The Art Question, by Nigel Warburton

The question being, "What is Art?". Rather a slim volume, and mostly reminds me of the Anne Sheppard book: it provides a fairly easy-to-grasp summary of some recent ideas about what makes something a piece of art.

The chapters (and some of the stuff he talks about) are:

  1. Significant Form, which talks about Bell's theory that a work of at "provides us with a glimpse of the structure of the world as it really is"
  2. Expression of Emotion - this talks about Collingwood and the way he distinguishes art from craft : "although works of art may involve craft, art is not to be identified with craft. This is because art is not just a matter of technique; it is not something that can be taught as a skill be taught: 'a technician is made, but an artist is born'". Collingwood says that "art proper is the imaginative expression of emotion" where "expression" means "a clarification of an initially vague feeling that through its expression becomes clear".

    Also mentioned here is "magic art" and "amusement art": works designed to provoke a particular emotion, without necessarily being an expression of something the artist feels.

  3. Family Resemblances looks at the idea that there may not be a common single underlying feature of all things that we call "works of art", but rather that they all share more or less of a group of qualities, in the same way as Wittgenstein's "games". This leads into talk about Weitz, who makes the distinctions between "open" and "closed" concepts. If art is a "closed" concept, then it would appear that certain things could never be art. But "an open concept...allows for the possibility of new and unforseen cases which do not necessarily share a presumed common feature".
  4. Institutional Contexts looks at Dickie's idea that what makes something a work of art is that it is given that status by the art world (this seems a bit like Carey's view. This is "concerned with a 'classificatory' sense of 'art'. It is entirely neutral on questions of whether something's being a work of art implies that it has any value".
  5. So What? summarises the book and asks why we might want to know the answer to the question. He gives three suggestions: Warburton says that the "third sense of the art question is still worth asking but is best asked of individual works rather than a general question", and gives some examples. Including an picture by Cindy Sherman (Film Still #21) which has something fascinating about it although I can't explain exactly what makes it so special. Warburton has some suggestions, but I don't think he nails it.

Very readable and interesting.

Completed : 21-Nov-2006

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