Doing Without Art


In recent years, the idea of the “aesthetic” seems to have gathered a surprising new credibility and force. This essay resists this trend, maintaining that there are no features that are unique to artworks, nor any single feature that all artworks possess. This does not countermand the study of particular features of particular art forms, or necessarily cast doubt that these particular features or art forms might have particular kinds of value. But it does suggest that there is exactly nothing about art qua art that is available for investigation by what calls itself aesthetics. This essay considers first of all the function that the idea of art serves, as a placeholder for the possibility of a Great Good Thing, or of a good that is good in itself. It then suggests that doing without art will best be accomplished, not by rigorous critique of the idea of art, but by a withering of interest in the idea of the aesthetic. Finally, it proposes that doing without the idea of art will help open us to the many contingent forms of value to be found in many different aspects of life.