Failed-Art and Failed Art-Theory

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [University of Missouri Columbia]On: 01 April 2013, At: 18:32Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK</p><p>Australasian Journal ofPhilosophyPublication details, including instructions for authorsand subscription information:</p><p>Failed-Art and Failed Art-TheoryChristopher Mag Uidhir aa City College of New YorkVersion of record first published: 24 Sep 2009.</p><p>To cite this article: Christopher Mag Uidhir (2010): Failed-Art and Failed Art-Theory,Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 88:3, 381-400</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Full terms and conditions of use:</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes.Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expresslyforbidden.</p><p>The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make anyrepresentation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up todate. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae, and drug doses should beindependently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liablefor any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damageswhatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connectionwith or arising out of the use of this material.</p></li><li><p>FAILED-ART AND FAILED ART-THEORY</p><p>Christopher Mag Uidhir</p><p>An object being non-art appears only trivially informative. Some non-artobjects, however, could be saliently almost art, and therefore objects forwhich being non-art is non-trivially informative. I call these kinds of non-art</p><p>objects failed-art objectsnon-art objects aetiologically similar to art-objects, diverging only in virtue of some relevant failure. I take failed-art tobe the right sort of thing, to result from the right sort of action, and to have the</p><p>right sort of history required to be art, but to be non-art by having failurewhere being art requires success. I assume that for something to be art thatthing must be the product of intention-directed action. I then oer an account</p><p>of attempts that captures the success conditions governing the relationshipbetween intention-directed actions and their products. From this, I claim thatto be failed-art is to be the product of a failed art-attempt, i.e., to be non-art as</p><p>the result of the particular way in which that art-attempt failed. An art-attempt I take to be an attempt with success conditions, that, if satised, entailthe satisfaction of the conditions for being artwhatever those may be. To beart, then, is to be the product of a successful art-attempt. As such, any art</p><p>theory incompatible with my account of failed-art is an art theory for whichthe notions of success and failure do not matter, and therefore an art theoryfor which being art neednt be substantively intention-dependent. So, any</p><p>theory of art unable to accommodate my account of failed-art is ipso factofalse.</p><p>I certainly do not fancy myself an artist; as far as I know, I have neithermade nor attempted to make an artwork. As a consolation of sorts, I doseem to be rather good at making non-art objects, everything frombookshelves and sandwiches to more esoteric and conceptual non-artobjects such as low-cholesterol recipes and exercise routines. Unfortunately,somethings being non-art is about as informative as somethings being anon-car, a non-zebra, or a non-pudding. Despite this, here I argue for aninformative kind of non-art, what I call failed-artnot artworks that failto meet some standard for artwork evaluation but non-art objectsaetiologically similar to art-objects, diverging only in virtue of some failure(almost art).Failed-art I take to be a robust and meaningful subclass of non-art,</p><p>comprising objects for which being non-art is the substantive result of somerelevant failure, and thereby objects for which being non-art is non-triviallyinformative. Failed-art on my account isnt merely an informative butultimately disposable accoutrement for art theory (e.g., better o if entailedbut otherwise no worse o if not entailed); it is instead a forceful</p><p>Australasian Journal of Philosophy</p><p>Vol. 88, No. 3, pp. 381400; September 2010</p><p>Australasian Journal of Philosophy</p><p>ISSN 0004-8402 print/ISSN 1471-6828 online 2010 Australasian Association of Philosophy DOI: 10.1080/00048400903194559</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [U</p><p>nivers</p><p>ity of</p><p> Miss</p><p>ouri </p><p>Colum</p><p>bia] a</p><p>t 18:3</p><p>2 01 A</p><p>pril 2</p><p>013 </p></li><li><p>art-theoretic constraint predicated on the basic working assumption thatsomethings being art must be substantively intention-dependent. I claimthat the minimal structure of failed-art is entailed by the minimal structureto which any art theory must square to be even prima facie viable, such that,any art theory unable to entail my account of failed-art is ipso facto false.</p><p>1. Informative Failure: An Instructive Example</p><p>Suppose we carve the world into lawyers and non-lawyers. For simplicityssake, lets assume that passing the bar exam is both necessary and sucientfor being a lawyer.