The Very Idea of Art

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Abstract
Donald Preziosi, an influential modern voice in art history, argues that his discipline has proved ‘particularly effective in naturalizing and validating the very idea of art as a “universal” human phenomenon’. If this claim is true, it would mean, in my view, that art history has done a serious disservice to our modern understanding of art. For as the French art theorist, André Malraux, points out, the idea of art is definitely not a universal human phenomenon, there being ample evidence that the vast majority of cultures throughout history, have not regarded their painting, sculpture, poetry, and music as ‘art’. Today, of course, we willingly regard many works from non-European and early cultures as art and welcome them into art museums, but this is a recent development, barely more than a century old. This paper examines certain major issues arising from this situation, including: when and why the idea of art arose; the radical change in the word’s meaning that occurred after Manet; how this change led to the inclusion of many non-European and ancient works in our modern world of art; and the inadequate responses to these developments by modern philosophers of art and art historians.
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First archival date: 2022-07-31
Latest version: 2 (2022-07-31)
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