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Arthur Danto on Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box
– David Carrier
"The question Brillo Box posed for Danto in 1964, then, was: why is this object a work of art? This is a very specifically philosophical query. Traditionally visual works of art have a special sort of appearance. Under the old regime, in Europe as in China, a work of art is a representation. When Jackson Pollock and his peers created abstractions, then, it was discovered, a visual work of art was something expressive. But since Brillo Box is basically visually indistinguishable from the Brillo boxes in the grocery story, it really is neither a representation nor expressive, in the way that Autumn Rhythm is expressive. Why, then, should it be a work of art? The paradox here comes in the fact that we naturally expect that the identity of a visual work of art be given by its appearance. What Warhol showed, Danto argued, was that this intuitively plausible claim is in fact entirely mistaken. Brillo Box is a work of art, unlike the Brillo box in the store, which looks essentially similar. Brillo Box is a work of art because it exemplifies and instantiates a theory of the nature of art. And what this demonstrates, he argues, is that Warhol was a distinguished visual thinker, a true philosopher of art."