art is dead dada

Notes on the Death of Art

Just a few prefatory remarks for what follows.  The collection of quotes assembled here is by no means exhaustive, nor even definitive.  Some figures, like Hans Sedlmayr, are decidedly overrepresented here.  This is perhaps because he is so woefully underrepresented elsewhere, and because of the way in which his reactionary (but fascinating) viewpoint is symptomatic of the age.  Other figures, like Hegel, are underrepresented, because they receive so much coverage and attention.  (Although much of the original force and emphasis of his “end of art” thesis was edited out by his student, H.C. Hotho).

Nor should the quotes from these authors be thought to provide some sort of indisputable proof that art is, in fact, dead.  Whatever authority these authors might individually possess, or even collectively pooled together, I doubt that it would be enough to confirm art’s death once and for all.  Quite the contrary.  If anything, the variety of quotes listed below should demonstrate the obscurity of the notion that art is dead.  Despite their abbreviated appearance here, it should be clear that these authors mean quite different things by the “end of art.”  The motto has been fashionable for some time now, and much of its provocative character has worn thin.  My friend and fellow member of Platypus Bret Schneider pointed out to me recently that

the death of art and the ‘post’ condition is theorized everywhere in unfruitful ways.  I’m not sure if we can make it fruitful, but we can at least try to push theorists on this.  Mostly, it’s important not to assume too much about the ‘death of art’, which ought to be registered as in part just degraded to mumbo-jumbo, but perhaps in meaningful ways.  I can’t help but feel the whole ‘death of art’ thing is a ruse, and it is an older theory of art inadequately applied to new forms of culture that are not understood as new, specifically for this reason.

In any case, these quotes are for the most part lifted from texts in which they comprise some part of an argument, and because of the fragmentary form in which they are presented, that context is largely lost.  It might be possible to  construct a narrative out of it by piecing together little snippets of each (and believe me I have), but that is not at all the intention.

Finally, the topicality of this subject should be noted.  The debate over whether or not art can continue on or if it has nothing left to offer is far from settled.  Even recently, Paul Mason wrote a widely disseminated article, “Does #Occupy signal the death of contemporary art?” Dear readers (hypocrite lecteurs!), what do you think?

Dadaists George Grosz and John Heartfield hold a placard reading, “Art is Dead! Long live the Machine-Art of Tatlin!” (1920)

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art (1825)

“Art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past.  Thereby it has lost for us genuine truth and life, and has rather been transferred into our ideas instead of maintaining its earlier necessity in reality and occupying its higher place.”  G.W.F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, Volume 1 (1825).  Pg. 11.

“Just as art has its ‘before’ in nature and the finite spheres of life, so too it has an ‘after,’ i.e. a region which in turn transcends art’s way of apprehending and representing the Absolute.  For art has still a limit in itself and therefore passes over into higher forms of consciousness.  This limitation determines, after all, the position which we are accustomed to assign to art in our contemporary life.  For us art counts no longer as the highest mode in which truth fashions an existence for itself…With the advance of civilization a time generally comes in the case of every people when art points beyond itself.”   G.W.F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, Volume 1 (1825).  Pgs. 102-103.

Heinrich Heine

“The 1831 Exhibition of Pictures” (1831)

“My old prophecy of the end of the Kunstperiode, which began with Goethe’s cradle and will end with his grave, seems to be approaching fulfillment.  Present-day art will inevitably perish because it is rooted in the principles of the ancien régime, in that past which belongs to the Holy Roman Empire.  This is why, like all the withered remains of this past, it stands in uneasy contradiction to the present.  It is this contradiction, and not the advance of time itself, that is so harmful to art; on the contrary, the advance of time should actually help art to flourish, as it once did in Athens and Florence…

However, the new age will give birth to a new art, which will be in inspired harmony with it, which will not need to borrow its symbols from the faded past and which is certain to engender new techniques different from any hitherto developed.  Until then, may the colors and sounds of the most egocentric subjectivity, may individuality freed from all worldly constraints, and may the love of life of a personality freed from all gods hold sway — which is after all more productive than the sterile pseudo-existence of the old art.”  Heinrich Heine, “The 1831 Exhibition of Pictures” (1831).  The Works of Heinrich Heine.  Pgs. 91-92.

Marius de Zayas

“The Sun Has Set” (1911)

“Art is dead.

Its present movements are not at all indications of vitality; they are not even the convulsions of agony prior to death; they are the mechanical reflex actions of a corpse submitted to galvanic force.” — Marius de Zayas, ‘The Sun Has Set,’ Camera Work (July 1912), 39: 17.

Georg Lukács

“Aesthetic Culture” (1910)

“[D]ilettantism has rebounded on art itself.  The unity of life and art that aesthetic culture aimed at, instead of lifting life to the sublime, transcendent realm of art by giving form to its contingencies and necessity to its trivialities, actually imbued art with its own dilettante hedonism.  In sum, aesthetic culture pulled art down to its own level, the petty, ramshackle realm of perpetual indecision.”  Georg Lukács, “Aesthetic Culture” (1910).  The Lukács Reader.  Pg. 149.

“The mood is merely a work of art’s creative, transient contact with the soul of the beholder.  If the endless succession of moods is caused by something else, then its effect is more valuable and quite different from the sum total of the random, chaotic, endless succession of moods.  This something, present nowhere and yet apparent everywhere, makes art and art.  This art is dynamic, organic, cosmic, and symbolizes in the world what in itself appears dead and trivial.  It is precisely this, the dynamic character of art, which had perished under the onslaught of ‘aesthetic culture.’  The advocates of ‘form’ have killed the form; the high priests of l’art pour l’art have paralyzed art.”  Georg Lukács, “Aesthetic Culture” (1910).  The Lukács Reader.  Pg. 149.

“The proletariat and socialism seem to hold out the only hope.  The hope that the barbarians are coming and with callous hands will tear apart all delicate, refined things; that the persecuted might have a redeeming value beyond refinement.  And perhaps, just as Ibsen believed that Russian tyranny is the best educator of freedom, art will flourish in a period that opposes and hates culture.  Of course this would hardly be the most decisive factor: merely a residual and contingent determination.  On the other hand one could rightly expect that the revolutionary spirit, whose power had ‘unmasked’ all ideologies and identified the real historical forces, will show vision and understanding here.  And the revolutionary spirit, having swept aside all things peripheral, will return once again, after the long hiatus of anti-artistic feelings, to what is essential in art.”  Georg Lukács, “Aesthetic Culture” (1910).  The Lukács Reader.  Pg. 151.

“Art believed in its mission [to create and shape culture].  This explains the real flaw in every art-inspired cultural prophecy.  Art was always only a consequence of cultures; often serving as their far advanced herald, and, at other times, as their tough-minded, honest, and unsparing judge.  But art’s rhythm of words was invariably set to the rhythm of cultural progress.”  Georg Lukács, “Aesthetic Culture” (1910).  The Lukács Reader.  Pgs. 153-154.

“The essence of art is to formulate things, to overcome resistance, to bring under yoke the hostile forces, to forge a unity out of the diverse and divergent.  To create form: to pronounce the last judgment on all things; this last judgment redeems what is redeemable, and its near divine power dispenses grace.”  Georg Lukács, “Aesthetic Culture” (1910).  The Lukács Reader.  Pg. 156.

“Art-for-Art’s-Sake and Proletarian Writing” (1926)

“The tragedy of the artist in bourgeois society — from which tragedy the whole of the l’art pour l’art movement stems — lies in the fact that precisely this relation of immediacy, the basis of the artistic attitude towards reality, is disturbed, indeed made impossible. First of all, the development of bourgeois society, determined by the development of capitalism as one of the modes of production dominating all of society, makes human pursuits, the relations of humans with one another (the stuff of literature) unbearably abstract, unsensuous, incapable of being shaped into art [ungestaltbar]. Capitalism’s social division of labour, the dominance of the exchange relationship [Warenbeziehung] over all aspects of human life, the fetishism of all life forms that necessarily follows, and so on, surround the artist with an environment to which he, because he is an artist — and thus of an intense, sophisticated and discriminating sensuality — cannot relate in a naïve-immediate way, delighting in his world and creating joyously.  However, if he wishes to remain an artist, it is just as impossible for him to relate to this in a purely critical and thus intellectual way, transcending the immediate.”  Georg Lukács, “Art-for-Art’s-Sake and Proletarian Writing” (1926).  Georg Lukács: The Fundamental Dissonance of Existence.  Pg. 159.

“And while in the rest of Europe the stagnation of literature and the lack of talented younger writers are generally and correctly lamented, in Russia a whole group of new and highly talented young writers has emerged.  In their works — while they might often be groping and stammering — one already senses the solid ground on which they stand as men and writers.  It is hardly as if a new, unprecedented literature, completely distinct from all earlier developments, were suddenly to emerge.  Those who expect and want this are exactly the most bourgeois, those closest to the over-formed formless writing of European despair (on this literature see Comrade Trotsky’s book Literature and Revolution).  But one senses that writers are beginning again to discover, socially, a solid ground under their feet — and that this is having a complementary effect on the material and form of their writing.  And it seems to me hardly coincidental that the most strongly formed work of this development that I have yet encountered, Libedinski’s Eine Woche, was the work of the most conscious proletarian and communist among these writers.  For it is in the proletarian and the communist that the process is being accomplished that is called upon to overcome bourgeois society (and with it the problems of its art).  To be sure, just as, according to Marx’s words, law can never rise above the economic form of society, neither can literature! But precisely when we expect no sudden wonder, no solution to all problems at a single blow, the gigantic advances that will also be possible for literature in the proletarian revolution become visible and recognizable to us.”  Georg Lukács, “Art-for-Art’s-Sake and Proletarian Writing” (1926).  Georg Lukács: The Fundamental Dissonance of Existence.  Pg. 162.

“The Ideology of Modernism”  (1946)

“The negation of outward reality is not always demanded with such theoretical rigor.  But it is present in almost all modernist literature.”  Pg. 25.

“[M]odernism leads not only to the destruction of traditional literary forms; it leads to the destruction of literature as such. And this is true not only of Joyce, or of the literature of Expressionism and Surrealism.  It was not André Gide’s ambition, for instance, to bring about a revolution in literary style; it was his philosophy that compelled him to abandon conventional forms.  He planned his Faux-Monnayeurs as a novel.  But its structure suffered from a characteristically modernist schizophrenia: it was supposed to be written by the man who was also the hero of the novel.  And, in practice, Gide was forced to admit that no novel, no work of literature could be constructed in that way.  We have here a practical demonstration that — as Benjamin showed in another context — modernism means not the enrichment, but the negation of art.”  Pgs. 45-46.

Mikhail Lifshits

Marx’s Philosophy of Art (1932)

“Hegel, despite his many vacillations, was definitely pessimistic as to the possibility of artistic creation in modern times.”  Mikhail Lifshits, Marx’s Philosophy of Art (1932).  Pg. 14.

“According to Hegel, both bourgeois society and the Christian state are unfavorable to the development of creative art.  Two inferences may be drawn from this: either art must perish in order to save the ‘Absolute State,’ or the latter must be abolished in order to permit a new condition of the world, and a new renaissance of art.  Hegel himself inclined to the first alternative.  But with a slight change of emphasis the doctrine of the anti-aesthetic spirit of reality could readily assume a revolutionary character; and indeed Hegel’s Ästhetik was thus interpreted by his radical followers whom Marx joined in 1837.  On the other hand, Hegel’s teachings concerning the decadence of art was considered by the liberal-bourgeois opposition to be insufficiently revolutionary and at the same time too dangerous.  Hegel was simultaneously accused of lip-service to the Prussian government, Jacobinism, Bonapartism, and even Saint-Simonism.”  Mikhail Lifshits, Marx’s Philosophy of Art (1932).  Pg. 19.

