Exercise 1.3 Art and Other Things

In what sense could the following be works of art?
1. A Dyson vacuum cleaner
2. Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland
3. The Nazca lines

To answer each of these questions I rely primarily on the 1974 essay by George Dickie, What Is Art? An Institutional Analysis [1], and refer to Arthur C. Danto’s  1964 essay The Artworld [2] where needed.

Dickie explains that there are ‘at least three distinct senses of “work of art”:

  • primary or classificatory sense – ‘indicates that a thing belongs to a certain category of artifacts’;
  • secondary or derivative sense – ‘if the [object] shared a number of properties with some paradigm work of art’ – e.g. a piece of driftwood which looks like Brancusi’s Bird in Space; and
  • evaluative sense – ‘the shared properties were found to be valuable by the speaker’ (the speaker being the person who is declaring something a work of art) – e.g.  “Sally’s cake is a work of art”.

When it comes to evaluating whether something is a work of art in the primary or classificatory sense, I use Dickie’s definition of “work of art”:

‘A work of art in the classificatory sense is (1) an artifact (2) a set of the aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld).’

Dyson vacuum cleaner

A Dyson vacuum cleaner is a mass produced consumer item – millions have been produced by the Dyson factory.  The question here is, can one of these millions of items be considered a work of art?

To explore the classificatory sense I turn to Dickie’s definition of a “work of art”. The Dyson is an artifact – it has been created by humans (or maybe a robot under human control), so number (1) in the definition is satisfied.   In examining point (2) of the definition we need to determine whether it’s an item which can be appreciated which, in Dickie’s terms’, is something like “in experiencing the qualities of a thing one finds them worthy or valuable” and to paraphrase Dickie, he does in fact say that he thinks all objects have some aspects which can be appreciated, so the Dyson is indeed a candidate for appreciation.  Now all it takes is for someone in the artworld to propose it as candidate for appreciation for it to become a work of art in the classificatory sense.  It is a similar proposition to the art of Duchamp and his “readymades” when he exhibited a bottle rack, a snow shovel and a urinal as art.

To explore the derivative sense, I’m not sure this sense applies.  The Dyson in the photograph has a rather organic form and perhaps it could share the same qualities as some other work of art, but I’m not convinced I can reach a conclusion as to its derivative sense.

In an evaluative sense, it is very possible that someone in the world has had, or will have, an opinion that the Dyson is a work of art, due to the aesthetics of its organic form and use of transparent and coloured opaque materials which, at it’s launch, was a radical departure from the design of traditional vacuum cleaners.


Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland

The method used by Tenniel to create the illustrations are detailed on the web site Alice-in-wonderland.net [5]:

‘According to Rodney Engen, Tenniel’s biographer, his method for creating the illustrations of the Alice books was the same as the method he used for Punch, namely preliminary pencil drawings, further drawings in ‘ink and Chinese white’ to simulate the wood engraver’s line, then transference to the wood-block by the use of tracing paper. Then the drawings were engraved to the highest standards, in this instance by the Dalziel Brothers’.

In a classificatory sense, the illustrations are artefacts as the preliminary drawings have been created by Tenniel and the engravings were created by the Dalziel Brothers, so number (1) in Dickie’s definition of “work of art” is satisfied.  The illustrations have been afforded the status of candidate for appreciation by virtue of the publisher including them in the book, because surely if the publisher did not think them worthy of appreciation then they would not have been included.  And because a book publisher is part of the artworld (and in Dickie’s terms is a member of the ‘core personnel’ of the artworld) it appears that all requirements of Dickie’s definition are satisfied.

However we need to consider the question about whether the reproduced image is an original work of art. Dickie believes that with respect to paintings a work of art needs to be original; copies of an original painting are not works of art.  So if the same logic can be applied to drawings and illustrations then the original ‘drawings in ‘ink and Chinese white’ illustrations might be classified as works of art while the printed reproductions might not.

But is the engraving plate a work of art?  Firstly, the image engraved is a mirror image of the resulting printed image, and secondly, the Dalziel Brothers were not working as artists when transferring the image from the drawings to the engraving plate.  So the engraving fails Dickie’s definition of a work of art.  The engraving plate is purely a technical means of reproduction.

