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These papers are exercises in active and critical reading/writing. You are not only reading the article for facts and information, but also to understand the larger significance of the essay and how the author puts together their argument and evidence. Your essay is an analysis of how the author poses a research question and how they answer the question.Reading:While reading, consider the following questions:–what is the subject of the article? What topic is the author writing about?–what is the thesis – where is it stated? What does the author wish to discover and prove about their subject?–how is the essay organized? How do they prove their point through argument and structure?–what is the author’s evidence? Do they engage with previous scholars and why? (looking at the essay’s footnotes helps)–what are the author’s conclusions?–what are the author’s assumptions: can you discern any biases or sense of what the author finds valuable?–in other words, how does the author set about their goals? Does the author succeed?How does this essay add to our understanding and knowledge of the subject?Writing:Your paper should be organized and clearly written, with its own thesis, introduction and conclusion.–please provide a title, double-space, use 12-point font, and one-inch margins–paper length should be three-to-four pages–check your grammar and spelling–n.b. minimize quoting and even paraphrasing (your paper should NOT have substantial quotes from the article) – summarize the essay’s content, discuss what it achieves, how it achieves it and whether or not it does it well.You will be graded on your accuracy, understanding, thoughtful analysis, and clear writing.

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Artworks and Artworks
Department of Anthropology, The London School of Economics
This essay explores the basis of the distinction commonly made between
works of art or art objects, and ’mere’ artefacts, which are useful but not aesthetically interesting or beautiful. It is argued that if the art object is identifiable as such in the light of the fact that it has an interpretation, as Danto
claims, then many artefacts could be exhibited as art objects. The essay shows
that animal traps could very well be exhibited as art, because they tend to
embody complex ideas and intentions to do with the relationship between
men and animals, and because they provide a model of the hunter himself
and his idea of the world of the prey animal. It is concluded that an aesthetic
definition of the art object is consequently unsatisfactory.
Key Words &lozf artefacts &lozf artworks &lozf concept
art &lozf
symbolism &lozf traps
good deal of discussion in the philosophy of art, visual art particularly,
present time, has to do with the problem of defining the idea of an
’artwork’. When is a fabricated object a ’work of art’ and when is it something less dignified, a mere ’artefact’? There are (at least) three possible
answers to this question. It may be said that a work of art can be defined
as any object that is aesthetically superior, having certain qualities of
visual appealingness or beauty. These qualities must have been put there
intentionally by an artist, because artists are skilled in activating a
capacity present in all human beings, i.e. the capacity to respond aesthetically to something. This theory is not one I propose to discuss here,
although it is still widely held, especially by the general public, who tend
at the
Journal of Material Culture
0 1996 SAGE (London, Thousand Oaks,
CA and New
l(l) 1996:
to think that visual
attractiveness, or beauty, is something they can recogautomatically.
The second theory holds that artworks are not, as the ’aesthetic’
theory holds, distinguished by any external quality. A work of art may
not be at all ’beautiful’ or even interesting to look at, but it will be a work
of art if it is interpreted in the light of a system of ideas that is founded
within an art-historical tradition. Call this the ’interpretive’ theory. The
great critical merit of the interpretive theory over the ’aesthetic’ theory
is that it is much more attuned to the realities of the present-day art world,
which has long abandoned the making of ’beautiful’-looking pictures and
sculptures in favour of ’concept’ art, e.g. of the exhibition of gallery
assemblages like Damien Hirst’s dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde
(Figure 1, to be discussed later) – not an object that could be called appealing, nor a work of any excellence in terms of craftsmanship. But Hirst’s
shark is a highly intelligible gesture in terms of contemporary art-making,
not a stunt or a symptom of insanity. It is a work thoroughly grounded
in the post-Duchampian tradition of ’concept’ art and, as such, is capable
of being evaluated as good art, bad art, middling art, but definitely art of
some kind. Proponents of the ’aesthetic’ theory have difficulties with this
kind of work, to say the least, and may be inclined to deny that it is art
at all, but in that case they may be accused by critics and artists, rightly
to my way of thinking, of reactionary tendencies.
