Institutional definitions and reasons

Matravers, Derek (2007). Institutional definitions and reasons. The British Journal of Aesthetics, 47(3) pp. 251–257.



The paper examines certain aspects of institutionalist definitions of art, in particular whether they are committed to ‘indexing’, whereby calling something art makes it art. It is argued that there is no such commitment and that institutionalist definitions need not abandon the idea that works of art become art for specific, and substantial, reasons. The question is how reasons can be accommodated. A proposal from defenders of ‘cluster theories’ is considered and rejected. Another proposal is advanced according to which the reasons, which might change over time, are those acceptable within the artworld at any given time. The idea is explored and its merits identified.

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