The prints produced from the engraving plates are made by a printer, and not by someone working in the capacity of an artist.  The printer contributes no artistic talent into the process.  So, in Dickie’s terms, the reproduced images are not works of art.

Walter Benjamin proposes in his paper ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ [6] that modern technologies for image reproduction produce images which have no original – referring primarily to photography and film making.  I don’t think Benjamin alters my thoughts that the ‘drawings in ‘ink and Chinese white’  are the candidate works of art in this case.

In exploring a derivative sense, I don’t think the works are derived from another visual form of art, but they are derived from the imaginings of the story in the book.

In an evaluative sense, I believe most, if not all, viewers of the illustrations will initially evaluate them to see how the pictures tell parts of the story, and then as a secondary step to move on to evaluate them as works of art which they may find (consciously or subconsciously) aesthetically pleasing.


The Nazca lines

First some background on the Nazca lines from Wikipedia [3]:

‘Although some local geoglyphs resemble Paracas motifs, scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 500 BCE and 500 CE. The figures vary in complexity. Hundreds are simple lines and geometric shapes; more than 70 are zoomorphic designs of animals, such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes, such as trees and flowers.’

The Nazca lines are created by removing a layer of dark coloured stones to reveal a lighter layer of stones which produces a strong contrast in the tone of the lines.

In a classificatory sense, the Nazca lines are artifacts because they were created by the Nazca people, so number (1) in Dickie’s definition of “work of art” is satisfied. Next I want to determine whether they were created to be appreciated.  Some theories suggested that the lines could only be seen from space which led to many theories about them being alien landing strips or some sort of extra-terrestrial signals, but according to Katherine Reece in Grounding the Nasca Balloon, In the Hall of Ma’at [3]:

“It is incorrect to say that the lines cannot be seen from the ground. They are visible from atop the surrounding foothills. The credit for the discovery of the lines goes to Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe who spotted them when hiking through the foothills in 1927.”

So it is thought they were created by humans to be seen by humans.

The Nazca had no writing so symbols take on more significance, so perhaps the Nazca Lines created simply as symbols to inform and not meant to impart everything that we in the modern western world take from appreciation of art.  But if they were created as symbols to inform as opposed to art then why create them in such a grand scale?   I suggest the grand scale indicates they were created to be appreciated.

So now I need to determine whether someone in an artworld has proposed them as candidates for artwork. Was there an artworld (or atmosphere of art) when the Nazca lines were created?

According to the Khan Academy [4]:

‘The Nasca people are … famous for their polychrome pottery, which shares some of the same subjects that appear in the Nasca Geoglyphs. Remains of Nasca pottery left as offerings have been found in and near the geoglyphs, cementing the connection between the geoglyphs and the Nasca people.’

Because of the proliferation of other forms of Nazca art I conclude there was an established, but maybe primitive, artworld and the artists of the Nazca Lines were part of the artworld.  By creating their art in the open air the artists have proposed the lines as candidate art. So I believe all elements of Dickie’s definition of “work of art” can be seen to have been satisfied.

To explore the derivative sense, I don’t believe this sense applies to the Nazca Lines.

In an evaluative sense, the Nazca people may have appreciated the geoglyphs as art, because they appear to have an established history of producing a variety of artefacts which would qualify as art, such as their polychromatic pottery.



[1] Dickie, G. (1974). What Is Art? An Institutional Analysis in Art and the Aesthetic. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press At: http://ecourse.uoi.gr/pluginfile.php/91219/mod_resource/content/1/Dickie_What%20is%20art_.pdf (Accessed 29 March 2017)

[2] Danto, A.C (1964). The Artworld from The Journal of Philosophy, volume 61, issue 19.  Journal of Philosophy Inc.  At: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/visualarts/Danto-Artworld.pdf (Accessed 31 March 2017)

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazca_Lines

[4] https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/south-america-early/paracas-nasca/a/nasca-geoglyphs

[5] http://www.alice-in-wonderland.net/resources/background/tenniel-and-his-illustrations/

[6] Benjamin, J. (1936). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. New York: Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, V, no. 1


