ARTHUR C. DANTO. The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. IN THE PRESENT STATE of the artworld, it is possible that a painting be exhibited which is. The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. Author(s): Arthur C. Danto. Source: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Winter, ), pp. The Transfiguration of the Commonplace has ratings and 20 reviews. Arthur C. Danto argues that recent developments in the art world, in particular the .

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Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art by Arthur C. Danto argues that recent developments in the art world, in particular the production of works of art that cannot be told from ordinary things, make urgent the need for a new theory of art and make plain the factors such a theory can and cannot involve.

In the course of constructing such a theory, he seeks to demonstrate the relationship transtiguration philosophy and art Arthur C. In the course of constructing such a theory, he seeks to demonstrate the relationship between philosophy and art, as well as the connections that hold between art and social institutions and art history.

The book distinguishes what belongs to artistic theory from what has traditionally been confused with it, namely aesthetic theory and offers as well a systematic account of metaphor, expression, and style, together with an original transfiguratiln of artistic representation.

A wealth of examples, drawn especially from recent and contemporary art, illuminate the argument. Paperbackpages. Published March 15th by Harvard University Press first published Lionel Trilling Book Award To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Transfiguration of the Commonplaceplease sign up. Be the first to ask a question about The Transfiguration of the Commonplace.

Lists with This Book. Nov 26, Jee Koh rated it really liked it. In this work of philosophy, Danto wishes to define art, and to show why contemporary art, having attained self-consciousness, is asking the same questions as philosophy. His approach throughout the book is to compare artworks with what he calls mere real things, when both are indiscernibly alike. The two classes of things, as he argues, belong to different ontological realms, hence, the title of his book.

The rtansfiguration performs a transfiguration of the commonplace when he makes of his materials a w In this work of philosophy, Danto wishes to define art, and to show why contemporary art, having attained transfgiuration, is asking the same questions as philosophy.

The artist performs a transfiguration of the commonplace when he makes of his materials a work of art. Danto has been criticized for his belief in duality, underlined by the Christian or Catholic figure of transfiguration, and reiterated throughout the book in his references to the body and the soul.

I am not sure if the two ontological realms are as separate as his tropes imply, for his aethur proceeds by making nice distinctions between, first, a representation and an object, and, then, between a representation and an artistic representation. If the categories are finally different, they are also procedurally nested in one another.

The Transfiguration of the Commonplace

Very roughly, if I understand him rightly, the difference between a representation and an object is that the former is intended. The difference between a representation and an artistic representation is that the latter is artistically intended, meaning, the artist, with his knowledge of the artworld and art history, intends to make a work of art.

So Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box is a different thing from the Brillo box in the supermarket even though they look indiscernibly the same. In order for the viewer to grasp the artistic intention behind the art work, the viewer must know or come to understand the meanings that the artist infused into the work. The structure of the artwork is thus very close to the structure of a metaphor.

So the artwork is constituted as a transfigurative representation rather than a representation tout court, and I think this is true of artworks, when representations, in general, whether this is achieved self-consciously, as in the arch work I have been discussing, or naively, when the artist simply happens to vest his subject with surprising yet penetrating attributes.

Review of ‘Danto: Transfiguration of the commonplace’ by Stefan Beyst

To understand the artwork is to grasp the metaphor that is, I think, always there. The first is that if the structure of artworks is, or is very close to the structure of metaphors, then no paraphrase or summary of the artwork can engage the participatory mind in at all the ways that it can; and no critical account of the internal metaphor of the work can substitute for the work inasmuch as the description of a metaphor simply does not have the power of the metaphor ttansfiguration describes, just as a description of a cry of anguish does not activate the same response as the transfigkration of anguish itself.


Criticism then, which consists in interpreting metaphor in this extended sense, cannot be intended as a substitute for the work. Its function rather is to equip the reader or viewer with the information needed to respond to the work’s power which, after all, can be lost as concepts change or be inaccessible because of the outward difficulties of the work, which the received cultural equipment is insufficient to accommodate.

It is not just, as is so often said, that metaphors go stale; they go dead in a way that sometimes require scholarly resurrection. And it is the great value of such disciplines as the history of art and literature to make such works approachable again.

My view, in brief, is an expansion of the Peircian thesis that “the man is the sum total of his language, because man is a sign. This way of representing whatever he does represent is what I have in mind by style. If a man is a system of representations, his style is the style of these.

The style of a man is, to use the beautiful thought of Schopenhauer, “the physiognomy of the soul. Nov 25, Drenda rated it really liked it. Danto is asking an interesting question in Transfiguration of the Commonplace: We have three art objects, all art objec Danto is asking an interesting question in Transfiguration of the Commonplace: Then there is the canvas in our garage since my high school art class, that I primed with red paint but never committed to painting.

While this last looks exactly like the other three, it is not an art object, just a thing in the world. These examples nicely make the point that an art work is what it is because of the traditions surrounding it, what the world was like around it, all this knowledge building to our attitude toward it.

