Thursday, November 03, 2011

(AP-H) Danto on Weitz on Art

A couple of years ago, Tom Wartenberg suggested to me 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. In other words, art is simply 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. Although I'm not convinced that the concept of Art is "open" per se, I also wouldn't say that the merely "informed observer" is the one who can make the ultimate judgment on these things. Being informed more likely just gives you more tools to work with in order to analyze and grasp a something which is being presented as Art.

    I suspect the definition of what is Art is simply complicated and the conditions more long-winded than, say, the definition of a chair or rock or anything like that.

  2. I agree. Who informs the informer and what is the content of the exchange? I'm skeptical of Weitz's skeptical approach to defining art (in particular, why not offer a classical definition of art in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, where one or more of those conditions captures the creativity Weitz so values?).

  3. I found in comparison to the other philosophers we have studied this semester that Danto's theories seemed almost to scientific, as if he was talking about some type of equation, while one the other side Weitz's theories as you said are to skeptical and open-ended, even for a broad subject such as art. For this reason I don't think either philosopher would be able to counteract the others theory or judgement, because their own thoughts are much too aggressive and radical themselves.