Main research during this part of the course

  • Studied the 1964 paper The Artworld by Arthur C Danto – notes made in the Contextual Research section below.
  • Studied the 1974 paper What Is Art? An Institutional Analysis by George Dickie – notes made in the Contextual Research section below.
  • Studied the 1936 paper The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin, as published in the book Art in Theory 1900-2000 (pp 520-527), C Harrison & P Wood, Blackwell Publishing.
  • Watched a discussion on Khan Academy regarding Brancusi Bird in Space as this was referenced in Dickie’s paper.
  • Watched a discussion regarding R. Rauchenberg’s Bed on Khan Academy
  • Investigated Oldenberg’s work: Floor Cake – on Khan Academy
  • Investigated Oldenberg’s work: Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks – on Khan Academy
  • Investigated Oldenberg’s work: Bedroom Ensemble – on web site of National Gallery of Canada
  • Read part of the analysis of Roger Fry on http://www.noteaccess.com/PEOPLE/FryR.htm
  • Read the Khan Academy article on Nasca Geoglyphs

Contextual Research for this exercise

In this section I record some of my detailed notes from papers read for this exercise.

My notes from The Artworld by Arthur C. Danto published in 1964.

Available at http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/visualarts/Danto-Artworld.pdf


‘… art, insofar as it is mirrorlike, reveals us to ourselves.’   (Hamlet and Socrates – speaking of art as a mirror held up to nature.)

Imitation Theory of Art (IT) – explains ‘a great many phenomena connected with the causation and evaluation of artworks, bringing a surprising unity into a complex domain’.  According to Danto,this is Socratic theory.

In terms of IT, when post-impressionist paintings emerged ‘it was impossible to accept these as art unless inept art’.  […] ‘So to get them accepted as art … required not so much a revolution in taste as a theoretical revision of rather considerable proportions, involving not only the artistic enfranchisement of these objects, but an emphasis upon newly significant features of accepted artworks, so that quite different accounts of their status as artworks would now have to be given’.

‘… the artists in question were to be understood not as unsuccessfully imitating real forms but as successfully creating new ones, quite as real as the forms which the older art had been thought, in its best examples, to be credibly imitating.’  Danto goes on to quote Fry, which leads me to a side investigation into Fry.  Comments from Roger Fry on http://www.noteaccess.com/PEOPLE/FryR.htm:

‘In his introduction to the catalogue of the second Post-Impressionist exhibition [reprinted in Vision and Design as ‘The French Post-Impressionists’] Fry summed up the connection between art as the formal expression of the imaginative life and the work of the moderns. ‘These artists’, he wrote, referring to the followers of Cézanne, “do not seek to give what can, after all, be but a pale reflex of actual appearance, but to arouse the conviction of a new and definite reality. They do not seek to imitate form, but to create form; not to imitate life, but to find an equivalent for life. By that I mean that they wish to make images which by the clearness of their logical structure, and by their closely-knit unity of texture, shall appeal to our disinterested and contemplative imagination with something of the same vividness as the things of actual life appeal to our practical activities. In fact, they aim not at illusion but at reality. ” [p. 167]’.

Back to Danto:  This Reality Theory … ‘(RT) furnished a whole new mode of looking at painting, old and new.’.  Danto then goes on to explain that the crude drawings of Van Gogh and Cézanne, the dislocation of form from contour in Roualt and Dufy, arbitrary colour panes of Gauguin and the Fauves ‘… so many ways at drawing attention to the fact that these were non-imitations, specifically intended not to deceive.’  They occupy ‘a freshly opened area between real objects and real facsimiles of real objects and thereby, non-facsimiles.

Danto goes on to explain how works by Roy Lichtenstein, when photographed is indiscernible from a photo of a ‘counter-part panel from Steve Canyon’ (American cartoon character) … ‘… but the photograph fails to capture the scale and hence is an inaccurate reproduction …’.  Lichtensteins are not imitations but new entities.

Danto explores the work of Jasper Johns, noting that ‘his objects cannot be imitations, for they have the remarkable property that any intended copy of a member of this class of objects is automatically a member of the class itself, so that these objects are logically inimitable.’ (‘inimitable’ = so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy; unique). ‘Thus, a copy of a numeral just is that numeral, a painting of 3 is a 3 made in paint.’  He then refers to Johns’ flag paintings and target paintings which have this same quality.

