Contextualism, art, and rigidity: Levinson, Currie and Davies [Book Review]

Acta Analytica 20 (4):53-63 (2005)
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The topic of this paper is the role played by context in art. In this regard I examine three theories linked to the names of J. Levinson, G. Currie and D. Davies. Levinson’s arguments undermine the structural theory. He finds it objectionable because it makes the individuation of artworks independent of their histories. Secondly, such a consequence is unacceptable because it fails to recognise that works are created rather than discovered. But, if certain general features of provenance are always work-constitutive, as it seems that Levinson is willing to claim, these features must always be essential properties of works. On the other hand, consideration of our modal practice suggests that whether a given general feature of provenance is essential or non-essential depends upon the particular work in question or is “work relative”. D. Davies builds his performance theory on the basis of the critical evaluation of Currie’s action-type hypotheses (ATH). Performances, says Davies, are not to be identified with “basic actions” to which their times belong essentially, but with “doings” that permit of the sorts of variation in modal properties required by the work-relativity of modality. He is also a fierce critic of the contextualist account. Contextualism is in his view unable to reflect the fact that aspects of provenance bear upon our modal judgements with variable force. In the second part of the paper I consider Davies’s “modality principle”. Davies is inclined to defend the claim that labels used for designation of works are rigid designators. Such a view offers a ground for discussion about the historicity of art. What has been meant when people claim that art is an historical concept? I argue that any historical theory implies a two-dimensional notion of “art”. At the end of the paper I suggest that Davies should embrace the theory of contingent identity and not the colocationist view about the relationship that exists between a particular artwork and its physical bearer.



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Citations of this work

"¿Qué son las obras de arte? Las propuestas de los teóricos de la acción".Elisa Caldarola - 2021 - In Leopoldo La Rubia, Nemesio García Carril Puy & Francisco Larubia Y. Prado (eds.), Teorías contemporáneas del arte y la literatura. Madrid: Tecnos.

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References found in this work

Contingent identity.Allan Gibbard - 1975 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 4 (2):187-222.
Material Constitution: A Reader.Michael Cannon Rea (ed.) - 1997 - Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Art as Performance.Dave Davies - 2003 - Wiley-Blackwell.
An ontology of art.Gregory Currie - 1989 - New York: St. Martin's Press.

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