Part Five – Exercise 5.0: Danto

Read the first three pages (at least) of Arthur Danto’s essay ‘Works of Art and Mere Real Things’ in his book The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. Then conduct your own ‘thought experiment’ by choosing a picture or object that is, or you can imagine to be, a work of art. Give this ‘work’ three or more different titles, then reflect on the effect of the title on the work and the work on the title.

Richard Serra (1981) Tilted Arc 

‘Mere things are unentitled to titles’ – A. C. Danto

Suggested titles:

1) ‘Security Barrier’

=> The title would position the work into a context of current terrorist attacks through truck ramming in urban places around the world (especially UK, France, Spain, Germany).  The proposed work seems to be a robust and effective protective measure to counteract running trucks hitting the crowd.  Is not to be associated with art, but rather as effective antiterrorist countermeasure.

=> The work would enforce the title as a security measures and passive measure to prevent terrorist attack through vehicle ramming. Through the tilted shape, the work would impose an aesthetic effect on the barrier and its original intention. Perhaps to make it less offensive and embracing more fluidity and relating it to resilient effects

2) ‘Black rectangle’

=> The title would place the work into context of constructivism and suprematism relating to artists as Malevich as well as Minimal Sculpture

=> The work would give the title a strong phenomenological expression and through its massive appearance could be considered as an extenions of geometrial abstract art into non-institutional space. The work would raise associations in art history alongside questions of space and art places.

3) ‘Black Thursday (Friday)

=> Thurday 24 October 1929 was the day of the stock market crash at the Wall Street and signifier for the Great Depression.  In other cultures, the title could more relate to signification of black and Friday in relationgship with the financial world. The term black is a signifier for negative events that happened on Thursday.

It could also relate to Black Thursday, as the day before Black Friday, the signifier for Thanksgiving Sales starting on Friday after Thanksgiving. Through increasingly push from sellers the sales are already open now on Thursday, thus Black Thursday. It would connect the work of art with the commercial world and consumption. The ambiguity of the title alongside the location of the work would lead towards different significations.

=> The work and especially the location of the work would give meaning to the title. In front of Wall Street it would clearly relate to Deep Depression. On the parking lot of Walmart around Thanksgiving it would connect truly to the commercial side. The work as such could be even placed in various locations (contrasting to Serra’s expression that ‘art ceases to be art when relocated’ to lead to different significations.

4) ‘Torez’  

=> Torez is the place in Eastern Ukraine (Donetsk Oblast) where the wreckage of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 was found after being shot down on 17 July 2014, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members. The title would evoke memories and act as a memorial. The name of the town and the name of the title are not well known. Meaning would come mainly from the work and through relating the name with the place of distaster.

=> The weight and tilted shape of the work would make a massive impact on the environment embracing the size of the Airbus and contrasting the massive small wreckage objects found on the ground over a very long and challenging search operation. The work would bring a close relationship of historical event to the name of the town (title). The work would make the town-name ‘popular’.



Arthur C. Danto ‘Works of Art and More Real Things’ (Danto, 2006):

Danto begins with his virtual exhibitiong about different paintings of a red square. He chooses various, finished and unfinished works from different ontological genres: ‘historical paintings, psychological portraiture, landscape, geomettrical abstraction, religious art, still-life.’ (Danto, 2006:2). The point he is making is rather an open question how to divide and differentiate art from the real world. Quite in a Platonic sense of division and finding right and false claimants.

Key aspects mentioned by Danto:

  • Resemblance of works relates to different interpretations
  • A question of aesthetic judgement and critical appraisal
  • The question of a title and its meaning, also as a declaration (even ‘untitled’) of a work as an artwork, different to ‘mere things unentitled to titles’ (p.3)
  • He is citing Wittgenstein’s dualistic notion that ‘an action is a bodily movement covered by a rule’ in comparision with the difference of artworks and mere things
  • He takes the example of the mirror as being more than imitation (object) and reflection (images) with reference to the first mirror image of Narcissus and his falling in love with himself, the reflected-Narcissus, a non real one.
  • A sense that art resides within the gap between imitation and reality
  • A dilemma when applying compare & contrast of features on art and real world
  • Difference art and real world either by declaration, by features or conventions

Overall, Danto is relating strongly to Plato’s dialectic argumentation and based on question of represention and identity. For Danto, the key question is how to differentiate between art and the real world. As if art like dreams, magic and games are ‘outside the world’ (p.18). I have the feeling, that with Danto’s final conclusion that there is not conclusion, he seems to be restricted in his own framework of thinking.

I can see a relationship of Danto’s argumentation of difference between ‘art and mere things’ similar to Greenberg’s notion of the ‘arbitrary object’ and and questioning the conditions of non-art. Fried argues further with his conception of ‘objecthood’ and quoting Greenberg that the ‘borderline between art and non-art had to be sought in the three-dimensional’.


I do believe that art as art is based as well on conventions as on the human response in context of the world. Art certainly plays a role for human being, either for pleasure or for obtaining different or new perspectives. In that sense, it is the ‘gap in-between’ as the area where art for me opens up possibilities and excitement. And it is perhaps that, the ineffable and inescapable condition of art that makes it different to problem solving and goal achievement tasks.


My selected work:  Richard Serra (1981) Tilted Arc 

I selected this work as I find it one the hand a good abstract work where I could lay various interpretation over in context of Danto. On the other hand, it relates to my assignment 4 with links to Minimal Art, Conceptual Art and site-specificity. Further it embraces a personal response in a phenomnenlogical sense as well as an intellectual sense of makeing ‘meaning-out-of-it’.

The work was built 1981 and placed on the Federal Plaza in downtown New York City. It was a wall of steel 12 feet high and 120 feet long with an approximate weight of 73 tonnes. The used steel spec enabled an erosion over time as a response to changing environmental conditions.

Serra’s sculpture had an immediate effect on the public. Being unprepared for it’s ‘arrival’ it was considered as ‘ugly, oppressive and a ‘graffiti catcher’ (Mundy, 2012) With following public hearings and opposin opinions the sculpture was eventually n 1989 cut into three pieces and relocated to a warehouse by the commisioning company General Services Administration (GSA). This is another example of contractionary artist’s intention and company’s interest (see Asher’s remarks on his work for Heinrich Heiner Gallery, 1973).



  • Tilted Arc, Richard Serra, 1981, sculpture, steel, New York City (destroyed). Photo © 1985 David Aschkenas



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