Knjižnica Filozofskog fakulteta
Sveučilišta u Zagrebu
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Institutional Repository

The problem of social construction of the visual field in theory of A. C. Danto


Downloads per month over past year

Kardum, Marko. (2018). The problem of social construction of the visual field in theory of A. C. Danto. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Philosophy.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij filozofije) [mentor Tokić, Marko].

PDF (Croatian)
Download (1MB) | Preview


The topic of this piece is the issue of social constructiveness of visual art in Arthur C. Danto's theory. Hence, the goal is to analyse Danto's art theory, with special regard to visual art which is also in the centre of his considerations. Namely, visual art with avant-garde and neo avantgarde practises has been faced with radical changes in the 20th century. Rupture with the traditionally interpreted art and their norms for beauty and morality has signified a paradigmatic change that included using everyday, non-art objects and proclaiming such to be art. In that sense, the works of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol signify the highlight of paradigmatic change and new artistic practises, as well as borderline cases of art for which we cannot with certainty intuitively determine whether it is a work of art or a non-art object. The inability to differentiate sensorineural identical objects that are ontologically different from one another has shown that the definition of artistic work is necessary. However, traditional definitions of art have proved themselves to be insufficient for such an explanation. They have resided on a property with which they have defined artistic work, and so there are appropriate definitions for representational, expressionist and formal properties. Insufficiency of traditional definitions that have crumbled due to being faced with hereby said changes, means development of scepticism about the possibility of instating a stabile definition. Therefore, Danto’s art theory is overcoming the scepticism and traditional definitions of art, and the reason for such are the social elements that Danto included his work. On the other hand, the development of researching the visuals is encouraged by technological advances, and above all else, in photography and film. A strong progress in presentational techniques and transfer of picture has led to research of social impact and the meaning of picture, of political and ideological roles in society and even social constructiveness of visual perception as a whole. Hence, the highlighted power and social role of the visuals has set the question about social power of images into the centre of attention. Relationships between visual works of art and thus introduced visuals with its social character is therefore, the centre piece of this essay. In the first part the downsides to traditional definitions of art shall be shown, as well as sceptical arguments that may demonstrate the unnecessity of a new theory about art. The sceptical arguments are centred on overthrowing the necessary and sufficient reasons, and rushed changes within art itself have additionally justified such a stance. Sceptics’ main arguments in regard to defining were based on art as an open concept that prevents defining due to its open-mindedness, diversity of artistic works and forms where there are no fundamental common properties to be found but only the relatively newly founded concept of art as a whole that cannot be applied to periods before the 18th century. Danto’s interest in reaching a new definition of artistic works has returned necessary and sufficient reasons for defining works of art back into the centre of attention, as well as their ontological discernment from non-artistic objects. However, the new definition is different than the previous due to two certain components. Firstly, the definition has not been established on one necessary and sufficient reason. In itself, it has unavoidably kept the presentational property that may, but does not have to, rely on the similarity between the presented object and presentation itself. Thus, the term of mimes that has burdened a few of the earlier definitions and made the inclusion of literal art or ready-made works of art virtually impossible, has been overcame. At the same time, that means that all works of art were always about a particular topic, that they always had meaning. The new problem that has arisen with such a condition is presented by a contradicting statement that aims to shown that some artistic pieces, mostly musical, do not contain the necessity of presentational property. Although such an argument is rejected in Danto’s theory due to an explanation that even musical or performance artistic pieces present or otherwise they are simply not works of art, he, with the previously stated importance of visual perception and technological advances in the visual domain, presents one of the reasons for such an artistic name and narrowing the research to the visual domain only. On the contrary, research would necessarily include yet another problem that is not strictly related to the investigated topic. But presentational property could not prove itself to be as sufficient. As was shown by probably the most important commentator of Danto’s theory of art, Noël Carroll, artistic pieces are simply one of the systems that present, that are about a certain topic. The same condition is instated in regards to maps, diagrams, traffic signs or words. Hence, along with the presentational properties that artistic pieces share with other works, additional distinguishing attributes should be added to non-art objects. Danto finds such properties in a characteristic that artistic works express their meaning in a specific fashion. Although this part of his theory Danto has not elaborated in the greatest of details, stating one’s own meaning of artistic piece is accomplished through rhetoric and style