Read The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art by Arthur C. Danto Online


Mr. Danto argues that recent developments in the artworld, in particular the production of works of art that cannot be told from ordinary things, make urgent the need for a new theory of art and make plain the factors such a theory can and cannot involve. In the course of constructing such a theory, he seeks to demonstrate the relationship between philosophy and art, as weMr. Danto argues that recent developments in the artworld, in particular the production of works of art that cannot be told from ordinary things, make urgent the need for a new theory of art and make plain the factors such a theory can and cannot involve. In the course of constructing such a theory, he seeks to demonstrate the relationship between philosophy and art, as well as the connections that hold between art and social institutions and art history.The book distinguishes what belongs to artistic theory from what has traditionally been confused with it, namely aesthetic theory and offers as well a systematic account of metaphor, expression, and style, together with an original account of artistic representation. A wealth of examples, drawn especially from recent and contemporary art, illuminate the argument....

Title : The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art
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ISBN : 9780674903463
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 224 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art Reviews

  • Jee Koh
    2018-10-28 19:11

    In this work of philosophy, Danto wishes to define art, and to show why contemporary art, having attained self-consciousness, is asking the same questions as philosophy. His approach throughout the book is to compare artworks with what he calls mere real things, when both are indiscernibly alike. The two classes of things, as he argues, belong to different ontological realms, hence, the title of his book. The artist performs a transfiguration of the commonplace when he makes of his materials a work of art. Danto has been criticized for his belief in duality, underlined by the Christian or Catholic figure of transfiguration, and reiterated throughout the book in his references to the body and the soul. I am not sure if the two ontological realms are as separate as his tropes imply, for his argument proceeds by making nice distinctions between, first, a representation and an object, and, then, between a representation and an artistic representation. If the categories are finally different, they are also procedurally nested in one another.Very roughly, if I understand him rightly, the difference between a representation and an object is that the former is intended. The difference between a representation and an artistic representation is that the latter is artistically intended, meaning, the artist, with his knowledge of the artworld and art history, intends to make a work of art. So Andy Warhol's Brillo Box is a different thing from the Brillo box in the supermarket even though they look indiscernibly the same. In order for the viewer to grasp the artistic intention behind the art work, the viewer must know or come to understand the meanings that the artist infused into the work. The structure of the artwork is thus very close to the structure of a metaphor.So the artwork is constituted as a transfigurative representation rather than a representation tout court, and I think this is true of artworks, when representations, in general, whether this is achieved self-consciously, as in the arch work I have been discussing, or naively, when the artist simply happens to vest his subject with surprising yet penetrating attributes. To understand the artwork is to grasp the metaphor that is, I think, always there. (172)Danto draws out many implications from the last statement, one of which has to do with the limits of art criticism:The first is that if the structure of artworks is, or is very close to the structure of metaphors, then no paraphrase or summary of the artwork can engage the participatory mind in at all the ways that it can; and no critical account of the internal metaphor of the work can substitute for the work inasmuch as the description of a metaphor simply does not have the power of the metaphor it describes, just as a description of a cry of anguish does not activate the same response as the cry of anguish itself. (173)The task of art criticism is not only to interpret the metaphor but to provide the viewer with the necessary information to respond to the artwork, information lost to time or unknown due to place.Criticism then, which consists in interpreting metaphor in this extended sense, cannot be intended as a substitute for the work. Its function rather is to equip the reader or viewer with the information needed to respond to the work's power which, after all, can be lost as concepts change or be inaccessible because of the outward difficulties of the work, which the received cultural equipment is insufficient to accommodate. It is not just, as is so often said, that metaphors go stale; they go dead in a way that sometimes require scholarly resurrection. And it is the great value of such disciplines as the history of art and literature to make such works approachable again. (174)The argument about art leads Danto to expound on a view about man.My view, in brief, is an expansion of the Peircian thesis that "the man is the sum total of his language, because man is a sign. . . . it is not merely what a man represents, but is the way in which he represents it, which has to be invoked to explain the structures of his mind. This way of representing whatever he does represent is what I have in mind by style. If a man is a system of representations, his style is the style of these. The style of a man is, to use the beautiful thought of Schopenhauer, "the physiognomy of the soul."

