I am writing a critical report where I'm comparing different definitions of art. I came across this one:

Danto's definition has been glossed as follows: something is a work of art if and only if 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.

In the final condition (iv), what do they mean by "art historical context"?

1 Answer 1


If something must be understood or analyzed "in historical context," it means the historical circumstances in which it was produced very much affected the work - its themes, its techniques, its message, etc. Without an understanding of the era, a full understanding of the piece will be impossible.

Adding the word "art" to the phrase simply means that the work must be analyzed within the frame of art history, with an eye to contemporary developments and trends in the art world.

Some schools of criticism argue that an artistic product (in the linked context, a work of literature) should be analyzed outside of time, but this has, blessedly, fallen out of favor in recent years.

  • +1 because overall you're right, but [art] historical context doesn't necessarily imply with an eye to contemporary developments and trends. It primarily means in the context of [the art of] its time. Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 14:57
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    @FumbleFingers Contemporary doesn't mean current or modern; it means of the time under study! (Apologies for the exclamation mark, but the misuse of that word is a pet peeve of mine.)
    – user13141
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 15:03
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    Ouch! You're quite right, of course. And in principle I did know that - I simply didn't pay attention. But if it's a pet peeve of yours, that means there will be others who interpret your words incorrectly through ignorance or carelessness. So I'll let me comment stand for their benefit! :) Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 15:21

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