M. Beardsley

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Beardsley. 
My personal comments are in red. 

Beardsley proposes that we can define art by starting with ARTWORKS and defining them, or by defining ARTISTIC ACTIVITY, and defining it. Either will then provide a definition of the other. He favors defining the appropriate activity, which will then lead us to decide which things & events are artworks. (To pick out the right set of things & events is more difficult as a starting point, and we will get into trouble if we simply assume that Duchamp's Fountain is an artwork that must fit into our definition.)

 A definition of artistic activity or "production" can focus on any of three things:

1. Mode of production

This probably won't help us, since the SAME mode of production that makes a religious object can make an artwork, since sometimes they are one and the same thing.

2. Intentions that guide the production

Because the same behavior can be informed by multiple intentions, this will help us to deal with objects that betray both religious and artistic intentions.

3. Results

But this means that intentions must succeed, and that will get us into trouble  (instead of saying that failed attempts are bad art, we'll have to say that they are not art at all).

So (2) is our best bet, and we must ask what shared intention is reflected in sculpture, music, literature, etc.

It appears to be an intention to produce something which engages receptive interaction. The interaction is marked by some or all of the following:

1. Attention is firmly fixed by the object.

2. This attention "detaches" us from our practical ends.

3. We experience the use of our powers discovery.

4. Integration of the self and its experiences.

Experiences involving some or all of these responses have an aesthetic character.

 Experience of such things in such ways is an aesthetic experience.

An intention to derive an aesthetic experience is an aesthetic interest.

We can now define art:

An artwork is an object produced with the intention of giving it the capacity (for some person somewhere, at some time) to satisfy the aesthetic interest.

Once children are old enough to form this intention, children can produce art.

Evidence of care in how something is designed, beyond what's needed for practical concerns, is evidence that the person has the right intention. Paleolithic people displayed this intention in their cave paintings. (Repeating the cliché, "The early bird gets the worm," is not evidence of this intention. But writing a fictional story that illustrates it would be evidence.) 

The only way to fail to make art when proceeding with this intention is to fail entirely in doing what you set out to do.

Although intentions are "private," they involve two things: a DESIRE to do a certain thing and a BELIEF that one can actually do that thing thought the selected behavior.

                        Last updated Feb. 4, 2011 ~ All text © 2011 Theodore Gracyk