  • Drenda
    2018-11-19 13:08

    Danto is asking an interesting question in Transfiguration of the Commonplace: what is it that we are responding to when we have an aesthetic experience? He pursues this question by investigating two identical objects, one’s an art object while the other is not. In the history of art, artists have asked similar questions by dragging everyday objects into the museum, think of Duchamp and Warhol, but Danto’s imagined examples make the question even purer. We have three art objects, ( all art object examples are Danto’s) the first a canvas of red rectangles, one next to each other, with the title ”Kierkegaard’s Mood”, because the artist was a fan of the existentialist who commented that all the turmoil of his agonized soul filtered down into a mood, a single color. The next is a canvas of red rectangles, and in fact looks exactly like the first, but this artist was from Moscow, and in calling his painting “Red Square”, produced an abstract landscape of his native city. The third art object appears indistinguishable from the other two, but this artist has read Indian philosophy and knows that the Samsara world is fondly called Red Dust in certain quarters, and it has the title “Nirvana”. Then there is the canvas in our garage since my high school art class, that I primed with red paint but never committed to painting. While this last looks exactly like the other three, it is not an art object, just a thing in the world. These examples nicely make the point that an art work is what it is because of the traditions surrounding it, what the world was like around it, all this knowledge building to our attitude toward it. How much difference does the object itself make? If we carry this example far enough, it makes no difference at all. One of the first thoughts one might have after this sort of exercise is ‘but is this not relevant only to modern, non-representational art?’ Danto would say no, that no art is truly ‘realistic’ in its depiction, being no mirror image of a thing in the world. He would say that anything that was ever considered art was embedded in the viewpoints and possibilities of its time: a portrait always says more about the artist and his milieu than the sitter. Moreover, Danto would maintain that all art, representational or not, has been tending this way since before, but especially since, the time when a main theme of art became the investigation of itself, what some would call the onset of Modernism. The point is that Danto’s thrust is not to in anyway limit the contributions of artists in producing these infinitely interesting and manipulated art objects; the question becomes one of what the object needs to be, at a minimum, to be an art object. One of the essential statements in Transfiguration is to the effect that one must know that something is art before you can respond to it as art. What is this saying? I believe his intention is grasped when, after laying the appropriate groundwork, he supplies this definition of an artwork: ‘works of art, in categorical contrast with mere representations, use the means of representation in a way that is not exhaustively specified when one has exhaustively specified what is being represented.‘ (p. 147). The way I translate this statement is to say that once you have said everything that could be said in everyday, non-aesthetic discourse about the art object, it is still not fixed by such language, that no one who enjoys the art object finds it described by such language. In order to adequately convey what the art object presents, one must learn when to drop everyday language and adopt the language of the art world.Danto gives us a very good example of such language in the use of the word ‘powerful’ when describing a canvas, say, a powerful painting of flowers. I think of Redon. One would never say of an actual flower that it was powerful but a picture of a flower can be. Consider a youngster from a rural background with a relative who wishes to introduce him to the city. When taken to the museum, the child can only supply the language of everyday objects to the artwork, and the only pictures to which he can apply the word powerful are those with imposing contents: Titians, battle scenes, Hudson River School waterfalls. But slowly, after many examples supplied by his aunt, the youngster learns that pictures of nonspectacular things can be powerful, things like a wilted flower. When he stands in front of an object, he is beginning to be able to choose which language to use; another way to say it, whether to use an aesthetic attitude or an everyday attitude. Danto has a great deal of regard for Andy Warhol-his latest book being entirely about that artist-and he has described how he experienced something of an epiphany when first viewing Brillo Boxes. These look, of course, exactly like the boxes in the cleaning section of our local supermarket. Needless to say, many influences and conditions attributed to Warhol’s productions: he came from a commercial art background and took (either ironically or not) glee in popular culture. Indeed, Danto tells us that Warhol truly liked Campbell soups. But whether Warhol was conscious of it or not, Danto suggests that he helped to make art and philosophy conscious that the art object could be whatever the artist wished to make use of, because it is how the art world receives it that makes that production an artwork. The term “art world” is defined as those who have been educated to interpret art. Reading Danto was made especially interesting by having read The Sovereignty of Art by Christoph Menke not long before. Certainly, the two books share many basic premises, the autonomy of art from everyday discourse being the most basic. Beyond that, they share the belief that the aesthetic response “ targets the status of an object rather than its features”.(Menke, p. 228 ) Since the aesthetic response is an attitude not dependent on the features of the object, Menke builds to the possibility of transferring that aesthetic attitude to other arenas, to other discourses. Danto does not appear to share this concern but builds, instead, to the sense of equalitarianism that results from placing the emphasis on aesthetic experience rather than aesthetic production. Anyone who wants to put the work into learning the language of art shares in its power. It does not depend on talents or any other gift but the ability to learn. In this there is some irony, as an essay by Danto provided the fodder for what is termed the Institutional Theory of Art. Roughly stated, this argues that anything is art that museum directors and academics say it is, the job for the rest of us to supply the adulation. However, Danto’s point is much more extreme than this. He is talking about the differences between worlds rather than institutions and might be summarized with a point made by Wittgenstein: you can’t have a private language and you can’t have a private world, art world included. Gaining entrance to the art world demands socialization into its form of life, into a new language. Moreover, to a unique form of life, the only one that allows and perhaps encourages semantic deferral. Supposing that I have provided at least a minimally satisfactory description of Danto’s book, I can feel sympathy with a reader who might suggest that the elitism of the Institutional theory is only expanded here to include anyone who has been educated enough in the great Western tradition to participate in its thought. And is not that tradition mostly created by, and based on the assumptions of, white males with enough socio-economic ease to produce the canon? Any critic who relies a great deal on that canon, Harold Bloom being an obvious example, might be open to outsider criticism without the concession that the features of the art object, which the tradition has polished and analyzed to ultimate refinement, is yet not the basis of its status as an art object. If, in the last analysis, the result of aesthetic responding is an attitude, a stance, then the features that helped to produce that stance can be rejected. This makes it ppossible, for example, that many feminists were produced by absorbing male dominated literature. These same works, however, could encourage sexist rigidity in any reader fixated on its content. Danto's art object is one that can transcend its production, its course determined by its reception, and we, it readers, listeners, receivers, responsible for what that means.

