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Mark Kingwell reflects on the space where art and politics meet. First published at Harpers.org
Ever since 1964, when Arthur Danto described the art world as a discursive space in which any object, however humble — a soup can, a garden tool, a urinal — might be aesthetically transfigured, philosophers of art have been painting themselves into an increasingly tiny conceptual corner. So-called analytic aesthetics now wallows in a deflationary phase, fighting shy of familiar questions about art and beauty. One recent exemplar of this literature, Dominic McIver Lopes’s Beyond Art (2014), cheerfully defends a “buck-passing” theory of art. That is, art is whatever different “arts-discourses” (i.e., painting, sculpture, performance) choose to talk about and to make. In the book’s terms, “X is a work of art if and only if x is a work of K, where K is an art.” A general theory of why there can be no general theory is a brainchild only an academic could love.