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Action, Art, History

Action, Art, History: Engagements with Arthur C. Danto

Daniel Herwitz
Michael Kelly
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Action, Art, History
    Book Description:

    Arthur C. Danto is unique among philosophers for the breadth of his philosophical mind, his eloquent writing style, and the generous spirit embodied in all his work. Any collection of essays on his philosophy has to engage him on all these levels, because this is how he has always engaged the world, as a philosopher and person.

    In this volume, renowned philosophers and art historians revisit Danto's theories of art, action, and history, and the depth of his innovation as a philosopher of culture. Essays explore the importance of Danto's philosophy and criticism for the contemporary art world, along with his theories of perception, action, historical knowledge, and, most importantly for Danto himself, the conceptual connections among these topics. Danto himself continues the conversation by adding his own commentary to each essay, extending the debate with characteristic insight, graciousness, and wit.

    Contributors include Frank Ankersmit, Hans Belting, Stanley Cavell, Donald Davidson, Lydia Goehr, Gregg Horowitz, Philip Kitcher, Daniel Immerwahr, Daniel Herwitz, and Michael Kelly, testifying to the far-reaching effects of Danto's thought. Danto brought to philosophy the artist's unfettered imagination, and his ideas about postmodern culture are virtual road maps of the present art world. This volume pays tribute to both Danto's brilliant capacity to move between philosophy and contemporary culture and his pathbreaking achievements in philosophy, art history, and art criticism.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51084-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Daniel Herwitz and Michael Kelly

    There are few today who have attained the kind of public status and recognition of Arthur C. Danto. In 2003 his book The Madonna of the Future won the prestigious French Prix Philosophie: he became the first American to win that honor for philosophy applied to contemporary issues. An earlier volume of his, Encounters and Reflections, won the National Book Critics Circle award (1990). His concepts of postmodern art and culture are virtual road maps of the present art world, powered by philosophical depth and capacious inclusiveness. Past president of the American Philosophical Association and of the American Society for...

  4. 1 Arthur Danto at Columbia and in New York
    (pp. 1-5)
    Akeel Bilgrami

    In the places where Arthur Danto worked for many decades—Columbia’s philosophy department and the Journal of Philosophy—which have come together now to celebrate his work, there has always been a general feeling that, as much as he loved and labored here, he found us too confining. Perversely, this is a source of pride rather than hurt. Actually, if I may take a moment to congratulate ourselves, it is even a measure of the modesty of our intellectual self-conception that we take so much pride in having among us someone whose talents and intellectual appetites far surpass the nourishment...

  5. 2 Danto’s Action
    (pp. 6-23)
    Donald Davidson

    When I was invited to participate in this fine Dantoesque orgy I thought I could write, if I wanted, about Danto on art. I rushed out and bought a beautiful pile of books from and started to read about Brillo boxes. What fun! I had in mind for a title “Art on Art.” But then I was told I should talk about Danto on action. Long ago I had read some of Arthur’s seminal essays on action and had acquired The Analytic Philosophy of Action. I should not have worried that I would be entirely starved of Arthur’s take...

  6. 3 Crossing Paths
    (pp. 24-42)
    Stanley Cavell

    Celebrations inspire reminiscences, and those that follow are as much concerned with keeping similar paths from crossing as they are with recognizing the fact that different paths have crossed and keep crossing. Arthur Danto and I are perhaps the only American philosophers of our generation—I know of no others—about whom the following four descriptions can all be said to be true: first, our itineraries contain a period, beginning in our youth, in which our lives had been devoted to the practice of an art (painting and printmaking in Arthur’s case, composing music in mine), and we discovered philosophy...

