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A sixth sort of objection rejects the project of defining art as anunwitting (and confused) expression of a harmful ideology. On thisview, the search for a definition of art presupposes, wrongly, thatthe concept of the aesthetic is a creditable one. But since theconcept of the aesthetic necessarily involves the equally bankruptconcept of disinterestedness, its deployment advances the illusionthat what is most real about things can and should be grasped orcontemplated without attending to the social and economic conditionsof their production. Definitions of art, consequently, spuriouslyconfer ontological dignity and respectability on social phenomena thatprobably in fact call more properly for rigorous social criticism andchange. Their real function is ideological, not philosophical (Eagleton 1990).
Whether art can be defined has also been a matter of controversy
The , of which McCollum has made hundreds, are blank paintings cast from an absent original.
The sheer strangeness of the way in which the reframe the experience of viewing art objects raises numerous questions: How to engage with "paintings" from which all content has been emptied and in which formal variation has been reduced to minimal difference?
Functional definitions take some function(s) or intended function(s)to be definitive of artworks. Here only aesthetic definitions, whichconnect art essentially with the aesthetic—aesthetic judgments,experience, or properties—will be considered. Differentaesthetic definitions incorporate different views of aestheticproperties and judgments. See the entry on .
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A common family of arguments, inspired by Wittgenstein’sfamous remarks about games (Wittgenstein 1953), has it that thephenomena of art are, by their nature, too diverse to admit of theunification that a satisfactory definition strives for, or that adefinition of art, were there to be such a thing, would exert astifling influence on artistic creativity. One expression of thisimpulse is Weitz’s Open Concept Argument: any concept isopen if a case can be imagined which would call for some sort ofdecision on our part to extend the use of the concept to cover it, orto close the concept and invent a new one to deal with the new case;all open concepts are indefinable; and there are cases calling for adecision about whether to extend or close the concept of art. Hence artis indefinable (Weitz 1956). Against this it is claimed thatchange does not, in general, rule out the preservation of identity overtime, that decisions about concept-expansion may be principled ratherthan capricious, and that nothing bars a definition of art fromincorporating a novelty requirement.
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A fourth sort of argument suggests that a definition of art statingindividually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for a thing tobe an artwork, is likely to be discoverable only if cognitive sciencemakes it plausible to think that humans categorize things in terms ofnecessary and sufficient conditions. But, the argument continues,cognitive science actually supports the view that the structure ofconcepts mirrors the way humans categorize things—which is withrespect to their similarity to prototypes (or exemplars), and not interms of necessary and sufficient conditions. So the quest for adefinition of art that states individually necessary and jointlysufficient conditions is misguided and not likely to succeed (Dean2003). Against this it has been urged that psychological theoriesof concepts like the prototype theory and its relatives can provide atbest an account of how people in fact classify things, but notan account of correct classifications of extra-psychologicalphenomena, and that, even if relevant, prototype theory and otherpsychological theories of concepts are at present too controversial todraw substantive philosophical morals from (Rey 1983; Adajian 2005).
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A seventh argument against defining art, with a normative tinge thatis psychologistic rather than sociopolitical, takes the fact thatthere is no philosophical consensus about the definition of art asreason to hold that no unitary concept of art exists. Concepts ofart, like all concepts, after all, should be used for the purpose(s)they best serve. But not all concepts of art serve all purposesequally well. So not all art concepts should be used for the samepurposes. Art should be defined only if there is a unitary concept ofart that serves all of art’s various purposes—historical,conventional, aesthetic, appreciative, communicative, and so on. So,since there is no purpose-independent use of the concept of art, artshould not be defined (Mag Uidhir and Magnus 2011; cf. Meskin 2008).In response, it is noted that an account of what makes variousconcepts of art concepts of art is still required, whichleaves open the possibility of important commonalities. The fact (ifit is one) that different concepts of art are used for differentpurposes does not itself imply that they are not connected insystematic, ordered ways. The relation between (say) the historicalconcept of art and the appreciative concept of art is not anaccidental, unsystematic relation, like that between river banks andsavings banks, but is something like the relation between Socrates’healthiness and the healthiness of Socrates’ diet. That is, it is notevident that there exist a multiplicity of art concepts, constitutingan unsystematic patchwork. Perhaps there is a single concept of artwith different facets that interlock in an ordered way, or else amultiplicity of concepts that constitute a unity because one is at thecore, and the others depend on it, but not conversely. (The last is aninstance of core-dependent homonymy; see the entry on , section on Essentialismand Homonymy.) Multiplicity alone doesn’t entail pluralism.