“Marx’s renunciation of romanticism and his acceptance of the basic tenets of Hegelian aesthetics thus signified a transition to a higher stage of political, consciousness.”  Mikhail Lifshits, Marx’s Philosophy of Art (1932).  Pg. 20.

“Hegel, with remarkable insight, points out the contradictoriness of the historical development of art and society.  But this historically conditioned phenomenon he regards as an inevitable process in the liberation of the spirit from the senses.  Artistic creation disappears along with local and national limitations, along with the feudal-patriarchal order.  Under contemporary relationships, under the latest political and educational institutions, it is just as out of place as the boasting and figurative language of the heroic epoch, where dry clarity of exposition and ability to think abstractedly were required.  The Universal Spirit of bourgeois society makes the sensuous concrete world of art an anachronism.”  Mikhail Lifshits, Marx’s Philosophy of Art (1932).  Pg. 64.

“The contrast between the actual position of art under capitalism and the enormous possibilities opened up for art by the development of the productive powers of society is merely one instance of the general social contradictions of ‘the bourgeois period of history.’  The future of art and literature is closely bound up with the solution of these contradictions — which solution cannot be expected, of course, to drop from heaven. The materialist conception of the history of art has nothing in common with the doctrine of the inevitable death of artistic creation.  All seemingly ‘fatal contradictions’ men themselves can solve by a revolutionary and critical construction of the world.  But this requires ‘newfangled men,’ as Marx put it — ‘the working men.’  Only struggle can show whether humanity will overcome the contradiction between its artistic and its economic development.  And this struggle is, at the moment, merely one aspect of the class struggle of the proletariat, one aspect of the war between two systems, capitalist and socialist.  The problem of the future history of art is no abstract question — it is a problem permeated with the socialist world outlook of the proletariat.”  Mikhail Lifshits, Marx’s Philosophy of Art (1932).  Pgs. 102-103.

“According to Marx’s doctrine, therefore, communism creates conditions for the growth of culture and art compared to which the limited opportunities that the slaves’ democracy offers to a privileged few must necessarily seem meager.  Art is dead! LONG LIVE ART! this is the slogan of Marx’s aesthetics.”  Mikhail Lifshits, Marx’s Philosophy of Art (1932).  Pg. 116.

Walter Benjamin 

“The Rigorous Study of Art” (1933)

“There are some methodological reservations, however, regarding the advisability of the move that Sedlmayr attempts in his introductory essay, juxtaposing the rigorous study of art as a ‘secondary’ field of study against a primary (namely positivist) study of art.  The kind of research undertaken in this volume is so dependent upon auxiliary fields of study -painting technique and painting media, the history of motifs, iconography — that it can be confusing to constitute these as a somehow separate ‘primary study of art.’  Sedlmayr’s essay also demonstrates how difficult it is for a particular course of research (such as the one represented here) to establish purely methodological definitions without reference to any concrete examples whatsoever.”  Pg. 88.

“The Work of Art in the Age of Its Reproducibility” (1936)

[T]he technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition.  By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence.  And in permitting the reproduction to reach the recipient in his or her own situation, it actualizes that which is reproduced.  These two processes lead to a massive upheaval in the domain of objects handed down from the past — a shattering of tradition which is the reverse side of the present crisis and renewal of humanity.”  Pg. 104.

“The scholars of the Viennese school [Aloïs] Riegl and [Franz] Wickhoff, resisting the weight of the classical tradition beneath which this art had been buried, were the first to think of using such art to draw conclusions about the organization of perception at the time the art was produced.  However far-reaching their insight, it was limited by the fact that these scholars were content to highlight the formal signature which characterized perception in late-Roman times.  They did not attempt to show the social upheavals manifested in these changes in perception — and perhaps could not have hoped to do so at that time.  Today, the conditions for an analogous insight are more favorable.  And if changes in the medium of present-day perception can be understood as a decay of the aura, it is possible to demonstrate the social determinants of that decay.

What, then, is the aura? A strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be.  To follow with the eye — while resting on a summer afternoon — a mountain range on the horizon or a branch that casts its shadow on the beholder is to breathe the aura of those mountains, of that branch.  In the light of this description, we can readily grasp the social basis of the aura’s present decay.  It rests on two circumstances, both linked to the increasing emergence of the masses and the growing intensity of their movements.  Namely: the desire of the present-day masses to ‘get closer’ to things, and their equally passionate concern for overcoming each thing’s uniqueness [Überwindung des Einmaligen jeder Gegebenheitby assimilating it as a reproduction.  Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at close range in an image [Bild], or, better, in a facsimile [Abbild], a reproduction.  And the reproduction [Reproduktion], as offered by illustrated magazines and newsreels, differs unmistakably from the image.  Uniqueness and permanence are as closely entwined in the latter as are transitoriness and repeatability in the former.  The stripping of the veil from the object, the destruction of the aura, is the signature of a perception whose ‘sense for sameness in the world’ has so increased that, by means of reproduction, it extracts sameness even from what is unique.  Thus is manifested in the field of perception what in the theoretical sphere is noticeable in the increasing significance of statistics.  The alignment of reality with the masses and of the masses with reality is a process of immeasurable importance for both thinking and perception.”  Pgs. 104-105.

“[F]or the first time in world history, technological reproducibility emancipates the work of art from its parasitic subservience to ritual.  To an ever-increasing degree, the work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility.  From a photographic plate, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the ‘authentic’ print makes no sense.  But as soon as the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applied to artistic production, the whole social function of art is revolutionized.  Instead of being founded on ritual, it is based on a different practice: politics.”  Pg. 106.

“The nineteenth-century dispute over the relative artistic merits of painting and photography seems misguided and confused today.  But this does not diminish its importance, and may even underscore it.  The dispute was in fact an expression of a world-historical upheaval whose true nature was concealed from both parties.  Insofar as the age of technological reproducibility separated art from its basis in cult, all semblance of art’s autonomy disappeared forever.  But the resulting change in the function of art lay beyond the horizon of the nineteenth century.  And even the twentieth, which saw the development of film, was slow to perceive it.

Though commentators had earlier expended much fruitless ingenuity on the question of whether photography was an art — without asking the more fundamental question of whether the invention of photography had not transformed the entire character of art — film theorists quickly adopted the same ill-considered standpoint.”  Pg. 109.

The technological reproducibility of the artwork changes the relation of the masses to art.  The extremely backward attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into a highly progressive reaction to a Chaplin film.  The progressive attitude is characterized by an immediate, intimate fusion of pleasure — pleasure in seeing and experiencing — with an attitude of expert appraisal.  Such a fusion is an important social index.  As is clearly seen in the case of painting, the more reduced the social impact of an art form, the more widely criticism and enjoyment of it diverge in the public.  The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, while the truly new is criticized with aversion.  Not so in the cinema. The decisive reason for this is that nowhere more than in the cinema are the reactions of individuals, which together make up the massive reaction of the audience, determined by the imminent concentration of reactions into a mass.  No sooner are these reactions manifest than they regulate one another.  Again, the comparison with painting is fruitful.  A painting has always exerted a claim to be viewed primarily by a single person or by a few.  The simultaneous viewing of paintings by a large audience, as happens in the nineteenth century, is an early symptom of the crisis in painting, a crisis triggered not only by photography but, in a relatively independent way, by the artwork’s claim to the attention of the masses.”  Pg. 116.

“Many art forms have come into being and passed away.  Tragedy begins with the Greeks, is extinguished along with them, and is revived centuries later.  The epic, which originates in the early days of peoples, dies out in Europe at the end of the Renaissance.  Panel painting is a creation of the Middle Ages, and nothing guarantees its uninterrupted existence.”  Pg. 120.

“Eduard Fuchs, Collector and Historian” (1937)

“For the dialectical historian concerned with works of art, these works integrate their fore-history as well as their after-history; and it is by virtue of their after-history that their fore-history is recognizable as involved in a continuous process of change.  Works of art teach him how their function outlives their creator and how the artist’s intentions are left behind.”  Pgs. 261-262.

Aleksandr Dorner

The Way Beyond Art (1947)

“I have called this study the way beyond ‘art.’  That sounds rather aggressive, and yet it does not give the real depth and intensity of the change in our vision of the world which this study tries to convey.  A more precise title for this study might have been: The decline of the species of visual communication called ‘art’ and the origin of a new species of visual communication.  No doubt such a title would have been monstrous.  Its very monstrosity is a sign of the inadequacy of traditional language to express a profound transformation process, such as the one in question, in a few telling words.”  Pg. 15.

“As a result of these reflections, my rearrangement of the Hannover collections became ever more relativistic and intensive.  I sought to emphasize the changes in the artists’ reality concepts. My efforts found temporary expression in two rooms.  The first was the widely known ‘abstract cabinet,’ arranged in collaboration with the Russian Constructivist, EI Lissitzky, where we tried to show the new reality embodied in abstract compositions since Cézanne.  The second room was to have been constructed in collaboration with Moholy-Nagy, afterwards director of the Institute of Design in Chicago. In it we meant to represent the new vision and its effects upon technical production, such as the abstract movie, cinematography, etc.  Both rooms were intended to involve the visitor both physically and spiritually in the growing process of modern reality.  Unfortunately, I was unable to complete the second room owing to the reactionary attitude of the government, while the first was destroyed by the Nazis after a tug-of-war extending over three years. Concurrently, I had begun to apply the same principle of an ‘active museum’ to the other collections, beginning with prehistoric times and progressing from there to Classical antiquity and the Middle Ages.  I can see quite clearly today that my innovations, which involved the arrangement of objects, lettering, etc., were designed to introduce the concepts of modern science into the humane study of art history.”  Pg. 17.

“I might sum up the aim of this study by saying that I wanted to give Time a higher dignity and a deeper meaning than it has in our present philosophies of art history; or — what is the same — that I intended to show that there are much more profound forces of change at work in life, which unite past and present in a much more intense way, than we are accustomed to see.  These forces break up any timeless foundation of history.  They consist of a never resting interpenetration of energies ‘which results in their constant self-transformation.  This wholly relative, wholly dynamic interpenetrative history has a new power to direct us.  History indeed is able to tap a substratum of positive, new-and badly needed — energies for our conduct of, all life, artistic and otherwise.”  Pg. 18.

“What then is the eternal warrant of a work of art now? What entitles the artist to dub himself the prophet of ultimate truth? What has happened to the timeless and changeless? Immutability has retired into the formative powers of the individual artist.  Those powers since Adam aspire toward unity, organization, form.  The eternal artist is like a harp on the strings of which the forces of sense experience play ever-new melodies.  Artistic creation has become a flee action of forces, while the immutable One has been replaced by the personal ‘style’ of the individual artist seen in individual artistic products.  Yet how can the basic elements of the ‘One’ subsist in this dizzy play of novel forces? Is it possible for the spiritual elements to remain the same despite their continual conflict with changing sense impressions? And what proof do we have that they really exist? To prove their existence we would have to prove their identical existence through the ages, i.e. distill them from an endless variety of historical art works.  But can it be supposed that the same set of basic faculties was active in this vast variety of creations? And, if it was, would not this very fact be a proof of inventive poverty on the par of the divine spirit? And if that spirit is not poor but instinct with ever changing spiritual powers, how can such abundance be reconciled with its supposed ‘sameness’? What, in brief, becomes of our ‘eternal warrant,’ our timeless standard in art?”  Pg. 27.

