All too often the agenda for discussion of institutional accounts of art has been set by George Dickie's (putative) institutional definition of art. To offer a new beginning, the paper addresses the question of explanation with an institutional framework modeled as Terry Diffey’s Republic of Art. In exploring the argumentative resources here, it meets the objection that institutionalism cannot explore the case of so-called ‘first art’: objects created before the concept art came into being. In particular, the paper uses an example to consider how disputes within the Republic might be resolved through rational means, while still maintaining the institutional character of such discussions. For we need not assume that institutionalism has no mechanisms for rational self-correction nor that one, timeless resolution is always possible. Instead, we can find rational activity in the disputes among art critics, as well as contrasting their (broadly contemporary) perspective on the case with the detachment of the (philosophical) aesthetician.

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