According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The groundwork for institutional definitions was laid by Arthur Danto, better known to non-philosophers as the long-time influential art critic for the Nation. Danto coined the term “artworld”, by which he meant “an atmosphere of art theory.” Danto’s definition has been glossed as follows: something is a work of art if and only if (i) it has a subject (ii) about which it projects some attitude or point of view (has a style) (iii) by means of rhetorical ellipsis (usually metaphorical) which ellipsis engages audience participation in filling in what is missing, and (iv) where the work in question and the interpretations thereof require an art historical context (Danto, Carroll). Clause (iv) is what makes the definition institutionalist. The view has been criticized for entailing that art criticism written in a highly rhetorical style is art, lacking but requiring an independent account of what makes a context art historical, and for not applying to music.


What does 'require' mean here?

I totally see how some interpretations require a historical art context: in as much as some interpretations use that context. So does 'require' just mean contingently involve?

Music doesn't fit the bill, and are there any other arts that don't? I seem able to understand, however superficially, e.g., literature, without its (or art's) history, in a way that any interpretation of the literature must, i.e. parse or utter sentences in a language.

So does Danto's claim amount to the fact that some interpretations, and so art works, are more historical, more art: a continuum of types (art and non-art)?

1 Answer 1


For Danto, "art" is art by virtue of context. That's what makes his theory "institutionalist."

It's not a continuum or a spectrum between art and non art. The relationship between a piece of art and a piece of art history is one of equivalence. That's what is meant by saying Danto "requires" the art-historical context.

Danto's Transfiguration of the Commonplace is probably the best starting place to explore his theories, if you find them of interest.

  • i might agree: but with the emphasis on 'require' rather than 'context'. sociologist i guess.
    – user38026
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 17:29
  • your 1st paragraph: i disagree... nothing in any philosophy is truly "unrelated" surely. thanks for the last paragraph, do you have a source?
    – user38026
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 17:32
  • sorry, what am i trying to express? you've lost me. citing an entire book to make a claim (that i don't disagree with!) is unhelpful. though: why use 'require' there (in the SEP) as well as 'iff' as with the other clauses?
    – user38026
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 17:38
  • ah ok, thanks. if possible do prove yourself right. cheers
    – user38026
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 17:43
  • i voted down merely for the reason that your answer distorts my question. probably my fault, i'll ask on meta. cheers
    – user38026
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 18:20

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