History and Theory 43 (1):1–17 (2004)
This article is presented in two parts. In part I, I call into question the viability of a currently received opinion about the foundations of the subject called “Art History,” primarily by challenging assumptions that are implicit in conventional uses of the terms “art” and “work of art.” It is widely supposed that works of art are items of a kind, that this kind is the bearer of the name “art,” and that it has a history. In part II, I propose to correct this error by using the word “art” in a presently unconventional—although not unprecedented—way. The proposal relies upon a concept of cultural evolution running intellectually parallel to a Darwinian account of genetic evolution. The thesis has strong metaphysically realist implications, relating cultural evolution to what can be said and done and can properly be seen to have a history only in a universe to which real regularities are attributed. The recommended use of the term “art” is secured upon an estimate of the role of memetic innovation as radically pervasive, embracing all thought and action. “Art,” understood in the suggested way, becomes the name of a category, which has no history as kinds have histories
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