Class 4: The Nature of Art Joseph Margolis: “The Ontological Peculiarity of Works of Art” Thesis: An artwork is of an ontologically peculiar sort: • It cannot be universal because it can be created & destroyed. • It possesses physical and perceptual properties. • It can instantiate another particular. • It can be embodied in another particular. Background This paper is a part of Margolis’ overall aesthetics. By a single set of principles, Margolis offers a unified explanation of minds, machines, languages, civilizations, and art objects. Margolis’ inquiry lasted decades, through several books and papers.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Unraveling Margolis • Margolis’ thrust is to provide an ontology of artworks that accounts for their unique nature, identifiable as distinct from the object or materials that embody them. • Margolis employs the type/token distinction in several ways: explaining the metaphysical link between art replications and their sources; explaining the creation of new styles of art; explaining the destruction of art. • Margolis is attempting to funnel a number of diverse ideas into a single theory. And as happens when you funnel any number of different things, they get mixed up. So it’s important to get our terminology straight, which Margolis, unfortunately, fails to do.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Unraveling Margolis (cont’d) • Tokens – A particular instantiation of a type, which cannot exist without the type. • Types – Abstract particulars of a kind that can be instantiated. Lack independent existence outside of tokens. • Universals – Platonic entities that can be neither created nor destroyed. • Particulars – Entities that can be individuated among related creations but, unlike universals, can be created and destroyed. • Abstract Particulars – A particular that cannot, in and of itself, be experienced, but only through concrete instances of it.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Unraveling Margolis (cont’d) • Kinds – Neither a universal (because it can be created), nor a type (because it need not be instantiated to exist?). • Notations – An entity from which a token can be created (e.g. a musical score; a bronze mold; a theatrical script). • Culturally Emergent Entities – Materially embodied, but not reducible to and therefore not identical with their material embodiments. Distinct from physical stuff in which they are embodied because they have intentional properties that cannot be explained in physical, material terms.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Unraveling Margolis (cont’d) • Margolis draws distinctions between kind/instance and set/member distinctions, so it’s useful to know what he means, here: • Kind/Instance: The kind/instance distinction is not completely clear. For Margolis, a kind may be a sort of categorization, or it may be a metaphysical distinction. • Set/Member: Typically, sets are defined as conditions, the members of which have this characteristic (e.g. set of all “red” things). Sets are objects, so there can be sets of sets, and sets of sets of sets, etc. A set can be empty, having no members
Class 4: The Nature of Art Creating Kinds • Glickman’s Chef: If a chef creates a new kind of soup, because universals cannot be created or destroyed, he must be making something other than a universal. • Differentiated from other kinds of soups, the chef’s invention must be a particular. • The new kind of soup also seems to be abstract. • But it seems problematic to say that one has tasted an abstract object. • Solution: The chef has created a type, instantiated in tokens. Melancholia I • We might make multiple instantiations of Melancholia I by printing multiple copies from Dürer’s engraving plate.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Albrecht Dürer,Melancholia I (1514)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Melancholia I (cont’d) • Prints of Melancholia I need not have all of their relevant properties in common: color, printing errors, etc. • The same is true of sculptures created from molds, as well as theatrical and musical performances. • We seem to individuate works of art in unusual ways. • Additionally, it seems that works can be created and destroyed. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon • Just as, it seems, a chef first creates a new kind of soup by stirring ingredients in a pot, so Picasso created a new kind of painting by applying oil paints to a canvas.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon(1907)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (cont’d) • In fact, it seems in most cases, one doesn’t create a new kind of painting without applying paint to canvas.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Marcel Duchamp,Bottlerack (1914/1964)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Found Art • Though the material used is a natural object, as with Picasso’s invention of cubism, using a piece of driftwood, an artist creates a new kind of art, “beach art.” • When the artist makes a piece of beach art (a token), he creates “beach art” (a kind), by creating a type-particular. He cannot create universals, but he newly instantiates a type in creating “beach art.” • “[A]lthough driftwood is not a manufactured thing, when an artist creates […] a piece of “beach art,” he makes a token of that piece of beach art.” (47) • Contra-Glickman, the piece of driftwood on the beach is, itself, not a piece of “beach art.”
