s Mood,

  • Red Square (realist portrait of Moscow),

  • Red Square (minimalist version),

  • Nirvana (a metaphysical painting)

  • [“Big Red Square” Paul Franklin, 2012

Yves Klein
“IKB 191.”


“Yves Klein” Wikipedia,
accessed May 4, 2010

  • “The … exhibition, 'Proposte Monochrome, Epoca Blu' (Proposition Monochrome; Blue Epoch) at the Gallery Apollinaire, Milan, (January 1957), featured 11 identical blue canvases, using ultramarine pigment suspended in a synthetic resin 'Rhodopas'. Discovered with the help of Edouard Adam, a Parisian paint dealer, the effect was to retain the brilliance of the pigment which tended to become dull when suspended in linseed oil. Klein later patented this recipe to maintain the "authenticity of the pure idea." This colour, reminiscent of the lapis lazuli used to paint the Madonna's robes in medieval paintings, was to become famous as ‘International Klein Blue' (IKB).

Barnett NewmanVir Heroicus Sublimis
o/c   7'11" x 17'9"      1950-51

  • Barnett Newman

  • “Be I (second version),“

  • 1970.

Nicolas Poussin, The Crossing of the Red Sea, 1634

  • Søren Kierkegaard

  • Danish Philosopher

  • 1813-1855

Malevich, Kasimir
Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant
Woman in Two Dimensions

Kazimer Malevich

Black Square


Continuation of the list of all-red canvases

  • Red Table Cloth, by a disciple of Matisse

  • canvas grounded in red lead prepared by Giorgione (not an artwork),

  • a surface painted but not grounded in red lead (not an artwork, just a thing with paint on it):

Henri Matisse, "The Red Studio" 1911.

Giorgione Pastoral Concert 1508-9
Red painted wall texture “a mere thing”?

  • The Illustrations in the catalog for this show would look all the same, even though the paintings belong to diverse genres, and two to no genre at all.

J’s contribution

  • J (a young artist) thinks they should all be called “work of art.”

  • So he paints a work that resembles the last example and insists that his is a work of art and wants it hung in the show.

  • Danto thinks J’s work is rather empty compared to the narrative richness of “Israelites,” the impressive depth of “Nirvana,” etc.

Different senses of “empty.”

  • Yet it is not empty in the way that a mere expanse of red painted canvas is “empty.”

  • The statement that it was empty was an aesthetic judgment … which presupposes its object is an artwork.

  • J’s work is literally empty, as are all the works in the show,

  • But, it is also “empty” in the art appraisal sense of “empty.” [That is, “empty” here is used as a negative evaluation of the work.]

J calls his work “Untitled,” which is a title, not a statement of fact.

  • And the mere thing J supports as art is not titled at all, for it is unentitled to a title.

  • A title is frequently a direction for interpretation or reading (although that may not always be helpful).

  • J’s title is directive in a different way, indicating that the work is not to be interpreted.

  • He says it is about nothing, has “vacuity of mimesis”.

  • Yet “Nirvana” is about nothing

  • [J’s work is about nothing only in the sense that it is not about anything].

Aboutness and Mere Things

  • The red expanse is also not about anything, but that is because it is a [mere] thing.

  • Mere things lack aboutness, and artworks are typically about something (J’s work is unusual in this respect).

  • [But is J’s work really about nothing?]

What J accomplished

  • J has made a minimal artwork but has not made an artwork out of a bare red expanse.

  • Thus J’s gesture was pointless: he has left unbreached the boundaries between artworks and the world of just things.

  • It is not simply because J is an artist that his work is art, for not everything touched by an artist turns into art (Giorgione’s primed canvas, for example, is not art).

Danto vs. Dickie: nothing has been clarified [by Dickie’s definition]

  • J then declares the contested red expanse a work of art, like Duchamp with his snow-shovel.

  • And I (Danto) allow it.

  • But what has been achieved?

  • [Dickie would say that this settles the question, but Danto does not agree.]

  • Marchel Duchamp “In Advance of the Broken Arm” 1915 original

  • Shovel is inscribed along its lower rim with the following phrase: "In Advance of the Broken Arm/(from) Marcel Duchamp 1915."

