Family Resemblances, Relationalism, and the Meaning of 'Art'  

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"It is worth noting that today’s leading New Wavers seem as often confused about the ultimate point of an analysis of ‘ art ’ as they are wrong about it.Levinson, for example, begins his definitive essay on the subject by announcing that he is going to provide substantial understanding into the ‘ artness of an art work ’ ; to tell us ‘ what ties together Dickens’s Oliver Twist, Tallis’s Spem in alium, Flavin’s Pink and Gold. . . ’ , and so on. 26 But, just two pages later, he admits that in fact, his definition only tells us ‘ what it is for an object to be art at a given time ’ . 27 As for giving us any sense of the ‘ artness ’ of an artwork — of the substance of what it is to be a work of art — beyond that which we may have acquired already, in our experiences of individual artworks, all that we have learned, by the end of Levinson’s article, is that artworks are things that are intended to be regarded in the same way that previous artworks have been regarded, something that, I trust it will be agreed, can hardly be called an epiphany."-- British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 47, No. 3, July 2007, "Family Resemblances, Relationalism, and the Meaning of 'Art'", Daniel A. Kaufman

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"Family Resemblances, Relationalism, and the Meaning of 'Art'" (2007) is an essay by Daniel A. Kaufman.


Peter Kivy has maintained that the Wittgensteinian account of ‘art’ ‘is not a going concern’ and that ‘the traditional task of defining the work of art is back in fashion, with a vengeance’ [in Philosophies of Arts: An Essay in Differences]. This is true, in large part, because of the turn towards relational definitions of ‘art’ taken by philosophers in the 1960s; a move that is widely believed to have countered the Wittgensteinian charge that ‘art’ is an open concept and which gave rise to a ‘New Wave’ in aesthetic theorizing. So successful has this New Wave been that today the philosophy of art is awash with relational definitions, which are increasingly characterized by their technical sophistication and logical complexity. The aim of this essay is to oppose this trend; to demonstrate that relationalist definitions cannot avoid the problems which provided the impetus for the Wittgensteinian view and to show that the New Wavers cannot explain why anyone would want the definitions which they are offering, irrespective of their success or failure. I will also explore, in detail, the uses, as well as the limitations, of the Wittgensteinian approach to the concept of art.

See also


British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 47, No. 3, July 2007, "Family Resemblances, Relationalism, and the Meaning of 'Art'", Daniel A. Kaufman

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