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which it intervenes in an ongoing painterly dialectic about flatness. To be con-
cerned with the significance of the painting within the tradition of modern art is
not inappropriate, but rather is a characteristic response of an appreciator who has
entered the practice of art. From one artwork to the next, we consider the way in
which a new work may expand upon the dialectic or problematic present in ear-
lier works. Or, a later work may, for example, amplify the technical means at the
disposal of a given artform for the pursuit of its already established goals. So we
may view a film such as Griffith™s The Birth of a Nation as the perfection of primi-
tive film™s commitment to narration. Such an interest in The Birth of a Nation is
neither the viewpoint of an antiquarian, a filmmaker, or a film specialist. It is
ART INTERACTION 17
AND


rather the response of any film appreciator who has entered the practice of film
spectatorship.
Confronted with a new artwork, we may scrutinize it with an eye to isolating
the ways in which it expands upon an existing artworld dialectic, solves a problem
that vexed previous artists, seizes upon a hitherto unexpected possibility of the
tradition, or amplifies the formal means of an artform in terms of the artform™s
already established pursuits. But a new artwork may also stand to the tradition by
way of making a revolutionary break with the past.A new artwork may emphasize
possibilities not only present in, but actually repressed by, preceding styles; it may
introduce a new problematic; it may repudiate the forms or values of previous art.
When Tristan Tzara composed poems by randomly drawing snippets of words
from a hat, he was repudiating the Romantic poet™s valorization of expression, just
as the Romantic poet had repudiated earlier poets™ valorization of the representa-
tion of the external world in favor of a new emphasis on the internal, subjective
world.Tzara™s act wasn™t random; it made perfect sense in the ongoing dialogue of
art history. Concerned with the tradition at large, we as spectators review artworks
in order to detect the tensions or conflicts between artistic generations, styles, and
programs.We interpret stylistic choices and gambits as repudiations and gestures of
rejection by later artworks of earlier ones.This is often much like the interpreta-
tion of a hidden meaning; however, it requires attention outside the work to its art
historical context.The significance we identify is not so much one hidden in the
work as one that emerges when we consider the work against the backdrop of
contesting styles and movements. Call it the dramatic meaning of the artwork. But
as participants in a tradition, we are legitimately interested in its historical devel-
opment and especially in its dramatic unfolding. Recognizing the dramatic signif-
icance of an artwork as it plays the role of antagonist or protagonist on the stage
of art history is not incidental to our interest in art but is an essential element of
immersing ourselves in the tradition. Following the conflicts and tensions within
the development of art history is as central a component of the practice of art
spectatorship as is having aesthetic experiences.
The “other directed,” as opposed to the “object directed,” interpretive play we
characteristically mobilize when interacting with art takes other appropriate
forms than those of detecting stylistic amplifications and repudiations. For exam-
ple, we may wish to contemplate lines of influence or consider changes of direc-
tion in the careers of major artists. These concerns as well are grounded in our
interests, as participants, in an evolving tradition. However, rather than dwell on
these, I would rather turn to a proposal of the way in which the detection of a
repudiation “ insofar as it is an important and characteristic interpretive response
to art “ can enable us to short-circuit the dismissal, by aesthetic theorists of art, of
such works as Duchamp™s Fountain.
Let us grant that Duchamp™s Fountain does not afford an occasion for aesthetic
experiences or aesthetic perceptions as those are typically and narrowly con-
strued. Nevertheless, it does propose a rich forum for interpretive play. Its place-
ment in a certain artworld context was designed to be infuriating, on the one
18 BEYOND AESTHETICS