Today’s problems are the products of the self-transformation of the human mind and its concept of reality.  This process has originated in the realm of natural history and then assumed palpable shapes in prehistoric and magic thought.  It has become impossible to treat the pre-Hellenic evolution merely as an overture to the drama of Western civilization. Yet the Western mind has been inclined toward such a mutilation of the historical process.  Whoever considers himself an exponent of eternal truth behind all change must needs regard his own period as the central act in the universal drama.  To him anything that went before is an overture; anything that comes after an epilogue.  All history books dealing with Western civilization from the Greeks or the Middle Ages to Hegel and his modern disciples have tried to gain unity but have gained it only through mutilation, through a bleeding to death of creative life.”  Pg. 34.

“The history of three-dimensional reality could be represented graphically as a straight pursuit of trend pursuing the Absolute — a pursuit which became deflected from its goal by dint of its very drive.  The interaction of all the energies involved in the drive deflected it. Absolutism was no effectual way of conquering those energies.  Their mutability was too strong for any stable principle to obtain.  Even the Absolute itself changed continually throughout its reign.

It will suffice for the purposes of this study to clarify briefly this self-changing process of the Absolute.  We shall see how today it is turning of necessity toward a plastic creation which is no longer a symbol of the Absolute and, in consequence, no longer ‘art’ in the strict sense of the word.”  Pg. 60.

“Classical Antiquity saw the Absolute as a closed, finite form detached from magic sensual boundlessness; i.e. it visualized the Absolute still as something that could somehow be sensually seen in spite of its spiritual abstractness.  Quite naturally classical thinking was still dose to the sensual thinking of the magical cultures.  That is why we call classical thinking ‘aesthetic thinking.’

To the ancient mind the sustaining depth of the Absolute could therefore never go beyond the individual, discrete organism.  Such thinking in terms of individual organisms was the first natural result of the thrust from the diversity of separate daemonic things toward inner unity.

The world assumed the solid shape of the sphere, which could be further decomposed into an aggregate of separate solid forms.  Throughout classical thinking these forms are immutable beings and at the same time moving powers. The more the forceful mobility grows, the closer we come to magical uncertainty and change.  This becomes rather conspicuous with the world of the Atomists, who represented the left wing of Greek thought.  With them form assumed a Protean character.  It was the daemonic desire of atoms to move in immutable figures.  Although these desires constantly collided they still culminated in a tendency to create the purest form, the sphere.  Between these various moving forms we find the boundlessness of’ the irrational, Not positive vision of Space.

Only where this vague boundlessness did not mingle with forms, but where every form was a solid thing and had direct contact with equally solid surrounding forms could a concept of Extension develop that had any positive cohesion. Aristotle visualized such a contact inside of his finite form of the Spherical Universe.  Hence to him extension ended with the limits of the world sphere; it formed the skin of this solid universe and was itself made up of an aggregate of form-skins.  This Aristotelian image is the most advanced attempt made by the Ancients to conceive Extension.

What would Time look like in such a world? Extension and time [protension, RW] are Siamese twins.  The form of extension determines the form of time.  Thus time, the container of all changes, developed as the surface of the unchangeable core, represented by extension.  Since that core was but a self-enclosed form or an aggregate of such forms, time could only be a revolution around them and so be an aggregate of cycles.  Only much later, after extension had been conceived as Space, i.e. one homogeneous three-dimensional Oneness, independent of any solid form, could time become an even, unitary flow instead of an aggregate of closed cycles.  The ancient concept of time then shows still traces of magic repetitiousness; it is partly absolute time, detached from concrete events, but partly repetitive imitation of sensory complexes.  Even if we knew nothing else about antiquity than its concept of time as an aggregate of self-enclosed cycles, this fact alone would be sufficient proof that the ancients never conceived Space.

Corresponding with the concept of time, History is for the ancient world a repetition of one and the same comprehensive form.

Human Society, too, was conceived as ‘form,’ as the organic Solid of the polis; society did not develop beyond an aggregate of such single organic forms.  Classical political life described the cult of the ultimate truth of this esthetic form. The ancient citizen had value only in as far as he identified himself with that divine idea.  He was not free in the sense of the political personality of the Enlightenment.  Both the ancient community and the individual were concerned solely with the self-sufficiency of this form idea, with their holding firm against the boundless and spontaneous daemony of destiny.

The development of this concept began with figures like the early lyrical poet Archilochos of Paros (ca. 650 B.C.).  Archilochos saw himself as a spiny hedgehog rolled up to ward off the powers of change and to make of the Here, Now, and Self an immutable central form.  The process ended with phenomena such as the apotheoses of the Roman emperors.  The individual figure of the divine emperor as symbol of the state is the highest political form of the Absolute available to antiquity.  Once the emperor could not prove that he had mastered Fortuna, he brought about the collapse of the ancient world, which was identical with the solid form of the civitas terrena.  Beyond gods and men hovered the moira, the old magical power of transitoriness.  Wherever we look at the ancient world, we invariably receive the picture of a more or less solid form that has broken away from magic boundlessness.  Insecure formlessness always looms in the interstices between separate forms.”  Pgs. 60-62.

“Man and state [in medieval Christian times] were no longer isolated as ultimate forms but embedded in an all-embracing God.  The unity of the Supreme Light contained all the spontaneous change of history.  History had come to assume a new and deeper meaning: it was now a single normative direction, a single passionate drive toward redemption, toward the celestial unity of eternal Being.  All separate forms emanated from the overflowing One and returned to Him.  So all separate forms became fused in a Higher, Supraindividual Unity, just as all separate spirits became one in the Christian communion.

The universe, too, assumed a new and larger structure. It was no longer isolated and suspended in boundlessness but reposed in the shell of the empyrean of the divine superessential light.  The power of that loving spirit unified the universe in a wholly new way: in a supraindividual body, a Mass.  All individual forms were kept in continual tension by their desire to repose in the ultimate One.  The medieval world was informed with a novel, enthusiastic, unifying dynamism.  Extension reached — as in Antiquity — only as far as the globular world, but like the nature of solidity, the nature of Extension also grew into the higher notion of supraindividual unity.  Besides, the solid world was no longer the symbol of ultimate truth but was itself an emanation of the higher spirituality of revealed religious truth; it reposed in that spirituality as in a supreme light.  Time had likewise abandoned its aggregation of separate cycles and grown into the higher unity of one closed cycle which emanated from static eternity and finally returned into it.  This fact alone — the transformation of extension and time [protension or duration, RW] — proves how senseless it is to speak of the medieval world as the ‘Dark Ages,’ implying a negative period during which nothing happened.

The medieval world realized its emanative character in a hierarchical pyramid composed of timeless, typical ideas and figures.  The latter were taken both from Christian doctrine and ancient myth and then compounded into a massive symbol.  This cathedral-like hierarchy led from the dark chaos of the sinful world upward into the unity of the all-embracing superessential light.  Medieval reality pushed in unending high-tension vibrations toward the creation of a total, rigid and massive unity.  The picture of the universe as an emanation of the unitary divine idea was reflected in the medieval feudal system.  That system was no longer an individual state struggling in isolation against uncertainty but a created unity comprising the whole of Christian humanity.”  Pgs. 66-70.

“We find a perfect parallel in art. The revolution of Enlightenment affected, above all, the concepts of architecture.  The energetic approach toward matter led toward the use of more energetic materials and so toward new forms.  But it also overthrew the academic dictatorship of the One and Only Form in the ground plan.  Function demanded, for instance, that the irregularity of changing shapes should replace symmetry.  In America functionalism led in the seventeenth century to furniture that could assume different shapes.  In painting it prepared the way for Impressionism.  Already in the fifteenth century the empirical spirit of Nominalism had led to a gradual transformation of the mystically emanative golden ‘supreme light’ to the mechanical phenomenon, light.  Hand in hand with this went a transformation of the dogmatic-symbolical concept of daily life and its diversity into an observation of life as energetic change.  We can study this rift in the work of Rembrandt and Franz Hals.  The road leads from the Empiricism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the Impressionism and Pointillism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. What this painting demonstrated was the new ‘truth’: a world in which material particles are unceasingly redistributed.  Like classical physics, which had developed Newton’s concept of reality, painting, too, gave us an ‘impression,’ artistic this time, of an instantaneous cross section through ‘movement in space.’  But, as little as classical physics, did Impressionistic painting undermine the principle of an absolute framework. Monet’s series of the ‘Cathedral of Rouen’ offered a series of snapshots, each of which gave a different form to the same spatial stage.  The emphasis of artistic observation had shifted to a grasp of ever-new forms which energy created amidst matter by redistribution.  Impressionism was no longer interested in the absolute types of subject matter evolved by earlier epochs.  But Impressionism, despite its revolutionary character, was clearly divided in itself. It did not attack those types, after the fashion of Romanticism and Modern Realism, but remained simply indifferent toward them.  Nor did its setting in motion of matter go very far.  Matter became specks of dust and motes in the air, while the transforming power did not extend beyond the changes wrought among those particles reflected by the sunlight.  Impressionism was indeed the product of a Split-World which craved change yet would not let go of Being, which veiled the solid structure of the universe till it became unrecognizable yet would not attack the static existence of space.  Impressionism and Pointillism represented stages of the formal and substantial dissolution of three-dimensional reality.  But that dissolution stopped at a certain point.  Moreover, the energies of change were held in check by a kind of cautious observation reminiscent of scientific experiment.  Yet the artistic imagination could not be confined forever in such a domestic playground. It should hardly surprise us that most of the leading Impressionists soon decided to thrust toward a deeper dynamism — usually in a direction which had been explored by Romanticism for more than a hundred years.”

“We have followed here the development of Western concepts to demonstrate the forces that drive forward our visual production; forces that evidently lead away from what we are used to call ‘art.’  The ‘art work’ as symbol of life’s unchangeable core and as propagator of a belief in a static world has run its course.  It has tested its efficacy in a struggle with the forces of the surrounding world, and in so doing has been constantly forced to change its nature.  Today this transformation has reached a stage where a work can no longer be designated by the fixed term, ‘art.’”  Pg. 134.

“We have begun this study with a close investigation of evolution, beginning with prehistoric times, for we believe that the forces active in modern art cannot be judged by the timeless standards of that three-dimensional reality which gave birth to ‘art.’  As long as we ignore the fact that the ‘art work’ and the concept of reality it expressed were only passing historical solutions of a much profounder problem, we shall be unable to understand the scope of the revolution through which we are passing.  Not only in visual production but in other fields, too, we shall violate the forces of life’s growth and risk catastrophes such as the most recent one which has placed humanity close to the edge of an abyss.  That abyss we are still trying to bridge.”  Pg. 134.

“In this modern evolution, artistic creation and aesthetic experience have changed their character so radically that a search for new terms has become imperative.  Abstract painting and the new architecture are no longer trying to confirm an identical basic condition but to create a spontaneous energy which may change that identity.  All ‘form’ belongs to a three-dimensional, solid world with a fixed extension.  This is exactly what the modern vision is trying to overcome.  It pushes ahead into a world of pure energism.  So the words ‘art’ and ‘artist’ have come to sound stale; they create associations of eternal receptacles of ‘truth,’ of ultimacy and self-sufficiency, i.e. of something that stands still in an immutable life context.  The modern designer wishes to work much more intensely.  His product must be useful.  The building and the painting must once more act and function as the magical image did, only on a much deeper level, for that power of spontaneous chance which had once been a source of anguish is today a source of hope.  We expect it to free us from the rigid supremacy of a fixed principle.  Modern design must itself take part, as a higher energy, in the life process which has abandoned the old, supposedly eternal laws.  This means that modern design has become both a product and a producer of our modern reality.”  Pg. 135.

