Saturday, November 19, 2016

(AP) My Current Definition of Art

Art = The suitably intentional, skillful, and creative embodiment of a thought or emotion in any potentially publicly accessible medium primarily for the purpose of engaging us aesthetically.

The definition is intensional and classically closed (with respect to its conditions of applicability) yet wide open to all new types and tokens of art; that is, although I do specify a small number of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for art, the definition remains both inclusive and expansive. Admittedly, several words and phrases (creative, suitably skillful, aesthetically engaging) require much further elaboration.

In its current state, therefore, the definition is mostly silent on qualitative/evaluative issues (good/bad art), and simply distinguishes art from non-art -- though I suspect that parsing the vague terms ("suitably," especially) will introduce levels of merit or kinds of art (fine v. primitive v. decorative, etc.).

There are five necessary and jointly sufficient conditions (all art objects satisfy these conditions; all objects that satisfy these conditions, whatever else they may be, are art):

1. The activity is intentional
2. The activity is suitably skillful
3. The activity is suitably creative
4. The product exists in a potentially publicly accessible medium
5. The product primarily embodies aesthetically engaging thought or emotion (or some combination of the two)


  1. This gets sharper all the time. Have you anywhere attempted to characterize the problematic terms? I know you attempt an account of 'creative,' at least as it pertains to improvisation, in Bridges to Autonomy, but I'm anxious to see fuller treatments of 'intentional,' 'suitably skillful,' 'accessible,' and 'aesthetically engaging.'

  2. Thanks. I have yet to do so; the paper I intend to write during sabbatical on the "pedagogy of improvisation" may force me to tame some of these weasel words.

  3. Not sure I like the sound of that -- tame weasels? It's just not ferret!