Paper $12.95 ISBN: 9780984201006 Published June 2010

The Great Debate about Art

Roy Harris

The Great Debate about Art

Roy Harris

Distributed for Prickly Paradigm Press

130 pages | 4 1/2 x 7 | © 2010
Paper $12.95 ISBN: 9780984201006 Published June 2010

In this lucid and insightful essay, renowned linguist Roy Harris reflects on the early nineteenth-century doctrine of “art for art’s sake.” This was attacked by Proudhon and Nietzsche, but defended by Théophile Gautier and E. M. Forster. It influenced movements as diverse as futurism and Dada. Over the past two centuries, three main positions have emerged. The “institutional” view declares art to be a status conferred upon certain works by the approval of influential institutions. The “idiocentric” view gives absolute priority to the judgment of the individual. The third is the “conceptual” view of art, which insists that what counts is the idea that inspired a work, not the physical execution. But as Harris shows, the tacit assumptions which once supported this Debate and these positions have now collapsed. “Art” as a coherent category has imploded, leaving behind a historical residue of empty questions that contemporary society can no longer answer. The Great Debate about Art provides much needed signposts for understanding this sorry state of affairs.


1.    Art for Art’s Sake
2.    Questions and Responses
3.    Art and Institutionalism
4.    Art and Idiocentrism
5.    Art and Conceptualism
6.    Modernism and the Great Debate
7.    Art and Anti-art
8.    Art as Supercategory
9.    The Art of "I Spy"
10.  Art as Ambiguity
11.  Art Inside Out
12.  In Defence of the Turner Prize
13.  A Science of Art?

Review Quotes
John Rapko | ArtCritical

Years ago in his Prickly Paradigm Press pamphlet, What Happened to Art Criticism, James Elkins claimed that art criticism is in a state of crisis worldwide. . . .Into the fray comes the distinguished linguist Roy Harris who has published, also with Prickly Paradigm, The Great Debate About Art. Harris takes up Elkins’ diagnosis and places it within the long history of discussing art, claiming, however, that as something worth analyzing and debating, art is over. . . .This is not because criticism won’t have works to attach itself to, but because the conditions for criticism mattering are long gone. The arts died with Dada, since which criticism has been a kind of diversion of attention from their absence.”

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