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Art and intentionality


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Art and intentionality

  1. 1. Art and IntentionalityAuthor(s): Daniel KolakReviewed work(s):Source: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Spring, 1990), pp. 158-162Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The American Society for AestheticsStable URL: .Accessed: 11/03/2012 11:25Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Blackwell Publishing and The American Society for Aesthetics are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.
  2. 2. 158 The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticismdefinition may rely too heavily on the motion of Franz Kafka left instructions to his literary exec-"intentionfor regard." Something can be "intended utor, Max Brod, to burn all his unpublishedmanu-for regard"as a work of art and fail to be a work of scripts, including The Trial and The Castle. Thisart, as this case shows. If the way an item is "intended suggests that the creatorof what we regardto be artfor regard"is deceptive, if the item is not intendedto of the highest caliber did not intend these creationsbe a workof art thoughit is intendedto be regardedas "for regard-as-a-work-of-art a way that preexist- inone, it stands as a counter-exampleto Levinsons ing art-works are or were correctly regarded." In-theory. deed, it seems Kafka did not intend them to be regarded in any way whatsoever: by ordering theirCRISPIN SARTWELL destruction, Kafkaapparentlywished no one to everVanderbilt University experience these objects. So we must choose be- tween the following: either a creators intending a thing for regard-as-a-work-of-art not a necessary is 1. Jerrold Levinson, "Refining Art Historically,"Jour- condition for that thing to be art and thereforenal of Aestheticsand Art Criticism47 (1988): 2 1-33. Levinsons theory is wrong, or The Trial and The 2. See in this regardcertain worksof SherrieLevine. Castle are not art. The first of Levinsons responses to my counter- example is as follows:Art and Intentionality Firstly, it can be observed that there undoubtedlywas art-I believe all relational theories of art are fundamen- intent at many points prior to, during, and perhaps eventally mistaken. Certainobjects, due to their intrinsic after the period of composition; one might ask whetherexhibited qualities, are art-regardless of their cre- final expressed intentions are automatically to be givenators intentions.I When defining what art is, it is priority in deciding art status.8the artists effect that matters, not the cause.2 In a recent article Jerrold Levinson3 reasserts his This does not addressthe objection. The force of therelational theory of art originally presented in "De- counter-exampleis based on a case where the creatorfining Art Historically."4 Levinson, inspired by has no art-intent and yet has produced a thing weinstitutional definitions, such as George Dickies, regardto be art even thoughit was not intendedby itsintroduces some important qualifications.5 For ex- creatorto be so regarded.Unless the Kafkaexampleample, the requiredrelationdoes not consist in some is a conceptual impossibility-and it is not-Lev-"overt act" performed in an "institutional setting" inson must address the example as a possibilitywithin the "artworld," as in Dickies definition. against which to test his theory. Trying to dismissRather, it consists in the "intention" of the "inde- the objection on groundsthatone can suppose Kafkapendentindividual or individuals"with regardto the to have had art-intentdoes not diminish the force of"history of art." Both views maintain that "art- the counter-example. If we take Kafkasdeclarationworkhood is not an intrinsic exhibited quality of a to mean that there was no art intent on his part priorthing but, rather,a matterof an objects being related to, during, or after his writing of The Trial, is Thein the right way to human activity of thought." Trial art? Levinsons theory implies that it is not.Levinson refines his original definition of art as This, given the intrinsic exhibited qualities of Thefollows: Trial,is unsatisfactory. Levinson might respond that by supposing Kafkaan artwork is a thing (item, object, entity) that has been to have had no art intent prior, during, or after theseriously intendedfor regard-as-a-work-of-art,i.e., regard creation of his work I have extrapolated from myin any way preexisting artworks are or were correctly re- original counter-examplehypotheticallyand so it nogarded.6 longer carries the weight of an unqualified actual case. However, I am restatingthe example in some-Some years ago I posed a challenge to his theory what hypotheticalterms not to provide a force miss-which, writes Levinson, ing in the actual example but to defend an actual example against a hypothetical defense that, inis in many ways the most interesting. It consists in the effect, supposes the actual example not to be ancriticism that all relational theories of art are fundamen- actual one. In saying, "it can be observed that theretally mistaken, at least insofar as they attempt to furnish undoubtedlywas art-intent," Levinson implies thatnecessary conditions of arthood, because certain intrinsic his response is not a hypothetical one, that Kafkaqualities of objects indeed suffice to make them artworks, did, in reality, have "art-intentat many points priorregardless of the intentional context or purposive back- to, during, and perhaps even after the period ofground of the object. Case in point: Kafkasnovels.7 composition." But Levinson is merely supposing, or
