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  • Art, Mind, and Intention
  • Noël Carroll
Art and Intention: A Philosophical Study, by Paisley Livingston ; 266 pp. oxford: oxford University Press, 2005, $74.00, $35.00 paper.

The relevance of intention to the philosophy of art was perhaps first made explicit by G.W.F. Hegel who, in his monumental The Philosophy of Fine Art, narrowed the domain of aesthetics to art on the grounds that the beauty that pertains to art is the product of mind. Though Hegel does not single out intention as the aspect of mind that impresses him, his definition of fine art in terms of that which possesses an aim that imbues the pertinent art with content makes it probable that what he is talking about is intention. Since Hegel's day, but maybe most especially in the last three decades, philosophers of art have relied upon the notion of intention to attempt to solve many of the recurring problems of their field, including not only issues involving art status, but those involving authorship, interpretation, and fictional truth, among others. In Art and Intention: A Philosophical Study, Paisley Livingston has performed the very valuable service of corralling a substantial number of topics regarding the intersection of art and intention between the covers of one book.

Although there are books devoted to exploring the relation of art and intention with respect to specific topics, most notably interpretation, there is, to my knowledge, no other book like Livingston's that surveys such a diversity of issues concerning the nexus of intention and the [End Page 394] philosophy of art. Thus, Art and Intention should be a welcome addition to the library of any aesthetician.

Art and Intention comprises seven chapters. The first chapter, reasonably enough, involves a discussion of what it is to be an intention. For Livingston, who follows the action theorist Alfred Mele quite closely, an intention standardly consists of a propositional attitude in addition to a propositional content toward which said attitude is directed. The propositional attitude is executive in nature—that is, where x is the content, the intender is firmly settled upon or committed to perform x, or, at least, to try to perform x. The propositional content of an intention, in turn, is what Livingston calls a plan. An intention then is an executive attitude towards plans.

I am a bit unhappy with this formulation, since I worry that it may be somewhat misleading. To my ear, the word plan insinuates the idea of a formulated method, whereas many intentional actions, including those of artists, are scarcely worked out beforehand but emerge instead in the heat of doing things. Livingston is aware of this and appears to require no more of plans in his sense than that they involve at least a rudimentary grasp of the means for carrying off the purposes at hand. This seems right to me, but it still strikes me as strained to call this sort of procedural knowledge a plan.

When Jasper Johns denies that he plans to make a picture in a certain way, but rather only follows a thought that pulls in a certain direction, he does not mean to disagree with Livingston, though his choice of words seems at odds with Livingston's.1 For Johns's, like many others, plan means a precise formulation, whereas for the action theorist it is a technical term of art with broader signification. Nevertheless, since the word still retains its ordinary meaning, the possibility for confusion here is rife. So, perhaps another word can be found or, maybe, coined.

Chapter 2 concerns intention and the creation of art. Livingston spends the first part of the chapter fending off counterexamples, like automatic writing, that might be adduced to challenge the claim that artworks require intentions. I am very sympathetic with his treatment of the examples he canvasses. However, I would be curious to hear what he would say about a case that I've heard described of a show at MOMA several decades back where images culled from surveillance cameras, operating automatically, were exhibited.2 These specific images were not produced intentionally by anyone. But aren't they art? Perhaps the curators will be assigned the...


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