Thursday, December 03, 2009

(AE & AP) Wartenberg on Danto on Weitz

Tom Wartenberg suggested yesterday that Danto’s consideration of Warhol’s Brillo Box offers a solution to Morris Weitz’s skepticism about the very idea of defining art. I remain skeptical.

Weitz’s claim is that, given its expansive, creative, or “open” nature (like games for Wittgenstein), no traditional definition of art (in terms of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions) is possible. Danto invokes Warhol’s Brillo Box and its near-identical supermarket counterparts to argue that those persons who have achieved a sufficient understanding of the history and theory of (some domain of) art are thereby entitled to employ the “is of artistic identification,” an act that imposes a conceptual distinction on two perceptually indistinguishable objects. Art is, therefore, in the eye of the informed observer. Nowhere in this analysis does Danto offer a definition of art capable of countering Weitz’s skepticism.


  1. Yes, I also think that Danto's response to Weitz is insubstantial and fails to truly address Weitz's skepticism. I also think that Danto's theory has problems beyond failing as a rebuttal. He is too vague in describing what a sufficient understanding of the history and theory of art is. He is unclear as to the requirements for an observer to be a qualified observer.

  2. Agreed. Dutton appears to agree with Weitz, by the way, in his recent essay on cultural incommensurability -- listing a set from which we can choose (depending on the context) some necessary but not sufficient conditions for all art.