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within a known artistic framework. The argument concludes when the produc-
tion of Ubu roi is shown to follow from the logic of the situation as it is or was rea-
sonably construed by someone like Jarry.Thus, the story ends with an account of
the presentation and production of a contested work such as Ubu roi.
If the identifying narrative ends with the production of Ubu roi, where does it
begin? Identifying narratives establish the art status of contested works by con-
necting the works in question to artworks and practices already acknowledged to
be art.Thus, an identifying narrative will begin with some art historical juncture
that is recognized by all concerned to be uncontested.That is, since the aim of the
identifying narrative is to demonstrate the art status of the contested work by
explaining how it emerged through recognizable processes of making and think-
ing from acknowledged practices, the narrative must begin in a context where
acknowledged practices preside. Consequently, an identifying narrative sets the
stage or establishes the context of the action by starting with a set of circum-
stances already known to be artistic.
Moreover, the beginning of an identifying narrative, like the beginnings of
narratives in general, is, as Aristotle observed, such that it “does not necessarily
come after something else, although something else exists or comes about after
it.”20 In other words, the beginning of the narrative establishes a background or
context sufficient for what follows to be narratively comprehensible “ that is, the
beginning introduces a context that is adequate for understanding what follows
and as such does not necessarily require reference to earlier points in time.Thus,
the identifying narrative begins by establishing a state of affairs that is rich enough
to support and to motivate the ensuing story and is also such that all the disputants
grant its status as an ensemble of artistic practices.
Often with avant-garde productions the relevant context “ the beginning of
the story “ involves the state of the artworld immediately prior to the innovations
under dispute. For, it is most frequently the case that avant-garde art is a reaction
to or repudiation of prevailing artistic practices.21 The task of the identifying nar-
110 ART, HISTORY, NARRATIVE
AND


rative, then, is to show how such reactions to prevailing (acknowledged) art repre-
sent intelligible responses to existing, acknowledged artworld practices.
To return to the case of Ubu roi, for example, one may profitably begin an
identifying narrative by sketching the state of the theatrical milieu in which Jarry
operated, a milieu dominated, on the one hand, by the escapist, bourgeois enter-
tainments of Alexandre Dumas fils, Victorien Sardou, Emile Augier, Jacques
Offenbach and Edmond Rostand, and, on the other hand, by the realist project of
figures like Andr© Antoine, which project itself was, in part, a reaction formation
to the aforesaid bourgeois escapism.
An identifying narrative formally ends with its recounting of the final com-
pletion of the work in question and/or its presentation to the public.The narra-
tive begins by establishing the relevant artistic background from which the work
in question emerges. The middle or complication of the narrative functions to
connect the beginning of the narrative to the end; the middle is what gets us from
the beginning to the end of the story.
In recounting the context in which an artist like Jarry finds himself, the narrator
includes a sketch of the artist™s assessment of that context, highlighting the ways in
which the artist perceives the initial state of affairs as one that invites change “ either
because the initial state of affairs confronts internal problems that call for solutions, or
because it contains heretofore unexploited opportunities, or because it has come to
hamper expression, or because it is stagnant, or because it is corrupt.
Jarry, for example, assessed the dominant bourgeois theater of his day as corrupt,
as bereft of serious content, as escapist.At the same time, he, like contemporary Sym-
bolists, was also opposed to the realist reaction to the dominant bourgeois theater
because he feared that the literal, naturalist approach limited “the intelligent specta-
tor™s imaginative freedom to construct in his mind his own, pure and perfect set in
response to the poet™s words.”22 Jarry™s assessments of the limitations within prevailing
theatrical practice led him to resolve to change that practice. Moreover, the kind of
reasons that led Jarry to this resolve “ his low estimate of the vapid escapism of the so-
called “well-made play” and his suspicion that realism thwarted imagination “ are
ones that are perfectly intelligible to anyone familiar with art history; they represent
well-known art-historical motives for reform and for revolution.
The identifying narrative begins in an acknowledged artworld context. Com-
plications start when we take note of the artist™s assessments of such a context,
which assessments motivate the artist™s resolution to change said context. The
changes the artist introduces “ such as the avant-garde innovations that often ini-
tially mystify the public “ are woven into narrative accounts in terms of the ways
in which these changes implement the artist™s conception of what must be done
in order to rectify, reform, or revolutionize preexisting practices.That is, the artist™s
innovations are explained as decisions predicated upon improving or correcting
prevailing practices in light of the artist™s assessments of those practices and their
shortcomings, and in light of his or her resolution to change those practices.
In the case of Ubu roi, an identifying narrative explains that Jarry assaulted bour-
geois theater not only through fusillades of obscenity, but through the comic-infan-
HISTORICAL NARRATIVES PHILOSOPHY ART 111
AND THE OF


