A question about art for you. If consensus could be reached on a theoretical definition of art, stating the necessary and sufficient conditions for anything to be called a work of art, would that imply a closing off of art, similar to art in say a former socialist country or a tight religious community that prescribes how art has to be? And if not, what use would the definition be? Would it have any effect on the production of art at all? Or was is the point of a theoretical definition of art? Thanks in advance.

Great questions. Today, standard reference works e.g. the Blackwell Companion to Aesthetics will offer a dozen variations of definitions of art that are of historical and contemporary interest. In my view, none of them are highly restrictive. The idea that works of art are mimetic or imitations or that art is expressive or a form of communication or it embodies emotions or works of art are intended to prompt aesthetic experiences or works of art are objects that make-up the art world, and so on, can each recognize and possibly inspire multiple, almost limitless kinds of works of art. There will be cases, however, when some works of art fit some definitions or philosophies of art better than others. There are works of art today that seem so conceptual and austere from an aesthetic point of view that the aesthetic account of art and art-making is stressed. For the record, I defend an aesthetic account of works of art --see Aesthetics: A beginner's guide.

I suggest that the whole undertaking by philosophers and sometimes by philosophers who are themselves artists like Leo Tolstoy to arrive at a definition of art is somewhat like an ecologist discerning what counts as a healthy ecosystem. The project is not a matter of strict scientific observation but involves balancing a host of factors and equally competent ecologists might differ in terms of the weight they give to different factors e.g. how much weight should be given to human needs and preferences vs nonhuman animals, plants.... Just as an ecologist concept of a healthy ecosystem might guide practical decisions about human development, sometimes a definition or philosophy of art might guide a curator's decision-making and the public receptivity to shows / exhibits / public art. The situation seems slightly different from another domain of philosophy: epistemology or the theory of knowledge. I doubt whether ordinary persons who claim to know this or that ever hesitate in making these claims until they consult formal philosophical work on knowledge. Similarly, there are probably few artists who feel they need to regularly consult The British Journal of Aesthetics or the Blackwell Companion in the course of their art making! But I believe it is fair to observe that many artists in many cultural contexts today *and many museums and art galleries work with some assumptions about what makes something a work of art. One motivation for philosophers to examine such assumptions is to open up dialogue about when such assumptions might be too restrictive or permissive. A good example of a philosopher who sought to advance a philosophy of art that had some normative consequences is the late Monroe Beardsley. He defended what is known as an aesthetic account of art and he used this to present arguments for the unique importance of art work in a democratic republic. If you are interested in seeing how a philosophy of art might be employed to make a case that the public should support the arts, Beardsley's work is highly recommended. The free and online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries on such topics is an excellent reference and guide.

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