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This paper is an introduction for the special issue of “Rivista di estetica” devoted to the role of ontology in contemporary aesthetics and philosophy of art. It describes the most dominating trends within current ontological inquiry in aesthetics and philosophy of art as well as presents papers collected in the issue.

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  • 1 I would like to express my gratitude to Tiziana Andina for prompting me to guest-edit an ontology-r (...)

1This special issue of “Rivista di estetica” is devoted to shedding some light on the role of ontology in contemporary aesthetics and philosophy of art1. Ontology of art is flourishing, with a plethora of research papers dedicated to this area appearing each year. It is commonly believed that ontology of art is one of the main fields in aesthetics. This is not surprising since many (if not all) aesthetic questions presuppose some level of ontological inquiry. That is, when researching issues, for example, regarding aesthetic experience caused by artworks or the nature of aesthetic or artistic properties we often need to have at least a broad conception of how artworks are individuated, how they persist though time or what sort(s) of entities they are. On the other hand, sadly, lasting achievements in ontology of art have proved elusive. The vast number of existing, mutually exclusive positions within the area suggests at least two things: either the whole debate is carried on in the wrong way (namely, it is not possible to reach an agreement in the discussion over the ontological nature of artworks), or there is a hidden possible solution within it that has not been elaborated so far. For philosophers and art theorists it is evident that the art world constantly brings forth new art objects and practices that undermine established ontological categories and concepts. This indisputable fact is a trigger for brave a new investigations within and beyond traditionally understood ontology of art. I am very happy to say that papers included into the present issue of “Rivista di estetica” represent a novel sort of inquiry that allows us to perceive ontology of art as a (still) fascinating and indeed promising field in contemporary aesthetics.

  • 2 See e.g. Quine 1948.
  • 3 For a detailed discussion of the relationship between ontology and metaphysics consult Varzi 2011. (...)
  • 4 Lowe 1998.

2Before moving to the presentation of the papers, let me very briefly sketch the basic landscape of ontology of art. I shall start from recalling the relationship between ontology and metaphysics. The first one is associated with determining what entities exist, whereas the second tries to answer the question of what they are2. For example, claiming that artworks exist is a matter of ontology, whereas determining whether they are abstracts, tokens of types or spatio-temporal objects is a job of metaphysics. Moreover, there is a certain hierarchy between ontology and metaphysics. Namely, it is quite intuitive to claim that ontology enjoys a sort of priority towards metaphysics since we need to establish first what exists and then we might investigate how it exists3. Because of that, it is not unusual to claim that ontology is a proper part of metaphysics and even the center of it4.

  • 5 This is naturally a great oversimplification. However, it maps somehow the general trend, I hope.
  • 6 A similar tendency can be noticed in everyday aesthetics. That is, at least in some views, in order (...)
  • 7 After all, Mahler’s music moves us no matter what ontology of music we adopt. Am I right? The same (...)
  • 8 See e.g. Davies 2004, Nannicelli 2012.

3Nowadays, it seems that there are two main tendencies within philosophical aesthetics towards ontology of art5. The first one, although admitting the theoretical importance of ontology, calls for the need to focus much more on human engagement with artworks, and especially on aesthetic experience, artworks cognitive dimension or role in moral grooming. By following this path it aims at restoring the importance of the notion of aesthetic experience into the academic discourse as well as liberating aesthetics from (predominantly) the art-centered approach6. As a result, artworks should be studied primarily as objects of experience and appreciation without stressing on their ontological nature7. The second tendency acknowledges the radical changes in the art world as well as the fact that some of the traditional categories are not any longer suitable to pursue the ontological inquiry. However, it takes new technologies, media, scientific and cultural approaches as stimulating factors helping to build new models of artwork existence. What is stressed here, is that ontology of art has a primarily descriptive dimension8. That is, its role is mainly to explain artistic practices and phenomena by providing a handy metaphysical theory.

4The papers contained in this issue combine the sensitivity of the above mentioned approaches. On the one hand, they are very much concentrated on aesthetic experience and appreciating the fact that human engagement with artworks is the crucial aspect to be explained by philosophical aesthetics. Yet, on the other hand, they see ontology as something truly important for establishing a vocabulary for the critical discourse as well as explaining artworks’ existence and persistence in our experience.

5Alessandro Bertinetto’s article Improvisation and ontology of art aims at showing that improvisation is important for ontological inquiry of art. Here it means that artworks come into existence thanks to the interaction between their elements and emerge ex improviso from the multiple interactions with other artworks and the artistic practices they belong to. Bertinetto proposes to learn a lesson from musical ontology (for which improvisation is one of the key categories) and to see improvisation as a paradigmatic artistic practice. He formulates several arguments to support his view called conversational improvisational emergentism: that artworks have emergent identities. In other words, their identity is a result of the dynamics of artistic practices of production, interpretation, and criticism.

