Arthur Danto died in 2013



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Arthur Danto died in 2013.

Arthur C. Danto, “Farewell to Lao-Tzu,” 1963. Woodcut

Danto’s Books

  • Nietzsche as Philosopher (1965)

  • What Philosophy Is (1968)

  • Analytical Philosophy of Action (1973)

  • Analytical Philosophy of Knowledge

  • Sartre (1975)

  • The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (1981)

  • Narration and Knowledge (1985) - Including earlier book Analytical Philosophy of History (1965)

  • The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (1986)



  • Mysticism and Morality: Oriental Thought and Moral Philosophy (1987)

  • Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective (1992)

  • Connections to the World: The Basic Concepts of Philosophy (1997)

  • After the End of Art (1997)

  • The Abuse of Beauty (2003)

  • Red Grooms (2004)

  • Andy Warhol (2009)

  • What Art Is (2013)





The Artworld 1964

Socrates and Shakespeare

  • Hamlet and Socrates both spoke of art as a mirror held to nature.

  • Socrates: art yields idle accurate duplications: no cognitive benefit

  • Hamlet: mirrors reveal us to ourselves, and are of some cognitive utility.

  • Danto Vs. Socrates: if a mirror image is an imitation and art is imitation then mirror images are art, and they are not.



  • “is an imitation” is not a sufficient condition for “art”

  • Photography shows this. [It is not sufficient for something to be a realistic photograph to be a work of art.]

  • Imitation was then discarded as a necessary condition for art, i.e. with Kandinsky. Next. Kandinsky “On White II” 1923







  • “mimetic features” then go to the periphery of art, and some [realistic art] narrowly escapes demotion to illustration. [as in Bell’s theory.]



socratic discussion

  • In socratic discussion all participants must already master the concept up for analysis. [It is hard to know why Danto believed this since it was clearly wrong about Socrates…I think Danto is talking about a Wittgenstein-influenced way of understanding socratic discussion popular in the 1960s called Ordinary Language Philosophy.]



  • The people listening to Socrates presumably knew what art was.

  • A theory of art then (a real definition of “Art”) would not be able to help us recognize instances of art.

  • The idea is just to make explicit what they already know, “our use of the term”



  • Danto here quotes from William Kennick “to separate those objects which are works of art from those which are not…” from his essay “Does Traditional Aesthetics Rest on a Mistake” 1958. Danto is basically saying that Kennick is wrong in his interpretation of what art theories are supposed to do.]

  • Theories on this view are wordy reflections of factual linguistic practice.

  • But telling artworks from other things is not so simple.





Artistic theory theory tells us…

  • The terrain is constituted in virtue of artistic theories.

  • One use of theory is to make art possible.





  • Think of a discovery of a whole new class of artworks as like discovery of a new class of facts for the theoretician to explain.

  • In science we often use auxiliary hypotheses to explain such new facts.

  • Imitation Theory of Art is a powerful theory, bringing unity to a complex domain.

  • And auxiliary hypotheses can shore it up against purported counterinstances.



  • But what if the hypotheses fail and a new theory is needed, one that captures what it can of the old theory and the new facts?

  • Postimpressionist art: could not be accepted as art under IT

  • So a theoretical revision of considerable proportions is needed.

Postimpressionist: Paul Gauguin The Siesta 1892

CEZANNE Paul, Apples & Oranges, c. 1899

Cezanne “Grandes Bagnieuses” 1905

Van Gogh Potato Eaters

Raphael Transfiguration 1518-1520



Fang mask used for the ngil ceremony. Wood, Gabon, 19th century.

  • The new theory allowed masks for example to be transferred from anthropology museums to art museums.

  • Nothing had to be moved out of the art museums, although some things may have gone into storage rooms.

  • Paradigms for teaching “work of art” changed since Edwardian times. [Edwardian era: 1900-1910]







Reality Theory

  • I will talk as if there was only one replacing theory for IT. I will speak of one real one that has been offered, i.e. Reality Theory.

  • Postimpressionists were not unsuccessfully imitating real forms but successfully creating new forms…quite as real as the things imitated.

  • Postimpressionists are genuinely creative, producing, as Roger Fry [friend of Bell] thought, “not an illusion but reality.”

  • This is Reality Theory (RT)



  • George Rouault “The Old King” 1936

  • Next image Dufy

Raoul Dufy Le Cavalier arabe (Le Cavalier blanc), 1914



  • Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rouault, Dufy, Gauguin, the Fauves, drew attention to the fact that their works were non-imitations, intended not to deceive.

  • This is a new area between real objects and real facsimiles of real objects.



  • Van Gogh’s “Potato Eaters” turns out to b a non-facsimile of real life potato eaters, a non-imitation, and hence a real object.

  • RT allows art to reenter the thick of things, as real as the carpenter’s bed in Plato.

  • This [they believe] is a victory in ontology. [But Danto rejects RT]

Popeye Roy Litchtenstein 1961



  • Lichtenstein’s paintings are “reasonably faithful projections onto a gigantesque scale of the homely frames from the daily tabloid [newspaper]”

  • It is the scale that counts here.