In introducing the question ‘what makes art’, Danto talks about Rauchenberg’s wall hanging bed and Oldenberg’s rhomboid bed, and introduces the term ‘Testadura’ into his thesis, being a person who is naïve … ‘a plain speaker and a noted philistine’, being the counter of someone who understands art theory.

Not knowing anything of Rauchenberg or Oldenberg, I investigated as follows:


Danto considers whether a piece of art can be reduced to it’s components, as in Rauchenberg’s bed … made from an original found object (the bed), and paint.   The paint is part of the object. It is ‘a complex object fabricated out of a bed and some paintstreaks: a paint-bed’.

Danto then talks about the ‘is‘ of artistic identification.  The use of the word ‘is’ ‘in accordance with which a child, shown a circle and a triangle and asked which is him and which his sister, will point to the triangle saying “That is me” …’.

Danto considers how a simple picture can be interpreted in different ways, considering how Newton’s First Law and Third Law might be represented in the same picture comprising a single line across the middle of a canvas.

‘We cannot help [Testadura] until he has mastered the is of artistic identification and so constitutes it a work of art. If he cannot achieve this, he will never look upon artworks: he will be like a child who see sticks as sticks.’

So why might an artist appreciate pure abstractions as art, while Testadura doesn’t see art (e.g a painted white canvas with a single black line painted across it)? It lies in the fact that the … ‘artist has returned to the physicality of paint through an atmosphere compounded by art theories and the history of recent and remote painting, elements of which he is trying to refine out of his own work: and as a consequence of this his work belongs in this atmosphere and is part of this history.  He has achieved abstraction through rejection of artistic identifications returning to the real world from which such identification removes us (he thinks).’

‘To see something as art requires something the eye cannot descry [descry = to catch sight of something] – an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of a history of art: an artworld’.


Danto investigates Warhol’s Brillo box art, boxes made of wood to look like cardboard. He paraphrases a critic in the Times ‘if one may make the facsimile of a human being out of bronze, why not make the facsimile of a Brillo carton out of plywood?’.

He asks ‘why the Brillo people cannot manufacture art and why Warhol cannot but make artworks’, and presents a number of interesting observations.  Finally, though he concludes:

What in the end makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo Box is a certain theory of art, It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is […]. Of course, without the theory, one is unlikely to see it as art, and in order to see it as part of the artworld, one must have mastered a good deal of artistic theory as well as a considerable amount of the history of recent New York painting. It could not have been art fifty years ago. […] The world has to be ready for certain things, the artworld no less than the real one.  It is the role of artistic theories … to make the artworld, and art, possible, It would, I should think, never have occurred to the painters of Lascaux that they were producing art on those walls. Not unless there were neolithic aestheticians.’


Danto states … ‘the Brillo box of the artworld is the Brillo box of the real one, separated by the is of artistic identification.’

The remaining theories in this chapter are quite unintelligible to me, so I finish my notes on Danto’s paper here.


My notes from the study of the 1974 paper by George Dickie, What Is Art? An Institutional Analysis by George Dickie

The paper is available from: http://ecourse.uoi.gr/pluginfile.php/91219/mod_resource/content/1/Dickie_What%20is%20art_.pdf

Dickie – PREFACE

Dickie acknowledges Imitation Theory which I take is the same as Danto’s use of the term, but Dickie also uses the term Expression Theory of art which ‘broke the domination of imitation theory’.  I presume Expression Theory is the same as Danto’s Reality Theory – but it may be different.

Dickie – CHAPTER I

Dickie explains that there are ‘at least three distinct senses of “work of art”:

  • primary or classificatory sense – ‘indicates that a thing belongs to a certain category of artifacts’.
  • secondary or derivative sense – ‘if the [object] shared a number of properties with some paradigm work of art’ – e.g. a piece of driftwood which looks like Brancusi’s Bird in Space.
  • evaluative sense – ‘the shared properties were found to be valuable by the speaker’ (the speaker being the person who is declaring something a work of art) – e.g.  “Sally’s cake is a work of art”.


Dickie claims that ‘it is now clear that artifactuality is a necessary condition … of the primary sense of art’ (Weitz and others have denied this).

