Comparative literature is a standard discipline in our universities. Comparative arts is less familiar. Daniel Albright has written a treatise on comparative art in his recent Panaesthetics.
Debates about the unity and diversity of art have been common in Western thought. Albright thinks that the question is unanswerable since “the arts themselves have no power to aggregate or to separate – they are neither one nor many but will gladly assume the poses of unity or diversity according to the desire of the artist or thinker” (3-4).
Early on, he states four theses that guide his exploration, the first of which is that “anything is an artwork to the extent that it looks made.” This includes the Mona Lisa, but Albright wants to extend the term “art” to natural objects like the Matterhorn, which, he insists, appears to be “something intended, an act of will” that has meaning (4).
We can adjust our eye to that we view either the Matterhorn or the Mona Lisa as meaningless – a pile or rock, a pattern of paint. But that is “always an unmaking” (5). To find meaning in the world at all is to treat the world as a thing made made of things made.