“Art” as a Cluster Concept  

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"Gaut does not acknowledge other versions of the cluster theory, but there have been several. E. J. Bond (1975) observes that a set of conditions may be sufficient for something's being art though no single member of the set is either necessary or sufficient. Milton H. Snoeyenbos (1978) argues that "art" may be used on the basis of a disjunctive set of merely sufficient conditions. Ellen Dissanayake observes that one method of definition has been to compile a number of attributes of art; ..." --"The Cluster Theory of Art", British Journal of Aesthetics, 44, (2004): 297-300, anthologized in Philosophical Perspectives on Art (2007) by Stephen Davies

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

“Art” as a Cluster Concept" (2000) is an essay by Berys Gaut.

It revived anti-essentialism in the philosophy of art. Cluster concepts are composed of criteria that contribute to art status but are not individually necessary for art status. There is one exception: Artworks are created by agents, and so being an artifact is a necessary property for being an artwork.

In "The Cluster Account of Art: A Historical Dilemma", Simon Fokt accuses the cluster concept of art of ahistoricism.

Gaut (2005) offers a set of ten criteria that contribute to art status:

(i) possessing positive aesthetic qualities (I employ the notion of positive aesthetic qualities here in a narrow sense, comprising beauty and its subspecies);
(ii) being expressive of emotion;
(iii) being intellectually challenging;
(iv) being formally complex and coherent;
(v) having a capacity to convey complex meanings;
(vi) exhibiting an individual point of view;
(vii) being an exercise of creative imagination;
(viii) being an artifact or performance that is the product of a high degree of skill;
(ix) belonging to an established artistic form; and
(x) being the product of an intention to make a work of art. (274)

Satisfying all ten criteria would be sufficient for art, as might any subset formed by nine criteria (this is a consequence of the fact that none of the ten properties is necessary). For example, consider two of Gaut’s criteria: “possessing aesthetic merit” and “being expressive of emotion” (200, p. 28). Neither of these criteria is necessary for art status, but both are parts of subsets of these ten criteria that are sufficient for art status. Gaut’s definition also allows for many subsets with less than nine criteria to be sufficient for art status, which leads to a highly pluralistic theory of art.

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