that, in such a way, expression in itself. Therefore the work of art in Danto’s artistic theory is a representation that in a specific and intentional fashion offers diverse, but still limited interpretations of meaning. Thus in the definition Danto has, besides the presentational, kept the expressive property as well, but not to be taken as narrow-mindedly as in a sense of transferring only certain mental states like emotions and moods. The historical development of art has shown that interpretation of artistic pieces may vary and change, and that is most notable in Danto’s favourite ready-made example which, according to his own understanding, shows a radical shift in meaning. Such radicalism is visible in constructing auto-referential meanings. In other words, works of art begin to speak about themselves, their own tradition and development as well as social status. And thus Danto’s artistic theory is the first one in defining based on already established necessary and sufficient reasons to leave from completely unavoidably implanted properties of artistic works and becomes and extensional theory. Namely, except the representation and expression, it consists of the viewer’s interpretation of artistic pieces in regards to the artistic world that entails the knowledge of theory and art history, social constructs and wider social practises. Finally, such a historical growth of art has shown itself to be an intrinsic property of art that begins to question and problematize its own structure, history and place in society and thus it becomes its own philosophy. In that process the sensorineural properties or artistic pieces change by the discovery and interpretation of their relations towards the world and art itself enters into post-historical period in which there is no more room for paradigmatic changes. And in such a way of introducing the end of art as the completion of its development, Danto also includes Hegel’s philosophical system that ensures the definition’s stability, but only in a modified understanding of the end of arts as the end of history, itself in his own theory. Therefore the first part is primarily centred on Danto’s theory of art, it verifies the validity and logical justification of necessary and sufficient reasons, as well as it shows its inheritable social elements. Namely, despite Danto’s disagreement, his theory of art is set as a conventionalist theory. Although it varies from Goodman’s conventionalism due to the fact that possible understandings of meanings limit and are not completely taken as arbitrary, which shows that, in its core theory, artistic work has come closer to the functioning of symbols as Goodman presents. Hence even though Danto’s interpretation of works of art is not considered to be a convention in its own right, it does show how his theory allows even the conventionalist thinking. The second chapter is oriented to the research of Danto’s explanation of visual perception and its role within his theory of art. Likewise, there are efforts to imbed Danto’s artistic theory into the research of what is already considered as visual culture. Besides an array of different attempt at defining artistic pieces, the second half of the 20th century has also been marked with a strong interest in the visuals. Interdisciplinary research of the visuals have taken philosophy, psychology, as well as research in other cognitive sciences that in their own right present an interdisciplinary field of developing mental states, beliefs, meaning, teaching and intentions, into account. The strong research of visuals is primarily inspired by the abandonment of believing in the dominance of lingual systems of presentation and by leaving the stance that visual perception is a completely natural process to which our social and cultural activities have no impact. And thus after the “turn to language” that signified the dominance of lingual systems, the “visual turn” that marks visual domination in modern society has followed. In such a way, research into the power of images and generally the power of visuals has been given its extensions in interpreting the visuals as a conformation of social spectacles, social surveillance or simply society that is fully oriented towards the aestheticisation of reality. The highlight so constructed social dominance of images has most likely been accomplished by Mitchell’s question about “what do pictures want”. And thus Danto’s understanding of positioning visuals and visual artistic works has been envisioned as an answer to that question, and such an answer could be summarized into a hypothesis that images desire nothing in their own right, besides being recognised as art themselves when there are necessary and sufficient reasons to do so. Namely, between naturalistic explanations that are founded on visual perception as a natural and birth-given ability that in no way possible depends on social and cultural patterns and constructivist explanations that reject the so called “innocence of the eye”, Danto’s naturalistic position is trying to be proven as unsustainable. In his interpretation of visual perception, Danto follows Fodor’s modularity of mind, which entails a strong dualism between naturally given visual perception and recognition (Danto’s interpretation) of what is it we see. There will be efforts to show that Danto’s theory needs to be revised and that such it still stays consistent with his theory of art. The main hypothesis of this part is the possibility of retaining a modular approach towards the visuals, as is stated by Danto, but also the need to add another constructivist aspect to the understanding of the visuals. If our visual perception of artistic works truly depended on natural and birth-given ability and if it did not have a reciprocal effect on the visual perception itself in a way that it changes it while doing so, then there still are certain concepts of our minds, responsible for processing which has been visually perceived, that are changing. Finally, that means