“Abstract art already contains the driving force to spread out into actual historical processes, and thus to tear down the relics of the walls of self-sufficient form.  Describing a timeless dynamic principle of aesthetic experience cannot reveal the real intensity of life forces.  They only show up in actual evolution.  The aesthetic experience is self-changing in a sense much wider than the purely formal sense.  A modern mind which experiences life as an open process is differently impressed by Herbert Bayer’s ‘Mountains’ and by a Renaissance painting or an Egyptian relief.  Yet that relatively goes farther yet, for a mind still close to the Baroque may again experience these three productions in wholly different ways.  There is no static or semistatic platform where all spectators and all historical works of art may meet.  It is inevitable that the modern mind finds in a modern composition a greater — and essentially different — satisfaction than the satisfaction he might derive from historical paintings which represent earlier evolutionary stages of reality, i.e. stages which this mind has outgrown.  There can be no doubt that we include, whether consciously or unconsciously, the fact of man’s mental growth in our judgment of aesthetic value.  As soon as we learn, for instance, that a Vermeer which we had greatly admired has turned out to be a recent product, or that a certain ‘Gothic’ structure was really built during the Historic Revival, our esthetic pleasure and admiration come to a sudden end.  Even aesthetically there seems to be no ‘art without epoch.’  To experience an historical art work without taking into account the irreversibility of Time and the energetic transformative processes that represent it becomes more and more a life-resisting act.  The experience of past art has no real meaning unless it is a struggle between our own energies and those of the historical art work.  There is no art per se, and no aesthetics per se, only mutual transformations of works of art and observers.”  Pg. 141.

Hans Sedlmayr

The Crisis of Art (1957)


The result of all these superimposed processes — all actuated in the last resort by the striving after purity on the part of the individual arts — is the complete disintegration of the composite artwork.  Moreover, it is not only the macrocosm of the ‘great’ composite work of art which disintegrates, the foundation for which was created by architecture, but also the microcosm of the picture which, since the days of Giotto right up till the end of the Baroque, was an epitome in a two-dimensional medium of all the fine arts, a composite work of art in miniature, and for that reason was really the great work of art of that age. The picture, too, is resolved into its constituent elements.

At the end of this break-up process all the potentialities inherent in this dissolution can be observed one beside the other often in the work of a single artist.  In the experiments of a painter like Paul Klee they are tried out systematically one after the other.  I first attempted pure drawing, I attempted pure chiaroscuro, while in color I attempted all the subsidiary experiments which the color spectrum induced me to try. Thus I worked out the various types and combinations of types of painting, color-charged chiaroscuro painting, painting in complementary color, polychromatic painting and totally chromatic painting. Then I tried all manner of syntheses of pairs of types, ever combining and re-combining, and in doing so always cultivating the pure element to the very maximum.

Ultimately there comes a point when the further resolution of any art into its alleged elements becomes impossible. By that time, of course, the unity of the arts has perished beyond recall.  Now a building stands in a landscape to which it has no relation whatever; a piece of sculpture stands in equally isolated fashion between two pieces of architecture or between a pair of pictures, while a picture hangs disjunctively on some bare and alien wall.  A sterile juxtaposition, a Komposition, a word that Goethe loathed, has finally replaced the old living connubium of the arts.”  Pgs. 87-88.


Simultaneously there begins the tearing asunder of such composite works of art as still remain, but of the old churches, castles, and palaces there issues from the end of the eighteenth century onward an endless stream of works of each, separate and isolated from its context, fragments of what once had been a coherent whole.  Torn from their mother soil, they wander, like forlorn refugees, to take shelter in the art-dealer’s market or into the soulless institutional magnificence of public or private art galleries.

The museum now comes into its own, its aider and abetter being the art dealer, and the whole set-up is sustained by the spread of an attitude in matters pertaining to art, which concentrates on the individual work, accepts this recent and unnatural divorce between the arts as though it were a law of nature, and even separates the ‘what’ from the ‘how’ in the individual work of art, the ‘form’ from the ‘content.’

In the museum the separation between the arts becomes permanent.  Things which were originally integral parts of a single whole are shown forth after this heartless process of dismemberment as exhibits arranged in a variety of departments.  Indeed it may well happen that constituent parts of a single altar may find themselves thus scattered between one department and another, the painted work finding its official domicile in a picture gallery, the carvings in a sculpture section, while equipment and ornamental parts find a resting-place in a handicrafts museum.

That which on a larger and even more terrible scale was destined to be suffered by human beings, namely that they were to be forcibly torn from their native soil, ‘resettled’ and have their families broken up — is here prophetically enacted at the expense of ancient sanctuaries of art.

The matter is made worse by writers on art and on the history of art, for these also tend to follow in this matter the departmentalized thinking of the nineteenth century and split up the arts into a number of categories, and insist on splitting up the different arts even when in their historical portrayals they are dealing with some work of the past in which those arts were united.  Thus they sanction and support the unnatural situation which has developed in our museums, instead of treating it as the unavoidable consequence of a temporary emergency.

A real resistance to the isolation of the arts was evident in the longing of the Romantic movement for the composite work of art.  That movement’s longing for the composite work of art was real despite the fact that it never developed the power to restore it.  Only in the Neo-Renaissance does it really get revived.  Semper and Wagner were filled to their finger-tips with a sense of the unity of the arts.  ‘We can assume,’ writes Semper, ‘that architecture only broke away from the other arts when these last had begun to decay,’ for architecture had originally combined all other arts with itself and had been the ordering power for all.  But this counter-movement was no more than a delaying entr’acte in the drama of disintegration.”  Pgs. 88-89.


Because this age is one to which the composite work of art and the interrelation between the arts have become things without meaning, it is incapable of creating a pictorial world that has any positive import of its own, a pictorial world, that is to say, in which every picture and every theme of every picture has its own precise and necessary significance as part of a larger whole.  More and more the subject-matter ceases to be a thing of any particular concern, while the question whether its spiritual content, as distinguished from its formal character, fits it for the particular place where it happens to hang become a matter of equally small importance.  Nowhere is sterility so much in evidence as in the field of iconological invention and composition.  Indeed the very meaning of the thing has been lost.  Writers on art in the immediate past no longer took account of the full spiritual significance of the composite work of art, they no longer took account of that which it strove to convey.  In the matter of iconology they ruthlessly divorced form content, so that under their hands iconology degenerated into iconography, a science of fragments.

Nor do such writers take note of the fact that architecture had a representational character, that it had a story to tell, that architecture played its part together with all the other arts and not the fine arts alone in showing forth things that were beyond sensible experience, that it helped to make ‘pictures’ of Heaven or of the cosmos, and that this was its function from the days of the Sumerian ziggurats and the Egyptian temples down to the Gothic cathedrals and the kingdom of light at Versailles.

It is only now that students of art are beginning once more to see the composite work of art as it was and feel all the fullness of life that was within it. It is only now that the professors of this subject and the others who write about it have begun to realize the nature of the actual subject-matter of their branch of study, which is not and cannot be the history of the individual arts nor the abstract definitions of different styles.  Their essential subject-matter can only be the history of the various composite works of art, their decay and the secularization of the byproducts of that decay.

This would at long last put an end to the unnatural and hideously costly divorce between the history of art on the one side, and iconography on the other, while iconography itself will be transformed from the fragmentary scrutiny of isolated things to the wholeness of genuine iconology, to a new science, that is to say, which would lay bare the real raison d’être of these works.

This new attitude on the part of those whose business it is to write and lecture about art shows us at least one thing very clearly -it shows us that the reunion of the arts is something which has once more moved into our age and field of vision.  Whether a real need for a rebirth of the thing will result from it, and how, if it does result, it will be satisfied, no man can now foretell.”  Pgs. 90-92.


With the separation of one art from another there is connected a development of the most far-reaching importance — the death of the ornament. No ornament that possessed real vitality was born during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and this creative collapse is all the more violent in so far as the Rococo at its end had developed the art of ornament to a high degree of varied richness and felicity.

We cannot by any means place the whole responsibility for the death of the ornament on the arrival of the new industrial materials, though these amorphous substances really do seem incapable of bringing new ornaments into the world. Yet any explanation that sought to base itself on that fact alone would not go nearly deep enough, for the ornament was already in its death agony before the new materials had made their appearance at all.  The divorce between structure and decoration did not begin, as Le Corbusier supposed, with construction in metal.  It began with the ‘applied’ ornaments at the end of the eighteenth century, and the real cause of the ornament’s death is roughly this.  It is the very essence of the ornament that its character, both as to shape and color, grows naturally out of the body that carries it, be that body a piece of architecture, a utensil of some kind, or, to give the earliest instance, the human form itself.  But what remote justification for its existence can there be, when that same body, striving for a supposed purity, rejects for that very reason the very idea of an ornament ? The ornament is indeed the only category of art which cannot possibly achieve autonomy and so the ornament dies.

The fact is that there can be no such thing as a ‘pure’ ornament as such.  The very conception is nonsensical. It can, of course, divest itself of the objective content and allusion which from the very beginning to the end has been inherent in it, and can transform itself into a purely abstract design of lines and spots, but it does not become more essentially an ornament by doing so.

Again the revivals of past styles of architecture have brought with them no rebirth of the ornaments originally native to those styles.  Indeed, it is in the ornament more than in any other aspect that the lack of vitality which affects these revivals is most clearly shown.  Our age seems to have lost the understanding that an ornament must have depth in other senses than the spatial one, that it must set up a spiritual relationship and express a kind of contact between men and things.  An abstract pattern can no longer possess that power.”  Pgs. 92-93.


We have seen how in their nervous concern for their own purity the various arts shut themselves off from each other.  In doing so they contrive, first unconsciously and later deliberately, to dissolve the frontiers of the kingdom of art itself so that no one can any longer tell where that kingdom ends and the other provinces begin.

To some extent this quality has always been inherent in the landscape garden for it always tends to fade into nature, but the new garden is markedly an unfinished work, in which nature works alongside of the artist; for nature uninterruptedly changes the garden according to the seasons, and does so to an increasing extent as the years and the decades go by.  It would, of course, be quite wrong to assess this work of art on the assumption that it was only perfect at one moment of time, at one particular season, that is to say, and one particular stage of the cycle of growth, and that all previous and subsequent conditions thereof were of less account and less pleasing in their effects. That was not how the creators of this new art looked upon the matter.  It is not at any one season of the year alone but in all that this perishable work of art has its full significance, for the garden is indeed as changeable as nature herself, and its protean quality is actually felt to be one of the things that adds to its artistic value.

Yet precisely because it is in a continual state of flux, the form which its creator has willed it to take cannot always find full expression, and so it may well occur that as one stands before any particular example of the gardener’s art, it is possible to say where the work of artistic creation ends and where it is nature that is the artist.’  In so far as this is true the garden lies in a strangely fluid borderland between nature and art.’  This situation is new.

This wiping out of frontiers is not a thing that holds good of only one particular marginal zone, it goes to the very roots of the problem of art and derives from a completely new conception of the relation in which nature and art should stand to one another.’  In that moment where one begins to think of creation as something formed by art and equates the natural with the perfect, it is not only the frontier between art and nature wiped out but that between natural beauty and the beauty of art.  The result is that the age has begun to make use of an extremely elastic conception of the whole nature of a work of art.’

