PRINT October 1979

Recent Esthetics and the Criticism of Art

PERHAPS THE ALMOST TOTAL LACK of contact between art critics and philosophers writing about art is justified. Estheticians characteristically treat historical issues—the relation of Kant’s esthetics to his epistemology, Hume on taste, Dewey on emotion—in purely historical terms; or they discuss issues that critics might find interesting in ways that critics will certainly think dull. For example, perhaps the most widely discussed recent work in esthetics is the institutional theory of art. Much traditional esthetics offers an answer to the question: “What properties are necessary to make something an artwork?” Thus, for Plato artworks are representations, and for Hegel art is a kind of expression. After Duchamp’s readymades and much art influenced by him, no such definitions of art are convincing. The institutional theory suggests that something is an artwork if people in the “artworld”

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