Arthur Danto, 1924-2013

Arthur DantoWe were saddened to learn of the death of Arthur Danto this past weekend.

Danto was the Johnsonian professor emeritus of philosophy at Columbia University and one of the leading art critics of the past fifty years. (Incidentally, Danto’s death occurred the same weekend as Lou Reed’s. Both men’s lives and careers were also profoundly shaped by the work of Andy Warhol.) In describing Danto’s work, Lydia Goehr, a professor of philosophy at Columbia University, was quoted as saying, “His project, really, was to tell us what art is, and he did that by looking at the art of his time. And he loved the art of his time, for its openness, and its freedom to look any way it wanted to.”

Danto was the author of some 30 books of philosophy and art criticism, most famously Beyond the Brillo Box and After the End of Art, and Columbia University Press was fortunate to publish four of his books as well as the edited collection, Action, Art, History: Engagements with Arthur C. Danto, edited by Daniel Herwitz and Michael Kelly.

Wendy Lochner, publisher for philosophy and religion, was Danto’s editor at the press and shared the following personal recollections of working with him:

Arthur Danto was one of the very first faculty members whom I met when I started at the press in 2001. He emailed me to introduce himself, and we had the first of many delightful meals together. Over the next 10 years we worked closely, preparing new editions of some of his major books, including Narration and Knowledge, Nietzsche as Philosopher, and The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art. He also served on the advisory board of our series Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts and was instrumental in establishing it as a leading venue for publishing in aesthetics.

Arthur was unfailingly gracious and helpful as author, reader, and friend. With his lovely wife Barbara we enjoyed more than a few elegant dinners, spiced with wit and gossip (gentle gossip!). I will never forget the brilliance and humor he exhibited in talks at APA, on campus, and in other venues.

Arthur Danto was a major figure in contemporary American philosophy. His voice will be missed. I am lucky to count him as an author, adviser, and friend.

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