Arthur Danto perplexes me. He is clearly possessed of a sharp intelligence, a lively, engaging mind, a fine sense of logic, and a lavish store of knowledge. He has the good philosopher’s habit of refusing to accept even the most innocuous of assumptions, preferring to probe ideas from all directions, testing their accuracy by turning them upside down and inside out. To his dinner partners, Danto is probably an ideal companion; to his philosophy students at Columbia he is probably a delight. But to most of us, Danto is principally the art writer for The Nation. And for me, at least, that’s where the perplexity arises, because with all his gifts, Danto seems to have no faith in what can be gleaned from seeing.

Danto’s reviews of current exhibitions are an infuriating mixture of erudite observations, penetrating insights, and truly stunning wrong-headedness. What they lack is a sense of the potency of the visual, a...

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