The institutional theory of art: a protean creature

Matravers, Derek (2000). The institutional theory of art: a protean creature. British Journal of Aesthetics, 40(2) pp. 242–250.



In 1987 Jerrold Levinson wrote, in a review of George Dickie's The Art Circle, that in reading it he felt 'caught in a kind of aesthetic time warp'. I had the same feeling, and indeed have the same feeling when I read papers published since on Dickie's theory. A recent criticism in this journal by Oswald Hanfling is a case in point. To be fair, Hanfling explicit states that he is discussing the 1974 version of the theory rather than Dickie's current views. However, this weakens the paper as a contribution to the current debate. Dickie no longer advocates the 1974 theory, as opposed to the 1984 version. Hanfling also directs most of his argument against the second disjunct of that definition, largely ignoring the first (which Dickie has since claimed is what actually does the work). furthermore, following recent work on the theory by others, Dickie's theory has become a more protean creature than Hanfling (and others) suppose. Criticism are rarely decisive; what works against one version of the theory is ineffective against another. In this paper I will argue that the theory as standardly conceived can be broken down into two logically independent parts. Once this is done, the objections current in the literature are not decisive. I will then attempt to evaluate what I take to be the improved version.

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