  • Dora
    2018-10-21 18:51

    I think it goes without saying that this is one of the capital works in the field of the theory of art. However, what I found most valuable were the examples Danto provides in his unique, creative yet extremely logical and well-founded manner. By concentrating on several controversial artworks and giving a philosophical background, he challenges the definition of art but also provides acceptable alternatives. And he manages to do all of this in an entertaining way!

  • Kristina
    2018-10-25 19:12

    A classic. I love this book! I picked it up again recently because I was teaching a small section to my class, but I couldn't stop reading...

  • Dec Lloyd
    2018-10-31 16:03

    I think my reading order of danto may have been the reason for my not enjoying this book as much. but nevertheless I feel his concepts are a little too drawn out and repetitive, though occasionally you stumble across a belter that makes it worth the wait which is why I keep reading his work (that and I'm obligated by my area of study)

  • Ann Michael
    2018-10-24 13:57

    I was not, I admit, expecting to enjoy this book but just to learn from it. Danto, however, is a surprisingly entertaining philosophical writer. I love that he takes his title from a fictional book (from Muriel Sparks' The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie). As a philosophy of Art, Danto's theories work quite well as a groundwork for thinking about what art "is" or may be, and what it is not, and where the difficulties lie in discerning between those purported opposites. My favorite chapters are 4 and 5, on the aesthetics, work, interpretation, and identification of art. Danto combines common sense with high-flown and historical philosophical ideas about art, and I would cite his work as a kind of take-down for deconstructionist theories.While some of his contemporary examples (humorous and relevant) are dated, heavily using 1960s and 1970s pop culture and artworld commentary and examples...well, I am of that era, and those worked for me. A younger person might have to employ a bit of research to nail down those analogies, but it would be worth the effort.Much food for thought here, for those who spend mental energy on intellectual ideas about being, art, and expression.