Finally, there is a more radical version of the ’interpretation’, theory,
which, provides the third possible answer to the question ’what is an
artwork?’. This theory, known as the ’institutional’ theory, claims, like the
Damien Hirst’s shark: The
Impossibility of Death
in the Mind
’interpretive’ theory, that there is no quality in the art-object, as material
vehicle, that definitively qualifies it to be, or not be, an artwork. Whether
it is or not is dependent on whether or not it is taken to be one by an art
world, i.e. a collectivity interested in making, sharing and debating critical judgements of this type. The difference between the interpretive
theory and the institutional theory is that the institutional theory does
of interpretations. A work may
be in origin unconnected with the mainstream of art history, but if the
art world co-opts the work, and circulates it as art, then it is art, because
it is the living representatives of this art world, i.e. artists, critics, dealers
and collectors, who have the power to decide these matters, not ’history’.
This view is the one put forward by a noted American philosopher of aesthetics, George Dickie (1974,1984). It is a theory that does not seem to
have the support of anything like a majority of Dickie’s philosophical colleagues, but that is perhaps, because it is a sociological theory rather than
a truly philosophical one – a theory about what is (really) considered art,
rather than what ought (rationally) to be considered art. But the objectionableness of Dickie’s theory from the standpoint of traditional aesthetics is precisely what constitutes its appeal to the anthropologist, since
it bypasses aesthetics entirely in favour of a sociological analysis much
of the kind this discipline would provide anyway (Bourdieu, 1984). None
the less, the merits of the ’institutional’ theory of art as a contribution to
philosophical aesthetics must be assessed independently of its usefulness
as a starting point for sociological study of the art world.
The points at issue between these various theories were brought very
much into focus at an exhibition, ’ART/ARTIFACT’, mounted at the
Center for African Art, New York, in 1988, under the direction of the
anthropologist Susan Vogel. (I never saw this exhibition, but it received
a detailed review in Current Anthropology outlining its contents and layout;
see Faris (1988), who makes certain critical comments that I take up later.)
The first exhibition space was entitled ’The Contemporary Art Gallery’
(whitewashed walls, spotlights) and the star item on display was a striking object (Figure 2) – a Zande hunting net, tightly rolled and bound for
transport. Susan Vogel presumably displayed this item in this way
because New York gallery-visitors would be spontaneously able to associate this ’artefact’ with the type of artwork that they would have looked
at in other galleries, or at least seen illustrated in newspapers and magazines. (The closest immediate analogy is with the string-bound sculptures
of Jackie Windsor, see Figure 3). Faris (1988: 776) mentions Nancy Graves
and Eva Hesse as further parallels.) Vogel’s choice of this particular item
was a curatorial masterstroke, for which she deserves much praise, and
the ’net’ provoked an equally masterly catalogue essay by the American
critic and philosopher of art, Arthur Danto (1988), which was published
in the exhibition catalogue. What Vogel wanted to do was to break the
not presuppose the historical coherence
link between African art and
modern art ’Primitivism’ (the
Picasso of Les Demoiselles
masks by Modigliani, Brancusi, etc.) and suggest instead
that African objects were
worthy of study in a more
expanded perspective, including the dominant art-style in
New York in the 1980s, i.e.
concept art, represented by
the likes of Jackie Windsor et
al. Vogel’s catalogue essayist,
Danto, had reasons for
to resist this move,
F I G U R E 2 Zande hunting net, bound up
as he was not perinasmuch
for transport (Central Africa)
suaded that the hunting net
Source. By courtesy of the Amencan Museum of Natural
was, or could ever become, art.
History (negative no 3444(2)). Photo] L Thompson
’Institutionally’ speaking, the
it had been exhibited as such
net had
as such by a significant,
by Vogel, and
and very gallery-educated, segment
visiting public. I would hazard
that had Dickie, rather than Danto, written the catalogue essay, the ’net’
would have been celebrated precisely as an instance of the way in which
an art world creates its artworks by labelling them as such. But Danto,
on the other hand, devoted his essay to proving that the ’net’s’ affinities
with contemporary concept art were only superficial.
Bound Square
by Jackie
In this essay I want to do two things: first, to consider Danto’s pro’artefacts’ and true works of art; and, second,
to mount a little exhibition of my own (unfortunately consisting only of
text and illustrations) of objects that Danto would consider artefacts but
which I consider candidates for circulation as works of art, even if they
were not intended to be ’works of art’ by their originators, who indeed
probably lacked this concept altogether. If I persuade my public, and if
the institutional theory is true, i.e. art is what I and enough like-minded
people say it is, then a new category of art objects is about to be born. Or
not, as the case may be…. And especially not according to Danto, to
whose arguments I must now turn.
