Being art - a study in ontology

Abstract

I present and defend a two-category ontology of art. The basic idea of it is that singular artworks are physical objects, whereas multiple artworks are types of which there can be tokens in the form of performances, copies, or other kinds of realisations. I argue that multiple artworks, despite being abstract objects, have a temporal extension, thus they are created at a certain point of time and can also drop out of existence again under certain conditions. They can, however, not be perceived by the senses and cannot enter into causal relations. The identity of an artwork is determined by its structural properties, but also by the context in which it was made. The essential contextual properties of an artwork are those that are relevant to the meaning of the work. A realisation of a multiple artwork has to comply with the structure of the work and has to stand in the correct intentional and/or causal-historical relation to the work. Realisations that diverge too much from the structure of the work, like translations of literary works, are what I call “derivative artworks”. I argue against the thesis that all artworks are multiple. I claim that there are singular artworks, and some of them are even necessarily singular. I show why certain standard arguments against the idea that all artworks can be realised multiple times are flawed, and present my own theory about what decides whether a work is singular or multiple, namely that successful intentions of the artist determine which category an artwork belongs to. Concerning singular artworks, I also investigate what the relation between the work and the matter it is made of is, and how a work can survive a change in its parts and still remain the same work.

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