6In TV series and their boundaries Iris Vidmar Jovanović follows a similar direction, as her articles represents the analytic tradition. The purpose is to provide an accurate frame for our experiences of television serial dramas by establishing ontological boundaries of TV series. By applying the descripionist approach to ontology of art, Vidmar Jovanović argues that the external identity of television series is determined by their specific genre-affiliation, that is, by certain norms responsible for fixing the content of a particular series such as characteristic storylines and regular set of characters. Accompanied by the careful analysis of several examples of television series dramas, Vidmar Jovanović gives a definition of series-specific formulaic patterns being instructions for creating works and she provides criteria deciding whether an episode to belongs to the particular TV series.

7Andrea Giomi undertakes a slightly different path. In the article entitled Towards an ontology of digital arts. Media environments, interactive processes and effects of presence he touches upon issues characteristic both for the continental and analytic tradition in aesthetics. Giomi’s task is to provide an original framework to capture the ontological status of the contemporary media art practices. In his view digital artworks should be analysed not as “things”, but rather as media environments and interactive processes. Giomi, following performance studies, considers the category of presence as one of the keys to understanding the complexity of digital media and artworks.

8Sanja Ivic’s contribution Paul Ricouer’s hermeneutics as a bridge between aesthetics and ontology is an original systematic study of some main ideas present in the continental thought on artworks. By creative reading of Ricouer’s theory, Ivic argues that artworks have the ability to transform the world by proposing new meanings and perspectives. This is why hermeneutics is indeed a valuable tool to merging for this critical inquiry: if artworks influence the world by generating new meanings, then understanding these meanings is a matter of ontology and aesthetics. They cannot go separately. Moreover, Ivic traces Ricoeur’s idea of plot defined as synthesis of heterogeneous in some contemporary works of installation art.

9Finally, the article entitled Rhythm ’n’ Dewey: an adverbialist ontology of art by Carlos Vara Sánchez brings a more experiential framework into ontology of art. Vara Sánchez uses the philosophy of Dewey to sketch a process-based ontology of artworks for which the concepts of experience and rhythm are crucial. He argues for the thesis that an ontological category of being an artwork is retroactively assigned to an object as a result of its having been previously capable of affording a particular kind of experience which Vara Sánchez labels as an artistic way of experiencing. One of the results of this paper is a convincing proposal of an ontology of art that is based on the adverbial approach to experience.

10The papers collected in this issued of “Rivista di estetica” undoubtedly represent different styles and methodologies in philosophical inquiry. But exactly because of that we can call them “new ontologies of art”, as in researching artworks and their relation to humans we need to reach several perspectives and insights. I do hope that these papers will bring new attention to ontological inquiry in the philosophical aesthetics.

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Davies, D. 2004, Ast as Performance, Oxford, Blackwell.

Hamilton, J.R. 2007, The Art of Theater, New York - London, Blackwell Publishers.

Lowe, E.J. 1998, The Possibility of Metaphysics. Substance, Identity, and Time, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Melchionne, K. 2013, The Definition of Everyday Aesthetics, “Contemporary Aesthetics”, 11.

Nannicelli, T. 2012, Ontology, Intentionality, and Television Aesthetics, “Screen”, 53, 2: 164-179.

Ratiu, D.E. 2013, Remapping the realm of Aesthetics: On recent Controversies about the Aesthetic and Aesthetics Experience in Everyday Life, “Estetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics”, 50, 1: 3-26.

Quine, W.V.O. 948, On What There Is, “Review of Metaphysics”, 2: 21-38.

Saito, Y. 2008, Everyday Aesthetics, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Varzi, A.C. 2011, On Doing Ontology without Metaphysics, “Philosophical Perspectives”, 25: 407-423.

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1 I would like to express my gratitude to Tiziana Andina for prompting me to guest-edit an ontology-related issue for “Rivista di estetica”. I am also grateful to Carola Barbero for very smooth and professional editorial experience. I would like to thank the anonymous referees who made this issue possible and who provided valuable feedback to the contributors. Last but not least, I would like to thank the authors for their papers and their generous contributions.

2 See e.g. Quine 1948.

3 For a detailed discussion of the relationship between ontology and metaphysics consult Varzi 2011. Varzi argues that it is possible to do ontology without metaphysics. I would like to remain neutral with respect to that issue.

4 Lowe 1998.

5 This is naturally a great oversimplification. However, it maps somehow the general trend, I hope.

6 A similar tendency can be noticed in everyday aesthetics. That is, at least in some views, in order to research mundane, everyday aesthetic practices and phenomena we need to abandon the art-centered framework and try to establish new concepts and approaches. See Saito 2008, Melchionne 2013. This is an unsettled issue, however. Cf. Ratiu 2013.

7 After all, Mahler’s music moves us no matter what ontology of music we adopt. Am I right? The same goes with theater as well. See e.g. Hamilton 2007.

8 See e.g. Davies 2004, Nannicelli 2012.

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Notizia bibliografica

Adam Andrzejewski, «Introduction»Rivista di estetica, 73 | 2020, 5-9.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Adam Andrzejewski, «Introduction»Rivista di estetica [Online], 73 | 2020, online dal 01 février 2021, consultato il 18 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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Adam Andrzejewski

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