© giovanni casu, 2016

The Wittgenstein influence on American philosophy in the XX century bring more than an author to affirm that art definition is indefinable (ex. Weitz, 1988). Weitz's Open Concept Argument: “any concept is open if a case can be imagined which would call for some sort of decision on our part to extend the use of the concept to cover it, or to close the concept and invent a new one to deal with the new case; all open concepts are indefinable; and there are cases calling for a decision about whether to extend or close the concept of art. Hence art is indefinable (Weitz, 1956).”

Extract IV:


(...)J. Levinson believes with many others that a definition of what-an-artwork-is is possible and comments thus on the neo-Wittgensteinian approach: (Music, Art, and Metaphysics. p 43).: “Wittgenstein's attack against essentialism, and thus against efforts to give classical analyses of ordinary concepts by displaying their elements and how they are logically put together, has persuaded many philosophers of art, beginning with Morris Weitz and Paul Ziff, to pack up their tents and retreat when faced with matters of definition. The skeptical warnings here were a useful corrective, but it seems that Wittgensteinians in art, as elsewhere, exaggerate the extent to which cultural concepts fail to have extractable, fairly serviceable, essences. That a concept may change over time is certainly no reason not to try to discern what it basically amounts to at any given time. That a concept may lack strictly necessary and sufficient conditions of application, which is probably the case for all save those explicitly introduced in a formal context, is not reason enough to totally abandon the attempt to theorize in a definitional vein—if seasoned with a grain of salt—as to the nuclear operating conditions of the concept. Surely we can aspire to say more than that a concept is elusive, contextual, or open to the future.”

Over the last 50 years, different attempts at establishing a definition of art have been made, and contemporary definitions of art or artwork can be divided into two major trends: Conventionalist and Non-conventionalist (or “functionalist”) definitions. The Conventionalist definitions are again of two kinds: Institutional definitions of art and Historical definitions of art.

D. Davies draws a simple distinction between functional and procedural definitions of art: functional definitions try to define artworks in terms of their function (to express emotions or provide aesthetic pleasure, as stated by Bell and Collingwood), whereas procedural theories define art according to the way in which the status of art is attributed (Institutional theories). These distinctions will be useful in what follows. Over the past few years, functionalist theories (mainly aesthetics ones) have lost their influence, while the institutional definition and the historical one have gained more prominence. (...)