Class 4: The Nature of Art The Token-Type Relationship • “We may credit an artist with having created a new type of art; but there are no types of art that are not instantiated by some token-instances or for which we lack a notation by reference to which (as in the performing arts) admissible token-instances of the particular type-work may be generated.” (46) • “[T]hough we may credit the artist with having created the type, the type does not exist except instantiated in its proper tokens.” (46)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Notations: A Special Case • Like Rodin’s Thinker, many works begin life as notations – not an instantiation of the type, itself, but means of creating tokens. • “[The artist] could not create the type unless he made a proper token or, by the courtesy intended in notations and the like, he provided a schema for making proper tokens of a particular type.” (46) • Sculpture molds • Scripts • Sheet music
Class 4: The Nature of Art Notations: A Special Case (cont’d) • We may, by a kind of courtesy, say that an artist who has produced the cast for a set of bronzes has created an artwork-type; but the fact is: (i) he has made a particular cast, and (ii) the cast he’s made is not the work created.” (46)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Summary of Type/Token Peculiarities (i) types and tokens are individuated as particulars (ii) types and tokens are not separable and cannot exist separately from one another (iii) types are instantiated by tokens and “token” is an ellipsis for “token-of-a-type” (iv) types and tokens may be generated and destroyed in the sense that actual tokens of a novel type may be generated, the actual tokens of a given type may be destroyed, and whatever contingencies may be necessary to the generation of actual tokens may be destroyed or disabled
Class 4: The Nature of Art Summary of Type/Token Peculiarities (cont’d) (v) types are actual abstract particulars in the sense only that a set of actual entities may be individuated as tokens of a particular type (vi) it is incoherent to speak of comparing the properties of actual token- and type-particulars as opposed to comparing the properties of actual particular tokens-of-a-type
Class 4: The Nature of Art Tokens and Physical Objects • A piece of driftwood and a token of “beach art” may be visually indistinguishable. • “It is not the case […] that a natural object can be a work of art or that a work can be created though nothing be made.” (47) • Margolis is reacting to theories such as Dickie’s Institutional Theory, Levinson’s Historical Theory, and Weitz’s Wittgensteinian Theory – looking to explain how an artwork differs from the object(s) it is composed of.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Tokens and Physical Objects (cont’d) • A bottlerack is not a token of the art-type, Bottlerack. It existed before the artwork was created from it, and may exist after the artwork is destroyed. The bottlerack and the token of bottlerack may be indiscernible, but there is clearly an ontological difference between them. • “Hence, in spite of appearances, there must be an ontological difference between tokens of artwork-types and such physical objects as bottleracks and driftwood that can serve as the materials of which they are made.” (47-8) • “My own suggestion is that (token) works of art are embodied in physical objects, not identical with them.” (48)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Tokens and Physical Objects (cont’d) • What is meant is saying that one particular is embodied in another is that: (i) the two particulars are not identical (ii) the existence of the embodied particular presupposes the existence of the embodying particular (iii) the embodied particular possesses some of the properties of the embodying particular (iv) the embodied particular possesses properties that the embodying particular does not possess (v) the embodied particular possesses properties of a kind that the embodying particular cannot possess (vi) the individuation of the embodied particular presupposes the individuation of the embodying particular
Class 4: The Nature of Art Summary • “The “is” of embodiment, then, like the “is” of identity and the “is” of composition is a logically distinctive use.” (48) • “[W]orks of art are the products of culturally informed labor and […] physical objects are not. So seen, they must possess properties that physical objects, qua physical objects, do not and cannot possess.” (48)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Summary (cont’d) • “A work of art, then, is a particular. It cannot be a universal because it is created and can be destroyed; also, because it possesses physical and perceptual properties. But it is a peculiar sort of particular, unlike physical bodies, because (i) it can instantiate another particular; and (ii) it can be embodied in another particular. The suggestion that all and only culturally emergent or culturally produced entities exhibits on these traits.” (48) • “In short, every work of art is a token-of-a-type, there are no tokens or types tout court.” (49)
Notation Token Notation Type Class 4: The Nature of Art Embodiment “The Artwork” Physical Objects Token Instantiation Schematic Type Instantiation Abstraction? Art Kind “The Notation”
Class 4: The Nature of Art Questions & Problems • To what degree do we allow differences of the physical sort before having to admit of different types? • Would cubism exist if all cubist paintings have been destroyed? Isn’t Cubism more of a “set” than a “type”? • Does it make sense to say that a painting is a token of a type, and not just a particular, itself?
