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Theses

An Exploration of the Essence of Art at the Light of the Contemporary Situation of Art

Abstract : This thesis seeks to answer a basic question of the philosophy of art: What is art? After examining the answers provided to this question by several art theories, it proposes that the definition of art offered by Arthur Danto is the one that most conforms to the reality of art, although it suffers from certain imperfections and insufficiencies. On the basis of this critical conclusion and through a careful analysis of what is categorized as art in the present time, it attempts to modify Danto’s definition and to transfigure it into a new one, capable of better conforming to the reality of art. It firstly introduces the contemporary situation of art and the existing art theories which didn’t successfully do sufficient justice to the totality of what is considered as artistic. Through a critical examination of these theories, it tries to show that the sufficient and necessary conditions for being art that they propose are either not sufficient or not necessary. It then tries to clear up the obstacles to the possibility to define art that have been put forward by the anti-essentialists, who claim that art cannot be defined in a classical way, and accordingly tries to show that a definition of art in the form of necessary and sufficient conditions is still possible. The thesis then provides a comprehensive presentation of Danto’s definition of art. Through several comparisons, Danto proposes that the specificity of artwork consists in being a representation with a metaphorical ellipsis, while the non-artistic object fails to be representational and the diagrammatic representation fails to be metaphorical. Furthermore, he claims that an artwork is a representation endowed with style. He also introduces the concept of “Artworld” in the form of a “style matrix”, which consists of all the existing artistic predicates that for each one of them an artwork can choose to manifest or reject in order to locate itself in the historical evolution of art. The main criticisms proposed against Danto’s definition of art are also examined. Some of these criticisms are judged to be unfair and are consequently rejected, leading to a defence of the validity of several key aspects of Danto’s theory; others are considered as reasonable. In addition, the thesis confronts Danto’s theory with the reality of the present art scene and formulates additional criticisms that have not been put forward in the Danto scholarship.In the last chapter, the thesis endeavors to elaborate a new definition of art based on the acceptable parts of Danto’s definition. The definition proposed by the thesis considers the essence of art as a property which lies in the artistic intention of action. The artwork possesses this property in a derived way, being the outcome of an artistic type of action. This outcome is sometimes the transitive product of these actions, and sometimes is these actions themselves. An artistic action is analysed as an action intending to metaphorically represent something. Through the study of different examples, it is shown that artworks are artistic in varying degrees: some works are more artistic than others. This gradation is the result of the possibility that the specific intention of an artistic action is interfered with by other non-artistic intentions, as well as additional conditions, such as the lack of skill to fully realize one’s artistic intention. This action-based definition of art provides a new perspective to the entire field of art research by transforming the art-related problems into specific types of action-related problems. Finally, the thesis breaks away from Danto by claiming that a definition of art should always keep up with the evolution of art which is still not over, even though it has reached a fairly stable phase.
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Mengzhong Zhao. An Exploration of the Essence of Art at the Light of the Contemporary Situation of Art. Philosophy. Université de Lyon; East China normal university (Shanghai), 2019. English. ⟨NNT : 2019LYSEN034⟩. ⟨tel-02489783⟩

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