Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Barry G. Allen
The question about the nature of art is at the centre of the philosophy of art. The thesis seeks to replace the two dominant approaches to this question in contemporary English-speaking philosophy--essentialism and descriptivism--with an historicist approach. The historicist approach I develop and defend holds that answers to the question "What is Art?" must take the form of localized cultural-historical narratives. This alternative approach is applied to write the history of the development of what I call "the modern conception of art" in the early eighteenth century. A changing notion of art that emerges in Britain in this period is decisive for all later philosophy of art. Its genesis must be understood in a context of social, political and cultural changes. These changes deeply affected many people's conception of themselves and of their place in society. Social status becomes uncertain, and new criteria for the presentation of the self and evaluation of others emerge. Knowledge about art and the display of taste become indicators of social distinctions and thus criteria for social evaluation, replacing older notions of birth and rank. The modern conception of art emerges as part of new ideas of the presentation of the self, as part of a new ideal of edification. In contemporary philosophy of art, the evaluative contents of the conception of art--its historical and contemporary connection to notions of the moral and social order--are seldom discussed. Yet, as I show, these connections exist and have existed for a long time. At the centre of contemporary philosophy of art, therefore, there is a conception of art which is ideological in the sense that it treats the normative as factual and the historically contingent as the natural. Only a historical analysis of the kind I carry out is able to bring to light this aspect of the conception of art presupposed in contemporary philosophy of art.
Mortensen, Preben, "The development of the modern conception of art in Britain in the eighteenth century, and its significance for contemporary philosophy of art" (1992). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3624.