  3. 3. Discussion 159hypothesizing,that Kafka did have such art-intent. Thus, in supposing-not observing or noting-thatThis is questionablefor three reasons. First, there is Kafka had art-intentprior to, during, or after TheKafkas expressed wish that The Trial not be re- Trial,Levinson makes hypotheticalresponses to angarded by anyone in any way whatsoever. Any actual example. Third, how is one to evaluate theextrapolation from this fact will be hypothetical. purportedintent-claimsand intent-denials artists ofSecond, it is not clear how art-intent-in this or any who, like Kafka, are often deeply confused, un-other case-can be observed. This is a flaw in clear, or unawareof what their intentionsare, muchLevinsons theory, for it suggests we can never less of whetherthey even have any?12 The problemsknow, with any certainty,whethersomething is art. raised for Levinson are whether-and how-we canWe would have to know the "true" intent of the know artists intentions, and whether-and how-creator which, usually, is merely implied, rarely the artists themselvescan know theirown intentions.stated, and often ambiguous. Levinson might claim Moreover, Levinson over-states his case. Thethat his phrase, "it can be observed" is meant only presenceof Kafkasart-intentis not "undoubtable."rhetorically, and means something like "I note One can picture Kafka workingout his neuroses onthat." But what could Levinson be "noting"? paper and then Brod later stealthily retrieving theKafkasdiaries suggest he often wrote not with the pages from Kafkaswastepaper basket. (Brodadmitsintent of producing something to be regarded in a to having taken, more than once, Kafkasdiscardedway that pre-existing literature was regarded. scribbling and later publishing them!) And even ifRather, he wrote with the intent of giving himself we merely supposed that Kafka lacked any art in-peace of mind from an existential terror, an tent-that is, even if the example were merely hypo-objectless dread, an angst, that by Kafkas own thetical, which it is not-it would be enough toaccountmust havebeen excruciating: throw Levinsonsformulaintojeopardy. Indeed, Levinson recognizes that we already re-a bullet would be the best solution. I shall simply shoot gard The Trialas greatart: "these writingsof Kafkamyself and vacatethis spot where I fail to exist.9 which, fortunately, have survived ... clearly are literaryart, and of a very high order." Findingout 13His writing often seems prompted by exorcism- that Kafkaneverintendedit to be so regardedwouldintending,not art-intending: move few-if any-of us to cease regarding it as such. Perhaps Levinson would claim that, if it turned out that Kafka had no art intent whatsoever,Each of us has his own way of emerging from the we should recognize that the reason we were movedunderworld,mine is by writing. Thatswhy the only way I to (falsely) regardThe Trialas art was because it hadcan keep going, if at all, is by writing ... I am far more been presented to us (falsely) within a particularlikely to achieve peace of mind through writing than the historical and purposive context, and that had wecapacity to write throughpeace.0 known that Kafka neverintended The Trialto be so regarded,we would not have regardedit as art. ButAnd Gustav Janouch wrote down the following con- Levinson would probablynot wish to avail himselfversation he had with Kafka: of the counterexample way. By his own criteria, this Levinsonstheory achievesits force on two grounds:"I havebeen readingThe Judgment. "extensionaladequacyand insight into the natureof"Did you like it?" art today," that is, by covering obvious classical"Like it? The book is horrifying!" examples-paintings, novels, poetry, music-and"Youare perfectly right." more recent forms such as Conceptualart, Minimal"I should like to know how you came to write it. The art, and Performanceart. 14 If it turns out that hisdedication, For F., is certainly not merely formal. Surely theory fails to include a paradigmof "literaryart,you wantedthe book to say somethingto someone. I should and of a very high order," it would, on his ownlike to know the context." criteria of success, be deeply suspect. LevinsonF.K. smiled, embarrassed. must addressthe issue by telling us what to do withLJanouch:] am being impertinent.Forgiveme." "I The Trial if we find that Kafka had no art intent"You mustnt apologize. One reads in order to ask whatsoever.questions. The Judgmentis the ghost of a night." Levinsonssecond response comes no closer than"Whatdo you mean?" the first to addressingthe difficulty with his theory:"It is a ghost," he repeated, with a hard look into thedistance. it could be questioned whether the direction to burn the"Andyet you wrote it." manuscriptsis absolutely inconsistentwith the persistence"Thatis merely the verification,and so the complete exor- of art-intenton Kafkaspart. Kafkamay havebeen deeplycism, of the ghost." conflicted, harboringcontradictoryintentionsor wishes,