  • "I have a show shovel upon which I have written on the bottom, In Advance of a Broken Arm. Don't try too hard to understand it in the Romantic or Impressionist or Cubist sense, that does not have any connection with it."--Duchamp, 1916

  • Museum of Modern Art, 2007

The Janitor’s Mistake

  • "When our little exhibition [1945 retrospective of three Duchamp brothers] went on tour, a janitor at a Museum in Minnesota the next winter mistook it for a shovel, as well he might, and went to work on a snowdrift, doing Duchamp's inscription no good.“ George Heard Hamilton “In Advance of The Broken Arm” in Marcel Duchamp in Perspective by Joseph Mascheck, Da Capo Press, 2002. [1966]

Duchamp vs. Bell

  • “Duchamp had annihilated all that haughty aesthetic talk about empathy, pure painting, significant form, etc. Art it what one decides it shall be. We do not so much find it, or make it, as determine it. Consequently it has no value whatsoever except in so far as it exists as a consequence of a mental event.” (ibid. 75)

Material Counterparts

  • [Danto does not believe that beauty is necessary for art.] There are works of art which have material counterparts that are beautiful in the way certain natural objects are.

  • [For Danto, an artwork has two sides, the “material counterpart” and the interpretation. The material counterpart is the work of art as a physical thing. This is much like the view that Heidegger criticizes in his essay.]

  • People with aesthetic sensitivity spontaneously respond to things like gemstones, birds and sunsets.

“Barbarian” thought experiment

  • Suppose there was a group of people (called “barbarians”) who lacked the concept of art, but still saw as beautiful what we consider as paradigms of beauty, e.g. glowing iridescent things, and also certain works of art whose material counterparts are beautiful.

  • They see these works of art as beautiful things.

Huns with the combat against Alains llustration of Johann Nepomuk Geiger (1873)

Imagine them, when they invade the civilized world, sparing those works including some paintings with gold leaf etc., but not some Rembrandts etc.

Chartres Cathedral West Rose- The Last Judgment
Angel with a cross c. 1215

Benvenuto Cellini Saltcellar (1500 - 1571)

Carlo Crivelli, Madonna and Child

Rembrandt van Rijn, Philosopher in Meditation, 1632

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin - The House of Cards, 1736-7

Conclusion of the Thought Experiment

  • Appreciation of the latter works would require them to be perceived first as artworks.

  • But the barbarians in this thought experiment don’t have the concept of “art.”

  • Thus the relationship between the artwork and the material counterpart must be gotten right for aesthetics [by which Danto means “theory of beauty”] to have any bearing on appreciation of art.

  • And the cognitive apparatus required for innate aesthetic sense to come into play in our appreciation of art cannot itself be innate. [An attack on Kant?].

The answer is historical.

  • Why were Warhol’s Brillo Boxes worth more than the original ones, which were in fact designed by an artist?

  • Why is a primed canvas of Giorgione not art?

Andy Warhol at Stable Gallery, April 24, 1964

Andy Warhol Brillo Box 1964

Not everything is possible at every time.

  • Certain artworks simply could not be inserted as artworks into certain periods of art history.

  • For example, Duchamp’s snow shovel, not having multiple indiscernible counterparts in garages, would have been a deeply mysterious object in the 13th century.

  • It could not have been absorbed in the artworld of the 13th century.

  • Marcel Duchamp Readymade: bottle rack made of galvanized iron. 59 x 37 cm. Original lost. Replica. 1914/64.

Artistic Theory Requirement

  • To see something as art depends on an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of the history of art.

  • Art is the kind of thing that depends for its existence upon theories.

  • [So Danto must mean that whether something is art depends on whether someone can see it as art].

  • Without theories, black paint is just black paint.

  • [The red-painted expanse is mere red paint, unlike the other rectangles indiscernible from it.]

There could not be an artworld without theory: it is logically dependent on theory.

  • Theory is so powerful it detaches objects from the real world and makes them part of a different world, an art world, a world of interpreted things. [Shades of Plato?]

  • Thus, there is an internal connection between the status of an artwork and the language with which artworks are identified as such.

Necessity of Interpretation

  • Nothing is an artwork without an interpretation that constitutes it as such.

  • [Thus Danto’s theory would be different from Dickie’s. Dickie does not demand that something be interpreted as art to be art.]

Thomas Adajian, “The Definition of Art,” 2007 accessed 11/24/10

  • “Danto's definition has been glossed [by Noel Carroll] as follows: something is a work of art if and only if

  • (i) it has a subject

  • (ii) about which it projects some attitude or point of view (has a style)

  • (iii) by means of rhetorical ellipsis (usually metaphorical) which ellipsis engages audience participation in filling in what is missing,

  • and (iv) where the work in question and the interpretations thereof require an art historical context… Clause (iv) is what makes the definition institutionalist.”

Criticism of the Danto definition

  • “The view has been criticized for entailing that art criticism written in a highly rhetorical style is art, lacking but requiring an independent account of what makes a context art historical, and for not applying to music.” Ibid., Adajian.

  • Piero della Francesca. Legend of the True Cross: Annunciation. 1452-1466.

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page