29 November 2008

What is art? This question is a metaphysical question -- one concerning the composition of the fabric of the world. An answer to it would have to provide us with the criteria which distinguishes the artifacts from the artworks, the cafeteria banter from a romantic chorale and so on. I would not know where to begin in providing such an answer. (And the lack of consensus among philosophers of art is itself an indication of how difficult the question is.) But there is an answer. There must be. For there are artworks, and there are non-artworks, and that is the beginning and the end of the matter.

While we ourselves may not be able to articulate an answer to this query, and, accordingly, provide a set of criteria for what constitutes a piece of art, we unquestionably possess a reliable capacity to distinguish between the two. That we have this capacity is enough to secure that there can be fruitful debates concerning the value of a particular work. This discourse is art criticism. Exercising our practical capacity, we identify our target piece of art, and there begins the activity.