  • Harvey
    2018-11-16 13:57

    - Duchamp was the first to perform the subtle miracle of transforming, into works of art, objects from commonplace existance (a bicycle wheel, a pipe, a urinal, etc) and Warhol was probably the best known (his Brillo Boxes for example) but artists such as these (and hundreds like them, and inspired by them) have made the art world revisit the age-old adage "What is art?" - Danto is a brilliant academic (Art Critic for The Nation Magazine, Professor of Philosophy/Art/History), and I don't for a second pretend to fully understand every one of his Mathematical Art/Philosophical Art/Conceptual Art/Social Art theories, but I honestly enjoyed this book, although it was challenging at times.- I thought it was fascinating.

  • Lauren Albert
    2018-10-19 17:47

    A wonderful book. My copy is now peppered with post-it flags. I wish I had a Kindle copy so that I could easily copy quotes. Anyway, whether you agree or disagree with Danto, his discussions of what makes art, art are smart and comprehensive. He is also that rare thing--a philosopher who gives examples! He brings abstractions about art down-to-earth using real or hypothetical examples. There are definitely more difficult parts but I found it a lot more readable than most contemporary philosophy. 8/09

  • Andreas Antoniou
    2018-10-20 14:06

    A good book about art (Danto emphasizes on visual arts), from the view of analytic philosophy. It has some very interesting arguments about the questions of imitation in art or the cognitive power of the work of art. The only thing that really didn't like is that the book is so dedicated to clarify the details of the relation between knowledge and art, that it forgets to include the aesthetic part of it. Considering the fact that art is a primary aesthetic phaenomenon, the book fails (in my opinion) to deliver a convincing answer about what makes a commonplace item, a piece of art.

  • Michael
    2018-10-20 16:04

    Danto is a great explainer of art. I recently started teaching an Art Appreciation class at ITT for our Multimedia/Visual Communications students, and I was surprised at how much of Danto's understanding and approach to art have been incorporated into my fundamental understanding of how to look at and understand art.

  • Lynn
    2018-10-28 17:47

    Eek. I need a dictionary and a notebook for this one but Danto articulates and defends his philosophy of art very concisely. More to come but it might take a while. Although thin, this one is hefty...

  • Damion
    2018-11-16 11:45

    The fundamental question this book addresses is "What is art?" Danto provides a few answers, but leaves the field open for interpretation. I expected to be infuriated by his ideas but ended up completely devoted. Any book that makes you want to make is a good one.

  • Jess
    2018-11-16 13:57

    I find Danto's theories to be, at times, problematic, but he is an engaging writer (something of a rarity amongst most art philosophers these days, I find) and although I initially borrowed this for what proved to be a rather tiresome essay, I enjoyed reading it.

  • Luke Echo
    2018-11-07 14:05

    hmmm.. i'm not sure I agree with Danto.

  • Ryder
    2018-11-17 17:15

    The first art philosophy book I read that seemed to make sense.

  • Ryan
    2018-10-27 18:55

    I had an Aesthetics course this semester past, and though this text mis-translates a Borges story, it still manages to be very good. (Wow, this shows just how long ago I've looked at this site.)

  • gabrielle
    2018-11-05 15:52

    I think his theory leaves a lot to be desired, and has several holes. But, overall, it is a good read and fairly entertaining.

  • John Herman
    2018-10-30 15:58

    Revolutionary book. Philsosophy finally caught up with 20th century art.