Danto, Arthur C. 1924–

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DANTO, Arthur C. 1924–

(Arthur Coleman Danto)


Born January 1, 1924, in Ann Arbor, MI; son of Samuel Budd (a dentist) and Sylvia Danto; married Shirley Rovetch, August 9, 1946 (died July, 1978); married Barbara Westman, February 15, 1980; children: (first marriage) Elizabeth Ann, Jane Nicole. Education: Wayne State University, B.A., 1948; Columbia University, M.A., 1949, Ph.D., 1952; University of Paris, postgraduate study, 1949-50. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish.


Office—Nation, 33 Irving Pl., New York, NY 10003.


University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, instructor, 1950-51; Columbia University, New York, NY, instructor, 1951-54, assistant professor, 1954-59, associate professor 1959-66, professor of philosophy, 1966-75, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy, 1975-92, professor emeritus, 1992—, codirector of the Center for Study of Human Rights, beginning 1978, chair of philosophy department, 1979-87. Visiting lecturer at Princeton University and University of California, Santa Barbara, 1965; visiting professor, Catholic University of America, 1972, University of California, San Diego, 1973; resident scholar at Rockefeller Study Center, 1974. Member of board of directors, Amnesty International, 1970-75. Artist with works in public collections. Military service: U.S. Army, 1942-45.


American Philosophical Association (vice president, 1969; president, 1983), American Society of Aesthetics (vice president, 1987; president, 1989), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow).


Fulbright fellowship in France, 1949-50; fellow, American Council of Learned Societies, 1962, 1969; Guggenheim fellow, 1970 and 1982; Lionel Trilling Book Prize, 1982, for The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art; Manufacturers Hanover/Art World prize for distinguished criticism, 1985; George S. Polk Award for criticism, 1985; National Book Critics Circle Award, 1990, for Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present; ICP Infinity prize for writing on photography, 1993.


(Editor, with Sidney Morgenbesser) Philosophy of Science, Meridian (New York, NY), 1961.

Nietzsche as Philosopher, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1965, revised and expanded edition, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Analytical Philosophy of History, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1965.

Analytical Philosophy of Knowledge, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1968, revised edition published as Narration and Knowledge: Including the Integral Text of Analytical Philosophy of History, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1985.

What Philosophy Is, Harper (New York, NY), 1968.

Mysticism and Morality: Oriental Thought and Moral Philosophy, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1972.

Analytical Philosophy of Action, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1973.

Jean Paul Sartre, Viking (New York, NY), 1975, 2nd edition published as Sartre, Fontana (London, England), 1991.

The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1981.

The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1986, published with foreword by Jonathan Gilmore, 2005.

The State of the Art, Prentice Hall (New York, NY), 1987.

Mysticism and Morality: Oriental Thought and Moral Philosophy, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1987.

The Politics of Imagination, Department of Philosophy, University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS), 1988.

Art/Artifact: African Art in Anthropology Collections, Center for African Art (New York, NY), 1988.

397 Chairs, photographs by Jennifer Levy, Abrams (New York, NY), 1988.

Connections to the World: The Basic Concepts of Philosophy, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.

Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1990.

(With Cindy Sherman) History Portraits, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1991.

Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Posthistorical Perspective, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1992.

Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions, edited by Christopher Sweet, Abrams (New York, NY), 1992.

Mapplethorpe, Random House (New York, NY), 1992.

From the Inside Out: Eight Contemporary Artists (catalogue), Jewish Museum (New York, NY), 1993.

Embodied Meanings: Critical Essays and Aesthetic Meditations, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1994.

Playing with the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1995.

After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1997.

Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonne of Sculpture, edited by Nicola Del Roscio, Schirmer/Mosel (Munich, Germany), 1997.

The Wake of Art: Criticism, Philosophy & the Ends of Taste, G & B Arts International (Australia), 1998.

Choice/America: Modern Ceramics, Museum Het Kruithuis, 1999.

Howard Ben Tre, Hudson Hills Press/Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (New York, NY), 1999.

