Artworks as historical individuals

European Journal of Philosophy 11 (2):177–205 (2003)
Abstract
In 1907, Alfred Stieglitz took what was to become one of his signature photographs, The Steerage. Stieglitz stood at the rear of the ocean liner Kaiser Wilhelm II and photographed the decks, first-class passengers above and steerage passengers below, carefully exposing the film to their reflected light. Later, in the darkroom, Stieglitz developed this film and made a number of prints from the resulting negative. The photograph is a familiar one, an enduring piece of social commentary, but what exactly is The Steerage which Stieglitz has given us? It is clearer what The Steerage is not. It is distinct from each of its prints and from its negative. These may be dusty or torn without The Steerage being so, and any one of these could be destroyed without thereby destroying The Steerage itself. Nor is The Steerage the set of its prints. The set could not have had different members, while The Steerage could have had more, fewer, or different prints.1 Similar reasoning rules out the mereological sum of parts of its actual prints, for The Steerage’s prints might not have comprised just these parts. We are left with a puzzle, what sort of thing is a photograph? This puzzle is not unique to photography. Similar reasoning generates an analogous puzzle for any repeatable work of art. Novels, poems, plays, symphonies, songs, and the rest share an ontological predicament and create a 1 general puzzle concerning the ontological status of repeatable works of art. It is widely held that the puzzle has an equally general solution, one which I will argue fails for systematic reasons. Although my target here is the supposed solution to the general problem, photography will remain the central case under scrutiny. I offer it as a model for our thinking about the wider class in order to reap the benefits of thinking in terms of concrete cases. Although this risks a trade-off with the generality of my conclusions—there are important differences of detail between the cases—I hope it is clear that the considerations I appeal to in photography are not idiosyncratic but shared by the wider class..
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Citations of this work BETA
John Dilworth (2007). In Support of Content Theories of Art. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 85 (1):19 – 39.
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