Kirkus Reviews QR Code
WHAT ART IS by Arthur C. Danto


by Arthur C. Danto

Pub Date: March 19th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-300-17487-8
Publisher: Yale Univ.

A distinguished art critic, academic and philosopher distills his views into a compact volume that is likely to provoke more debate than it resolves.

Danto (Philosophy Emeritus/Columbia Univ.; Andy Warhol, 2009, etc.) maintains that the definition of art has to encompass the entirety of art, from the mimetic to the nonrepresentational, from the beautiful to the aggressively nonbeautiful, and from the traditional to whatever comes next. He offers the theory that “works of art are embedded meanings.” He expands: “Something is a work of art when it has a meaning—is about something—and when that meaning is embodied in the work—which usually means: is embodied in the object in which the work of art materially consists.” For those who speak in academic and/or philosophic code, this may add something to the ongoing dialogue, but anyone new to the conversation might wonder how we recognize or define “meaning” and whether it lies within the province of artistic intent or critical interpretation. Is the meaning what the artist thought he was doing (if he gave it any thought), or is it what the viewer perceives? While this book may not provide the last word that its title implies, it features plenty of provocative analysis on how a painting can be more “real” than a photograph, how the world of art and the world at large have changed (or not) since Aristotle and how (or if) we can make a qualitative distinction between a Warhol Brillo box and the actual box that inspired it. “Today art can be made of anything, put together with anything, in the service of presenting any ideas whatsoever,” writes Danto, putting the responsibility on the viewer to “grasp the way the spirit of the artist undertook to present the ideas that concerned her or him.”

Less a primer than a series of postgraduate lectures.