Danto is responsible for both the interpretive and institutional
theories of art, in that it was he, originally, who introduced the expression ’art-world’ into philosophical aesthetics (Danto, 1964). But whereas
Dickie (1974) developed Danto’s ideas in the sociological direction outlined above, so that being a ’work of art’ becomes a matter of social consensus among the art public, Danto tends towards a more idealist view
of art, with many explicit references to Hegel in his later work. Danto’s
position is that art objects are such by virtue of their interpretation, and
that interpretation is historically grounded. He has written two very
important and well-received studies on the philosophy of modem art
along these lines (1981, 1986). I agree with Danto’s output in many, probably most, respects; but I am forced to say that the weaker points in
Danto’s version of interpretive theory emerge rather visibly in the
anthropological, cross-cultural context of his ’ART/ARTIFACT’ essay.
According to Danto, there are no characteristics that an object can
have which make that object a work of art; the ’objective’ difference
between a real Brillo box and a mock Brillo box by Warhol is not what is
responsible for the fact that only the latter is a work of art. Indistinguishably similar objects could be differentiated such that one would be
an artwork and the other not. (This is exhaustively discussed in Danto,
1981.) But there is a big difference between the kind of interpretation,
context, symbolic significance, etc. that an object must have if it is to be
an artwork, compared to that attached to a non-artwork or ’mere’ artefact. The interpretation must relate to a tradition of art-making that has
internalized, reflects on and develops from its own history, as western art
has done since Vasari, and maybe before. According to Danto (and I am
entirely persuaded by this) modern ’concept’ art corresponds to the total
take-over of the ’image-making’ side of art by the ’reflecting on history’
side of art: concept art is the final convergence of art-making, art history,
art philosophy and art criticism in a single package. However, the key
concept here is the notion of a progressive, cumulative tradition (Geist,
spirit, etc.). What is Danto to do when New York gallery-goers seem to
want to enthuse over a hunting net as if it was the latest production of
posed distinction between
Geist in the person of Jackie Windsor or her ilk? Can contemporary art
swallow extraneous objects in this way? Is the absence of an identifiable
maker, and any recognizable ’artistic’ intention on his or her part, an
obstacle? Danto cannot but assume a critical position because intention,
meaning and groundedness in a discrete, self-reflexive tradition is essential to his understanding of contemporary art, and indeed all western postRenaissance art. The Zande hunter who made or commissioned the net
did not participate in the historic frame of reference to which Windsor’s
similiar-looking work refers, so the analogy between them is misleading.
Nor could it be alternatively argued (Danto does not even consider this
possibility) that the ’artist’ here is Vogel, who is presenting the ’net’ as a
’ready-made’ in the tradition of such Duchamp prototypes as the shovel,
coat rack, urinal, etc. – because Vogel is not presenting herself as a second
Duchamp, but as a museum curator, offering us something to admire
made in Africa, by an anonymous ’artist’ who is certainly not Vogel
Danto’s dilemma is, essentially, that his interpretive theory of art is
constructed within the implicit historical frame of western art, as was its
Hegelian prototype. If he says that nothing that comes from without the
historical stream of western art (which is certainly a broad stream) is ’art’
in his sense, then he is certainly open to an unwelcome charge of Eurocentricity ; but if he admits that exotic objects that do not participate in
the Geist of western art are nonetheless art, how is he to exclude the ’net’?
And if he allows the ’net’ to be included, what is left of the explanatory
value of the historically grounded interpretation, and the art/artefact distinction that is founded on it? The philosopher is truly ensnared in Vogel’s
net, fulfilling, at long last, its function, if not in the originally intended
There is only one way out for the idealist under these circumstances;
assume that there are underlying interpretive or symbolic affinihe
all true works of art in all traditions. The Zande net is to be
terms, because in Zande culture, as in all possible culart
to have a particular type of symbolic significance,
which a mere hunting net could safely be assumed to be lacking. Having
been excluded (presumptively) by the Zande, it cannot be included by the
New Yorkers, beause to do so is to contradict their own principle of ’no
interpretation – no art’; having agreed that not just any Brillo box but
only a Warhol Brillo box is’art’, they have to accept that this net, in Zande
terms, is no Warhol, but just any old net.