  4. 4. 160 The Journalof Aesthetics and Art Criticismin which a need for communicationvied with an anxious exhibited qualities, recognized by observers whenperfectionism.Or else he may have intentionallyprojected they identify the object as art, exist as intrinsichis workfor certainideal readers... but believing them not exhibitedqualitiesof the objectindependently the ofto exist among his likely readers,and not likely to exist in artists intent. By adding the qualification, "poten-nearfuture, was resignedto having the workconsigned to tial" literary value, Levinson tries to avoid thethe flames. 15 implicationthat he is inadvertentlyadmittingwhat his theory will not allow. It is as if we are to regardThis fails as a response for reasons already dis- the literary value of The Trialas only "potential"cussed. By second-guessing Kafkasstates of mind until someones intent is introduced.But this is notand then inventing elaborateways Kafka may have how the value of The Trialwould be regarded.Nohad art-intent, Levinson alters the example to suit one would say, "What I am reading is potentiallyhis theory. Suppose Tom believes, "Causing harm quite disturbing,potentiallyquite funny,potentiallyintentionallyis a necessary conditionfor an actionto quite evocative, etc., in a profoundway. PerhapsIbe morally wrong." We provide Tom with the fol- can take it to the appropriateaesthetic authoritieslowing example: Joe, driving home drunk, fell and together we can decide to allow ourselves, andasleep at the wheel of his car and ran over a child. others, to become actually disturbed, actuallyTom responds: "Well, suppose Joe secretly wanted amused, etc., by it." Potentiallyfunnythingsdo notto kill the child all along!" Of course intendingto make us laugh, actual ones do. In the example ofcause harm is no counterexampleto the principle, The Trial it is too late for potential effects. The"intentionalwrong-doing is a necessary condition actual effect has alreadytranspired.It is not there-of an action being wrong." Of course if Kafkahad a fore a potential effect but an actual one.hidden art-intenthe would not be a counterexample Thus Levinsons last response fails, for threeto Levinsons theory which takes art-intent as a reasons. First, it puts the cart before the horse. If itnecessaryconditionof arthood.Butthese are the not is art-intent that makes something art, and thethe problemsposed. One cannot dismiss a counter- creatorof the objectdid not haveart-intent,then theexample by hypothesizingthat it is not an actual object is not art until art-intent happens, some-counter-example. where, sometime, (in this modified example) in the Levinsons third response comes closest to ad- mind of an audience. But why in the Kafkaexampledressingthe difficulties: should art-intenthappenin the mind of an audience toward an object that-when they first apprehendwe might choose to view the case as one of those it-is, by Levinsonsdefinition, not art?Isnt on hisanomalousones where, owing to the exceptionalpotential view the audience simply mistaken?For on Levin-literaryvalue at stake, we recognize thatthe communityof sons (modified) view, an object is not art untilreaders and critics can in effect justifiably appropriate someones art intent makes it so. Once the art-certain texts and project them for literary regard, thus intending happens there may be justification inoverruling, unusually, a creatorsconsidered intent. The regardingthe object as art. But when and how doestext becomes literature,as it were, "willy-nilly."16 this intending happen? If by accident, arthood is arbitrary.If by reason, what kind of reason? TheThe idea is that if Kafkaactuallyhad no art intentat only reason Levinson allows is that of art-intent.all in writing The Trial its audience could, if so Such a reason, however, is not availableuntil aftermoved, choose to make The Trialart. Facedwith the the fact.dilemma of either dismissing his theory as unsatis- Second, in evokingthe pejorativephrase, "willy-factory or dismissing The Trialas non-art, Levin- nilly," the question of whetherit is the creatorsorson-correctly-does not take the latteroption. He the observersstate of mind that mattersis begged.seeks to avoid the first horn of the dilemma by Why does the power of an observerto bestow theoffering a thirdchoice. Takingthe Kafkacounterex- statusof arthoodupon a particularobject make thatample case as an anomalysaves his theory by allow- objects statusas art "willy-nilly?"We are asked toing, in certain cases, the intent of an audience to assume that when such power resides in the creatorregard a particularobject as a work of art "in the the art status of the created object is not "willy-way preexisting artworks are or were correctly nilly." But if in one case, why not the other?Indeed,regarded" as a sort of substitute for the creators taking into account the often eccentric nature oforiginal (lack of ) art-intent. many artists, do we even wantto give them proprie- In takingthis option, however,Levinson seems to tary rights over their pieces? The well known self-admit that some objects can have qualities which, doubts, self-deprecations, and self-deceptions ofregardlessof their creatorsintent, make those ob- many great artists should give us pause.17 Further-jects art. The phrase "owing to the exceptional more, Levinsonsown example, thatof Jaspersask-potentialliterary value" implies that some intrinsic ing us to attendto a pile of wood shavings scattered
