- Introduction to the Symposium on Christy Mag Uidhir’s Art and Art-Attempts
Christy Mag Uidhir’s Art and Art-Attempts begins from two deceptively simple observations: artworks are the product of intentions, and intentions are the kinds of things that can fail to be realized successfully.1 Drawing on these observations, he argues that most contemporary theories of art must be rejected because they are not substantively intention-dependent: that is, they do not account for the fact that an attempt to make an artwork can fail.
From his view that artworks must be the product of art-attempts that are subject to failure, Mag Uidhir derives implications for many domains in the philosophy of art. He argues (in Chapter 4) that artworks cannot be abstract objects, since abstract objects cannot participate in causal relations and thus cannot be the product of art attempts: one cannot coherently intend or attempt to create something that exists eternally. Things that we think of as repeatable artworks, then, cannot be abstract types: instead, Mag Uidhir proposes (in Chapter 5), every artwork is concrete, but some are tied together by a relation of relevant similarity. We call many performances “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” not because they are all instances of an abstract type but because they are all relevantly similar to each other in ways that connect to a successful art-attempt made by nina Simone.
When it comes to authorship, Mag Uidhir’s view implies (as discussed in Chapter 2) that not everyone involved in artwork production is an author of the work: an author must be a “source of the intentions directing the activities constitutive of the successful art-attempt of which that particular artwork is the product.”2 Someone who prints a copy of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things creates that concrete novel but does not thereby become its author, since Roy’s intentions, not the printer’s, drove the successful art-attempt that gave the novel its artistic features.
Mag Uidhir’s view also has implications for artforms. Painting is an artform, Mag Uidhir argues (in Chapter 3), because something can satisfy the criteria for being an artwork just by satisfying the criteria for being a painting. The same is true of novels and symphonies. however, it does not appear to be true that something can satisfy the criteria for being an artwork [End Page 1] just by satisfying the criteria for being a photograph: most photographs are not artworks, and it seems that, for any photograph to count as an artwork, additional criteria (not internal to photography) would need to be satisfied. Mag Uidhir concludes that, though there may be artworks that are photographs, photography itself is not an artform.3
In this symposium, Mag Uidhir replies to three critics: David Davies, Sherri Irvin, and Keith Lehrer. All three critics examine the relevant similarity relation that Mag Uidhir proposes to account for artworks that we treat as repeatable, while also considering a variety of other issues. After giving an overview of Mag Uidhir’s central argument, Davies considers Mag Uidhir’s claim that Jerrold Levinson’s historical definition of art, despite the central role it accords to the artist’s intentions, is not substantively intention-dependent and should thus be rejected.4 Levinson’s view is that, to make art, an artist must intend her product to be regarded in the same way that one or more earlier artworks were correctly regarded. Mag Uidhir notes that, on this view, simply having the intention is sufficient to make art; since there is no requirement of uptake by the audience, there is no way such an intention can fail. Since substantive intention-dependence requires the possibility of failure, Mag Uidhir suggests, Levinson’s view is not substantively intention-dependent. Drawing on an analogy with lying, Davies argues that Mag Uidhir’s requirement of substantive intention-dependence is too stringent: Levinsonian artworks are still subject to failure in an important sense, since the audience may not regard them in the way the artist intends. This form of failure, Davies suggests, is all that should be required to make Levinson’s view substantively intention-dependent...