But how to specify the basis of the affinity between (qualifying)
African artworks and western artworks, and the non-affinity between the
Zande net and either of these? Danto argues that ’great’ African sculpture was recognized as on a par with Donatello, Thorwaldsen, etc. by a
process of ’discovery’ that he likens to scientific discovery, carried out by
Picasso, Brancusi, Roger Fry and their contemporaries; this greatness was
always there but had been obscured by prejudicial canons of taste associated with colonialism. But this kind of African art was produced, it is
implied, by individual, highly talented and discriminating sculptors, who
had specific artistic (aesthetic) intentions that they carried through in
their work, which ultimately became accessible to the non-African public
via the efforts of sympathetic westerners. However, this approach to the
incorporation of African art into the Danto scheme of things carries with
it a certain risk of aestheticism – and is not Danto the one responsible for
telling us that what makes art art, is not any external (aesthetic) characteristic it may possess? So Danto is obliged to change tack, and consider
an instance in which there might be African ’art’ that would not be obviously different, in any external or visible respect, from African non-art,
a stipulation not applicable to famous examples of Africa sculptural art,
whose art-object status is never in doubt, for Danto at least.
Danto is
he does not take the obvious
turning to the tomes upon tomes that have been written on material culture
in Africa – instead he obeys his disciplinary imperative and indulges in a
Gedankexperiment, in which he happens to be a particularly skilled practitioner. He imagines that there are two related, contiguous, but historically divergent African tribes, whom he names the Pot People and the
Basket Folk, respectively. To outward observation the material productions
of these two tribes, which include both pots and baskets, are pretty much
identical. But the Pot People revere Pot makers, who are their priests and
wise men, and the making of pots is a sacred activity that recapitulates
cosmogeny, since God was a potter who formed the earth out of mud. The
Pot People also make baskets, for utilitarian purposes, but they do not
regard basket-making as a particularly noble activity. On the other side of
the hill, among the Basket Folk, things are otherwise; here God was a
basket-maker who wove the world from grass, and it is pots that are considered merely utilitarian. So here the basket makers are the wise men of
the tribe and the potters are mere technical specialists, artisans.
Danto maintains that even if only the most minute examination
enables the museum experts to distinguish the pots and baskets of the Pot
People from the pots and baskets of the Basket Folk, the difference in the
spirit in which potting is engaged in among the Pot People is sufficient to
ensure that their pots are works of art, as opposed to the Basket Folk’s
pots, which are not (and vice versa for their respective baskets). The pots
of the Pot People and the baskets of the Basket Folk belong in the prestigious Kunsthistorisches Museum; the baskets of the Pot People and the
pots of the Basket Folk in a quite different collection, the Naturhistorisches
Museum. The works in the Art History Museum emanate from Absolute
Spirit, they are vehicles of complete ideas, stemming from, and illuminating, the human condition in its full historic density and fatefulness,
whereas the
objects in the
History Museum are
ends, implements that help human beings to live out their material lives
they are, in another Hegelian expression, only part of ’the Prose of the

Danto, by implication, excludes the hunter’s net on the grounds that
it is
’prose’ in object-form, and it will be seen that he draws a particularly sharp distinction, on the basis of his thought-experiment, between
art objects and artefacts. But, as with all such experiments, one is entitled
to ask whether it is realistic. Anthropology ought to be able to pronounce
on these matters, since Danto’s experiment is clearly meant to evoke real
ethnography as the prototype for useful expository fictions. According to
Faris, in his review of the exhibition, anthropology is only too willing to
oblige with copious corroborating instances of wise men uttering Dantoesque things – and that is the problem. He roundly denounces Danto’s
piece for promoting tainted orthodoxy, both art-historical and anthropological. Modernists like Danto are
the acceptance of all cultural tyrannies and the consequent
blindness to specific tyrannies [so that] they frequently fall into the most
banal of humanist sentiment and idle gush about expressive and emotive
power…. [T]hey do so largely in acceptance of the anthropological enterprise – the notion that, for example, African objects cannot be fully understood without indigenous Africans in the specific cultural setting that
produced them…. Danto might agree, and while it is trivially true that
context is relevant to meaning, it cannot be accorded axiomatic value, particularly as such context and such meaning have been structured by anthro-
paralysed by
pology. (Faris,
Faris argues that this kind of liberalism ostensibly receives the productions of the ethnographic Other on the Other’s terms, but …
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