Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Noël Carroll


Nickolas Pappas

Committee Members

Nickolas Pappas

Jonathan Gilmore

Jesse Prinz

Peter Godfrey-Smith

Subject Categories

Aesthetics | Art and Design | Film and Media Studies | Fine Arts | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Music Theory | Philosophy | Theory and Criticism


Aesthetics, Definition, Evaluation, Tolstoy, Danto, Dickie


Art is essentially a type of display. As an activity, art is what we do when we display objects with certain intentions. As a set of objects, art is all of those things that are displayed for those purposes. The artworld is the social atmosphere that surrounds this particular activity of display. And a history of art is an evolving narrative of change in the practice of this sort of display.

Specifically, to focus for convenience on art as a set of objects, this is what we can call the “displayed-object thesis”:

x is a work of art iff: (a) x is presented to a public audience for the purpose of their appreciation or contemplation of x and (b) a proper understanding of x requires recognition of (a).

This dissertation is an attempt to articulate, explain and justify the displayed-object thesis. At the moment, there is probably an air of temerity about offering another definitional theory, much less an essential one. The last fifty or so years have seen less disagreement about the (dis)value of such an ambition than about the reasons for it’s retrograde status. In the first few chapters, then, I offer a number of defenses of the project itself against claims that a successful essential definition is impossible, improbable, or redundant.

I then turn to the displayed-object thesis itself, explaining and arguing for its key components as well as responding to objections to it. In the final chapters, I turn our attention forward, toward certain practical and theoretical benefits of the theory.