We derive a great deal of cognitive pleasure from asking what artworks mean. And yet, despite the seriousness with which we approach these questions, they all too often rely on theories of art that fail to adequately explain how art conveys meaning.
This book proposes a new theory. In contrast to more conventional definitions of art, What Art Does defends the claim that artworks constitute a class of tool. Like other tools, artworks are objects that have functions and that furnish affordances. However, thanks to the particular social and material facts that underpin the creation of artworks, the functions that artworks have and the affordances they furnish are special.
It is thanks to these special functions and affordances that artworks obtain their privileged character and status. Because artworks do things that other tools cannot, we take artworks to be meaning-making objects with something to say.
Ryan Wittingslow is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Groningen, a Humboldt research fellow at TU Darmstadt, and a research affiliate in Media Studies at the University of Sydney. Most of his research sits at the meeting ground between aesthetics, philosophy of design, philosophy of technology, and political philosophy.
Chapter 1. Conditions
Chapter 2. Functions
Chapter 3. Affordances
Chapter 4. Artworlds
Chapter 5. Artworks
About the Author
The work is a bold and original contribution to Anglophone philosophy of art. Integrating seldom considered reflections on knowledge, artifacts, and technology, Wittingslow sets aside old arguments about representation and meaning to ask instead, what does the work of art enable us to do that we could not do as well without it?
Wittingslow’s engaging and beautifully written book presents art as a tool adept for meaning-making more broadly than what is commonly thought. The ambitious aim is enhanced by an in-depth understanding of contemporary and topical perspectives in fields as rich and diverse as philosophy of art and philosophy of technology. Anyone interested in broadening their understanding of how art works and why it is indispensable to us in the first place will find this book a valuable resource.
In What Art Does, Ryan Wittingslow approaches the big question of the meaning of art from a surprising and interesting angle by concentrating on what artworks afford us to do. The author leads us on a philosophical journey away from the beaten tracks without ever losing sight of his destination.
It was about time that someone wrote this book, and we can count ourselves lucky that Ryan Wittingslow took on the task. Wittingslow builds on a thorough knowledge of the philosophy of technology to carefully develop a theory of tools. He combines this theory with a nuanced institutional view on the artistic, providing an elegantly written argument in favor of approaching artworks as tools for meaning-making. What Art Does: Using Philosophy of Technology to Talk about Art takes an important step toward a sophisticated and up-to-date understanding of art.