Michel-Antoine Xhignesse

Project Description

Who do we call when we want to know whether a given entity is a work of art, or when we want to know what it is that makes something art in the first place?
Oddly enough, we tend to consult our own intuitions. Much like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (in Jacobellis v. Ohio), we tend to think that we know art when we see it. The quibbles at the margins might be informed by experts, but expert input seldom resolves the dispute. Music, for example, is the kind of thing we hear by attending a concert or tuning in to a radio station, not the kind of thing we see hanging on gallery walls, and no expert will ever convince us otherwise.
But what guarantees that we are right to think so? To what extent are the meaning of ‘art’ and art-kind terms (e.g. dance, literature, music, painting, sculpture, etc.) determined by what we think, and do cross-cultural differences in our artistic practices and our intuitions about artworks entail that we all have different concepts of art?
In fact, a growing body of anthropological, art-historical, and psychological evidence indicates that our intuitions about art reflect entirely arbitrary historical interests. Worse still, it is not clear that our intuitions are shared by members of other cultures, whose artistic practices betray different aims and priorities, or even by our own cultural ancestors. As a result, we need to ask ourselves whether we can trust our intuitions about art and, if so, under what conditions. My project aims to explain whether and when appeals to intuition are legitimate in the philosophy of art, and in the analysis of other socially-constructed kinds.

Research Interests

Ontology of Art
Testimonial Evidence
Social construction


Faculty of Arts

Further Information