  • "The Star Jockey", script by Robert Kanigher; pencil and inks by Irv Novick, All American Men of War 89, 1962, page 21

Roy Lichtenstein, "Whaam!", 1963, Acrylic and oil on canvas support: painting:



  • “What implications can be unveiled from a culture that values Lichtenstein’s appropriations as paradigmatic examples of pop culture, and still denies most serious artistic recognition to specific comic book artists?” Ernest Priego “The Comic Grid” blog. April 4, 2011 http://blog.comicsgrid.com/2011/04/whaam-becoming-a-flaming-star/

  • Access date 11/17/14



  • Danto: “A photograph of a Lichtenstein is indiscernible from a photograph of a counterpart panel from Steve Canyon..” [but judging from what we just saw…this is not true.]

  • But the photograph fails to capture the scale.

  • Lichtensteins are not imitations but new entities.

Barnett Newman -  Vir Heroicus Sublimis
o/c   7'11" x 17'9"      1950-51



  • Barnett Newman

  • “Be I (second version),“

  • 1970.



  • For Jasper Johns the question of scale is irrelevant yet his objects cannot be imitations since a copy of this class of things is automatically a member of that class. A copy of a flag is a flag, a copy of a map is a map.

Jaspar Johns, “Three Flags,” 1958

Jasper Johns,Map, 1961



  • Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg have made genuine beds.

  • One could sleep in them.

  • Imagine a character named Testadura [Spanish for pig-headed] a philistine [“a person who is hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts, or who has no understanding of them.”]



  • He is not aware that these are art, takes them for reality.

  • These would be mistakes of an odd kind: like a bird mistaking painted shapes by Zeuxis for grapes.

  • But, according to RT, it was meant to be reality. [This story then refutes RT]

  • Here native speakers are poor guides to analyzing the concept.



  • Robert Rauschenberg, Bed, 1955





Claes Oldenburg “Bedroom Ensemble,” 1963



  • 1) How to avoid such errors?

  • a) How is Testadura to tell he has made an error?

  • b) the error is curiously philosophical

  • c) it is like mistaking a person for a material body when that person is a material body in one sense



  • d) first, the paintstreaks are part of the object, which is not a mere bed but a paint-bed, just as a person is not just a material body but a complex entity, a conscious-body: persons are irreducible to parts of themselves, they are primitive [in the sense of basic]

  • e) not every part of an artwork A is part of a real object R when R is part of A and can, moreover, be detached from A and seen merely as R.



The “is” of artistic identification

  • 1) the artwork is a bed, but the "is" needs clarification here

  • a) it is not the "is" of identity, predication, or existence

  • b) it is the "is" of child who says a circle is him and a triangle his sister, or someone who says "That one is Lear" or “That white dab is Icarus"

  • c) this is not the "is" of representation, as when the word "Icarus" represents Icarus



d) this "is" is compatible with "That a is not b"

e) it is the "is" of artistic identification

f) the a stands for some specific physical property

g) it is a necessary condition for something to be an artwork that some part or property of it be designable by the subject of a sentence that employs this special "is"

Two Indiscernible Paintings

  • example of paintings of Newton's First Law and Newton's Third Law

  • a) they are indiscernible

  • b) but they are described differently

  • c) these are artistic identifications

  • d) much follows from them

  • e) the identifications are incompatible

  • f) each one makes a different artwork, even though each artwork contains the identical real object as part of itself

  • g) there are senseless identifications

  • h) acceptance of an identification is of a world



  • Testadura: "all I see is paint"

  • a) there is nothing more to see, nothing to show him it is an artwork

  • b) he must master the "is" of artistic identification

  • c) he will then constitute it as a work of art

  • d) what distinguishes the abstract artist from Testadura?



  • Andy Warhol, Brillo Cartons

  • a) why not make a facsimile of a Brillo carton?

  • b) forget questions of intrinsic value

  • c) why can the Brillo people not manufacture art, and why can Warhol not but make art?

  • d) made by hand? but the difference cannot consist in craft!

  • e) is Warhol a Midas turning everything to art?

  • f) has the distinction between art and reality broken down?

Andy Warhol at Stable Gallery, April 24, 1964



Andy Warhol Brillo Box 1964



  • we cannot readily separate the Brillo cartons from the gallery they are in, any more than the Rauschenberg bed from the paint on it

  • a) the artist has failed to produce a mere real object

  • b) even if he uses real Brillo cartons they become artist's materials in the sense that paint is

  • 2) what makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art is a certain theory of art

  • a) the theory takes it up into the world of art

  • b) keeps it from collapsing into the real object



  • a) to see it as art, as part of the artworld, one must have mastered much artistic theory and history

  • b) could not have been art 50 years ago

  • c) role of artistic theories to make the artworld possible

  • d) painters at Lascaux would not have thought they produced art, unless they had aestheticians[next image Lescaux 17,300 BCE]



Questions for Danto



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