In much the same way the frontier was to be wiped out at the beginning of the twentieth century between architecture on the one hand and the construction on the other of machines, vehicles, etc.  The quality of creating beauty in perfection, once attributed to nature, is now ascribed to the engineer and his professional kinsmen, the boundary between the beauty of functional aptness and that of art (which must always root in the transcendental) becomes involuntarily blurred.

The third instance of the process occurs in the provinces of painting and sculpture where the borderline is made to disappear between genuine art and the pictorial efforts of primitive and untrained persons, children, and lunatics.  People persuade themselves that the untrained faculties of such usually uneducated people can produce things which are more beautiful and more perfect than can be produced by the trained and educated, or ‘miseducated’ as these last are usually defined.

A special case is presented when the boundary line becomes fluid between the work of ‘abstract’ draughtsmen and painters, and that kind of ornamentation in which the pattern has been produced more or less by accident, as in marbled papers, sprayed work, and the deliberate chaos of camouflage.  ‘Thus art finally reaches the stage where it is concerned not with that which is beyond the power of language to express but with that which is inexpressible because it is so far below it.’

This, then, is the fate of art when its unity is destroyed.  It collapses into the arms of the photographer and the engineer or fades away into the land of the dream.”  Pgs. 92-94.


This great rebuilding of the earlier forms of life began almost unnoticed, and when it began, many experienced a curious shuddering, as though the earth were disappearing under their feet. — V[iacheslav] Ivanov

When the idea of the spherical building reappeared between 1890 and 1900, its appearance heralded the outbreak of the new revolution.

When it first was mooted, the idea was purely utopian.  There was in the year 1800 no suitable material and a complete absence of the requisite engineering skill by which it could have been realized.  It is only with the perfection of the technique of steel construction, which the exhibitions had so markedly advanced, that this utopian project could be translated into reality.

And so in the nineties we again find designs for spherical buildings of huge dimensions, for the Eiffel Tower had now shown that such projects were within the realm of the possible.  An example is the design of a Spaniard, a thing artistically completely worthless, which envisaged a steel globe of three-hundred meters diameter as a monument to Columbus — to celebrate the fourth centenary of the discovery of America.  In its interior there were to be auditoriums, a museum, and places of amusement. The whole breathed the sensationalism and record-breaking spirit of the great world exhibitions — and it was in an exhibition, the Paris Exhibition of 1900, that the idea of a spherical building first took tangible form.  It did so in the shape of a sphere some fifty meters in diameter representing the earth.

It was, however, the Russian futurists of architecture who carried the idea to its uttermost extremes, and the particular example shown in Plate 22 [Leonidov’s Lenin Institute proposal]  of enormous symbolic and symptomatic value.

This sphere no longer touches the earth at all.  It hovers in the air, a balloon made of glass and iron; apparently it is not actually supported by anything, but is merely caught up by a delicate network of spiderweb-thin metal in the shape of a cone, which only touches the earth on its inverted apex.

The general principle embodied in this construction is frequently formulated by a contemporary, the Soviet architect and writer, EI Lissitzky.

‘One of our ideas for the future is the overcoming of the fundament, of our state of being bound down to the earth.  We have developed this idea in a number of designs.’  He then refers to a number of designs for buildings which have largely loosed their ties with the earth. They take the form of skyscrapers raised up on slender supports, or of stadiums with hanging tribunes, etc.  The writer continues:

‘This is the task with which the design for the Lenin Institute on the Lenin Hills near Moscow seeks to grapple.  The complex building consists of a tower, which is a library with fifteen million books, flat buildings with reading- and work-rooms, a spherical building, raised up in the air, as .a central auditorium for an audience of four thousand.  This last can be partitioned off into several sections and the sphere can also be used as a planetarium.  It is the task of the engineer to secure statically these elemental volumes, which establish new relations in space. The overcoming of the fundament and of our earth-bound state goes even further and demands the overcoming of the force of gravity as such (!), it calls for floating bodies, it calls for a physico-dynamic architecture.’

The highly abstract character of the architecture of the first revolution is here far surpassed. And one may fairly say that a single such creation, such as that here described, reveals the basic tendencies of the second architectural revolution precisely as Ledoux’s ‘House for a Bailiff’ reveals those of the first.

It shows us first of all that the preference for elements of purely geometrical form still remains. In looking through the designs of the nineteen-twenties, indeed, one finds them all again-cubes, pyramids, cylinders, cones and spheres.  But it is only now that ultimate conclusions are drawn from the equation of architecture with geometry.  The original dogma tells us nothing about the relation to the earth which geometrical compilation must possess to justify its claim to be architecture, and that is why the second architectural revolution can place the cone on its apex and put a cube on one of its edges, as in the design for the fair-pavilion of the Soviet Trade Delegation in Paris in 1925.

It is again the geometrical forms that delight the abstraction-loving mind: ‘Le reveil brutal en nous, parce que foudroyant des joies in tenses de la géométrie’ (Le Corbusier).  The motivation and justification of these forms is found a posteriori.  The sphere, for instance, finds its raison d’être in a planetarium for which the upper half of that sphere is used.  The idea of the planetarium indeed has of itself a special and peculiar fascination for that spirit which flies out beyond the earth, nor was it chance that caused the gaze of Ledoux to rest in frigid adoration on those icy spaces that are peopled by perfect bodies and show forth the majestic operation of rigid mechanical laws.  Incidentally, it is significant that in the engraving referred to earlier that shows the circling planets, the earth should be stood on its head with the North Pole pointing downwards.  Thus too in the new building top and bottom are interchangeable.

Above all the repulsion from the earth has in the second revolution become incomparably stronger.  It is as though the art of flying, long dreamed of and now at last realized, were drawing the very art of building itself away from the earth.

The spherical building of the Lenin Institute [by Leonidov, RW] has the appearance of floating in the air.  In other designs of Russian and French Futurists the buildings hang over the void on carriers, as though they were suspended by cranes.  This happens in a design of Ladovskii, of 1922, for a ‘Restaurant at the edge of a precipice.’  The whole of the latter idea is devoid of any practical value whatever, and is born of nothing more than a kind of denial of man’s earthbound state; the extreme manner in which the cliff overhangs the water below is almost unnatural and is a sort of symbol of ‘bending over the abyss.’

The same tendency, however, is to be found everywhere.  The passion of the time for putting houses on supports even where there is no necessity for it, a thing of which Le Corbusier is particularly fond, is an expression of the same curious urge.  His villa in Poissy resting on its supports upon the lawn suggests a spaceship that has just landed.  His floating houses seem to become ever lighter towards their base. His pictures are full of floating transparent things.  In his design for the ‘Ferme radieuse,’ even the farmhouse, which surely should be the very essence of the earthbound, is transformed into a relatively tall building stuck on pillars — for all of which the most insubstantial reasons are given.  One of the ideals of the time is the ‘boîte en l’air.’

From this peculiar longing there is born in America the suggestion — an allegedly practical one, and one recommended by the economy supposedly effected in materials — according to which a circling dwelling-house with ‘walls of highly polished metal is suspended on a mast — a house that can no longer in any sense said to be ‘built’ at all.

While the architecture of the second revolution thus denies man’s earthbound state, it opens itself in an equally unprecedented manner to the wide universe.  It does not do so like the Baroque, whose illusionist painted ceilings denied the fact of the building’s enclosure from above and extended the earthly dimensions of the building without any break of continuity into limitless realms of light and air.  The architecture of the second revolution produces something very different.  Its imaginary extensions into space run parallel to the earth’s surface and its houses open sideways.

This tendency to fuse internal with external space produces yet another form of great symbolic power, which proceeds quite logically from the new methods of ferroconcrete construction.  By the withdrawing inward of the vertical supports of the building’s frame and thus turning them into something resembling the stems of a huge mushroom, there is born the new element of the platform, a primal cell of the ‘New Building.’  The principle is incorporated in its purest form in various structures used in connection with modem transport, but it is also used in the construction of houses and many-storeyed buildings of various kinds.  The huge glass wall, seen through which the various storeys, now enclosed with a transparent membrane [Arthur Korn, RW], have the appearance of things floating in the air, is a natural corollary of this architectural form, for the nature of that form is to be shut off at the top but to be opened, or rather to reach out, as it were, endlessly towards the sides, and the sublime implication of this fact should be noted.  The platform is a kind of materialist baldacchino, and its meaning is well understood by contemporary theory.  ‘The building should not be a completely self-enclosed entity, it should flow together with the totality of the universe.’  This idea appears in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Tony Garnier as early as the nineties.”  Pgs. 104-108.


While ‘geometric’ building tended to deny the earth basis, the second revolution, when at its zenith, produced designs and buildings which attacked yet another fundamental characteristic of architecture, namely, the placing of the main vertical axis, whether of the building or of its parts, along the line of gravity, the plumb-line.  These new buildings have the appearance of falling away from this line, the true perpendicular, suggesting, like the leaning Tower of Pisa, that their foundations have given way.  Thus Tatlin’s design for a monument to the Third International stands completely crooked, and suggests, if anything, the framework of a scenic railway.  In other designs the walls lean over outwards out of the true.  The house of prayer of a fashionable sect in Dresden, dated 1920, is also all on the slant, a wholly atectonic conception.”  Pg. 108.


The equation of architecture and geometry, on which ‘abstract’ building reposes, is relegated to the background by the emergence of a new dogma, which really comprehends the older one.  That dogma is that every building is a machine.  Men no longer see any essential difference between the building of ships, airplanes, and vehicles [as in Le Corbusier’s Towards an Architecture or Ginzburg’s Style and Epoch, RW] on the one hand, and the building of houses on the other.  ‘Dynamic’ construction takes the place of the purely static principle of geometry.”  Pg. 109.

“In most cases these developments lack all rational foundation, for they are anything but practical ; indeed, they are simply the results of romanticizing the world of the machine.  Unlike the work of those who create real machines, these creations of architects who betray architecture because the idealized engineer has completely destroyed their balance, are, despite all their tall talk of functionalism, not functional at all.

The fact is that the new type of architect has become hopelessly uncertain of himself.  He glances over his shoulder at the engineer, he fancies himself in the role of inventor and even in that of a reformer of men’s lives, but he has forgotten to be an architect. His attitude to purely aesthetic questions is like that of the builder of a car to the designer of the body.  The thing is just superstructure.

Meanwhile the actual dogma of the machine, as an artistic canon, however, is expressed quite openly by the theorists who coin such phrases as ‘machines for living in’ [Le Corbusier, RW] for houses and apply the term ‘machine for sitting in’ to a chair.

This general philosophy may be said to reach its culminating point in the 1920s when its extreme exponents proclaim the ‘Abolition of Architecture’ and tend to deny that so narrow a concept has any claim to survive, and in fact they do abolish it by treating architecture as a purely historical category, which, in view of the new state of development reached by the human spirit, is now destined to be absorbed into the general province of the engineer-much as ‘superannuated’ religion must yield place to science.  The great battle of the machine against architecture — and particularly against the older types of architecture carried on without service to any recognizable concrete purpose of either peace or war, is thus revealed for what it is — an outburst of hate on the part of the machine men against architecture as such.  What these now begin to make explicit is what the avant-gardists of the theory had long proclaimed and what is most pregnantly enshrined in the words of Le Corbusier: ‘The heart of our ancient cities with their spires and cathedrals must be shattered to pieces and replaced by skyscrapers.’”  Pgs. 110-111.

“The more we study the art of Goya the more intense grows our conviction that, like Kant in philosophy and Ledoux’s architecture, he is one of the great pulverizing destructive forces that bring a new age into being.”  Pg. 117.


