Conclusions How We Define

Before dealing with the specifics of magic in the hope of answering the question of whether or not it can be art, I think we have arrived at a point where we can offer a safe model for deciding what is or is not an artwork. Unlike previous writers on the subject, I do not have the faith in any definitional theory of art to lay out a simple theorem in a few lines before talking about Great Conjuring and Profound Styles.

Let me say instead that art is a set of historical narratives. It is a story made up of different threads: a story which has twisted, lunged and broken away from itself over the years, a tale punctuated by moments of revolution and mutiny. It is a story that has come to define periods of history, and to be a cultural looking-glass and a record of the flux and aspirations of humanity. Any new piece of art adds to the story if we decide to include it.

How do we decide? We look at the new piece and see if it has relevance to that story. We see if it continues a thread or an argument already raised, or develops a previous argument: whether it reflects acknowledged 'art regards.' We take these regards and trace them back as threads through the story of art and see whether they have relevance today. l'erhaps they will be relevant in that they may overthrow previous presumptions. But now that art is so concerned with raising questions and challenging an audience at some level, we can see how a piece stands up in light of those questions and challenges, and test its relevance for a contemporary audience.

This process is active: it is a dialogue of sorts. Also, we stress that the artistic aims referred to by identifying narratives are 'live' and recognised. Therefore a holiday snapshot of a landscape is not art, although a nineteenth-century painting of the same landscape is (another problem for the notion of 'family resemblances'): and rather than indulge in semantic arabesques to arrive at necessary and sufficient conditions that allow for that difference and others like it, we simply see that the photograph has no relevance to the prevailing aims of art. Although the appreciation of verisimilitude is a recognised art regard, it is no longer enough on its ou':z to qualify as a relevant and live artistic aim. On the other hand, we may decide that a watercolour of the same landscape painted today may indeed be art, but we would not deem it as having any real relevance. We can accept Duchamp's Fountain without worrying about what to do with other urinals, for we can trace the issue it raises ("what is ad?") back through various works to the cubists' agenda. It was relevant to the story at its time. This approach presupposes a reciprocal understanding between artists and audience, and avoids the charge of circularity, for we are not attempting to provide a definition.

This certainly seems the most plausible model on offer. All attempts to provide a definition of art through the ages have failed in the Light of avant-garde art. Yet we continue happily to confer art status to works, so clearly the apparent difficulty in theory is not reflected in practice: something must be wrong in our attempts to theorise. The notion of art as a historical narrative provides a solution to that paradox.

It also seems the most true-to-life option. When we see a new work, and stare nonpiussed at a woman undergoing perpetual surgery and calling herself art, we may struggle to wonder how, on the surface of things. such activity may fail into any recognised category of art. Bu an awareness of art issues and acknowledged art regards of the day will provide the necessary information to understand why it has relevance and is accepted by the art-world as valid.

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