Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

Art for Dogs


New in the “Is It Really Art?” category:

Okay apparently I’m a bit behind the curve on this one, but for those of you who didn’t catch it about a month ago, there was an art show for dogs in London, sponsored by MORE TH>N pet insurance, with artworks designed by Dominic Wilcox. Artnet News writes that “The exhibition is, of course, a marketing gimmick” – but it’s not like there’s no precedent for art that is a marketing gimmick. (*cough* BMW *cough*)

The press release from the RSA Insurance Group reads:

“They say art is for everyone, and while this may be true, the ‘everyone’ mentioned here traditionally refers only to humans. With pets assuming an ever more important role in our lives, isn’t it time that the art world catered to them as well?”

Well I don’t know who “they” are, or if they’re right… but everything about this is hilarious and also makes you wonder…

So for a little dose of philosophy: George Dickie, who defended the Institutional Theory of Art, defined a work of art as “(1) an artifact (2) a set of aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld).”

Hmm. What do you guys think? Can the dogs actually appreciate the art? (Looks like they’re doing it!) Or do they have to appreciate it as art for it to count? Or are we the real audience for this dog art show? (Surely we’re at least the real audience for the marketing ploy.) Or is this a counterexample to Institutional Theories of Art?

image from RSA Insurance Group press release


  1. I would think that what we mean when we ask if the dogs are “appreciating” it is whether they participate in an art-like appreciative practice. And I think the answer to that depends upon whether they’ve developed the right kinds of social conventions, such that art-like objects can play certain kinds of social roles for them. In which case, I guess the answer’s ‘no’. But then, it’s just a matter of contingent historical fact, not some kind of metaphysical necessity! Human intervention could well spell the dawn of such a practice among dogs. A more plausible candidate, for me, would be Lou Reed’s concert for dogs (

    It’s definitely not a counterexample to the IT, though, unless we restrict “persons” to “canines” (and why should we?).

  2. Well, the real question of institutionality is whether this is sanctioned by the Canine Aesthetics Consortium, the dominant canine aesthetics social institution. If dogs made art for us, which arguably they do, it really wouldn’t matter to us if it had the endorsement of the C.A.C. or was shown in one of their dog galleries. The art would have to be recognized by one of our institutions or be shown in a human gallery for it to fulfill the institutional requirement. As the art in this case was only shown in a human gallery, even if dogs did visit, it doesn’t count as canine art, any more than aliens on a different planet making art for us and showing it one of their galleries and also teleporting humans there to look at it.

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