The kind of painting that began about 1900 and dominated the twenties is not only contemporary with ‘modern’ technicized architecture, it is not only preceded, like the latter, by a kind of prelude around 1800, it has a deep connection with it and all over Europe and beyond was favored and propagated by exactly the same groups, by those namely that were the carriers of the ‘spirit of 1789.’  The two things go together, despite the fact that the new architecture is so cold and objective and the new painting so wild and irrational.  One reflects the other, despite the fact that painting and building have been wholly separated from each other.”  Pg. 135.


But there are broader and more general analogies to be made, which bear chiefly on the phenomena described earlier in this chapter.  Let us cursorily examine some of them. This will enable us to examine and order the symptoms we have observed from a new angle.  It will also enable us to complete the general picture of the disturbance by introducing into it a record of certain other symptoms which have been overlooked or have, at best, received insufficient consideration.

Thus in the case of mental illness we have the typical feeling of ‘hanging in the air,’ we have the condition in which the outer world seems to become strange, cold and dead.  We have the symptom of the patient’s losing himself in the past or the future.  ‘I lived my life in reverse,’ says one such patient, ‘the present was no longer there.  I lost myself in living backwards.’  ‘I saw far ahead,’ says another, ‘and I myself no longer lived in the present.’  ‘I saw with different eyes. I no longer saw the people of today and yesterday, but I saw each one of them as he was at the day of his death.’  ‘The fundamental mood in such cases of melancholia,’ says the compiler of these records, ‘might be described as one fraught with the feeling of the end of the world’ (wie am jüngsten Tag), as though the patient were experiencing ‘a permanent Dies Irae’ (Dies Irae in Permanenz).  But this almost exactly describes one of the tentative moods of Expressionism.

Futurism, too, has pathological phenomena that correspond to it — the fear of a catastrophic future, a thing that applies not only to the symptoms of individual disease but equally to what may be called the disease of the age.  Incidentally, it is the mark of certain types of madness that the sufferer lives entirely in the future.  He makes programs, forges plans, he anticipates the future continually and treats its potentialities as though they had already been realized.  He is ‘full of the future.’  ‘Further in the nihilist obsessions of melancholia yet another thing occurs. Not only values themselves but the things to which the values are attached are conjured out of existence.  The world itself is drawn into the vortex of nothingness, something is attained that might be called “de-realization”.’  All worldly things around me have disappeared.  I only see the world beyond. I am to create the entire world and I cannot do it. I am to replace the seas, the mountains and everything else.’  Cubism and Constructivism here provide the analogy.  There is further the exaggeration of dimension — analogous to ‘megalomania’ in art, there is loss of the ‘fluid style’ — analogous to the patchwork technique observable in more than one of the movements in modem art, the preponderance of the expressive over the representational function — analogous to Expressionism, there is the phenomenon of the mental life on the borderland of slumber (das Einschlafdenken) — analogous to the painting of Cézanne, the experiencing of one’s own inner life as though it was something alien and came from the outside; this last really describes what we call hallucination and its analogies are to be found in the work of Goya, Flissli, Ensor, Kubin, and the Surrealists.”  Pgs. 167-168.


Once the ‘signature’ of the age has been recognized, there is little difficulty in following the main lines of the disease’s course, despite certain things that cut across and conceal it.  The development of art in this century and a half begins with the establishment of the new extremes.  There follow certain attempts to moderate those extremes, to trap and render them innocuous and force them into the subconscious.  From there, however, they break forth with greater vehemence than ever, whereupon the attempt to neutralize them is repeated, though with weakened forces.  The best way of getting a view of what really happened, however, is to see it as a kind of parallel to the sociopolitical revolutions and to the reactions that follow them.”  Pg. 202.

“The process, like the social revolution itself, has two culminating — points, the first [1789, RW] and second [1917, RW] revolutions.  In the first there is conscious effort to realize the sublime, and also to free the arts, all the arts, from ‘heteronomous’ fetters.  There is an effort to exalt both man and art onto the highest possible level.  The tendencies that would seek to lower the status of either are still in a minority.  In the second revolution this position is reversed — and yet there is a profound connection between these apparently contradictory trends.  The second revolution was prepared within the first. During the second revolution, nay, while it was actually being prepared, there is already a shift from preoccupation with the inorganic to preoccupation with the merely chaotic.  The latter trend actually becomes dominant under Surrealism, and we come to a point where art itself is denied.  The great and noble qualities that exercise a hold over our minds in the first half of the nineteenth century are by no means a mere residual legacy of the eighteenth century.  It is the first revolution that has produced them, but that revolution cannot maintain its essentially human standard — and it is precisely here that we see the workings of an inner law.  The postulated autonomy of art and of the arts is the inevitable prelude to their disintegration.”  Pg. 203.

Umberto Eco

“Two Hypotheses on the Death of Art” (1962)

“According to Piero Raffa, ‘the avant-garde is a trick of history meant to hasten the ‘death of art,’ or, rather, art’s transition from the cultural function it fulfilled in the past to a completely different one.  In order to express this concept I have used a metaphor (a ‘trick of history’) which, however, should not be taken to mean that most avant-garde ideologies are not aware of what is happening.  Quite the contrary: most of them are so aware of it that it is all they can speak about…This change manifests itself as a surplus of rational self-consciousness in relation to the creative process and the kind of artistic pleasure it is supposed to produce…Today’s art demands an increasingly keener critical awareness, an ‘ideologization’ of itself…This has resulted in a paradoxical imbalance between what the works actually say and the doctrinal surplus that justifies them.”  Umberto Eco, “Two Hypotheses on the Death of Art” (1962).  The Open Work.  Pg. 172.

We can understand how this phenomenon, or this coincidence of phenomena, may, for the sake of description, be defined as ‘the death of art,’ but this is not enough to explain what in fact the phrase means.  Should it be taken as a facile Hegelianism, implying the dissolution of art into philosophy, or should it instead be seen as the premise of a more subtle speculation? I have in mind the sort of speculation, more philosophical than aesthetic, that one finds in an essay such as ‘La questione della ‘morte dell’arte’ e la genesi della moderna idea di artisticity’ (The question of the ‘death of art’ and the genesis of the modern idea of artisticity), with which Dino Formaggio opens his book L’idea di artisticita.”  Umberto Eco, “Two Hypotheses on the Death of Art” (1962).  The Open Work.  Pg. 172.

“Formaggio is clearly capable of [confidence] when he posits, at the very basis of his notion of art, the Hegelian concept of the ‘dialectic death, within the artistic and aesthetic activity, of certain figures of consciousness, and through this their constant transformation and regeneration in an ongoing self-consciousness.’  Formaggio sees all contemporary art as stirred by a movement of mortal self-consciousness, recognizable in its ‘fundamental intention to start again from zero,’ in its intensely self-reflective attitude. But he sees this as a positive movement: death as ‘the death of death,’ negation as ‘the negation of negation.’  All this should lead us to conclude that, even if the proposed hypothesis were valid (by which I mean the prevalence of poetics over poetry and of the abstraction of a rationalized structure over the concreteness of the work itself), far from discouraging us, it should instead invite us to study the new critical categories which could be applied to the works that will be born out of this new idea.  And we should not be afraid that, by turning the artistic object into both the pretext for an intellectual investigation and the support of a rationalizable model, the artistic process might forever lose its autonomy.  It has happened before: What autonomy did petroglyphs have? Traced for either magic or religious reasons, they were never appreciated for their ‘artistic’ value (since they were always hidden at the back of caves).  At most, we should note how avant-garde art — having long polemicized against all art with a propagandistic, political bent (drawings of workers, celebratory poems, ecological symphonies, etc.) for having degenerated into heteronomous activities whose only criterion of judgment was not aesthetic but political — has also lapsed into a similar situation, and must now accept for itself, as a necessary condition, the very heteronomy with which it reproached other poetics.  And, indeed, both kinds of art, equally heteronomous, would seem to find their very justification and validity in sharing the same cultural context: on one side propagandistic appeal; on the other, philosophical-scientific reflection.  There have been other times in history when two different artistic tendencies, instead of asserting their own autonomy and self-sufficiency, ended up depending on this sort of reciprocally exclusive rapport.”  Umberto Eco, “Two Hypotheses on the Death of Art” (1962).  The Open Work.  Pgs. 173-174.

Henri Lefebvre

“What is Modernity?” (1962)

“With Baudelaire and Baudelairean critique we see the emergence of modernism, we witness the fledgling concept of modernity beginning to take flight; but a black stain sullies its brilliance.  It is not simply that the poet is in mourning for the death of beauty.  He is also aware that something else is missing.  It is not that God is absent, or dead, but something worse: modernity is like a shell to hide the absence of praxis in the Marxist sense, and its failure: revolutionary praxis, total praxis.  Modernity reveals this lack.  Modernity will be the shadow cast on bourgeois society by the thwarted possibility of revolution, a parody of revolution.  Baudelaire’s work can be understood only in a diabolical or parodic light.  The new as abstraction, born from abstraction and disguised as something living and materially human, and triumphally proclaimed as such, will be the ideological and idealized substitute for the practical revolution which never took place.”  Henri Lefebvre, “What is Modernity?” (1962).  Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes.  Pg. 173.

“Returning to a theme we have formulated previously, we would like to emphasize how extraordinary the careers of some contemporary writers, novelists, poets and dramatists have been.  They begin with negation.  Negation is the only way open to them: antitheater, antiplays, antiliterature, antinovels and antipoetry.  Unaware of what the roles and rules involved really are, they take it upon themselves to bring about the dissolution of art. At first their goal is the withering away of art.  Unwittingly they help to formulate the fundamental question of the supersession of art and the everyday, and their fusion.”  Henri Lefebvre, “What is Modernity?” (1962).  Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes.  Pg. 184.

“Like the ghost of the Revolution which never happened over here, like the ghost of the Revolution which was never completed over there, modernity is in permanent crisis.  It is riven with contradictions, and in the absence of the radically revolutionary negativity which — according to the initial Marxist project — would have transformed life, these contradictions are wreaking havoc.  Moreover, the crises are more numerous, more frequent, more generalized.  They are becoming normalized.  Every sector and every area is about to have its crisis, or is in the middle of it.  Increasingly numerous despite claims to the contrary, these multifarious crises would appear to be one of the constituents of modernity.  They are becoming an integral part of its consciousness, its image, its self-promotion and self-projection.  They are seen as fruitful, even by those who deny their existence; and the people who imagine themselves to be firmly established, like some kind of solid substance, are precisely the people who should be asserting the fruitfulness of contradictions, crises, and transition: the official Marxists! Are these crises really fruitful, and equally so across the board? There is no reason to believe that they are not, but equally there is no reason to believe the apologists of modernity when they insist that they are.  But if we reject this absolute apologia for modernity, this does not mean that we must think that the apologists are absolutely wrong.

Is not the partisan stance [i.e., official French Communist Party] which for scores of years has taxed bourgeois society with being sterile, impotent and decadent itself as sterile and impotent as the apologia it aims to criticize? It would be difficult to argue that our modernity is free from decadence and decline; but it would be highly dubious to maintain that it is characterized exclusively by the decline of bourgeois society, and that it is the manifestation of that decadence.  The partisan stance is bankrupt.  It is as difficult to define our modernity by decadence alone as it is to accept the snobbery of modernity and its unconditional triumphalism.

If modernity (our modernity) is unfolding as a series of crises, can we not think that these crises are the small change of the unique and total revolutionary crisis envisaged by Marx, which the radically negative and creative proletariat would have resolved in one historic action?” Henri Lefebvre, “What is Modernity?” (1962).  Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes.  Pg. 236.

