Critical Notice of James O. Young, Art and Knowledge

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 33 (4):575-598 (2003)

Abstract

In his Art and Knowledge, the distinguished Canadian philosopher of art, James O. Young, takes on the daunting task of defending his opening claim that ‘every item properly classified as a work of art can contribute to human knowledge’. His assertion is a general one, intended to apply to any and every prospective artwork, not merely to sub-genres like the moral novel or the ‘Shock-Headed Peter’ school of didactic bedtime terror-fest. Thus, according to Young, works such as The Well-Tempered Clavier and Vermeer’s Officer and Laughing Girl do not qualify as art unless they can provide knowledge about topics that are important to us as human beings. A work does not become artworthy by inspiring us to meditate, ruminate, or reflect unless the work also leads us to true beliefs that are, in some sense, justified. Furthermore, it’s not enough for a work to provide knowledge about, say, abstruse issues in eighteenth-century counterpoint or the cult of painterly flatness; to count as art, a work must, in some way, supply answers to questions that are important to us as human beings living in the world. Young also argues that artworks have their own method of conveying knowledge. Hence, he buttresses his cognitive definition of art with an epistemology of art.

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Carl Alan Matheson
University of Manitoba

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