Arthur Danto

Arthur Coleman Danto (January 1, 1924 – October 25, 2013) was an American art critic, philosopher, and professor at Columbia University. He is best known for having been an influential, long-time art critic for The Nation and for his work in philosophical aesthetics and philosophy of history, though he contributed significantly to a number of fields, including the philosophy of action. His interests included thought, feeling, philosophy of art, theories of representation, philosophical psychology, Hegel's aesthetics, and the philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Arthur Coleman Danto
Arthur Danto, 2012
Born(1924-01-01)January 1, 1924
DiedOctober 25, 2013(2013-10-25) (aged 89)
Alma materWayne State University
Columbia University
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Philosophy of art
Philosophy of history
Philosophy of action
Notable ideas
Narrative sentences
Basic actions
End of Art
Post-historical Art

Life and career

Danto was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, January 1, 1924, and grew up in Detroit.[2] He was raised in a Reform Jewish home.[3] After spending two years in the Army, Danto studied art and history at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) and then pursued graduate study in philosophy at Columbia University.[2] From 1949 to 1950, Danto studied in Paris on a Fulbright scholarship under Jean Wahl,[4] and in 1951 returned to teach at Columbia.[2] In 1992 he was named Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy.[2] He was twice awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Arthur Danto died on October 25, 2013, aged 89 in Manhattan, New York City.[2]

Philosophical work

Arthur Danto argues that "a problem is not a philosophical problem unless it is possible to imagine that its solution will consist in showing how appearance has been taken for reality."[5] While science deals with empirical problems, philosophy according to Danto examines indiscernible differences that lie outside of experience.[6]

Danto "believes that persons are essentially systems of representation."[7]

"Artworld" and the definition of art

Danto laid the groundwork for an institutional definition of art[8] that sought to answer the questions raised by the emerging phenomenon of twentieth-century art. The definition of the term “art” is a subject of constant contention and many books and journal articles have been published arguing over the answer to the question "What is Art?" Definitions can be categorized into conventional and non-conventional definitions. Non-conventional definitions take a concept like the aesthetic as an intrinsic characteristic in order to account for the phenomena of art. Conventional definitions reject this connection to aesthetic, formal, or expressive properties as essential to defining art but rather, in either an institutional or historical sense, say that “art” is basically a sociological category. In terms of classificatory disputes about art, Danto takes a conventional approach. His "institutional definition of art" considers whatever art schools, museums, and artists get away with, regardless of formal definitions. Danto has written on this subject in several of his recent works and a detailed treatment is to be found in Transfiguration of the Commonplace.[9]

The 1964 essay "The Artworld" in which Danto coined the term “artworld”, by which he meant cultural context or “an atmosphere of art theory,”[10] first appeared in The Journal of Philosophy and has since been widely reprinted. It has had considerable influence on aesthetic philosophy and, according to professor of philosophy Stephen David Ross, "especially upon George Dickie's institutional theory of art. Dickie defines an art work as an artifact 'which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting in behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld)' (p. 43.)"[11]

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Danto's definition has been glossed as follows: something is a work of art if and only if (i) it has a subject (ii) about which it projects some attitude or point of view (has a style) (iii) by means of rhetorical ellipsis (usually metaphorical) which ellipsis engages audience participation in filling in what is missing, and (iv) where the work in question and the interpretations thereof require an art historical context. (Danto, Carroll) Clause (iv) is what makes the definition institutionalist. The view has been criticized for entailing that art criticism written in a highly rhetorical style is art, lacking but requiring an independent account of what makes a context art historical, and for not applying to music."[10]

The end of art

The basic meaning of the term "art" has changed several times over the centuries and continued to evolve during the 20th century as well. Danto describes the history of Art in his own contemporary version of Hegel's dialectical history of art. "Danto is not claiming that no-one is making art anymore; nor is he claiming that no good art is being made any more. But he thinks that a certain history of western art has come to an end, in about the way that Hegel suggested it would."[12] The "end of art" refers to the beginning of our modern era of art in which art no longer adheres to the constraints of imitation theory but serves a new purpose. Art began with an "era of imitation, followed by an era of ideology, followed by our post-historical era in which, with qualification, anything goes... In our narrative, at first only mimesis [imitation] was art, then several things were art but each tried to extinguish its competitors, and then, finally, it became apparent that there were no stylistic or philosophical constraints. There is no special way works of art have to be. And that is the present and, I should say, the final moment in the master narrative. It is the end of the story."[13]