  5. 5. Discussion 161about the floor, a green index card tacked on the The Trialwhich-based on its internal relations andwall, and the fact that Montgomery is the capital of independentlyof the judgments of any or all observ-Alabama-a set of things Jaspers calls "John"-is ers-is art of the very highest caliber, they would beabout as willy-nilly a way of something being art as blinding themselves aesthetically to what is true andone can imagine. To evoke the phrase, "willy-nilly," absolute as only the greatest art can express, and asin the case of someone declaring The Trial to be a The Trialso greatly expresses.great novel, but not in the case of Jaspersdeclaring In the final section of his paper, Levinson boldlyJohn to be art, begs the question of where the power states,to make something art lies. Is it with the creator orthe observer or neither? Indeed, the fact that Levin- If a would-be artmaker will not himself acknowledgeson must accept John as art, as Jaspersdeclares it to having the sort of intentI posit-that is, if we ask him pointbe, could be taken as a weakness of Levinsons blank whether his object is intended, at least initially, to betheory. regarded in some way past art was, and he denies it, nor Third, Levinsons response fails because it cov- admits of any other intended regardthat we can identify toertly acknowledges that which Levinson explicitly be in the class of past art regards-and if we can see nowishes to deny: namely, that certain objects, due to grounds for attributingsuch intent on his behalf, then mytheir intrinsic exhibited properties, and completely account says what he is doing cannot be art. 19independentlyof their creators intent, are artworkssolely because they evoke an appropriate response Here Levinson comes close to addressing the prob-in an audience. That is, in some cases, it is indeed lem head-on. He admits the (problematic) conclu-the artists effect that matters, not its cause: sion forced upon him by the Kafka counterexample. If Kafka were to arrive in Levinsons office todayfor the literary community itself to so override a creators and declare that The Trial is not intended to besincere disavowal of literary-intentI suggest it would have regarded as art-or, indeed, as anything whatso-to at least be the case that the text was (a) inordinately ever-Levinson would claim that, if no literarycom-valuable as literature, (b) unsuited to other employment, munity were preparedto overrule or usurp Kafkasand (c) something we could scarcely help taking as prerogative, The Trialis not art. I would claim thatliterature.Kafkaspossibly ill-intended (though luckily not Levinson is seriously mistaken. By responding toill-fated) texts do certainly meet these conditions. 18 what in this case matters least-Kafkas intent- rather than to what matters most-the intrinsicWhat makes The Trial "inordinately valuable as exhibited qualities of The Trial-Levinson allowsliterature," something "we could scarcely help tak- his theory about what art might be to blind him to theing as literature?" Certainly not Kafkas (lack of) experience of what is, beyond a doubt, art.20art-intent, for we are supposing that The Trial waswritten without any. It must be something else. But DANIEL KOLAKwhat?It is, as Levinson admits, our being effected in The William PatersonCollege of New Jerseya striking and irresistible way by an object whosequalities profoundly provoke, befuddle, bemuse,etc. This amazing aesthetic power, it seems, lies notin the mind of the creator, nor in the eyes of the 1. I base my locution on Maurice Mandelbaum, whobeholder, nor in the officiating power of institutions designates as "exhibited" those perceptible qualities that,but, rather,in the intrinsic exhibited qualities of the for instance, a particularpainting may have in virtue of its havinga triangular ratherthan, say, a circular,composition,object itself. In reacting to intrinsic exhibited qual- or its being red ratherthanblue; or thata piece of music hasities in this way Levinson thus (unintentionally) in virtue of its havinga staccatorather than, say, continuous,acknowledges that art intent is not a necessary or smoothand fluid, structure,or its havingorchestralrathercondition of art. than perhaps a chamber or quartet form, and so on. See Suppose the Nazis won World War Two and the Maurice Mandelbaum,"Family Resemblancesand Gener-world today was a unified Nazi state whose people alizations Concerning the Arts," American Philosophicalunanimously regarded The Trial (still written with- Quarterly 2 (1965): 219-228, reprinted in Problems inout art-intent)as having no literary value. It is used Aesthetics, 2d ed., ed. Morris Weitz (London: Macmillan,as an example of nonsensical ravings produced by 1970), pp. 181-197. 2. RaymondMartinand I have arguedthat what mattersJewish mental illness, to be taken as a work of primarilyin identity,even in the case of persons, is not thedepravedlunacy barely above the howling of a sick cause butthe effect; see Daniel KolakandRaymondMartin,animal. Three billion Nazis can, and in this case "Personal Identity and Causality: Becoming Unglued,"would be, wrong. For by failing to notice, due to AmericanPhilosophical Quarterly24 (1987): 339-347.their collective errors of judgment and lack of in- 3. Jerrold Levinson, "Refining Art Historically," Thesight, the profound intrinsic exhibited qualities of Journalof Aestheticsand Art Criticism47 (1989): 21-33.
