Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Defining Art Continued

A concept has a real definition as an attribute. Every concept must have a real definition - otherwise it would not be a concept.1There are two kinds of definition, real and nominal; a real definition states the essence of a thing, what it is to be a thing of that kind. A nominal definition gives the meaning of a word. In a lecture on ‘defining art’ by James Grant he gave a good example of the differences between nominal and real definitions. He stated that the claim that water is something with the chemical structure H2O is the case of stating the essence of water. Saying what it is for something to be water but it is not a definition of the word ‘water’.

The word ‘water’ does not mean the same as ‘has the chemical structure H2O’ because people have understood and can understand the word water without knowing it’s chemical structure, with no concept of hydrogen or oxygen etc. He went on to discuss the importance of keeping this in mind when it comes to defining or accessing definitions of art. Is the aim to provide necessary and sufficient conditions of ‘being art’? Is the aim to state the essence of the thing? Or do we just require a test to help us deal with works such as Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’? He also mentioned that the reason people refer to their views as ‘theories of art’ is because they’re reluctant to say that what they’re doing is providing a ‘definition’ of art.

1. (Accessed 15th November 2011)