Failed-Art and Failed Art-Theory
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Australasian Journal ofPhilosophyPublication details, including instructions for authorsand subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rajp20
Failed-Art and Failed Art-TheoryChristopher Mag Uidhir aa City College of New YorkVersion of record first published: 24 Sep 2009.
To cite this article: Christopher Mag Uidhir (2010): Failed-Art and Failed Art-Theory,Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 88:3, 381-400
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00048400903194559
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FAILED-ART AND FAILED ART-THEORY
Christopher Mag Uidhir
An object being non-art appears only trivially informative. Some non-artobjects, however, could be saliently almost art, and therefore objects forwhich being non-art is non-trivially informative. I call these kinds of non-art
objects failed-art objectsnon-art objects aetiologically similar to art-objects, diverging only in virtue of some relevant failure. I take failed-art tobe the right sort of thing, to result from the right sort of action, and to have the
right sort of history required to be art, but to be non-art by having failurewhere being art requires success. I assume that for something to be art thatthing must be the product of intention-directed action. I then oer an account
of attempts that captures the success conditions governing the relationshipbetween intention-directed actions and their products. From this, I claim thatto be failed-art is to be the product of a failed art-attempt, i.e., to be non-art as
the result of the particular way in which that art-attempt failed. An art-attempt I take to be an attempt with success conditions, that, if satised, entailthe satisfaction of the conditions for being artwhatever those may be. To beart, then, is to be the product of a successful art-attempt. As such, any art
theory incompatible with my account of failed-art is an art theory for whichthe notions of success and failure do not matter, and therefore an art theoryfor which being art neednt be substantively intention-dependent. So, any
theory of art unable to accommodate my account of failed-art is ipso factofalse.
I certainly do not fancy myself an artist; as far as I know, I have neithermade nor attempted to make an artwork. As a consolation of sorts, I doseem to be rather good at making non-art objects, everything frombookshelves and sandwiches to more esoteric and conceptual non-artobjects such as low-cholesterol recipes and exercise routines. Unfortunately,somethings being non-art is about as informative as somethings being anon-car, a non-zebra, or a non-pudding. Despite this, here I argue for aninformative kind of non-art, what I call failed-artnot artworks that failto meet some standard for artwork evaluation but non-art objectsaetiologically similar to art-objects, diverging only in virtue of some failure(almost art).Failed-art I take to be a robust and meaningful subclass of non-art,
comprising objects for which being non-art is the substantive result of somerelevant failure, and thereby objects for which being non-art is non-triviallyinformative. Failed-art on my account isnt merely an informative butultimately disposable accoutrement for art theory (e.g., better o if entailedbut otherwise no worse o if not entailed); it is instead a forceful
Australasian Journal of Philosophy
Vol. 88, No. 3, pp. 381400; September 2010
Australasian Journal of Philosophy
ISSN 0004-8402 print/ISSN 1471-6828 online 2010 Australasian Association of Philosophyhttp://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/00048400903194559
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art-theoretic constraint predicated on the basic working assumption thatsomethings being art must be substantively intention-dependent. I claimthat the minimal structure of failed-art is entailed by the minimal structureto which any art theory must square to be even prima facie viable, such that,any art theory unable to entail my account of failed-art is ipso facto false.
1. Informative Failure: An Instructive Example
Suppose we carve the world into lawyers and non-lawyers. For simplicityssake, lets assume that passing the bar exam is both necessary and sucientfor being a lawyer.
Lawyer: a thing that has passed the bar exam (e.g. Hilary Clinton, ClarenceDarrow).
Non-Lawyer: either a thing incapable of taking the bar or a thing capable oftaking the bar exam that either has not taken the bar exam orhas taken the bar exam but did not pass the bar exam (e.g.,
Pigeon the cat, ferns, the number ve).
Compared to somethings being a lawyer, a things being a non-lawyersimpliciter looks to be starkly uninformative about that thingit could bePigeon the cat, Renoirs Diana the Huntress, or an isosceles triangle. What Iam after, however, are failed-lawyersa subclass of non-lawyers for which athings being a non-lawyer is non-trivially informative about that thing.1
To begin, we can suppose that a failed-lawyer must at least be a thingcapable of being a lawyer, perhaps a thing that intended to be a lawyer but isnot a lawyer. Gym socks cant be failed-lawyers because gym socks areincapable of intending simpliciter. I, however, could be a failed-lawyerbecause I am capable of forming such intentions. This is far too broad.Should I form the intention to be a lawyer only to be immediately andfatally struck by bus, Im not thereby a failed-lawyer. Failed-lawyers, then,might be non-lawyers who were almost lawyers, perhaps those non-lawyerssharing at some point a variety of relevant things in common with lawyers,namely the lawyer-relevant sorts of goals, beliefs about how to achieve thosegoals, and actions directed by intentions informed by those beliefs. That is,failed-lawyers and lawyers both attempted to be lawyers, the dierence beingthat the former failed and the latter succeeded.Of course, such attempts must be of the appropriate sort. If I attempt to
be a lawyer by clicking my heels together three times, my remaining a non-lawyer doesnt thereby entail that I am now also a failed-lawyer. Being afailed-lawyer must be about attempting to be a lawyer in the right sort ofwaycall these attempts lawyer-attemptsbut having that attempt fail.What counts as a lawyer-attempt is determined by what it is for somethingto be a lawyer. So, lawyer-attempts are those attempts in the relevant classof attempts for being a lawyer, i.e., attempts having success conditions that,
1Distinct from lawyers who fail to achieve the minimum standard for being a good lawyer.
382 Christopher Mag Uidhir
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if satised, count as sucient for satisfying the conditions for being alawyer. Since we are supposing that passing the bar exam is both a necessaryand sucient condition for being a lawyer, lawyer-attempts then must beattempts that, if successful, also satisfy that condition: namely, passing thebar. Presumably then, there is but one kind of lawyer-attempt: taking thebar exam. Failed-lawyers and lawyers share the same lawyer-attempttaking the barbut diverge with respect to the failure and success of thatlawyer-attempt. Moreover, a thing being a failed-lawyer entails notsatisfying the conditions for being a lawyer in virtue of the particular waythe lawyer-attempt failed (e.g., answering the questions on the bar examincorrectly).2
Now we have a strikingly informative notion of failed-lawyer: a thing is afailed-lawyer if and only if a) the thing is a non-lawyer and b) the thingattempted to be a lawyer in the right sort of way (lawyer-attempt) and c) thethings being a non-lawyer is the result of the failure of that things lawyer-attempt.3 Furthermore, we ought to expect a basic counterfactual analysisto hold for failed-lawyers (and lawyers as well), i.e., had the lawyer-attemptin the failed-lawyer case succeeded rather than failed, then the thing wouldhave been a lawyer rather than a failed-lawyer. Of course, the notion offailed-lawyer looks to be an informative way of dividing the class ofnon-lawyers precisely because we have already in play a largely agreed uponand robust notion of what it is to be a lawyer (or at least the one Istipulated).Unfortunately, no such notion of what it is to be art readily suggests
itself (and I dare not stipulate one). For now, I can only hazard thefollowing:
Non-Art Objects: objects that do not satisfy the conditions for being art (e.g.,perhaps gym socks, Pigeon the cat, the number ve).