Dickie makes reference to Danto’s article ‘The Artworld’, and uses the term ‘artworld’ in the same way being ‘the broad social institution in which works of art have their place’, and that when he calls the artworld an institution he is saying it’s an established practice (rather than a legal or quasi-legal entity).

Dickie identifies the Dadaist painting and sculpture movement as most easily revealing the institutional essence of art:

‘Duchamp and friends conferred the status of art on “ready-mades” (urinals, hatracks, snow shovels, and the like), and when we reflect on their deeds we can take note of a kind of human action which has until now gone unnoticed and unappreciated – the action of conferring the status of art’.

‘When […], the objects are bizarre, as those of the Dadaists are, our attention is forced away from the objects’ obvious properties to a consideration of the objects in their social context. As works of art Duchamp’s “ready-mades” may not be worth much, but as examples of art they are very valuable for art theory.’

Dickie defines the term “work of art” as:

‘A work of art in the classificatory sense is (1) an artifact (2) a set of the aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld).’

The second condition has four interconnecting notions:

Notion 1 – acting on behalf of an institution
Dickie refers to the artworld – the core personnel being identified as including artists (e.g painters, writers, composers) producers, museum directors, museum-goers, theatre-goers, newspaper reporters, critics, art historians, art theorists, art philosophers, and others.  He identifies the minimum core personnel as being artists (who create), presenters (who present) and goers (who appreciate).

Notion 2 – conferring of status

‘An artifact can acquire the status of candidate for appreciation within the social system called “the artworld”.’

‘a number of persons are required to make up the social institution of the artworld, but only one person is required to act on behalf of the artworld and to confer the status of candidate for appreciation.  In fact, many works of art are seen only by one person – the one who creates them – but they are still art.’

Dickie discusses the difference between the act by Duchamp of entering his Fountain work (comprising a urinal)  into an art show and that of a plumbing salesman laying out plumbing wares for display.  Duchamp’s work is art because ‘… Duchamp’s action took place within the institutional setting of the artworld and the plumbing salesman’s action took place outside of it’.

Dickie also states that naming an object strengthens the idea that it is a work of art, even if the name is “Untitled“.

Notion 3 – being a candidate
‘A member of the artworld confers the status of candidate for appreciation. ‘

‘not every aspect of a work is included in the candidacy for appreciation; for example, the colour of the back of a painting.’

Notion 4 – appreciation.
‘All that is meant by “appreciation” in the definition is something like “in experiencing the qualities of a thing one finds them worthy or valuable”, and this meaning applies quite generally both inside and outside the domain of art.’

Dickie considers whether there is anything which cannot be appreciated, and concludes ‘it seems unlikely to me that any object would not have some quality which is appreciable …’.


Dickie considers whether natural objects, such as driftwood, can become works of art in the classificatory sense.  He thinks they can if someone takes it home and hangs it on a wall, or enter it into an exhibition.They would become artifactualized without the use of tools: ‘ – artifactuality is conferred on the object rather than worked on it.’

Dickie considerers whether art produced by chimpanzees are works of art, and decides that it depends on what’s done with them.  For example, when they were displayed in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago they would not be art, but if they had been displayed at the Chicago Art Institute then they would have been art.  He says:

‘A great deal depends upon the institutional setting: one institutional setting is congenial to conferring the status of art and the other is not.’

Dickie believes that the chimpanzee would not be able to conceive of being part of the artworld, and therefore would be unable to confer the status of art.  The paintings would be the art of the person who is responsible for them being exhibited. ‘Art is a concept which necessarily involves human intentionality’.

Dickie goes on to discuss Danto’s writings in ‘Art Works and Real Things’ regarding fake and forged paintings:

‘… a painting’s being a fake prevents it from being a work of art, maintaining that originality is an analytical requirement of being a work of art. That a work of art is derivative or imitative does not … prevent it from being a work of art’.

He then considers paintings which were thought to be original but turn out to be fake – saying that they can’t lose their status as a work of art because they never were works of art.  The paintings of Van Meegeren who painted in the style of Vermeer and used a forged Vermeer signature are not works of art, but if he had used his own signature then they would be works of art.

Dickie considers that this originality clause should be part of his work of art definition, but hasn’t considered the full scope of this clause on all aspects of art – so didn’t include it.