Artworks are a special kind of physical objects that embody ideas and emotions. They can be found in museums, galleries and private collections. Many people enjoy viewing artworks and may even own a few pieces themselves. Artworks are usually considered to be culturally significant and important.
A common definition of art is that it is a creative product conceived and executed by an artist. This definition may be augmented to include the notion that an artwork must express a culture’s deepest values. It is often also augmented to exclude works that are merely commercially produced or of a temporary nature. For example, Marcel Duchamp’s readymade Fountain (Fountain) was a simple industrially made urinal signed R Mutt, but is considered to be an artwork today.
Another definition of art is that it is a work of imagination. The idea here is that art provides a way to convey human experience and expression, enabling people to understand and appreciate the world around them in new ways. This interpretation of art is also referred to as idealism.
A third definition of art focuses on its function. It includes the notion that art is a means of transmitting a culture’s deepest values and expression, and it is this role that distinguishes art from other forms of expression such as religion and philosophy. This function-focused view of art is called neo-institutionalism.
There are several kinds of arguments used to support this view of art. One argument argues that it is impossible to find a definition of art that can capture all the features of artworks, and therefore that a more modest cluster theory of art is sufficient (Gaut 1998). A second argument aims to avoid committing to constitutive claims about the nature of art by offering a family resemblance view: Something is an artwork if it resembles, in a suitable manner, certain paradigm artworks, which possess most although not all of art’s typical features. Finally, a third argument based on neo-institutionalism suggests that the concept of art is essentially institutional in character.
Some philosophers have questioned the viability of any of these cluster theories of art. A major problem with them is that they are based on an assumption that it is possible to determine what properties or modalities make things artworks. This assumption is flawed because it overlooks the fact that cognitive science indicates that humans categorize things based on their similarity to prototypes (or exemplars), rather than identifying any set of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for a thing to be an artwork.
Furthermore, many of the properties deemed to be essential for artworks are open to different interpretations, and some of them have been shown to have no significance at all. As a result, some philosophers have argued that the concept of art is incoherent, and that it is therefore unreasonable to attempt to define it in any definitive way. Other reasons for rejecting classical definitions of art are more specific. For example, they often rely on enumerative, or list-like, definitions, and such definitions are notoriously unenlightening because they lack principles that explain why the things included on the list belong there (see list-like definition).