Art criticism

Arthur Danto was an art critic for The Nation from 1984 to 2009, and also published numerous articles in other journals. In addition, he was an editor of The Journal of Philosophy and a contributing editor of the Naked Punch Review and Artforum. In art criticism, he published several collected essays, including Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990), which won the National Book Critics Circle Prize for Criticism in 1990; Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992); Playing With the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe (University of California, 1995); The Madonna of the Future: Essays in a Pluralistic Art World (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000); and Unnatural Wonders: Essays from the Gap Between Art and Life (Columbia University Press, 2007).

In 1996, he received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism from the College Art Association.[14]

He was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto.[15]



Danto is the author of numerous books on philosophy and art, and summarizing the works of Continental philosophers in Anglo-American terms.[16]

Arthur Danto's published works include:

  • Nietzsche as Philosopher (1965)
  • Analytical Philosophy of History (1965)
  • What Philosophy Is (1968)
  • Analytical Philosophy of Knowledge (1968)
  • Mysticism and Morality: Oriental Thought and Moral Philosophy (1969)
  • Analytical Philosophy of Action (1973)
  • Sartre (Fontana Modern Masters, 1975)
  • The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (1981)
  • Narration and Knowledge (1985) - Including earlier book Analytical Philosophy of History (1965)
  • The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (1986)
  • Connections to the World: The Basic Concepts of Philosophy (1989; with new preface, 1997)
  • Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present (1990)
  • Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective (1992)
  • Embodied Meanings: Critical Essays and Aesthetic Meditations (1994)
  • After the End of Art (1997)
  • The Abuse of Beauty (2003)
  • Red Grooms (2004)
  • Andy Warhol (2009)
  • What Art Is (2013)



  1. Arthur Coleman Danto, Philosophizing Art: Selected Essays, 2001 [1999], p. 41.
  2. Johnson, Ken (October 27, 2013). "Arthur C. Danto, a Philosopher of Art, Is Dead at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  3. Italie, Hillel (October 28, 2013). "Groundbreaking art critic Arthur Danto dies at 89". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  4. Arthur Danto - Interviewed by Zoe Sutherland. Naked Punch, 10 July 2010
  5. Arthur Danto, Connections to the World: The Basic Concepts of Philosophy (New York: Harper and Row, 1989), p.6.
  6. Noel Carroll, "Danto's Comic Vision: Philosophical Method and Literary Style," Philosophy and Literature 39.2 (October 2015), p. 556.
  7. Noel Carroll, "Danto's Comic Vision: Philosophical Method and Literary Style," Philosophy and Literature 39.2 (October 2015), p. 563 n. 8.
  8. This theory has been described as an "influential theory about the nature of art", according to Philosophy Now, November 2013
  9. Danto, Arthur (1981). The transfiguration of the commonplace: a philosophy of art. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-90346-3.
  10. Adajian, Thomas. "The Definition of Art", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, London, Oct 23, 2007.
  11. Ross, Stephen David (1984). Art and its Significance. SUNY Press. p. 469. ISBN 0-87395-764-4. Note: Ross also refers us to Dickie's book Art and the Aesthetic (Cornell University Press, 1974).
  12. Cloweny, David W. (December 21, 2009). "Arthur Danto". Rowan university. Archived from the original on December 27, 2009. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  13. Danto, Arthur Coleman (1998). After the end of art: contemporary art and the pale of history. Princeton University Press. p. 47. ISBN 0-691-00299-1. As quoted by Professor David W. Cloweny on his website. Archived 2009-12-27 at the Wayback Machine
  14. "Awards". The College Art Association. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  15. "Humanist Manifesto II". American Humanist Association. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
  16. Obituary in November/December 2013 edition of Philosophy Now magazine
  17. Danto, Arthur. Karen LaMonte: Absence Adorned. First ed. Tacoma, WA: Museum of Glass, International Center for Contemporary Art, 2005. Print.

Further reading

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