Workshop: Values and Concepts of Art

“What is art?” is arguably the most central question in philosophical aesthetics. This international, interdisciplinary workshop aims to make progress on this question by thinking about the interplays between values and concepts of art.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
10:00am (Coffee & Welcome)
10:30am Shen-yi Liao and Aaron Meskin
11:45am Florian Cova
12:45pm (Lunch)
01:45pm Christy Mag Uidhir
03:00pm Catharine Abell
04:00pm (End)

Leeds Humanities Research Institute
29-31 Clarendon Place
Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 9JT

The workshop is free and open to all.


Catharine Abell (philosophy, University of Manchester)

“Art: Definition and Value”
Proposed definitions of art vary according to whether or not they attempt to shed light on the value of art. Functionalist definitions of art often attempt to explain its value in terms of the value of the function that works of art serve. Such definitions face the problem that there does not appear to be any single function common to all works of art. Proceduralist definitions define art works in terms of the processes by which they are produced, rather than by appeal to their functions. This enables them to accommodate the variety of functions of works of art, but leaves them with no obvious way of illuminating their value. I argue that an adequate definition of art should explain the value of art, and examine how such an explanation can accommodate the variety of disparate functions that works of art may serve.

Christy Mag Uidhir (philosophy, University of Houston)

“Artistic Value & the Concept of Artistic Luck”
I begin by sketching a minimal notion of artistic luck (as compared to its moral and epistemic kin), distinguishing the descriptive sense (a thing being an artwork as a matter of luck) and the evaluative sense (an artwork having its artistic value as a matter of luck). I argue that from the following two basic assumptions:
1. artistic value is, minimally, the value of a thing qua art
2. artworks must be products of intentional action
it follows that:
3. The concept of artistic luck is descriptively trivial and evaluatively incoherent.

Florian Cova (affective sciences, University of Geneva)

“Are the Folk Aesthetic Realists? And If Not, What Are They?” (with Nicolas Pain)
In a paper published in 2012, we challenged an argument that aimed to support Aesthetic Realism by claiming, first, that common sense is realist about aesthetic judgments because it considers that aesthetic judgments can be right or wrong, and, second, that because Aesthetic Realism comes from and accounts for “folk aesthetics,” it is ceteris paribus the best aesthetic theory available. We empirically evaluated this argument by probing whether ordinary people with no training whatsoever in the subtle debates of aesthetic philosophy consider their aesthetic judgments as right or wrong. In the end, our results suggested that laypeople were not aesthetic realists and that the putative ‘intuitiveness’ of Aesthetic Realism might only be a philosophical contrast.

In this paper, we return to these preliminary results and present the results of new studies investigating to which extent these results can be replicated in broader and more representative samples. We also present preliminary results on what we think should be the next step in our research program: determining what is the common-sense stance on aesthetic properties and aesthetic judgments, if it is not a realist stance. We argue that these results suggest that laypeople might actually adhere to a certain brand of relativism, but not the traditional brand of appraiser-relativism.

Shen-yi Liao and Aaron Meskin (that’s us!)

“The Dual Character of Art Concepts” (with Joshua Knobe)
There is an ongoing debate about the concept of art. Some have claimed that the concept of art is essentially evaluative; calling a work “art” involves making a positively-valenced aesthetic evaluation of it. Some have claimed that the concept of art is essentially descriptive; calling a work “art” merely designates its membership in a category. Others say that the concept of art has both senses. What is at stake is one of the most fundamental questions in philosophical aesthetics: what is art?

We aim to re-energize this debate by showing that it is founded on a false assumption: that the concept of art must be evaluative, descriptive, or both. In fact, through a series of experimental studies, we argue that the concept of art is neither evaluative nor descriptive in the senses that philosophical aestheticians have discussed. Instead, the concept of art is normative in a distinct sense — it is what Knobe, Prasada, and Newman (2013) call a “dual character concept”. Calling a work “art” indeed involves making an evaluation, but not about whether a work is good or not. Instead, the evaluation is about whether it realizes the ideals of art or not. Furthermore, we show that this dual character also holds for other central art concepts, such as literature.


This event is a part of the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature project workshops, supported by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action Grant PIIF-GA-2012-328977.