Art is Everywhere

George Dickie is one of the most famous art philosophers of our time; he is celebrated for having introduced his “institutional theory of art”. His theory was presented in an article entitled What is Art?. Dickie’s article incorporates many arguments from philosophers and art critics, as well as controversial pieces of art, in order to define art. The artworld is defined by Dickie as an institution, under which exist limitless systems. In this instance, the institution that Dickie refers to is a practice, rather than a business or social organization. The systems are made up of genres such as theater, music, painting, and dance. Within these systems are subsystems, or more specific categories under which art may be classified. Because of the flexibility of his definition, Dickie believes that the artworld is essentially all-encompassing, with the exception of the necessity of art to meet certain stipulations.

In order for a work to be considered art by the classifications of Dickie’s artworld, it must be an artifact and possess “a set of the aspects of which has had conferred up on it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution” (Aagaard-Moglusen, 23). Dickie’s definition for what is art is complex; however, the complexity translates into an inclusive definition of art. Because of the inclusive nature of his definition, Dickie gives more specific guidelines for how one will know when the conferment of status has actually taken place. He cites that if a piece is in an art museum or exhibited in a theater it can be labeled ‘art’. In this case, the work will have already gone through the scrutiny of individuals in the artworld as they decide the piece is worthy of public attention. The ‘appreciatability’ of art gives the work potential value, although this value may never be attained. Driftwood may become art in Dickie’s definition through its artifactuality. The driftwood must be displayed, either on a person’s wall, or in exhibition. Artifactuality is a condition that requires creativity, and an artifact is an inevitable product of creativity. Dickie’s theory of art will now be further explored by looking at two artists and the television program, “Faking It”.

Frida Kahlo is a famous Mexican female artist, and she lived during the first half of the 20th century. George Dickie would consider Frida Kahlo to be an artist, because she is well known among those in the artworld, and her art is displayed in prominent museums. She is most noted for her creativity in combining the uses of Surrealism, Realism, and symbolism in her artwork. The institutional aspect of Dickie’s theory on art is exemplified in Frida Kahlo, because in Mexico there is an entire museum devoted to the exhibition of her work, the Frida Kahlo Museum. In the U.S., her painting entitled “Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair” (1940) is currently exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. The painting shows her dressed in men’s clothing, sitting in a chair in the center of the picture and she is surrounded by wisps of hair. A set of music notes and two lines written in Spanish adorn the top of the painting, “Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don't love you anymore”. Frida’s personal life was very important in her artwork, and it was also highly publicized. The portrait was painted shortly after her divorce, and Frida was actually expressing her feelings of separation linked to her husband. By Dickie’s definition of art, Frida’s notoriety enhances the artifactuality and candidacy of her paintings. Frida was a pioneer in her techniques, and revered by many artists and art enthusiasts. Frida had a host of famous friends, including composer George Gershwin, and she was married to renowned artist Diego Rivera.

George Dickie’s theory differentiates between objects that are housed in an art museum versus those kept in a museum of natural history; those in the latter are not art. Damien Hirst is a modern British artist, born in 1965, who is known for making controversial pieces of art. He has used preserved and unpreserved animal corpses in his exhibits. Direct representations of animals are often found in natural history museums, and interestingly Damien Hirst’s pieces are only displayed in art museums. The deeper meaning behind his art, including allegories to religion, folklore, and social values are what distinguish Damien Hirst from a natural scientist. In the Brooklyn Museum of Art he has had works displayed, such as the piece called “Away from the Flock” (1997). This work features a dead lamb submerged in a tank of formaldehyde. The artist shows a unique property of the animal by suspending it in time. Damien Hirst’s aim was to explore human ethics, and to get people to examine their own views on mortality. The New York Exhibit is now closed, in part because it was deemed highly controversial. Hirst’s intentionality in making his pieces of art are what make them art in Dickie’s classificatory sense. The art of Damien Hirst is an example of artifactuality, creativity, and originality. These three characteristics are all traits that Dickie believes is essential to art; therefore, “Away from the Flock” should be viewed as art according to Dickie’s perspective. The piece was displayed in an art museum, further solidifying the notion that it is indeed art.

The BBC program “Faking It” also exemplifies some of Dickie’s views on art. In the program, the test subject’s success is based upon whether or not reputable critics in the field of interest are able to decide if the person is “faking” the skill. If the subject goes unnoticed, then they have successfully fooled the experts and are considered to be as good as a professional. The T.V. program also exemplifies Dickie’s definition because if members of the artworld believe the work to be worthy of acceptance into the artworld, it is considered to be art. “Faking It” is a program that helps to show the dynamics involved in the artworld, and these dynamics begin at the level of the artist. Paul, a house-painter from Liverpool was chosen to undergo a metamorphosis and become an artist. In the process of becoming an ‘artist’ Paul had to change everything about the way he presented himself, including his mannerisms, speech, clothing, and overall appearance. In the program, Paul also received mentorship from several elite members of the artworld. The members of the artworld conferred their knowledge onto Paul, which he then incorporated into his works.
George Dickie’s definition of art is both complex and inclusive, but it serves as a fair guideline for what is and is not art. Dickie was able to analyze the perspectives of other art critics while using those perspectives as part of his definition, which looks at art from classificatory perspective. The institution that is the artworld is responsible for conferring the status of art to a particular work, and this institution is made of many subsystems. Artists like Frida Kahlo and Damien Hirst are considered to be artists by the artworld under Dickie’s definition, but they are classified under different subsystems of art. Dickie’s art theory makes it possible the works of two very different artists to exist under the same heading of “art”, as well as much of what surrounds us in our everyday life.


“Self Portrait with Cropped Hair” (1940) by Frida Kahlo

“Away from the Flock” (1997) by Damien Hurst


Damien Hirst. 22 October 2006. Wikepedia. 22 October 2006. <>

Aagaard-Moglusen, Lars ed. Culture and Art. An Anthology. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1976.

Deem, James M. “Are Modern Mummies Art?” 17 April 2003. Mummy Tombs. 22 October 2006. <>

Frida Kahlo. 22 October 2006. Wikepedia. 22 October 2006. <>

George Dickie. 22 October 2006. Wikepedia. 22 October 2006.

Kahlo. 2005. The Museum of Modern Art. 22 October 2006.

Randall, Gale. “The Frida Kahlo Museum.” 2006. Mexico Connect. 22 October 2006.


Resa Roth
Majors: Zoology and Spanish
Expected Graduation Date: December 2006
Hometown: Bellevue

This assignment was a challenging task for me because we were asked to connect George Dickie's theory on art with two artists and a television program. I am analytical by nature so I do enjoy elaborating on art theories, but finding art to exemplify the theory is a bit more difficult for me. I selected Frida Kahlo as one of the artists because she is a famous woman artist, and our class had just discussed the lack of famous women artists. I came across Damien Hirst when I searched for "controversial art" on the internet, and he then became my second example.