hand, and enigmatic and puzzling on the other. Confronted by Fountain, or by
reports about its placement in a gallery, one asks what it means to put such an
object on display at an art exhibition.What is the significance of the object in its
particular social setting? And, of course, if we contemplate Fountain against the
backdrop of art history, we come to realize that it is being used to symbolize a
wealth of concerns.We see it to be a contemptuous repudiation of that aspect of
fine art that emphasizes craftsmanship in favor of a reemphasis of the importance
of ideas to fine art. One might also gloss it as a gesture that reveals the importance
of the nominating process, which George Dickie analyzed, of the institution of
the artworld.And so on.
Now my point against aesthetic theorists of art is that even if Fountain does
not promote an aesthetic interaction, it does promote an interpretive interaction.
Moreover, an interpretive interaction, including one of identifying the dialectical
significance of a work in the evolution of art history, is as appropriate and as char-
acteristic a response to art as an aesthetic response.Thus, since Fountain encourages
an appropriate and characteristic art response, we have an important reason to
consider it to be a work of art even if it promotes no aesthetic experience.
Aesthetic theorists hold that something is art if it has been designed to func-
tion in such a way as to bring about certain appropriate responses to art. This
seems to be a reasonable strategy. However, such theorists countenance only aes-
thetic responses as appropriate.Yet there are other characteristic and appropriate
responses to art.And if an object supports such responses to an appreciable degree,
then I think that gives us reason to call the object art.
One objection to my reclamation of Fountain might be that my model of the
standard artgoer is unacceptable. It might be said that someone involved in trying to
decipher the moves and countermoves of artists within the historically constituted
arena of the artworld is not the standard spectator but a specialist or an art historian.
My response to this is to deny that I am speaking of specialists and to urge that I take
as my model someone who attends to art on some regular basis, and who is an
informed viewer, one who “keeps up” with art without being a professional critic or
a professor of art. It is the responses of such spectators that should provide the data
for philosophers of art concerned to discuss the experience of art.
On the other hand, I am disquieted by the implicit picture that aesthetic theo-
ries project of the standard artgoer. For them, it would appear, the spectator is one
who goes from one encounter with art to the next without attempting to connect
them. Such a person, for example, might read a novel every year or so, hear a con-
cert occasionally, and go to an art exhibition whenever he or she visits New York.
But why should the casual viewer of art be our source for characterizing the art
experience? If we want to characterize what it is to respond to baseball appropri-
ately, would we look to the spectator who watches one game every five years? Of
course, this is an ad hominem attack. Aesthetic theorists don™t say that we should use
such casual artgoers as our model of the standard spectator. Nevertheless, there is
something strange about their standard viewer, namely, that he or she responds to
each work of art monadically, savoring each aesthetic experience as a unitary event
ART INTERACTION 19
AND


and not linking that event to a history of previous interactions with artworks. As a
matter of fact, I think this picture is inaccurate. Such an artgoer would be as curious
as the dedicated baseball spectator who attends games for whatever excitement he
can derive from the contest before him and who does not contemplate the signifi-
cance of this game in terms of the past and future of the practice of baseball.
The aesthetic theorist may, of course, admit that interpretive responses to the
hidden meanings, dramatic significance, and latent structures are appropriate
within the practice of spectatorship. But he might add that they are not basic
because the practice of art spectatorship would never have gotten off the ground
nor would it continue to keep going if artworks did not give rise to aesthetic
experiences. Our desire for aesthetic pleasure is the motor that drives the art insti-
tution. These are, of course, empirical claims. Possibly aesthetic pleasure is what
started it all, although it is equally plausible to think that the pleasure of interpre-
tation could have motivated and does motivate spectatorship. But, in any case, this
debate is probably beside the point. For it is likely that both the possibility of aes-
thetic pleasure and the pleasure of interpretation motivate artgoing, and that
interacting with artworks by way of having aesthetic perceptions and making
interpretations are both appropriate and equally basic responses to art.
My dominant thesis has been that there are more responses, appropriate to art-
works, than aesthetic responses. I have not given an exhaustive catalogue of these
but have focused upon various types of interpretive responses.This raises the ques-
tion of whether or not something like the aesthetic definition of art, amplified to
incorporate a more catholic view of the appropriate experiences art avails us,
couldn™t be reworked in such a way that the result would be an adequate theory
of art.The theory might look like this:“A work of art is an object designed to pro-
mote, in some appreciable magnitude, the having of aesthetic perceptions, or the
making of various types of interpretations, or the undertaking of whatever other
appropriate responses are available to spectators.”
Attractive as this maneuver is, I doubt it will work. It does not seem to me that
any given type of response is necessary to having an appropriate interaction with
the artwork.With some artworks, we may only be able to respond in terms of aes-
thetic perceptions while with others only interpretive responses are possible. Nor,
by the way, does any particular response supply us with sufficient grounds for say-
ing something is a work of art. Cars are designed to impart aesthetic perceptions
but they are not typically artworks, while we might interpret one artist throwing
soup in another artist™s face as the repudiation of a tradition without counting the
insult as art. Likewise an encoded military document with a hidden message is not
art despite the interpretive play it might engender.
At the same time, if we are trying to convince someone that something is an
artwork, showing that it is designed to promote one or more characteristic art
interactions “ whether aesthetic or interpretive “ supplies a reason to regard the
object as art. Suppose we are arguing about whether comic book serials like The
Incredible Hulk, Spiderman, and the Fantastic Four are art.And suppose we agree that
such exercises do not afford aesthetic experiences of any appreciable magnitude.
20 BEYOND AESTHETICS

