Alfred Steiner, Cairn 2, 2013, Found wilderness route marker (in situ and in studio)

Toward a Formal Theory of Art

Definitions.

al·ter v.t., to create, change or affect a thing, excluding merely changing its context or pointing to it. alt·er·er n., a human who alters.

ar·ti·fact n., any artificial thing to the extent that it is capable of revealing to a human observer the fact that it was altered.

ar·ti·fi·cial adj., altered by a human. ar·ti·fice n., the quality of being artificial.

com·mu·ni·ty n., a group of two or more humans, regardless of whether such humans coexisted in time or space.

con·cept n., a thought, idea or mental image potentially capable of being communicated between humans.

con·tem·plate v.t., to consider a thing intently or carefully, often for pleasure. con·tem·pla·tion n., the act of contemplating.

con·text n., the circumstances that form the setting for a thing and terms on which it may be understood or assessed. re·con·tex·tu·al·ize v.t., to change the context of a thing beyond merely pointing to it.

failed at·tempt n., a thing that a human has altered, recontextualized or pointed to that no community differentiates from other things on that basis.

false adj., mistakenly identified by a community, e.g., a false work.

fi·at work n., a thing that is a work solely because a human points to it, not because a human alters it or recontextualizes it. Fiat works comprise fiat specimens and fiat artifacts. fi·at spec·i·men n., a natural specimen that is also a work because some human has pointed to it but not altered it or recontextualized it. fi·at ar·ti·fact n., an artifact that is also a work solely because some human has pointed to it but not altered it or recontextualized it.

hu·man n., a conscious intelligence or group of same with a capacity for contemplation at least as sophisticated as that of Homo sapiens.

mere adj., with respect to an artifact or specimen, one that is not also a work.

nat·u·ral adj., 1 not altered by a human. 2 proper to the circumstances of the case. de·nat·u·ral·ize v.t., to change the context of a thing to one less akin to the thing’s original or former context. Duchamp’s Fountain is an example of a mere artifact denaturalized into a work through recontextualization. re·nat·u·ral·ize v.t., to change the context of a thing after it has been denaturalized to one more akin to the thing’s original context. Replumbing Duchamp’s Fountain in a men’s bathroom would be an example of renaturalizing a work into a mere artifact through recontextualization.

point v.t., to submit a thing to a community for contemplation.

read·y·made n., a work that is indistinguishable from a mere specimen or mere artifact except for its context. Readymades comprise natural readymades and artificial readymades. nat·u·ral read·y·made n., a readymade that is indistinguishable from a mere specimen except for its context. ar·ti·fi·cial read·y·made n., a readymade that is indistinguishable from a mere artifact except for its context.

spec·i·men n., any thing that is not an artifact.

thing n., any object, process, concept or other thing that humans are capable of contemplating.

use n., with respect to a thing, the action of exercising or manipulating the thing for a practical purpose aside from contemplation.

tra·di·tion·al work n., a work that is an artifact but not a readymade.

type n., the three categories into which all things may be divided, namely, natural specimens, artificial specimens and artifacts.

work n., with respect to a community, any thing that, if presented to the community, the community would differentiate from similar things solely because the community correctly believes that a human intended to point to it.

Axioms.

Axiom of Pointing. A human may point to a thing without recontextualizing it.

Axiom of Context. A human may point to a thing by recontextualizing it.

Axiom of Non-alteration. A human may point to a thing without altering it.

Axiom of Difference. Recontextualizing or pointing to a thing results in a different thing.

Axiom of Usefulness. A mere artifact that has a commonly understood use within a community cannot become a work with respect to that community unless a human points to it, through recontextualization or otherwise, and a community differentiates it from similar things on that basis.

Selected Theorems.

Theorem 1. Any work may become a different work solely because a human recontextualizes it and a community differentiates it from the first work on that basis. By Axiom of Context and Axiom of Difference.

Theorem 2. Any work may become a different work solely because a human points to it and a community differentiates it from the first work on that basis. By Axiom of Pointing and Axiom of Difference.

Theorem 3. Each thing is either artificial or natural. By definition of natural and law of excluded middle.

Theorem 4. Each thing is either an artifact or a specimen. By definition of specimen and law of excluded middle.

Theorem 5. Artifacts are a proper subset of artificial things. By definitions of artifact and artificial.

Theorem 6. Natural things are not capable of being artifacts. By definitions of artifact and natural.

Theorem 7. Each thing is one of the following types: (1) a natural specimen, (2) an artificial specimen, or (3) an artifact. By application of Theorem 3, 4 and 6.

Theorem 8. A work may be any type of thing. By definitions of type and work.

Theorem 9. An artificial specimen is indistinguishable from a natural specimen. By definitions of artifact and specimen.

Corollary 9.1. Although there is a metaphysical difference between artificial specimens and natural specimens, for human purposes, the only practical difference is epistemic, i.e., a human must exist that knows that a specimen has been altered for a distinction to be made.

Corollary 9.2. If a human claims that a specimen is an artificial specimen there is no way to test that claim, although evidence supporting the claim may exist, e.g., video.

Artist, Lawyer, etc.