Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Bullshit or Not: Arthur Danto Edition

There's an old sketch film called Amazon Women on the Moon and one of the bits is a parody of the old Leonard Nimoy show, "In Search Of..." called, "Bullshit or Not?" with the tagline "Bullshit or not? You decide." It's a line I like so much that I've stolen it for an irregular series of posts.

Today's quotation concerns the work of art critics. In an interview here, philosopher of art Arthur Danto said this:

"I think, art critics these days increasingly find themselves explaining rather than judging art. What a work means is not always obvious, and one has to find that out. Identifying the meaning is what I would call an “interpretive hypothesis.” The justification for the hypothesis means: showing how the meaning is embodied. That too is a hypothesis, since others may find alternative interpretations. This is in my view the way art criticism works. There is a further set of questions whether the work was worth making, whether the embodiment was well chosen etc. But the main work of the critic is interpretive understanding."
So, is the job of the critic to explain or judge? Once we moved to contemporary art which is often reflexive in meaning, referring to itself, the process of making art, or contexts in the world, so that we can only get the sense of the work by understanding its place in the history of contemporary art, does that merge the job of critic and historian? Is the value of art context-independent or does it require conceptual understanding? Is criticism a merely judgmental act or is it meaning creation, and thereby a second-order artistic act itself?

So, bullshit or not? As usual, feel free to leave a response ranging from a single word to a dissertation.

(I've always wanted to write a paper discussing Danto's take on Plato's views on art entitled "Plato on Art and Art on Plato")