Thursday, September 10, 2015

In a house of mirrors with Danto's Artworld

In the past I have posted on Danto's "The Artworld" here and here  Continuing to teach the classic essay I find myself with more questions than ever. Even with all of the color of logic in the essay Danto seems sometimes to be making logical mistakes.  For example, he refers to the work of the impressionists as non-imitations and then says that "one might almost interpret the crude drawing in Van ...drawing attention to the fact that these were non-imitations, specifically intended not to deceive" and "Logically, this would be roughly like printing 'Not Legal Tender' across a brilliantly counterfeited dollar bill, the resulting object...rendered incapable of deceiving anyone."  Really?  The point of a counterfeit bill is to make you think it is a real bill. Similarly the point of a trompe l'oeil realist painting is to get you to think you are really seeing what it represents.  So, on Danto's view, Van Gogh's painting of irises would deceive like a trompe l'oeil painting, but for its style, which somehow negates that?  This seems implausible.   

A more significant issue regards the status of what Danto calls reality theory, RT.  He says that by means of RT Van Gogh's picture "has as much right to be called as a real object as did its putative objects."  Doesn't this seem strange?  Van Gogh's picture is already a real object by anyone's account: it is a picture with real properties such as weight and so forth.  Well, not anyone's account:  Plato clearly would see it as less real than its subject, actual irises.  So at least for a Platonist, RT is a promotion in ontology.  But hardly anyone is a Platonist these days and few were in the 19th century.  Few, even then, would find it odd or innovative to say that a painting is a real physical object with physical properties.  Moreover, if the business of RT were simply to claim that paintings, such as a painting of irises, is just as real as the irises themselves, then in what sense does RT give us a theory of art?  

It really bugs me when Danto says "A photograph of a Lichtenstein [i.e. of "Whamm!" 1963] is indiscernible from a photograph of a counterpart panel from Steve Canyon" except for the fact that the photograph does not capture the scale difference.  Well, look for yourself on the Pop Culture Safari blog.  There are many differences between the two renderings, for example Lichtenstein left our the dialogue balloons.  I am not sure there is a philosophical point here except that whenever Danto says that two things are indiscernible I usually find that they are not.

What exactly does Danto mean by "this artist [the purist, like Ad Reinhardt] has returned to the physicality of paint through an atmosphere compounded of artistic theories and the history of recent and remote painting, elements of which he is trying to refine out of his own work; and as a consequence of this his work belongs in this atmosphere and is part of this history"?  This is why this is art for the 10th Street abstractionist but not for the philistine who says, like the purist, "paint is paint."  Danto may be saying simply that the artist cannot see his painting except under concepts he has learned from art theory, those concepts arranged in a historical sequence up to his own time.  Belonging to the atmosphere, on this account, just means that in order to see it as art you must know about the history of art and theory leading up to the point at which this painting was made.  My question remains: how exactly, and in a less metaphorical way, is the atmosphere supposed to be hanging?  

Danto says in the next paragraph that the difference between the purist artist and Testadura is that the purist is using the "is of artistic identification" when he says that "That black painting is black paint."  So what exactly is going on here?  If a kid points to a stick and says "this is a horse" he is using the is of artistic identification according to Danto but this does not mean that he sees the stick as art.  Somehow the "is of artistic identification: in the case of "that black painting is black" serves to identify the black painting as art. But shouldn't the sentence then read "that black painting is art"? Moreover, the odd thing about this is that whereas seeing a stick as a horse involves imaginatively adding something, i.e. horse properties, to the stick, seeing a black painting as black does not involve imaginatively adding anything, except perhaps that we now see it as art:  but it does not imaginatively add anything with respect to its blackness.  

The other examples that do not have the appearance of tautology give us a hint of what to do, but how are we supposed to take "is" in this case?  Again, Danto insists that "That black paint is black paint" is not a tautology, but it is not clear how it can be anything else unless of course it is just a funny way of saying "That all black painting is a work of art":  but again that is not really a metaphor at all, it is literally true!

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