tile portrayal of the topic of political assassination (thereby, all-but-explicitly travesty-
ing the high seriousness of Macbeth). Indeed, many of the stylistic, structural and the-
matic choices of Ubu roi can be readily understood as part and parcel of a concerted
effort to outrage the bourgeoisie. Moreover, this assault was not simply rooted in a
desire to shock, but rather also to confront the consumer of escapist theater with a
view of human nature that such theater suppressed “ namely, that of the ignoble,
instinctual, darker side of humankind that Freud would later explore.
However, at the same time that many of Jarry™s decisions were aimed at chal-
lenging bourgeois theater, a narrative of the production of Ubu roi would also note
that many other choices were directed against the practices of realist theater.These
stylistic and structural choices were often predicated upon deploying abstract (as
opposed to literal or realist) devices for the purpose of encouraging the spectator™s
use of her imagination.
For example, Jarry advocates “A single set or, better still, a plain backdrop,
eliminating the raising and lowering of the curtain during the single act. A for-
mally dressed character would enter, as in puppet shows, to put up signs indicating
the location of the scene. (Note that I am convinced that such signs have far
greater ˜suggestive™ power than any set. No set or extras could convey the sense of
˜the Polish army on the march in the Ukraine™.)”23 Likewise Jarry favored the use
of masks and of a single soldier to depict an army because he believed that such
abstract devices prompted the spectator to employ her imagination whereas real-
ism in its putative attempt to counterfeit the literal appearance of things engenders
passive perception.
An identifying narrative comprises a beginning, a middle or complication, and an
end.The complication segues into the end as the distinctive, problematic choices of
the work in question are motivated in light of the artist™s assessments of the way in
which acknowledged artistic practices need to be changed.The identifying narrative
begins by sketching or establishing an initial context about which there is consensus
concerning its positive art status.Where that set of circumstances provides the context
for the avant-garde work in question, the narrative proceeds by elucidating the artist™s
assessment of the situation, indicating not only how that assessment leads the artist to
resolve to transform the art in question, but also showing how it is intelligible that
someone in such a context might come to have that resolution.
Once the artist™s assessment of the situation is explained and her resolution to
change the artworld motivated, the narrator goes on to show how the choices that
compose the artwork in question are sensible or appropriate means to the artist™s
end “ that is, her resolution to change the artworld in a certain direction in light
of her assessments of its shortcomings.The complication of the identifying narra-
tive shows how the artist comes upon her innovations as means for securing her
purposes; it illuminates the way in which what the artist did in the existing con-
text was a way of achieving her resolution.This involves describing the situation
in such a way that it becomes evident why certain artistic choices make sense
given the values, associations, and consequences that are likely to accrue to such
choices in the pertinent historical context.
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AND


