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Reviews161 An Ontofogy ofArt, by Gregory Currie; xii & 143 pp. London : Macmillan, 1989, £29.50. This book is an inquiry into the nature and status of works of art. Both the style and the goals are in the purest analytical tradition. Currie argues for the "plausible hypothesis" that works ofart are action types and the notion ofaction which he uses is that which derives from the work ofJaegwon Kim. On this view, all works of art are performances which result in discoveries of structures by individuals via certain heuristic paths at particular times. The two elements used to differentiate particular works of art are the structures which are discovered and the heuristic path which is followed by the individual who does the discovering. Neither the individual nor the time of the performance are supposed to be essential to the identity of a particular work of art. Thus, if Cassandra Austen had discovered the sequence of words which make up the structure which is an essential component of Emma and if she had done it at a slightly earlier time than that at which Jane Austen discovered the same structure, then, provided only that she followed the same heuristic path, Cassandra Austen's action would have been a token of the same action type as Jane's. And the work of art would be one and the same in the two cases. It is fairly clear that there will be very few instances where action types of this kind have more than one token. This follows direcdy from the requirements that the structure be discovered by the same heuristic path. This means that all the same influences must prevail, the same models be used and to the same degree, the same sets of social and political restraints be operative, and so on. Currie claims that one of the chief virtues of his theory is that it allows all works of art to have multiple instances, in principle, though this will be very difficult in practice. Within the analytical tradition, the raising and answering of questions about "what there is" are usually done in the context of examining the adequacy of a theory purporting to explain some "facts," which are, for these purposes, "given." In this context, the "given" against which the adequacy ofthe ontological answers are tested is facts about "our" aesthetic appreciation of works of art. Currie does not address the question of who "we" are, but "we" are easily recognizable. "We" belong to a Western post-Enlightenment tradition in which originality, skill, and individual achievement are highly valued and where the work of art is essentially an aesthetic object. By this, I mean that all its aesthetic properties and value must be seen as depending on properties which make it the kind of thing that it is. Currie betrays no awareness that this is not the only tradition of aesthetic appreciation nor that this tradition is currendy the focus of radical criticism within academic circles, particularly those most concerned with the theory and practice of the arts. 162Philosophy and Literature The only opposing view that Currie considers is one which is within the tradition, but opposed to the more romantic aspects of it. This view is that of the formalist who thinks that the proper bearer of aesthetic properties and value, and thus the proper object of aesthetic appreciation, is the structure. Currie calls this view "empiricist." He argues that the structure which is essential to any work is never, by itself, the bearer ofany aesthetic properties and value. This is very extreme and I do not think that he establishes his case. It is true that within the tradition from which he speaks there are many aesthetic properties ascribed to works which cannot be properties of a structure treated as an isolated and autonomous system. Properties such as "visionary," "Liszt-inspired ," "dynamic," "skillfully executed," and perhaps even expressive properties such as "joyful" or "sad" (which he does not mention), relate the structures to other works of art or to features of a social context. However, it is difficult to see why anyone who was not already in the grip of a theory would find it plausible to claim that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 161-162
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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