In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010)
The point of defining "art" is not to remove ignorance about the meaning of a word. The point is to become more conscious of what we already know about art.
FIRST, define "artist" as someone who, with understanding, participates in creating works of art. NEXT, define "work of art" as "an artifact of a kind created to be presented to an artworld public."
(Notice the phrase "of a kind." If someone paints a painting, paintings are a KIND of thing that artists routinely make for presentation to an artworld public. So, in a culture where that is true, then anyone who understands what they are doing in creating a painting is creating art, EVEN IF that person does not intend to display it to anyone.)
Now we have two important terms, "artworld" and "public."
Next, define "public" as a group of people who share an understanding about artifacts presented to them. To have a public, you will need some system that links the people in a shared understanding.
Today, the public for classical music does not overlap very much with the public for slasher movies.
Next, define "artworld" as one of the systems for bringing publics together with artworks. Then, take all these "artworlds" and all these "publics" for various kinds of artworks and treat them as a total system, and call it the artworld. (The term "artworld" does not originate with Dickie. It became important in the work of Arthur Danto.)
WHAT'S THE POINT? To see that being in the audience for art or being an artist is to take on "a certain kind of cultural role." Dickie is saying that the artworld is a cultural institution, and you cannot have cultural roles without cultural institutions. So his theory is an institutional definition of art.
Dickie recommends his theory as simpler and better than theories that try to assign an essential function to all art, such as Monroe Beardsley's aesthetic definition of art.
Dickie mentions Beardsley as an example of an important competing view. The competing view says that understanding "the artworld" is not the important thing to understand. We want to know the essential function that the cultural institution addresses. An institutional definition ignores this!
Dickie's answer is that we should not build functions into our definition. Once it is created, the artworld fulfills MANY functions! It is flexible! And that is what we want to allow.
Last updated Feb.23, 2011 ~ All text © 2011 Theodore Gracyk