Art, Intention, and Everyday Psychology

Nonsite 1 (32) (2020)
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Responding to a set of essays by Walter Benn Michaels, this paper argues that we can solve some interesting puzzles about intention in photography without the need for any fancy Anscombian footwork. Three distinctions are enough to do the job. First, with Alexander Nehamas, we should separate the empirical photographer from the postulated artist. Next we should mark off generic intentions (such as the intention to make a work of art) from specific intentions (such as the intention to critique capitalism). And finally we should draw a line between intention at time of conception and intention at time of display. A good interpretation, then, will attribute *specific* intentions to the *postulated* artist at the time of *display*. Problem solved? The postulated author of this essay thought so, at least, at the moment when he hit "send."

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Joshua Landy
Stanford University


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