Philosophizing Art: Selected Essays, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1999.

The Body/Body Problem: Selected Essays, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1999.

The Madonna of the Future: Essays on a Pluralistic Art World, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.

(With Robert Enright and Steve Martin) Eric Fischl, 1970-2000, Monacelli Press (New York, NY), 2001.

(Author of text) Ursula von Rydingsvard, Ursula von Rydingsvard: Cedar Lace and Tossing Loops, Galerie Lelong (New York, NY), 2002.

(With Gilles Altieri and Lydia Harambourg), Kimura Hotel des Arts (Toulon, France), 2003.

Robert Mangold: Curled Figure and Column Paintings (catalog), PaceWildenstein (New York, NY), 2003.

(Author of essay) Joel Shapiro: Recent Sculpture, PaceWildenstein, May 2-July 31, 2003 (catalog), PaceWildenstein (New York, NY), 2003.

(With Suzanne Ramljak and Morris Lapidus) Michele Oka Doner: Natural Seduction, foreword by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 2003.

The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art, Open Court (Chicago, IL), 2003.

(With others) Red Grooms, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 2004.

Unnatural Wonders: Essays from the Gap between Art and Life, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2005.

(Author of essay) Wave Music, photographs by Clifford Ross, interview by A.M. Homes, Aperture (New York, NY), 2005.

(Author of essays, with Robert P. Conway) June Wayne, a Catalogue Raisonne, 1936-2006: The Art of Everything, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 2006.

(With Janet Koplos and Barry Schwabsky) Betty Woodman, Monacelli Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Also contributor to catalog Angel Chairs: New Works by Wendell Castle, Peter Joseph Gallery (New York, NY), 1991. Contributor to journals. Editor, Journal of Philosophy, 1964—; art critic, Nation, 1984—.


Philosopher Arthur C. Danto, wrote Elizabeth Frank in a 1989 New York Times Magazine article, "has branched into other disciplines. Fascinated by the topic of mental representations—how minds form ideas—he team-teaches courses with two Columbia colleagues from the department of psychology. With Prof. Julian Hochberg, he teaches a course on perception and moving images; with Prof. Herbert Terrace, who became famous in the mid-1970's with his work on the linguistic competence of chimpanzees," the writer continued, "he co-teaches a course called the Philosophy of 20th Century Psychology, which covers such topics as artificial intelligence, the representation of cognitive events in the animal mind, Freud, and the analysis of language pioneered by Noam Chomsky." His works range from a study of the philosopher Nietzsche and appreciations of the work of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe to "essays on the cultural meaning of chairs, and on the battlefield of Gettysburg as a 'site-specific' artwork," the reviewer explained. "What would be the fun of it if there were only one thing to know?" Danto asked Frank. "Why would anyone do it at all if it were not fun?"

Danto trained as an analytical philosopher at Columbia University after serving in World War II. Two of his early works, Analytical Philosophy of History and Analytical Philosophy of Knowledge, draw on his training to examine important questions in the pursuit of the subjects. The latter book is Danto's examination of the disparity between language and reality. This concept poses a particular problem for historians, who deal with things that cannot be experienced because they have already happened. For Danto, however, historians can know and express knowledge about the past.

Danto is better known, however, for his art criticism. Since 1984, he has been contributing art criticism to the Nation—an unusual position for a professor of philosophy, because a large amount of art criticism is written by artists or art historians. Danto's collection of essays Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, is mostly taken from his contributions to the Nation and looks at problems of interpretation in modern art. He considers controversial modern artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol, as well as relatively classic artists such as the Cubist Georges Braque. "Mr. Danto's insights," declared Marina Vaizey in the New York Times Book Review, "are distinguished by his own broad frames of reference; an occasional and almost overwhelming attachment to, and description of, the sheer captivating sensuality of a particular work; … and a determination to make the reader, and the essayist, feel, see and, above all, think."

In Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Posthistorical Perspective, Danto looks at what he considers to be a seminal point in modern art—the appearance of Andy Warhol's Brillo Box. Outwardly, the artwork consists of reproductions of boxes of detergent. The significance of the work, according to Danto, is "that Andy Warhol brought Western art history to an end," declared a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "What Danto … does so brilliantly," the critic continued, "is to take Warhol's Brillo Box, or a painting by Mark Tansey, or the growing presence of museum stores and then, by invoking Hegel, Kant, Rembrandt, etc., set these artworld phenomena ablaze with meaning." "Danto makes the astonishing claim," Frank stated, "that Andy Warhol was 'the nearest thing to a philosophical genius the history of art has produced,' for in making a work that in effect asked [what is the difference between reality and art] … he turned art into philosophy and brought the history of art to an end. Artists will keep on making art, but their efforts will no longer be driven by history."

In Playing with the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe Danto takes on the work of the controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS shortly before a massive controversy broke out about the funding of an exhibition of his works by the National Endowment for the Arts. Mapplethorpe, who was gay, photographed other gay men in acts of sado-masochistic sex. He also took photographs of children in ways that displayed their sexuality. In three essays, Danto tries to understand Mapplethorpe's powerful—and very disturbing—work. "His tone is one of deeply respectful exploration, quite serious but open to humor," wrote Maud Lavin in the New York Times Book Review. "Mr. Danto is provocative without being at all meretricious…. With this book," the reviewer concluded, "Mr. Danto gives Mapplethorpe's work its due by using it to involve the reader in a tightly constructed, formal, articulate and open discussion of sexuality and photography."

Lectures given by Danto at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, were eventually adapted into the book After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History. Again he went back to his encounter with Warhol's Brillo boxes, marking it as the beginning of postmodern art. After the End of Art discusses how to judge postmodern works when they are, by Danto's own definition, free from all rules. In the postmodern period, Danto believes, our task is to know philosophically what art is. His essays "deal variously with this insight," according to Commonweal reviewer David Castronovo. "Today it means that we can't look to visual things and mere sensuous experience to understand a work; we have to judge a Brillo box or an installation of objects by the questions of meaning it poses." Admiring Danto's style, Castronovo nevertheless cautioned that "Danto has bound us to an intellectual game that is interesting and relevant to the history of philosophy, but largely irrelevant to viewing a work of visual art. He has essentially substituted an intellectual enterprise for the shock of encountering a new work." Still, the reviewer declared After the End of Art to be "lucidly written and tightly packed with fascinating theory and art history. No hayride, it is nevertheless pleasurable because of the prose itself—smooth and genial in tone…. Danto is an expert guide through the polemi cal terrain that surrounds pop art, transgressive art, conceptual installations, readymades, and ideological pictures and displays."

A writer for Economist pointed out that Danto has set himself a difficult task, because "there is no longer any widely accepted hierarchy of styles, topics or genres" on which to base art criticism. Furthermore, "Danto is a guide who denies the need for guides; a critic who seems to undercut criticism. With skill, however, he turns these difficulties to advantage, bringing to bear considerable talents of his own. He admires and writes about all sorts of art, old and new. He is drenched in art theory of every kind but writes on aesthetics with analytical clarity and dry humour, rare qualities in the smart new-art publications." The reviewer concluded: "You may quarrel with a lot of the detail in [ After the End of Art, ] but that is how Mr. Danto would want things. Like the best criticism, it lives in its time. The unwieldy vitality, the stylistic sprawl, the lack of canonical rules are a fact of life for artists, curators and critics. For those not put off by this freedom, Mr. Danto is a wise and encouraging guide." Daniel Kunitz, writing in the New Leader, also voiced some reservations about the philosophical underpinnings of the book, but concluded: "My cavils notwithstanding, Danto manages to be simultaneously a penetrating critic and a lucid and provocative philosopher. That I found myself at times arguing with his book is far outweighed by the fact that I learned from every page."