“According to this proposition, some of the tasks and goals of total Revolution are being accomplished during the course of modernity, but badly or clumsily, in an indirect, fragmented, disguised and devious way, often in a topsy-turvy way — that is to say, within the world turned topsy-turvy — and always out of synch with what is possible.  Thus we would define modernity as the ghost of revolution, its dispersal, and sometimes its caricature.  So that it would be equally impossible either to reject it out of hand or to proclaim it.  This definition could be applied generally, but unevenly; that is to say, it is valid for both the socialist and the bourgeois countries, but not in exactly the same manner.  To put it another way: we are using the concept of uneven development to the full.  We are applying it to everyday life, private life, morality, aesthetics, and not simply to the modalities of the cumulative process.”  Henri Lefebvre, “What is Modernity?” (1962).  Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes.  Pg. 237.

“In a fragmentary way, modernity is accomplishing some of the tasks of revolution.  Which ones? First, as we have said, a critique of bourgeois life in so far as it is abstract, split and torn apart. This critique operates by revealing the abstraction beneath the surface, the worsening splits and divisions, the ever more phony contentment. Then the withering away of art, brought to full term by its destruction, its self-destruction, its internal negation.  Then the withering away of philosophy per se, the discrediting of ideologies; then the elaboration of an idea of happiness, or even of a dubious ideology of happiness (which degenerates into an ideology of comfort and well-being, but goes on posing the question of happiness).  Finally, via successive trial and error, the focusing of attitudes about technicity, nature, spontaneity.”  Henri Lefebvre, “What is Modernity?” (1962).  Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes.  Pg. 237.

“Towards a New Romanticism?” (1962)

“There is something deep within the work of art, within beauty, which is impervious to men and their techniques.  Yet the public demands them, it needs to see them. I searched for presence, and all I found was the presence of the artist or the author.  Oh Louis Aragon! Oh François Mauriac! Oh Malraux! How admirable thou wert, how admirable thou art! )

With these very simple considerations Stendhal brought a period of aesthetics, and perhaps even of art, to an end.  In his own way he discovered what Hegel had recently discovered in his, via Kant’s hesitant transition from natural beauty to created beauty.  Art creates.  What does it create? Beauty. But we must be wary.  Does not beauty imply the idea that somehow or other there is a model of Beauty in the Divine Absolute or in nature which pre-exists the artist and the work?” Henri Lefebvre, “Towards a New Romanticism?” Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes.  Pg. 264.

“What will become of art if aesthetic activity is not totally absorbed by technicity? Will it be replaced by unforeseen inventions? Certain daring minds predict that the art of building new towns, and above all the art of living in them, will create styles, situations, active participations, games and pleasures which will have nothing in common — except perhaps vocabulary — with what we still call ‘art.’  We will return to this perspective — or rather, to this active utopianism — later in this Prelude…

Marx never thought that economic growth would necessarily entail a higher form of art. Marxist ideologues have decreed that the improvement of the average level of culture, creative capacity, aesthetic and moral superiority, economic accumulation and socialism are all synonymous. Conversely, Marx placed Greek art above all subsequent forms and spoke of its freshness, its eternal charm, its value as a model, qualities he linked to the ‘beautiful infancy’ of mankind in Greece.”  Henri Lefebvre, “Towards a New Romanticism?” Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes.  Pg. 276.

“One could go so far as to maintain that with socialism the destiny of art is being accomplished.  The process of economic accumulation is accelerating.  Despite all the dogmatic decrees, the non-cumulative sector to which art belongs is in decline.  Everything is consumed — and the satirist in us is using the deadly word in its brutal, material sense.  Everything has already been devoured, or is about to be so.  In the way it is using and abusing art and traditional art forms as ideological and political instruments, socialism is in danger of killing them off.  From this point of view socialism would mark the end of art, or at least of those art forms which first found their highest expression in Greece, and then later, during the periods when two dominant classes, now rivals, now allies, fought to outdo each other in splendor and beauty; as you will all realize, we are talking of the urban bourgeoisie and the aristocracy in the Middle Ages.  This brings us inevitably to the fact that the mutual challenge between East and West (between socialism and capitalism) concerns economic growth, the level of technicity or the average level of culture, and not art.

Thus art in the traditional sense is in danger of coming to an end at the very moment when experts are taking stock of its vast history, broadening its limits and gloating over the extent of their knowledge about it.  They dream up the universal museum, the total library, the perfect audiotape collection and film theater, gloomy ossuaries of art thrown open to the voracious and boundless curiosity of the public.  There is an immense amount of information about art: the accumulation of knowledge about it goes on unabated.  Art is in danger of finishing its days in a delirium of aesthetic saturation on the bourgeois side, and in an absence of aestheticism and a use of art as a politico-ideological instrument on the socialist side.  If socialism is compromising art, and perhaps even killing it by recklessly politicizing it, capitalism and the bourgeoisie are killing it by considering it solely as a firmly ingrained need which can be enjoyed on a purely physical level and ruthlessly exploited (not to mention the thousands of other dirty little tricks which we could describe in detail, had we the time, by which art is being dispatched).  Thus, the bourgeois, with their aestheticism, and the socialists — or ‘Communists’ — with their lack of it are engineering the end of aesthetics, while at the same time professing their unbounded commitment to the cause of art.”  Henri Lefebvre, “Towards a New Romanticism?” Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes.  Pg. 277.

Questions from a reader

(We have the God-given right to create this reader. We’ll be logical and call him Mr. A.  So there, he’s created. He is getting to his feet.  He is going to ask unpredictable questions, he will have his moods, get angry, agree with me or not, as the case may be. As for the author, equally logically, he will abandon the conventional ‘we’ and call himself Mr. B.  He too will ask unpredictable questions, reply to Mr. A, lose his temper — in a word, enjoy himself.)

Mr. A: But come now, dear Mr. B, what are you driving at? I find it hard to follow you.  If I’ve understood it correctly, you say there is to be a new romanticism, a revolutionary romanticism, a movement or an aspiration of some sort.  And then you seem to veer off in another direction.  Romanticism, or a romanticism, is an aesthetic theory, an artistic or literary avant-garde.  But you seem to cast doubts as to whether art has any future.  Do you think that the young people you have described will revitalize art, or will they bury it? Could you be more explicit about what future you think art has?

Mr. B (very polite, almost pedantic): Mr. A, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for asking such an interesting question.  Indeed, it gives me the opportunity to explain a few of my ideas more succinctly…Ideas is perhaps not quite the word — let us say ‘opinions,’ or even ‘hypotheses.’  Should you disagree with what I have to say, let me remind you that I don’t hold dogmatic views about anything.  Above all, I want a dialogue.  In effect, I do believe that art will die.  During our intellectual stroll together, I have given you a few reasons why.  There are a great many more.  If you would allow me to speak my mind on the matter, I will go so far as to state that art is already dead.

Mr. A: Oh! How can you say such a thing! What a paradox, and what an old one at that! Every five minutes someone or other announces the end of art with a capital A.  And yet art still goes on…

Mr. B: I know, I know.  Artistic production is blooming, it’s positively bursting out all over.  There are many great painters, a few great poets and writers, music is forging ahead in its own audacious way…Well, this is how I see it: all this production (and not to mention the countless re-productions), all this prevailing aestheticism which so many cultivated people use to justify their interest in art, is nothing more than the form art is taking in order to wither away and die.

Mr. A (fidgeting, ill-at-ease): Obviously, you must be one of those people who are against modern culture, popularized or popular culture, mass culture, put it how you like.  You are unhappy that cultural and cultivated milieux should be opened out.  For art to cease as the privilege of an aristocracy or a ruling class and to reach wider social strata, and for artists and amateurs to make more direct contact with each other — you think this is vulgarization, a lowering of standards, compromise.  It’s not art any more!

Mr. B: Excuse me! Please don’t put words into my mouth.  If a worker listens to a Brandenburg Concerto on the radio, or watches a good classical play on TV, or hangs a Van Gogh reproduction on his wall — well, fine! There are plenty of indications that the average level of culture is rising, that average taste is getting more sophisticated, and that people generally are becoming more intelligent.  I won’t go into the inevitable cultural saturation this entails.  My question concerns creative activity, and the point we have reached in the history of art.  In my opinion, when I look at so-called modern works and try to analyze them — and I’m talking about the ‘best’ stuff — well, it’s not exactly art any more.  It’s already something else.”  Henri Lefebvre, “Towards a New Romanticism?” Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes.  Pgs. 348-349.

Theodor Adorno

Aesthetic Theory (1968)

“The Hegelian vision of the possible death of art accords with the fact that art is a product of history.  That Hegel considered art transitory while all the same chalking it up to absolute spirit stands in harmony with the double-character of his system, yet it prompts a thought that would never have occurred to him: that the substance of art, according to him its absoluteness, is not identical with art’s life and death.  It is thinkable, and not merely an abstract possibility, that great music — a late development — was possible only during a limited phase of humanity.  The revolt of art, teleologically posited in its ‘attitude to objectivity’ toward the historical world, has become a revolt against art; it is futile to prophesy whether art will survive it.”  Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1968).  Pg. 3.

“If the utopia of art were fulfilled, it would be art’s temporal end.  Hegel was the first to realize that the end of art is implicit in its concept.  That his prophecy was not fulfilled is based, paradoxically, on his historical optimism.  He betrayed utopia by construing the existing as if it were the utopia of the absolute idea.”  Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1968).  Pg. 32.

“Hegel’s philosophical history of art, which construes romantic art as art’s final phase, is confirmed even by antiromantic art, though indeed it is only through its darkness that this art can outmaneuver the demystified world and cancel the spell that this world casts by the overwhelming force of its appearance, the fetish character of the commodity.”   Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1968).  Pgs. 58-59.

“Whether or not the spiritualization of art is capable of this will decide if art survives or if Hegel’s prophecy of the end of art will indeed be fulfilled, a prophecy that, in the world such as it has become, amounts to the thoughtless and — in the detestable sense — realistic confirmation and reproduction of what is.  In this regard, the rescue of art is eminently political, but it is also as uncertain in itself as it is threatened by the course of the world.”  Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1968).  Pg. 94.

“Artworks stand in the most extreme tension to their truth content.  Although this truth content, conceptless, appears nowhere else than in what is made, it negates the made.  Each artwork, as a structure, perishes in its truth content; through it the artwork sinks into irrelevance, something that is granted exclusively to the greatest artworks.  The historical perspective that envisions the end of art is every work’s idea.”  Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1968).  Pgs. 131-132.

“That according to Hegel art was once the adequate stage of spirit and now no longer is, demonstrates a trust in the real progress of consciousness of freedom that has since been bitterly disappointed.  Hegel’s theorem of art as the consciousness of needs is compelling, and it is not outdated. In fact, the end of art that he prognosticated did not occur in the one hundred fifty years that have since lapsed.  It is in no way the case that what was destined to perish has simply been forced along, emptily; the quality of the most important works of the epoch and particularly those that were disparaged as decadent is not open to discussion with those who would simply like to annul that quality externally and thus from below. Even given the most extreme reductionism in art’s consciousness of needs, the gesture of self-imposed muteness and vanishing, art persists, as in a sort of differential.  Because there has not yet been any progress in the world, there is progress in art; ‘il faut continuer.’”  Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1968).  Pg. 208.

