The Philosophy of Arthur C. Danto

Brian Soucek in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

DownloadThe thirty-third volume of the Library of Living Philosophers is dedicated to the life and thought of Arthur Danto, the philosopher and art critic who died last October. The book is a mixed bag. This might be inevitable in a collection of twenty-seven essays and responses. But the problems go beyond the odd misfire among the contributions. The essays are at once repetitive and crucially under-inclusive; the arrangement is haphazard; and the number of essays that Danto, famous for his generosity, found impenetrable or just wrong is alarmingly high. Few will, and still fewer should, read this book cover-to-cover. The best service I can provide, then, is to highlight what parts more selective readers will not want to miss.

To start: anything written by Danto himself. The format — and point — of the Living Philosophers series is to put great thinkers in conversation with their critics, and Danto's short responses are almost always interesting, whether they are actually responsive or, as often, not. A reader gets more than a dozen essays deep into the book, in fact, before encountering a contribution that's better than Danto's response.

Even more rewarding is the 68-page intellectual autobiography that begins the book. Danto's narrative is breezy at times — one page alone finds Danto, in 1950, making a movie in Rodin's foundry, getting to know Giacometti in Paris, and visiting Santayana in Rome (10). Recent survivors of the academic job market may be scandalized to hear how, in 1951, Danto was offered his first position at Columbia during an unplanned stop at its bookstore “to pick up some 3×5 cards, God knows why” (11). (He taught there for the next four decades.) Hardly less serendipitous are Danto's stories about his decision to stop producing art cold turkey in the early '60s — before that, he was making as much money selling woodcuts as he did as an assistant professor of philosophy — or the unexpected invitation he received in 1984 to become the art critic for The Nation, a role he inhabited to great acclaim for the next twenty-five years.

More here.