The Philosophy Cafe


"What is an Artist?"


November 16, 2011
8:30 PM ET


Used Books Department
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

The Philosophy Café at Harvard Book Store is a monthly gathering meant for the informal, relaxed, philosophical discussion of topics of mutual interest to participants. No particular expertise is required to participate, only a desire to explore philosophy and its real-world applications. More information can be found at

The Philosophy Café is held on the third Wednesday of each month, from 7:30-9:30 pm, in the Used Book department on the lower level of Harvard Book Store.


Topic of Discussion for October:

For the last few centuries, we have lionized famous artists. Many people have aspired to become artists.    If we consider being an “artist” to be praiseworthy, we should know what we mean by the term.  But do we?

Arguably, in the last couple of decades, the meaning of the term “artist” has become problematic.  The traditional understanding (of what an artist is) is of a creative individual who physically produces works of art.    However, many modern and contemporary artists seems to consciously eschew creativity (Andy Warhol  in his aspiration to be an automaton exemplifies this, as does Jeff Koons who has been sued several times for copyright infringement) .  An increasing number of artists do not actually produce the works of art with which they are credited.  Sometimes, they outsource this work to artisans or technicians who actually produce the physical artwork under the more or less close supervision of the artist (Examples of this trend are Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst,  and the late Louise Bourgeois.)  Following Marcel Duchamp, some artists find objects that they did not create and display them (Consider Tracey Emin’s unmade bed that was exhibited at the Tate Modern in London.) The emergence of Conceptual Art meant that sometimes the artistic process doesn’t even  result in any art object being created ( e.g. the work of Yoko Ono and others in the Fluxus group.)   The traditional conception of an artist is no longer operative.  In November’s Philosophy Café, we’ll try and come up with a new conception.


Suggested Readings:

Article about the phenomenon of artists no longer making their own artworks:

Discussion of impact of Andy Warhol on our understanding of what an artist is:

Website about helping artists to become brands:

Wikipedia entry on Conceptual Art and Artists:

Manifesto of Artists Wishing to maintain traditional understandings of what an artist is:

Article concerning cases of  alleged Copyright Infringement by Jeff Koons:

Article on Appropriation Art:

Article on Readymade or “Found Art”:

Used Books Department
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and the Adidas Store. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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