Title: Style and the agency in art
Publication: S. Sedivy (ed) Art, Representation, and Make-Believe: Essays on the Philosophy of Kendall L. Walton. Routledge.
Abstract: If I treat something as art I need to see how it manifests the choices, preferences, actions and sensibilities of the maker. In developing this idea I begin with Kendall Walton’s essay “Style and the products and processes of art”. From there the discussion will broaden in scope: from stylistic attributions to a much larger class of artistically relevant properties. Having made clear, I hope, how far appreciation of the work depends on understanding its history of making I will ask how the work/making connection affects what is often called the “ontology of art”. Under that grim heading I once argued, in revisionist fashion, that art works are the actions performed in painting or composition. The canvas on the wall is, on this view, the result of that act and therefore constitutive of the work: nothing can be the act of painting a canvas that does not result in a canvas being painted. We may call this strategy expansionism: the work is a bigger, more complex entity than we realised. I’m now wary of expansionist ambitions. I’ll try out a theory that combines an extremely inclusive account of what determines a work’s value with an extremely minimalist account of what the work actually is. If it thrives, we do justice to the appreciative work/agency connection from a metaphysics that is impeccably conservative; it will commit me to no more than the view that Duccio’s Maestà (the work itself) is a certain construction of wood and pigment, part of which is currently in the National Gallery. What could be less disturbing to a folk ontologist?