In the case of Ubu roi, for instance, an identifying narrative attempts to show
that given a background correlation between realism and passive perception, the
choice of abstract theatrical devices was an intelligible move to make in the name
of the imagination. Moreover, it is important to emphasize that in explicating an
artist™s assessment of the situation and her choices of the means for transforming
artworld practice in an intended direction, we only require that her thinking be
intelligible, not that it be veridical.
Jarry™s assessment of the bourgeois and realist theater of his day might not
coincide with the assessments of present-day theater historians. However, the
identifying narrative need only show that Jarry™s assessment was an intelligible
assessment, an assessment of the situation that would be reasonable for someone in
that context to make applying certain general acknowledged understandings of
the aims of art “ like encouraging the imaginative activity of the spectator “ that
were abroad and alive in the pertinent context.
Once we establish, by narrating the conditions that give rise to the artist™s
assessments, that the artist™s resolution is intelligible, the story continues, explain-
ing how the techniques, procedures, themes, and strategies that the artist mobilizes
involved intelligible choices for realizing the artist™s goals, given the structure of
the relevant artworld “ that is, given the alternative, available strategies and their
associated values in the art-historical context under examination.
Again, we do not demand that the artist™s practical reasoning in this matter be
veridical; Jarry™s psychological presuppositions about realism and the imagination
could be mistaken. Rather, we only require that Jarry™s thinking and his choices be
intelligible in context.The question of truth only arises with respect to the iden-
tifying narrative when we come to evaluate the narrator™s hypotheses.That is, our
conjectures about the beliefs that went into the thinking and making of Jarry™s
Ubu roi should be accurate, if our identifying narrative is to be successful.
The identifying narrative begins with some state of affairs whose art status is
acknowledged. Change enters our story when we introduce the way in which an
artist assesses that state of affairs such that she resolves to transform it.The artist™s
assessment of the situation, however, is still connected to acknowledged artistic
practices insofar as she is guided by accepted construals of the aims of art. The
bulk of the middle or complication of an identifying narrative comprises the nar-
rative elaboration of the choices and rationales “ including, possibly, the descrip-
tion of the artist™s experimentation with different alternatives “ that eventuate in
the production and presentation of the contested work to the public.
My central claim throughout has been that if through a historical narrative of
this sort a disputed work “ generally an avant-garde work “ can be shown to be
the result of reasonable or appropriate choices and actions that are motivated by
intelligible assessments that support a resolution to change the relevant artworld
context for the sake of some live, recognizable aim of art, then, all things being
equal, the disputed work is an artwork.That is, we establish that a disputed work
is an artwork in the face of skeptical opposition by explaining via narration how
it emerged from an acknowledged artistic context though a process of thinking
HISTORICAL NARRATIVES PHILOSOPHY ART 113
AND THE OF


and making in virtue of recognizable motives, conceptions and construals of the
kind already precedented in artistic practice.
So, when confronted by the charge that Ubu roi is a hoax, we defend the play
by telling the story of how it and its outrageous stylistic strategies emerged from
an acknowledged artistic state of affairs as a consequence of assessments and
choices of the sort that people with an acquaintance with art history recognize to
be familiar. We say, for example, that given the practices of bourgeois theater, on
the one hand, and realist theater, on the other, Jarry criticized the former for its
saccharine escapism and the latter for its disavowal of the imagination; in order to
redress these limitations, Jarry opted for the grotesque, for the obscene and for
travesty as an antidote to bourgeois sentimentalism and for abstract, antirealist
devices to jump-start the spectator™s imagination. Of course, the preceding is just
a skeleton of the identifying narrative that could be told to establish that Ubu roi is
art. Such a narrative becomes more and more compelling as detail is added in a
way that makes Jarry™s ensemble of choices more intelligible.
Assembling the various elements of our characterization of identifying nar-
ratives so far, then, we contend that: x is an identifying narrative only if it is (1)
an accurate (2) time-ordered report of a sequence of events and states of affairs
(3) that has a beginning, a complication and an end, where (4) the end is
explained as the outcome of the beginning and the complication, where (5) the
beginning involves the description of an initiating, acknowledged art historical
context and where (6) the complication involves tracking the adoption of a
series of actions and alternatives as appropriate means to an end on the part of a
person who arrived at an intelligible assessment of the art historical context in
such a way that she is resolved to change it in accordance with recognizable and
live purposes of the practice.
The preceding qualification “ that the artist™s resolution be made in terms of
purposes that are live in the practice “ is meant to avoid one of the problems of
attempts to define art historically. Jerrold Levinson24 and Stephen Davies25 main-
tain that, for a work to be art, it necessarily must be produced with the intention
that it be viewed in one of the ways that art has been correctly viewed in the
past.26 But this condition is not fine-grained enough, for it makes no provision for
the fact that past ways of viewing art may become obsolete. If I wield my cam-
corder at the family picnic with the intention that what results be appreciated for
its perceptual verisimilitude, that hardly supports any claims for the art status of
my videotape because perceptual verisimilitude in and of itself is no longer a liv-
ing mode of artistic commerce, though it once was. Consequently, when propos-
ing a narrative of the artist™s assessments of prevailing, acknowledged artistic
practices, the artist™s assessments should be based on extant understandings of the
aims of art, if the narrative is to be successful.
The point of an identifying narrative is to establish that a candidate is an art-
work by explaining how the work emerged from an artworld context through
assessments whose presuppositions about the aims of art are already precedented
and through choices that are intelligible.The explanatory power of such narratives
114 ART, HISTORY, NARRATIVE
AND