</p><p>Lawyer: a thing that has passed the bar exam (e.g. Hilary Clinton, ClarenceDarrow).</p><p>Non-Lawyer: either a thing incapable of taking the bar or a thing capable oftaking the bar exam that either has not taken the bar exam orhas taken the bar exam but did not pass the bar exam (e.g.,</p><p>Pigeon the cat, ferns, the number ve).</p><p>Compared to somethings being a lawyer, a things being a non-lawyersimpliciter looks to be starkly uninformative about that thingit could bePigeon the cat, Renoirs Diana the Huntress, or an isosceles triangle. What Iam after, however, are failed-lawyersa subclass of non-lawyers for which athings being a non-lawyer is non-trivially informative about that thing.1</p><p>To begin, we can suppose that a failed-lawyer must at least be a thingcapable of being a lawyer, perhaps a thing that intended to be a lawyer but isnot a lawyer. Gym socks cant be failed-lawyers because gym socks areincapable of intending simpliciter. I, however, could be a failed-lawyerbecause I am capable of forming such intentions. This is far too broad.Should I form the intention to be a lawyer only to be immediately andfatally struck by bus, Im not thereby a failed-lawyer. Failed-lawyers, then,might be non-lawyers who were almost lawyers, perhaps those non-lawyerssharing at some point a variety of relevant things in common with lawyers,namely the lawyer-relevant sorts of goals, beliefs about how to achieve thosegoals, and actions directed by intentions informed by those beliefs. That is,failed-lawyers and lawyers both attempted to be lawyers, the dierence beingthat the former failed and the latter succeeded.Of course, such attempts must be of the appropriate sort. If I attempt to</p><p>be a lawyer by clicking my heels together three times, my remaining a non-lawyer doesnt thereby entail that I am now also a failed-lawyer. Being afailed-lawyer must be about attempting to be a lawyer in the right sort ofwaycall these attempts lawyer-attemptsbut having that attempt fail.What counts as a lawyer-attempt is determined by what it is for somethingto be a lawyer. So, lawyer-attempts are those attempts in the relevant classof attempts for being a lawyer, i.e., attempts having success conditions that,</p><p>1Distinct from lawyers who fail to achieve the minimum standard for being a good lawyer.</p><p>382 Christopher Mag Uidhir</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [U</p><p>nivers</p><p>ity of</p><p> Miss</p><p>ouri </p><p>Colum</p><p>bia] a</p><p>t 18:3</p><p>2 01 A</p><p>pril 2</p><p>013 </p></li><li><p>if satised, count as sucient for satisfying the conditions for being alawyer. Since we are supposing that passing the bar exam is both a necessaryand sucient condition for being a lawyer, lawyer-attempts then must beattempts that, if successful, also satisfy that condition: namely, passing thebar. Presumably then, there is but one kind of lawyer-attempt: taking thebar exam. Failed-lawyers and lawyers share the same lawyer-attempttaking the barbut diverge with respect to the failure and success of thatlawyer-attempt. Moreover, a thing being a failed-lawyer entails notsatisfying the conditions for being a lawyer in virtue of the particular waythe lawyer-attempt failed (e.g., answering the questions on the bar examincorrectly).2</p><p>Now we have a strikingly informative notion of failed-lawyer: a thing is afailed-lawyer if and only if a) the thing is a non-lawyer and b) the thingattempted to be a lawyer in the right sort of way (lawyer-attempt) and c) thethings being a non-lawyer is the result of the failure of that things lawyer-attempt.3 Furthermore, we ought to expect a basic counterfactual analysisto hold for failed-lawyers (and lawyers as well), i.e., had the lawyer-attemptin the failed-lawyer case succeeded rather than failed, then the thing wouldhave been a lawyer rather than a failed-lawyer. Of course, the notion offailed-lawyer looks to be an informative way of dividing the class ofnon-lawyers precisely because we have already in play a largely agreed uponand robust notion of what it is to be a lawyer (or at least the one Istipulated).Unfortunately, no such notion of what it is to be art readily suggests</p><p>itself (and I dare not stipulate one). For now, I can only hazard thefollowing:</p><p>Non-Art Objects: objects that do not satisfy the conditions for being art (e.g.,perhaps gym socks, Pigeon the cat, the number ve).</p><p>Art Objects: objects that satisfy the conditions for being art (e.g., perhaps the</p><p>Mona Lisa, Moby Dick, Mozarts Piano Concerto No. 9).