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Historical (Art Regard) Theory of Art







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The historical theory argues that something can only be regarded as an artwork if it is intended to support some well- precedented "art regard". This requires some explanation.
In his "Philosophy of Art", Noel Carroll writes in explanation of the theory:
"We call the Neolithic tribesman's stones art because they are intended to promote visual pleasure; we call the German Expressionist's paintings art because they are intended to promote visual disgust. The intentions couldn't appear more different. And yet there is a common thread that runs between them: in both cases, the intentions have through the course of history been acknowledged as artistically relevant intentions. That is, making artifacts with the intention that they be regarded as sources of visual pleasure or as sources of visual disgust both traffic in what the Historical Definition of Art calls well-precedented art regards - ways of regarding something as art.
Many different art regards have emerged in the course of history, including: regarding an artifact as an expression of feeling, as a representation, as a display of form, as an articulation of cultural ideals, as a reflection upon the nature of art, and so on. According to the Historical Definition of Art, something is an artwork only if it is intended to support some well-precedented art regard."
Noel Carroll goes on to explain that this is called a historical definition of art because it connects candidates for the status of art to the history of art. It is put forward that this theory "unifies our concept of art" because "all artworks are related to each other historically in the sense that they all share some or other intended, well-precedented art regard."

It is also required that the artist "intend the art regard in question nonpassingly. This means that the intention must be fairly serious, long-lived and deliberate."

There is yet more to the theory. As well as requiring that an artifact be intended nonpassingly for a well-precedented form of art regard, the definition also requires "that the artist must have a proprietary right over the object in question." The point of this is to avoid certain kinds of found objects being classified as art. Noel Carroll cites the example of Duchamp's attempt to appropriate the Woolworth Building as a readymade. According to the Historical Definition of Art, this was an invalid attempt because Duchamp did not own the Woolworth Building.

Noel Carroll makes the following points, amongst many others, about the theory :

1 It is a comprehensive definition. "It is hard to imagine any work of art that is intended to support no well-precedented art regard at all." Duchamp's Fountain for example may not afford visual pleasure but could still be found amusing.

2 The proprietary condition is not without problems since it would have some strange consequences:
"To say that the same configuration when painted on a canvas that Picasso happened to own is art, but when painted on the side of a subway car, it is not art, sounds completely arbitrary."
3 There are problems with the art regard condition as well. First, art regards can cease to be valid. For example it was once a valid art regard for artists to create a likeness in their portraits. Following the advent of photography
"the simple appreciation of an image for it's perceptual verisimilitude-alone is no longer quite as decisive as it was even one hundred years ago. Thus the many thousands, maybe millions of amateur snapshots and videotapes intended to promote this regard are not art, But the Historical Definition must count them as such, since the intention to promote an appreciation of perceptual verisimilitude once was an intention to promote a living art regard. But isn't this too broad a theory of art?"
A second problem with the art regard condition is illustrated by another superb example from Noel Carroll:
"...George paints his house with utmost deliberation, choosing paint that will capture the light nicely, and maybe adding a trim to set off or accentuate the color. He has a nonpassing intention that his house afford onlookers visual pleasure. Since this is a well- precedented art regard, according to the Historical Definition of Art, his house is an artwork. Again the consequence is that your average-sized suburban village is likely to contain as much art as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Moreover it is easy to see where examples like these are headed. The Historical Definition is far too broad."
Noel Carroll concludes that the Historical Definition theory is therefore controversial and the burden of proof rests with those who support it. I agree entirely.

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