“ as scrutiny of the sixth condition above quickly reveals “ resides in the fact that
such narratives are underwritten by the structure of practical reasoning.27 The
artist™s assessment leads to a resolution that leads to the choice from alternative
means to that end, which choices, then, result in the action that we want
explained “ the production of a contested and/or befuddling work such as Ubu
roi. If we can explain the production of such a work in terms of intelligible
processes of making and thinking in an acknowledged art context, then if our nar-
rative is true, the art status of the work is secured.
Identifying narratives rest on the presumption that the artist is a rational agent.
If our narrative genuinely illuminates the way in which the production of the art-
work historically flows from an established artworld starting point by way of
assessments that are recognizable as of a precedented kind and which assessments
are subsequently implemented by intelligible decisions, given the logic of the sit-
uation, then the grounds for conceding the art status of the work seem irresistible.
Of course, one might still question the merit of the work in question. However,
the question of merit is independent of the question of its art status.

I V. S O M E O B J E C T I O N S

1. In his Definitions of Art, Stephen Davies objects to Levinson™s historical defini-
tion of art on the grounds that it places too much authority in the artist™s inten-
tion. For Levinson, if x is an artwork, then necessarily the work has been created
with the intention that it be regarded in one of the ways some preexisting art-
works were correctly regarded. My own approach, though not definitional, like
Levinson™s, places decisive weight on the artist™s intentions for the purpose of
identifying artworks.Thus, if Davies™ objection to Levinson is persuasive, it threat-
ens the narrative approach as well.
According to Davies, the way in which we regard an artwork is not restricted
to the way in which the artist intended us to regard the work “ even in those cases
where the artist intended an art historically correct regard. Rather, we may regard
the work in any way that is consistent with our conventions for regarding and
interpreting artworks and which accord with the facts of the work in question.
That is, an interpretation of an artwork is legitimate if it is consistent with a true
description of the artwork and if it abides by our conventions for regarding or
interpreting artworks “ even if said interpretation is at variance with or diverges
from an interpretation based on an artist™s intention.
Why? Because according to Davies art has a point “ namely, the maximization
of aesthetic interest (understood as the having of the richest possible experience
of artworks) “ and this point or interest is best served by conventional interpreta-
tions rather than intentional interpretations. Indeed, where a conventional inter-
pretation and an intentional interpretation are rivals and the former promises a
richer aesthetic experience, it always trumps the intentional interpretation.
Two points need to be made concerning Davies™ case against the role of estab-
lishing authorial intentions in the matter of identifying art “ whether by defini-
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