</p><p>Somethings being non-art simpliciter doesnt appear to be informativeabout that thing in any sort of meaningful sense. To be sure, somethingsbeing a non-F is informative given a context in which somethings being anF matters (e.g., being told that a nominee to the Supreme Court is a non-lawyer or being told that an object on exhibition at Art Basel is non-art).Being informed that a thing is a non-F simpliciter, however, doesnt informus as to what that thing is but only what the thing is not. So too for being anon-lawyer simpliciter or being non-art simpliciter; either can only at bestsuggest what that thing (likely) is not (e.g., not Clarence Darrow or not the</p><p>2If we assume for simplicitys sake a rigid notion of what it is to pass the bar exam, then should a faultyscoring machine incorrectly score As exam as failing and Bs exam as passing, then B would be a non-lawyerthat everyone regards as a lawyer, and A would be a lawyer that everyone regards as a non-lawyer, butneither would be a failed-lawyer.3Moreover, being a failed-lawyer suggests certain interesting or salient features (e.g., having desired topractise law, having gone to law school, having or expecting to do the things lawyers typically do). Of course,the better specied the notion of what it is to be a lawyer (e.g., perhaps also requiring one to have attended orgraduated from law school), the better specied (and thereby more informative) the notion of what it is to bea failed-lawyer.</p><p>Failed-Art and Failed Art-Theory 383</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [U</p><p>nivers</p><p>ity of</p><p> Miss</p><p>ouri </p><p>Colum</p><p>bia] a</p><p>t 18:3</p><p>2 01 A</p><p>pril 2</p><p>013 </p></li><li><p>Mona Lisa). My target of interest, however, is failed-art,4 i.e., a subclass ofnon-art for which a things being non-art is non-trivially informative aboutthat thingto be the right sort of thing, to result from the right sort ofaction, to have the right sort of history required to be art, but to be non-artby having failure where being art requires success.</p><p>2. Art, Attempts, and Art-Attempts</p><p>2.1 Target Art Theories</p><p>Although I want my notion of failed-art to be as broadly applicable aspossible for the sake of simplicity and workability, I target only thosetheories of art that are broadly denitional: theories claiming that art is insome sense denable (e.g., in terms of a singular essence, a closeddisjunction, pluralist accounts consisting of multiple distinct and speciableart concepts). For my purposes, only broadly denitional art theories primafacie can sustain an informative and structurally simple account of failed-artbecause broadly denitional art theories prima facie entail informative andstructurally simple accounts of art. This shouldnt be a scope worry sincemost art theories count as broadly denitional [Beardsley 1983; Danto 1981;Dickie 1997; Levinson 1990; Stecker 1997; Zangwill 1995, 2007].While a few art theories are non-denitional/anti-essentialistexpressly</p><p>Weitz [1977]5 and putatively Gaut [2000, 2005]6I do not claim that suchtheories are incompatible with my notion of failed-art.7 I think only thattargeting such theories would quickly result in a comparatively uninforma-tive and complex account. I set them aside merely to maximize clarity anddepth.</p><p>2.2 Intention-Dependence and Attempt-Dependence</p><p>A basic and largely uncontroversial working assumption in the philosophyof art is that intentions are in a substantive sense necessary for somethingsbeing artsomething is an artwork only if intentions substantively gure inthat things satisfying the conditions for being art, whatever those may be.This basic assumption also grounds another basic assumption, namely thatpurely natural objects cannot be art objects. For a thing to be art, that thingmust be in a substantive sense the product of intentional action (e.g., made,designed, created, constructed, fabricated, manufactured, produced, etc.).</p><p>4Again, not to be confused with art objects that fail to satisfy the conditions for being good art (e.g., perhapsobjects such as Michael Bays Pearl Harbor, Martin Amis Night Train, the poems of William McGonagall).5Weitz-inspired accounts typically claim that ART is a prototype concept. For broad support of ART as aprototype concept see Dean [2003]; for arguments against, see Adajian [2005]. For support of prototypeconcepts in cognitive science see Rosch [1973] and Ramsey [1998], and for arguments against see Fodor[1998] and Fodor and Lepore [2002].6The truth of Gauts cluster account appears consistent with Meskin [2007], if not an endorsement of Davies[2004], the broadly denitional project in art.7A few theories are expressly non-denitional in a less reactionary manner, preferring instead to address howwe identify art [Carroll 1993] or the functions of artworld institutions [Iseminger 2004].</p><p>384 Christopher Mag Uidhir</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [U</p><p>nivers</p><p>ity of</p><p> Miss</p><p>ouri </p><p>Colum</p><p>bia] a</p><p>t 18:3</p><p>2 01 A</p><p>pril 2</p><p>013 </p></li><li><p>For a thing to be an elm, however, there is no such requirement. Artworksare the products of the attempts in which we engage, and intentions guresubstantively by directing the actions or activities constitutive of thoseattempts [Ginet 1990; Bratman 1997; OShaughnessy 1997].8 Moreover, theattempts for which such intention-directed actions are constitutive can eithersucceed or fail, and the products of these attempts reect that success orfailure. Attempts then are goal-orient...</p></li></ul>