But, nevertheless, suppose I argue that these comic books contain hidden alle-
gories of the anxieties of adolescence, such that those allegories are of a complex-
ity worthy of decipherment. At that point, we have a reason to regard the comics
as art, and the burden of proof is on the skeptic who must show that the alleged
allegories are either merely fanciful concoctions of mine or are so transparent that
it is outlandish to suppose that they warrant a response sophisticated enough to be
counted as an interpretation.




BEAUTY G E N E A LO G Y
AND THE
A RT THEORY
OF

Within the analytic tradition, those of us who take art as our field of study call
ourselves either philosophers of art or aestheticians. From one perspective,
these alternative labels could be seen as a harmless sort of shorthand. For two
major concerns of the field, however it is named, are the theory of art, which
traditionally pertains to questions about the nature of the art object, and
aesthetic theory, which pertains primarily to certain dimensions of the experi-
ence of art (and also to the experience of certain features of nature). Thus,
rather than identifying ourselves longishly as philosophers of art and philoso-
phers of aesthetics, for economy™s sake, we may simply refer to ourselves as one
or the other, leaving the remaining label unstated, but understood. And where
this is the motive behind the alternations of title, the ambiguous labeling seems
quite harmless.
However, the ambiguity can also be understood to rest on a substantive and
controversial claim “ namely, that the theory of art and the theory of aesthetics are
conceptually linked in such a way that the former can be reduced to the latter;
that, in other words, there are not two, generally independent areas of philosoph-
ical inquiry here, but one unified field.Thus, we are called either philosophers of
art or philosophers of aesthetics because, in most contexts of any significance,
those titles signal a concern with the selfsame issues.
The view that the philosophy of art and the philosophy of aesthetics are concep-
tually linked is explicitly stated in what have been called aesthetic theories of art. On
this approach, which is enjoying quite a resurgence nowadays,1 the artwork is func-
tional; such works are designed to create a certain experience in spectators, namely, an
aesthetic experience.Thus, with aesthetic theories of art, our conception of aesthetic
experience is the most crucial feature in the identification of artworks. In effect, the
theory of art is virtually reduced to aesthetics, insofar as aesthetic experience is the

From: The Philosophical Forum, XXII, no.4 (Summer 1991), 307“34.
BEAUTY GENEALOGY ART THEORY 21
AND THE OF