  6. 6. 162 The Journalof Aesthetics and Art Criticism 4. For the original statementof Levinsons position, see 13. Levinson, "RefiningArt Historically,"p. 29.JerroldLevinson, "DefiningArt Historically,"BritishJour- 14. Ibid., p. 21.nal of Aesthetics 19 (1979): 232-250. 15. Ibid., pp. 29-30. 5. See, for instance, George Dickie, "Whatis Art?: An 16. Ibid., p. 30.InstitutionalAnalysis," in ed. W.E. Kennick, Art and Phi- 17. Indeed, thereis a strongbody of literature throws thatlosophy, 2nd ed. (New York: St. Martins Press, 1979), into doubt whether our most fundamental beliefs aboutpp. 82-94; Timothy Bartel, "Appreciation and Dickies ourselves-our motives, our desires, our intentions-areDefinition of Art," BritishJournalof Aesthetics 19 (1979): true, or even, if we have just one self, or many (possibly44-52; George Dickie, The Art Circle (New York:Haven, disagreeing) selves, or no selves at all. See, for instance,1985), and Jerrold Levinsons review of The Art Circle in Daniel Kolak and RaymondMartin, eds., Self And IdentityPhilosophical Review96 (1987): 141-146; also, for a view (New York:Macmillan, 1990). Fora literaryexplorationofsimilarto Levinsons see Noel Carroll, "Art, Practice, and this theme, see Milan Kunderas shortstory, "TheHitchhik-Narrative,"TheMonist 71 (April 1988): 140-156. ing Game," in LaughableLoves, trans. SuzanneRappaport 6. JerroldLevinson, "Refining Art Historically,"p. 21. (New York: Knopf, 1974), pp. 65-87; reprinted in The 7. Ibid., p. 29. Experienceof Philosophy,eds. Daniel Kolak and Raymond 8. Ibid. Martin(Belmont:Wadsworth,1990), pp. 116-127. 9. Nahum N. Glatzer, ed., I Am a Memory Come Alive: 18. Levinson, "RefiningArt Historically,"p. 30.Autobiographical Writingsby Franz Kafka (New York: 19. Ibid., p. 30.SchockenBooks, 1974), p. 175. 20. I deliveredan earlierversionof this paperat the New 10. Ibid., pp. 110-111. Jersey Regional PhilosophicalAssociation Meeting at Rut- 11. Ibid., p. 53. gers Universityon November18, 1989. I thankall those who 12. Many artistshaveclaimed thattheirgreatestandmost participated, especially Shaun Nichols, Peter Kivy, Johnmeaningful works are created without intention. For a dis- OConnor,JohnPeterman,andVictorTejera.JerroldLevin-cussion of how and why objects created as ends in them- son and RaymondMartinread an early rough draft and, asselves might be more meaningful than objects created with usual, gave me superb and helpful advice. Also, thankstothe intentionthatthey be put to some use, see "Meaning"in Donald W. Crawford and Eileen Palmer for their manyDaniel Kolak and Raymond Martin, WisdomWithoutAn- helpful editing suggestions.swers (Belmont:Wadsworth,1989), pp. 80-90.