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History and the Philosophy of Art

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AbstractIn this essay I trace the role of history in the philosophy of art from the early twentieth century to the present, beginning with the rejection of history by formalists like Clive Bell. I then attempt to show how the arguments of people like Morris Weitz and Arthur Danto led to a re-appreciation of history by philosophers of art such as Richard Wollheim, Jerrold Levinson, Robert Stecker and others.

1. FN11) Clive Bell, Art (London: Chatto and Windus, 1914).
2. FN22) In the Anglo-American tradition, answering the question “what is art?” can be understood in terms of identifying artworks, since the aforesaid question is typically taken to be asking “What is an artwork?”
3. FN33) R.G. Collingwood, Principles of Art (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1938).
4. FN44) Morris Weitz, “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics,” in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, volume 15 (1956), pp. 27–35.
5. FN55) Maurice Mandelbaum, “Family Resemblances and Generalizations Concerning the Arts,” in The Philosophy of Art: Readings Ancient and Modern, edited by Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley (New York: McGraw Hill Publishers, 1995), pp. 193–201.
6. FN66) Arthur Danto, “The Artworld,” in The Philosophy of Art: Readings Ancient and Modern, edited by Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley (New York: McGraw Hill, 1995), p. 209.
7. FN77) In a subsequent attempt to define art, Danto includes historical context as a necessary condition for art status. However, I will not review that attempt in this article because history supplies only one of four other conditions for being an artwork.
8. FN88) Jerrold Levinson, “Defining Art Historically,” British Journal of Aestherics, volume 19 (1979), pp. 232–250.
9. FN99) Robert Stecker, Artworks (Uninversity Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania University Press, 1997).
10. FN1010) Richard Wollheim, Art and Its Objects, Second Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), sections 45–65. And Noël Carroll, “Historical Narratives and the Philosophy of Art,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, volume 52 (1993), pp. 313–326.
11. FN1111) Wollheim, pp. 104–105.
12. FN1212) Wollheim, p. 143.
13. FN1313) Michael Baxandall as quoted in Arthur Danto, “The Shape of Artist Pasts: East and West,” in Subversive Strategies in Contemporary Chinese Art, edited by Mary Bittner Wiseman and Liu Yuedi (Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2011), p. 359.
14. FN1414) Wollheim, pp. 145–146.
15. FN1515) I would not want to argue that this list is exhaustive nor that the items on it are necessarily exclusive. More work needs to be done here.

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