Continuing his examination of the philosophy of modern art with The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art, Danto points out that beauty and art are not inextricably linked. In other words, a work of art does not have to be beautiful to be art, nor is a beautiful creation necessarily art. Modern art attempts to communicate many things to viewers besides a pleasing object to look at, he asserts. A Publishers Weekly reviewer had one objection to The Abuse of Beauty, noting that Danto does not "define what he means by beauty," which results in some "vague" arguments. Nevertheless, the critic applauded Danto's "philosophical insights [which are] of genuine value to anyone interested in beauty." Arts & Activities critic Jerome J. Hausman concluded: "This book should be considered carefully by teachers of art at all levels."

Several of Danto's recent publications are collections of essays gathered together from his Nation column. Among these are The Madonna of the Future: Essays on a Pluralistic Art World, and Unnatural Wonders: Essays from the Gap between Art and Life. The former offers insights into important exhibitions from the end of the twentieth century, continuing with the philosopher's notion that art is a type of thought, not just an aesthetic expression. "One of Danto's signal qualities is his openness to new types of art," wrote a Nation contributor in appreciation of the essay collection. Library Journal contributor Martin R. Kalfatovic, calling the book "pleasurable to read," commented that "the essays have an immediacy and a focus often missing from most exhibition reviews."

In Unnatural Wonders, explained a Kirkus Reviews writer, Danto comments that modern art requires much more explanation than earlier forms of art that were often designed to convey spiritual messages most people understood; thus, "the art of our time has generally lost the power to communicate on its own." Ken Johnson, writing in Art in America, found such notions less than revelatory, remarking that "for the already informed reader, Danto's criticism lacks the excitement of a strongly idiosyncratic, contrarian or otherwise unexpected point of view. Indeed, Danto's favorite critical tenet seems oddly outdated." Of the contrary opinion were several other critics, such as Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman, who described Danto's reflections on various artists as "enlightening" and "crisp and invigorating." She especially emphasized that "his musings on art in the wake of 9/11 are incisive and moving." The Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded that Unnatural Wonders is "among the most sensible, intelligent, logical, and accessible art criticism of the last five years."



Art in America, March, 2006, Ken Johnson, review of Unnatural Wonders: Essays from the Gap between Art and Life, p. 41.

Arts & Activities, January, 2005, Jerome J. Hausman, review of The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art, p. 13.

Booklist, July, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of The Madonna of the Future: Essays in a Pluralistic World, p. 1988; February 15, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of Unnatural Wonders, p. 1048; November 1, 2005, Donna Seaman, "Top 10 Arts Criticism," review of Unnatural Wonders, p. 23.

Commonweal, November 7, 1997, David Castronovo, review of After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, p. 37.

Economist, May 31, 1997, review of After the End of Art, p. 78.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1992, review of Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-historical Perspective, pp. 958-959; December 15, 2004, review of Unnatural Wonders, p. 1176.

Library Journal, July, 2000, Martin R. Kalfatovic, review of The Madonna of the Future, p. 83; April 15, 2001, Martin R. Kalfatovic, review of Eric Fischl, 1970-2000, p. 82; August, 2003, Douglas McClemont, review of The Abuse of Beauty, p. 76; December 1, 2004, Katherine C. Adams, review of Red Grooms, p. 107.

Nation, October 2, 2000, "Universal Languages," review of The Madonna of the Future, p. 40.

New Leader, June 2, 1997, Daniel Kunitz, review of After the End of Art, p. 14.

New York Times Book Review, August 5, 1990, Marina Vaizey, review of Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present, p. 9; October 29, 1995, Maud Lavin, review of Playing with the Edge, p. 36.

New York Times Magazine, November 19, 1989, Elizabeth Frank, "Art's Off-the-Wall Critic (Arthur Danto)," p. 47.

Publishers Weekly, July 3, 2000, review of The Madonna of the Future, p. 64; May 26, 2003, review of The Abuse of Beauty, p. 63.


Nation Online,http://www.thenation.com/ (August 29, 2006), brief biography of Arthur C. Danto.*

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Danto, Arthur C. 1924–

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