that based on our social and cultural practices, there are “shortcuts” in the interpretation of meaning that artistic works hold for us being produced, as well as that the meanings learnt in such a way which more or less signifies them as arbitrarily assigned and internalized, affect the shaping of social conventions. But the effect of social practise does hold a complete change of our visual perception in itself, so Danto’s stance that our perception is not historical even though we ourselves are, can be kept with the given modification. Such a modification is also in sync with the research into cognitive sciences which confirm that cultural and social effect on our visual perception is actually the one between complete constructivism and naturalism. Therefore here is there another effort to shown a greater effect of conventionalism on Danto’s theory of art, but also his initial hypothesis is not being rejected in full. The third part of this piece presents the last opportunity of the social and cultural to affect the construction of visual artistic works. It is about the relationship between Danto’s and Dickie’s theory inside the possible institutional frame. Namely, besides what is considered conventionalist theory, Danto’s theory is the one of institutional theories. Inside the framework of this essay, Dickie’s theory shall be referred to as the Institutional Theory to signify its very name and to avoid any misunderstandings regarding which of the two theories will be described. According to his own acknowledgments, Dickie has based his theory on Danto’s work about defining works of art. In his attempts to define, he has made several variants from which two, that may representationally exemplify the basic constructs of his theory, will be selected in this piece as a foundation. The first variant contains only two necessary reasons for some object to be proclaimed an artistic piece. Those two reasons are artifactuality and being nominated for assessment of artistic status that is commissioned by some member of the society. And while artefactuality is compliance with Danto’s artistic theory, the other condition has shown itself to be a result of Dickie’s wrongful understanding of the term artistic world. Hence, Danto has rejected the Institutional Theory. But Dickie has adjusted his theory and made a new version that has five definitions. Although Danto has not responded to that version of Dickie’s theory, here is a hypothesis that Danto’s artistic theory can in fact support the new version of Institutional Theory. In regards to the context to which Danto has attempted to place visual works of art, it seems rather unjustified to leave out the role of social and artistic institutions. By implementing elements which would explain even the institutional context in Danto’s theory, a greater level of the theory itself could be accomplished, and theory would be completely classified within the institutional ones as is already stated in certain reviews, even though today’s reasons for such a classification are not satisfactory. The development of art in avant-garde and neo avant-garde has shown that art is currently in a period in which almost all pieces are allegeable to be perceived as art if it was made, explained or exposed in the context that allows it to be so. The extension of the definition to contextual elements has enabled questioning of the social impact on creation and understanding artistic pieces within the analysed theory. Research includes the analysis of relevant texts about traditional and contemporary definitions of art in regards to Danto’s definition, possible counterexamples and justifications of his position. It has been presented that, by introducing contextual explanations of Danto’s artistic theory, it had already possessed a social role in itself and as such it is consistent with later research of the visuals as not only as a part of natural science. However, there was a need to additionally analyse it in regards to constructivist remarks that production and understanding of visual pieces of art also affect the changes on our visual perception and that visual information always have a certain political and ideological power. Thus the research has been expanded by the analysis of Danto’s dual explanation of the visuals that is also interpreted an s naturalistic one, but which also shows a need and possibility to include the rejected conventionalist opinions so that his theory of art would retain a consistency with its own extensional character. To conclude, due to its established social character, Danto’s theory of art is analysed in the context of implementing it in institutional theories. The analysis of Danto’s and the two variants of Dickie’s theory has shown that Danto was right to dismiss the interpretation of his own theory as an institutional one in the case of Dickie’s first variant. However, it has been concluded that the second variant, to which Danto himself never made any comments, is consistent with Danto’s theory of art and that it presents a necessary extension of Danto’s position to completely explain the social elements that effect the production and interpretation of artistic pieces. With all stated, a result of this piece is the demonstration of Danto’s theory of art as a one with a social character and of the necessity of its completion by conventionalist explanations in regards to visual perception and social creation on meaning and to explaining the role of social groups and institutions within the classification of artistic works.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: Danto, Definition of art, Dickie, conventionalism, institutionalism, Carroll, visual perception, visual art
Subjects: Philosophy
Departments: Department of Philosophy
Supervisor: Tokić, Marko
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij filozofije
Date Deposited: 09 Jan 2019 12:25
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2019 12:25

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item