Class 4: The Nature of Art Noël Carroll: “The Ontology of Mass Art” Thesis: “x is a mass artwork if and only if 1) x is a multiple instance or type artwork 2) produced and distributed by mass technology, 3) which artwork is intentionally designed to gravitate in its structural choices (e.g., its narrative forms, symbolism, intended affect, and even its content) toward those choices that promise accessibility with minimum effort, virtually on first contact, for the largest number of relatively untutored audiences.” (190)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Technology • Mass technologies enhance the powers of production and distribution through the automatization. • The development of mass technology has augured in an era of mass art: artworks incarnated in multiple instances and disseminated widely across space and time. Mass art is probably the most common aesthetic experience for the most number of people.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Mass Art • Distinguished from Popular Art. • Mass Art has historical specificity (depends upon the invention of certain technologies); Popular Art is ahistorical. • Mass Art is designed for purposes of industrialized society. • Mass Art is designed for mass consumption, with audiences divided by great distances. • Mass Art evolves out of Popular Art, as cinema evolves out of Vaudeville.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Mass Art (cont’d) • Not all popular art becomes mass art. • Not all popular art is mass art. • Not all popular art comes (directly) from mass art. • Mass art has at least the potential to command large audiences, even if it is not released to the public. • “[T]hough production and delivery by mass media technologies represents a necessary condition of mass art, it is not sufficient to identify a candidate as a mass artwork, since avant-garde artworks can also be produced and delivered by mass technologies.” (189)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Avant Garde Art • Avant-garde works are not meant for consumption by mass audiences, but to confound them. • Avant-garde works must subvert or, at least, go beyond conventional expectations. • Avant-garde artworks are not designed to be immediately accessible to mass audiences. • “Mass art, in contrast, is designed to be easy, to be readily accessible to the largest number of people possible, with the minimum effort.” (190) • Mass art uses devices that makes it readily accessible.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Hmmm… • “Comic books […] narrate by means of picture. And pictures are symbols whose referents are recognized, all things being equal, immediately and automatically by viewers simply by looking.” (190)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Lowest Common Denominator • “The search for what is massively accessible even tends to influence the choice of content in mass entertainments.” (190) • Mass artworks engage common denominators, a fact that tends to produce negative criticism.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Mass Art, Defined: “x is a mass artwork if and only if 1) x is a multiple instance or type artwork 2) produced and distributed by mass technology, 3) which artwork is intentionally designed to gravitate in its structural choices (e.g., its narrative forms, symbolism, intended affect, and even its content) toward those choices that promise accessibility with minimum effort, virtually on first contact, for the largest number of relatively untutored audiences.” (190)
Class 4: The Nature of Art Multiple Reception Sites • Mass artworks go beyond mere reproducibility, and can be delivered to multiple reception sites simultaneously. • A theatrical performance can only occur in one reception site at a time, where a television show can be broadcast into several rooms in several homes at once. • Not everything with multiple reception sites is art.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Ontology of Mass Art • Film vs. Theater: • Both theater and film performances are tokens of a type, but something subtler is needed to distinguish performance kinds. • Film uses a template to get from type to token; theater uses an interpretation to get from type to token: “Such templates are themselves tokens; each one of them can be destroyed and each one of them can be assigned a special location, though the film-type—Waterworld—cannot. Nor is the negative of the work the film-type. It is one token among others.” (192)
Class 4: The Nature of Art • Film vs. Theater (cont’d) • Templates (like CDs) will reproduce a token exactly; notations (like scripts) will require interpretation. • “[I]n order to present a token performance of a film, we require a template—a film print or a video cassette or a laser disk—which is itself a token of the film-type.” (192) • A mere token doesn’t warrant aesthetic appreciation (though it is how we access the type – and problems with the token can hinder access).
Class 4: The Nature of Art • Film vs. Theater (cont’d) • There are ontological strata in plays, but not in film: “In the best cast, the play, its interpretation, and its performance are integrated, though we recognize that these are discriminable layers of artistry, even if one person writes the play, directs it, and acts in it as well.” (193) • “[I]t strains English usage to call these tokens of The Gift performances; so, it is perhaps better to speak of token instances, or of token reception-instances, rather than of token performances.” (193-4) • Given techniques like daguerreotype and Polaroids, photography may not necessarily be a multiple art form.
Class 4: The Nature of Art Questions & Problems • Recalling Levinson’s arguments regarding revolutionary art, isn’t it likely that avant-garde art is designed for mass consumption so as to confound? Is “confounding” necessarily in opposition to “consumption”? • Are mass artworks simply designed to fulfill our expectations?