  7. 4 For the Birds/Against the Birds: The Modernist Narratives of Danto and Adorno (and Cage)
    (pp. 43-81)
    Lydia Goehr

    Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

    No hungry generations tread thee down;

    The voice I hear this passing night was heard

    In ancient days by emperor and clown.¹

    These lines from John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” of 1819 sustain the rhetorical question Kant posed in 1790: “What is more highly extolled by poets than the bewitchingly beautiful song of the nightingale [sung] in a lonely stand of bushes on a still summer evening, under the gentle light of the moon?” Kant speaks of the beauty of birdsong, as of nature more generally. He finds beauty too in...

  8. 5 Photoshop, or, Unhanding Art
    (pp. 82-111)
    Gregg Horowitz

    In one crucial respect, Arthur C. Danto’s impact on contemporary philosophy of art is unmatched: by force of argument¹ and example,² he has made it possible, and perhaps even necessary, for philosophers to engage with contemporary art. It has long been a philosophical reflex to hew to the spirit of Hegel’s owl of Minerva and let the dust settle before passing judgment or, absent the patience to wait for a form of life to grow old, to pretend to think and write from a perspective distanced from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. However, under the influence of Danto’s...

  9. 6 At the Doom of Modernism: Art and Art Theory in Competition
    (pp. 112-129)
    Hans Belting

    On December 28, 1964, the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association held its sixty-first annual meeting. One session was devoted to the topic of “the work of art.” In retrospect, there could not have been a more noteworthy historical coincidence. For at that moment, the art scene had abandoned any safe definition of the artwork as it had dominated the exhibition walls in the glorious days of modernism. Artists themselves had started to deconstruct the visual profile of the artwork as a beautiful stereotype in gallery production. Anything was welcome—in particular the strategies of the Happenings, Fluxus, and...

  10. 7 The Sell-By Date
    (pp. 130-150)
    Daniel Herwitz

    There is a certain risk in giving a philosophical reading of the very history one has lived, especially if that history seems to have culminated in one’s lap, in the manner of a gift. The astonishment at being the first witness can be oceanic, suffusing the view of the entire world with a sense of millennial energy. One’s story of it all becomes the central account, for history has placed one, by coincidence or destiny, at the center. From there may follow the almost irresistible belief that the rest of the world’s histories can be read from one’s own, as...

  11. 8 Danto on Tansey: The Possibilities of Appearance
    (pp. 151-174)
    Michael Kelly

    One of the principal virtues of Arthur Danto’s philosophy of art is that, from its beginning in 1964, it generally has been calibrated to contemporary art, so that the substance and even tone of his philosophical writings have been responsive to, and even generated by, developments in the art world.¹ For example, his early, well-known essay on Warhol’s Brillo Box, called “The Artworld,” was written in direct response to an exhibition of that work at the Staple Gallery in New York City in 1964. According to Danto, Warhol exhibited works that no existing philosophy of art could explain, so he...

  12. 9 Danto, History, and the Tragedy of Human Existence
    (pp. 175-197)
    Frank R. Ankersmit

    Analytical Philosophy of History, published in 1965, was Arthur Danto’s first major book. The first of a trilogy, it was soon followed by Analytical Philosophy of Knowledge, and a few years later by Analytical Philosophy of Action (perhaps the best of the three). The trilogy firmly established Danto’s reputation as one of the most ambitious and original younger philosophers carrying on the analytical tradition. But there is something odd about this beginning of Danto’s career. What analytical philosopher in the 1960s would have planned to make his name with a book on so outlandish a topic as the philosophy of...

  13. 10 History and the Sciences
    (pp. 198-238)
    Philip Kitcher and Daniel Immerwahr

    The history of philosophical reflection on history is largely dominated by attempts to determine the relation between history and the sciences. In the twentieth century, the two most prominent attempts were those of C. G. Hempel, in “The Function of General Laws in History,”¹ and of Arthur Danto in Analytical Philosophy of History.² Hempel’s article aimed to resolve a long-standing controversy about the relationship between history and the Naturwissenschaften (a debate that had raged particularly fiercely in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although there had been important earlier eruptions³), by deploying a philosophical reconstruction of the natural sciences...