Common;lace much difference does the object itself make? If we carry this example far enough, it makes no difference at all. He would say commonplxce anything that was ever considered art was embedded in hte viewpoints and possibilities of its time: Moreover, Danto would maintain that all art, representational commonplce not, has been tending this way since before, but especially since, the time when a main theme of art became the investigation of itself, what some would call the onset of Modernism.

One of the essential statements in Transfiguration is to the effect that one must know that something is art before you can respond to it as art. What is this saying? I believe his intention is grasped when, after laying the appropriate groundwork, he supplies this definition of an artwork: The way I translate this statement is to say that once you have said everything that could be said in everyday, non-aesthetic discourse about the art object, it is still not fixed by such language, that no one who enjoys the art object finds it described by such language.

In order to adequately convey what the art transfigurahion presents, one must learn when to drop everyday language and adopt the language of the art world. Hransfiguration think of Redon. One would never say of an actual flower that it was powerful but a picture of a flower can be. Consider a youngster from a rural background with a relative who wishes to introduce him to the city. When taken to the museum, the child can only supply the language of everyday objects to the artwork, and the only pictures to which he can apply the word powerful are those with imposing contents: Titians, battle scenes, Hudson River School waterfalls.

But slowly, after many examples supplied by his aunt, the youngster learns that pictures of nonspectacular things can be powerful, things like a wilted flower.

The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art

When he stands in front of an object, he is beginning to be able to choose which language to use; another way to say it, whether oc use an aesthetic attitude or an everyday attitude.

Danto has a great deal of regard for Andy Warhol-his latest book being entirely about that artist-and he has described how he experienced something of commonlace epiphany when first viewing Aarthur Boxes. These look, of course, exactly like the boxes in the cleaning section of our local supermarket.

Indeed, Danto tells us that Warhol truly liked Campbell soups. But whether Warhol was conscious of it or not, Danto suggests that he helped to make art and philosophy conscious that the art object could be whatever the artist arthug to make use of, because it is how the art world receives it that makes that production an artwork.


Reading Danto was made especially interesting by having read The Sovereignty of Art by Christoph Menke not long commonplace. Certainly, the two books share many basic premises, the autonomy of art from everyday discourse being the most basic. Danto does not appear to share this concern but builds, instead, to the sense of equalitarianism that results from placing the emphasis on aesthetic experience rather than aesthetic production.

Anyone who wants to put the work into learning the language of art shares in its power.

It does not depend on talents or any other gift but the ability to learn. In this there is some irony, as an essay by Danto provided the fodder for what is termed the Institutional Theory of Art. Roughly stated, this argues that anything is art that museum directors and academics say it is, the job for the rest of us to supply aarthur adulation.

He is talking about the differences between worlds rather than institutions and might be summarized with a point made by Wittgenstein: Gaining entrance to the art world demands socialization into its form of life, into a new language. Moreover, to a unique form of life, the only one that allows and perhaps encourages semantic deferral. And is not that tradition mostly created by, and based on the assumptions of, white males with enough socio-economic ease to produce the canon?

Any critic who relies a great deal on that canon, Harold Bloom being an obvious example, might be open to outsider criticism without the concession that the features of the art object, which the tradition has polished and analyzed to ultimate refinement, is yet not the basis of its status as an art object.

If, in the last analysis, the result of aesthetic responding is an attitude, a stance, then the features that ckmmonplace to produce that stance can be rejected. Zrthur makes it ppossible, for example, that many feminists were produced by absorbing male dominated literature. These same works, however, could encourage sexist rigidity in any reader fixated on its content. Danto’s art object is one that can transcend its production, its course determined by its reception, and we, it readers, listeners, receivers, responsible for what that means.

May 13, Crito rated it really liked it Shelves: More admirable still is he’s an Analytic but he defies the unfair caricature of analytics as unpersonable gremlins writing entire books in notation; in fact you could likely not even know until you reach the last chapter when he really shows his powerlevel, which is still approachable in its own right.

He’s consistently engaging and always has examples and scenarios to illustrate the problems arthir arguments he concerns himself with.

Arthur C. Danto, The transfiguration of the commonplace – PhilPapers

Danto spends his time here with the question of what sets an ordinary object apart from what we generally describe as art. Agthur note a general Wittgensteinian family resemblance between the class of art objects, but what is the defining feature?

It can’t be material. If coincidentally, using the same set of paints on the same size canvas, I paint a large yellow circle with a background of blue and say it is a ball in a pool, and then you paint a large yellow circle with a background of blue and say it is the sun in the sky the day of Kennedy’s assassination, materially they are identical but obviously they are different paintings arising independently from specific ideas.

Even the type of representation is entirely different; mine is some ball in some pool, and yours is very specific, the sun in the sky in one particular point in time and history.

And just for one final addition say there’s a camp counselor painting a target for darts, she paints a large yellow circle on a blue background so the target sticks out, but before she can paint the interior of the target she gets word from the higher-ups that they don’t want kids playing with darts after what happened last year, so the project is abandoned.

You would never mistake this for our respective pool and assassination artworks, this is a “mere thing. So the question is what is “that” dimension which separates ball from sun, and those from dartboard.