Visual Conceptual Art1
We are sometimes urged to see artworks, movements, and styles as connected by narrative. A strong formulation of this view has it that these narratives play a role in determining what is to count as art; something is art partly in virtue of the narratives that link it to already established members of the kind (see e.g. Carroll 1993). But we need not accept the strong view in order to think that art historical narratives are important for our understanding of the particular works they connect. For such narratives provide answers to questions about how the works in question came to be made, and understanding a work of art is not separable from understanding its making (Currie 1989).
Rejecting the strong view, we might still think of artworks as paradigmatic narrative entities: things apt to be described or thought of in narrative terms, and highly resistant to capture in other ways. We turn to narrative when we want to focus on the particularity of things, their relations to the intentions and other mental states of agents, and in situations where recourse to causal laws is beyond our reach or unlikely to be helpful. Artworks are particular in the extreme, and we constantly celebrate their individuality; they are the products
1 The paper read at the Conceptual Art Conference, King's College London, in 2004 went
through a process of radical change amounting, in effect, to its abandonment. The good work of
the audience in commenting on the text presented, and especially of Jerry Levinson who provided
a brief formal commentary on all the papers, is therefore reflected here only by the absence of that
paper. Thanks to Elisabeth Schellekens and an anonymous referee for the Press for comments on
an earlier version of the paper printed here.