“first among equals” of the conditions the theory proposes to be necessary for dis-
criminating artworks from other things. (That such works be intentionally designed to
bring about said experiences is another, frequently invoked, condition.)
On the aesthetic theory of art, then, the philosophy of art and the philosophy
of aesthetics become roughly the same enterprise, thereby apparently making the
ambiguity of the name of the field a matter of indifference. And the reason for
indifference here is that the philosophy of art just is a branch of aesthetics. But
since the aesthetic theory of art is quite controversial, the ambiguity in the name
of our field may be problematic insofar as it masks an implicit allegiance to one,
highly disputed theory of the way our philosophical inquiries should proceed.
That is, the ambiguity facilitates confusing one rival philosophical position about
the field with the structure of the field itself.
Now I think that something like this confusion “ which involves a conflation
of art and the aesthetic in decisive ways “ occurs often. It appears overtly in aes-
thetic theories of art, but it also has covert ramifications that surface in supposed
intuitions about what is irrelevant to a proper philosophical consideration of art.
That is, the convictions that artistic intention, art history, morality, politics, and so
on are not germane to the theory of art are, in fact, subsidiary tenets of the reduc-
tion of the philosophy of art to aesthetics.
Moreover, if the aesthetic theory of art and the “intuitions” that accompany it
are false, then the easy slippage from talk of the philosophy of art to talk of aes-
thetics is not so innocent, since it at least helps to obscure and possibly encourages
confusions about some of the deepest controversies in the field: the status of artis-
tic intention, of art history, of the role of morality and politics in art, and so on.
That is, the question of “What™s in a name?,” in this case, could have substantial
repercussions for philosophical progress.
My own view is that we should be sticklers in talking about the philosophy of art,
on the one hand, and about aesthetics, on the other. Nor, I shall argue, is this simply a
matter of standing on ceremony. For since I believe that aesthetic theories of art and
the “intuitions” that issue from them are misguided, I would like to discourage usage
that may, in part, be motivated by a tacit or unrecognized acceptance of them. So,
central among the points that I would like to make in this essay are that: (1) the phi-
losophy of art and aesthetics should be spoken of as two areas of inquiry since, (2) fail-
ure to do so has been and continues to be a source of philosophical confusion.
Furthermore the ambiguity between the philosophy of art and the philosophy
of aesthetics “ where that is facilitated by the explication of the concept of art by
means of the category of the aesthetic “ penetrates the discourse of the field quite
profoundly. For when the philosophy of art becomes aesthetics, the agenda of what
philosophers in this area will and will not talk about is subtly set. Art history and
the relation of art to morality, politics, and, indeed, to the world at large “ topics of
deep concern to theorists of art in nonanalytic traditions “ for example, are pri-
marily ignored or even actively denied to be issues of philosophical interest.At the
very least, I think that anyone familiar with the analytic tradition will acknowl-
edge that questions about art history, and of the moral and political status of art,
22 BEYOND AESTHETICS

have not received a great deal of attention.Where these topics do receive attention
is often in the context of showing that they are irrelevant to the proper concerns
of the field. Part of the purpose of this essay is to diagnose how and why this
blindspot, whether maintained complacently or through explicit argumentation,
afflicts the analytic tradition.
My hypothesis is that there is a major tendency in the tradition “ implicit on
the part of many, explicit in aesthetic theories of art “ to systematically subsume
the concept of art under the category of the aesthetic. Moreover, I think that one
strategy for curing these afflictions is to show how this tendency originates in an
error that is only further compounded by the passage of time.
I do not claim to be the first philosopher to have noticed the danger of link-
ing the theory of art with aesthetic theory. Some such recognition provides an
underlying principle for much of George Dickie™s work in the field. One reading
of George Dickie™s overarching project might note that his classic dismissal of aes-
thetic attitudes and experiences as myths and phantoms2 functions as the key
move in a dialectical argument in favor of his Institutional Theory of Art and its
successor, the theory of the Art Circle.3 That is, one way to read Dickie is to con-
strue him as operating in opposition to skepticism about the possibility of art the-
ory (Weitz et al.4), on the one hand, and opposition to aesthetic theories of art “
conceived of as the most persuasive candidates for art theory “ on the other. He
defeats the skeptical, open-concept view of art after the fashion of Maurice Man-
delbaum5; and he attempts to dismiss aesthetic theories of art by challenging a

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