ABSTRACT:

William Seeley's new book discusses several of the questions art historians and philosophers of art have been struggling with for a long time and suggests some of the ways recent brain science may help us think about them. In this brief essay, I take up the challenge of cognitive theorizing about these issues. The first is how brains make category judgments and the second is how inferences about meaning derive from category judgments. Recent challenges to the categories according to which museums have sorted, valued, and exhibited their collections raise a third set of issues: What should be exhibited and in what company? What should be stored? How is this decided and by whom? What role do museums have in educating—who?—into who's culture and its art? Seeley describes how audiences learn to categorize works of imagination properly, but the cognitive theory suggests that the most interesting works of art are those categorized as improper.

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