“The thesis that the end of art is imminent or has already occurred recurs throughout history, and especially since the beginning of the modern age; Hegel reflects this thesis philosophically, he did not invent it.  Though today it poses as being anti-ideological, it was until recently the ideology of historically decadent groups who took their own end to be the end of all things.  The shift is probably marked by the Communist ban on modern art, which suspended the immanent aesthetic movement in the name of social progress; the mentality of the apparatchiks, however, who thought this up, was the old petit-bourgeois consciousness. Inevitably the thesis of the end of art can be heard at dialectical nodal points where a new form suddenly emerges that is directed polemically against the established form.  Since Hegel the prophecy of the imminent end of art has more often been a component of a cultural philosophy that pronounces its judgment from on high than an element of actual artistic experience; in decrees totalitarian measures were prepared.” Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1968).  Pg. 320.

“In the face of the threatened transformation into barbarism it is better for art to come to a silent halt rather than to desert to the enemy and aid a development that is tantamount to integration into the status quo for the sake of its superior power.  The lie in the intellectuals’ proclamation of the end of art resides in their question as to what the point is of art, what its legitimation is vis-à-vis contemporary praxis.”  Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1968).  Pg. 320.

“The question of the possibility of art is so relevant that it has taken a form that mocks its putatively more radical formulation of whether and how art is even possible at all.  The question has instead become that of the concrete possibility of art today.   The uneasiness with art is not only that of a stagnating social consciousness vis-à-vis the modern.  At every point this uneasiness extends to what is essential to art, to its most advanced works.  Art, for its part, seeks refuge in its own negation, hoping to survive through its death.”  Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1968).  Pg. 338.

Herbert Marcuse

“Beyond One-Dimensional Society” (1965)

“The integration of art into life is negation of art.”  Herbert Marcuse, “Beyond One-Dimensional Society” (1965).  Collected Papers towards a Critical Theory of Society.  Pg. 116.

“Art in the One-Dimensional Society” (1967)

“Now what can possibly be the role of art in the development and realization of the idea of such a universe? The definite negation of the established reality would be an ‘aesthetic’ universe, ‘aesthetic’ in the dual sense of pertaining to sensibility and pertaining to art, namely the capacity of receiving the impression of Form: beautiful and pleasurable Form as the possible mode of existence of men and things. I believe that the image and the imaginatory realization of such a universe is the end of art, that the language of art speaks into such a universe without ever being able to reach it, and that the right and truth of art were defined and validated by the very irreality, nonexistence of its objective.  In other words, art could realize itself only by remaining illusion and by creating illusions.  But, and that I think is the significance of the present situation of art, today art, for the first time in history, is confronted with the possibility of entirely new modes of realization.  Or the place of art in the world is changing, and art today is becoming a potential factor in the construction of a new reality, a prospect which would mean the cancellation and the transcendence of art in the fulfillment of its own end.”  Herbert Marcuse, “Art in the One-Dimensional Society” (1967).  Collected papers on Art and Liberation.  Pg. 117.

“But then the question arises: why has the biological and existential content of ‘aesthetic’ been sublimated in the unreal, illusory realm of art rather than in the transformation of reality? Is there perhaps some truth in the vulgar proposition that art, as a special branch of creative activity, divorced from material social production, pertains to what Marx called the ‘prehistory’ of mankind, that is, the history of man prior to his liberation in a free society? And is this the reason why an entire dimension of reality remained ‘imaginary’, ‘illusion’? And it is tempting to ask a related question: has now perhaps come the time to free art from its confinement to mere art, to an illusion? Has the time come for uniting the aesthetic and the political dimension, preparing the ground in thought and action for making society a work of art? And is perhaps in this sense the notion of the ‘end of art’ historically justified? Do not the achievements of technological civilization indicate the possible transformation of art into technique and technique into art? In the very complete sense of a controlled experimentation with nature and society in order to give nature and society their aesthetic Form, that is to say, the Form of a pacified and harmonious universe?” Herbert Marcuse, “Art in the One-Dimensional Society” (1967).  Collected papers on Art and Liberation.  Pg. 118.

“Art as Form of Reality” (1969)

“The thesis of the end of art has become a familiar slogan: radicals take it as a truism; they reject or ‘suspend’ art as part of bourgeois culture, just as they reject or suspend its literature or philosophy. This verdict extends easily to all theory, all intelligence (no matter how ‘creative’) that does not spark action and practice, that does not noticeably help to change the world, that does not — be it only for a short time — break through the universe of mental and physical pollution in which we live.  Music does it, with song and dance: the music which activates the body; the songs which no longer sing but cry and shout.  To measure the road traveled in the last thirty years, compare the ‘traditional’, classical tone and text of the songs of the Spanish Civil War with today’s songs of protest and defiance.  Or compare the ‘classical’ theatre of Brecht with the Living Theatre of today.  We witness not only the political but also, and primarily, the artistic attack on art in all its forms, on art as Form itself.  The distance and dissociation of art from reality are denied, refused, and destroyed; if art is still anything at all, it must be real, part and parcel of life — but of a life which is itself the conscious negation of the established way of life, with all its institutions, with its entire material and intellectual culture, its entire immoral morality, its required and its clandestine behavior, its work and its fun.”  Herbert Marcuse, “Art as Form of Reality” (1969).  Collected papers on Art and Liberation.  Pg. 140.

“Cultural Revolution” (1970)

“[T]he Art-Form imposes order, reconciles the irreconcilable,  mitigates prosaic injustice by poetic justice, makes sorrow beautiful.  I have also suggested that this affirmative function belongs to the very Form of Art, that even anti-Art partakes of it, and that the affirmative character of Art could be overcome only in the dialectical negation of Art, that is to say, its realization in an aesthetic Lebenswelt.  This presupposes the radical transformation of society which would gradually reduce the separation of individual from social production, creativity from labor, freedom from necessity.”  Herbert Marcuse, “Cultural Revolution” (1970).  Collected Papers towards a Critical Theory of Society.  Pg. 148.

“Jerusalem Lectures” (1971)

“The last question I would like to indicate very briefly is a question which today again is raised frequently: Can we ever envisage such a thing as the end of art? Namely, art becoming a form of real life? Art somehow being the daily life of men and women? If the gap between art and reality can be reduced, as I suggested, in the historical process of social change, does this mean such realization of art as a form of life? Does it mean, can it possibly mean a society where art is the daily existence of the individuals? Where art is indeed the form of reality?

I would like to propose a negative answer. There is one state where such a realization of art is imaginable — that is the state as has been formulated by a young writer where name and the thing coincide.  All potentiality is absorbed by the actual and people don’t know anymore what freedom is.  And this would be a state of perfect barbarism — the exact opposite of a free society.”  Herbert Marcuse, “Jerusalem Lectures” (1971).  Collected papers on Art and Liberation.  Pg. 165.

“Art and Revolution” (1972)

“The aesthetic form will continue to change as the political practice succeeds (or fails) to build a better society. At the optimum, we can envisage a universe common to art and reality, but in this common universe, art would retain its transcendence.  In all likelihood, people would not talk or write or compose poetry; la prose du monde would persist.  The ‘end of art’ is conceivable only if men are no longer capable of distinguishing between true and false, good and evil, beautiful and ugly, present and future.  This would be the state of perfect barbarism at the height of civilization — and such a state is indeed a historical possibility.”  Herbert Marcuse, “Art and Revolution” (1972).  Collected papers on Art and Liberation.  Pg. 173.

The Aesthetic Dimension (1977)

“History projects the image of a new world of liberation.  Advanced capitalism has revealed real possibilities of liberation which surpass all traditional concepts.  These possibilities have raised again the idea of the end of art.  The radical possibilities of freedom (concretized in the emancipatory potential of technical progress) seem to make the traditional function of art obsolete, or at least to abolish it as a special branch of the division of labor, through the reduction of the separation between mental and manual labor.  The images (Schein) of the Beautiful and of fulfillment would vanish when they are no longer denied by the society. In a free society the images become aspects of the real.”  Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension.  Pgs. 27-28.

“But even such a society would not signal the end of art, the overcoming of tragedy, the reconciliation of the Dionysian and the Apollonian.  Art cannot sever itself from its origins.  It bears witness to the inherent limits of freedom and fulfillment, to human embeddedness in nature.  In all its ideality art bears witness to the truth of dialectical materialism — the permanent non-identity between subject and object, individual and individual.”  Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension.  Pg. 29.

“Auschwitz and My Lai, the torture, starvation, and dying — is this entire world supposed to be ‘mere illusion’ and ‘bitterer deception’? It remains rather the ‘bitterer’ and all but unimaginable reality.  Art draws away from this reality, because it cannot represent this suffering without subjecting it to aesthetic form, and thereby to the mitigating catharsis, to enjoyment.  Art is inexorably infested with this guilt.  Yet this does not release art from the necessity of recalling again and again that which can survive even Auschwitz and perhaps one day make it impossible.  If even this memory were to be silenced, then the ‘end of art’ would indeed have come.  Authentic art preserves this memory in spite of and against Auschwitz; this memory is the ground in which art has always originated — this memory and the need to create images of the possible ‘other.’”  Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension.  Pgs. 55-56.

Manfredo Tafuri

Theories and History of Architecture (1968)

“What Garroni has discerningly called the ‘semantic crisis of the arts’ finds its sources in the Illuminist hiccups and in the relativist historicism of positivism. The very concept of art begins to decline with the decline of history: when Hegel, between 1817 and 1826, decrees the death of art, rather than a prophecy he makes a lucid diagnosis.”  Manfredo Tafuri, Theories and History of Architecture (1968), pg. 28.

“Seen in its contemporary historical situation, it shows how clearly the German philosopher saw the end of the traditional concept of art: as, for Hegel, the universality, the objectivity, the organicity, the congruity of subjective expression with the content of the work, are essential values to the very concept of art, he had to prophesy its death. The Romantic world dissolves into the particular, the contingent, the mundane, an ideal organicity that must by now be transmitted to a new objectivation of the Idea. Art dies to make room for a higher form of knowledge. But at the same time Hegel’s words can be referred directly to the present situation.  In this second reading — completely arbitrary, of course — they are not only very close to those of the avant-gardes of the beginning of the century, but also manage to exp lain, at least partially, the Romantic origin of so much recent neo-avant-garde. (‘Updated’ readings of Hegel’s aesthetic have been tried by Lukács, Morpurgo-Tagliabue, and Sabatini).  What, in fact, dies, for Hegel, is art as superindividual institution and as immediate communion with the universe: the release from its contents, the autonomy from its formal processes, its desecration, make Hegel see subjective humor and irony as the final stage of this form of knowledge.”  Manfredo Tafuri, Theories and History of Architecture (1968).  Pgs. 28-29.

“In Hegel’s analysis we find a clear explanation of the questions of eclecticism, anti-symbolism and the de-mythologizing typical of the entire cycle of contemporary art.  His prophecy touches the main reasons for the semantic crisis of the arts — to quote Garroni — and links, in particular, the crisis of the object to the crisis of the historicity of modern art. It is in this sense that the death of art and the death of history coincide in Hegel and in Mondrian, in Van Doesburg, in Dada and in Sant’Elia.  To the dissolution of art as the realm of intuition, Hegel counterposes self-consciousness, criticism, and the rationalization of creative processes.  It is in the boiling magma of historical recollections that one can see the true subject of the eclectic research.”  Manfredo Tafuri, Theories and History of Architecture (1968), pg. 29.

“It is clear that, for Mondrian, art, as a transient phenomenon, has still to make for itself the objective of the integral transformation of every natural datum into culture. Heaven on earth will be realized when the ‘danger’ inherent in Nature will be definitely overcome by its total transformation into culture, with the clear implication of the faith in a possible future death of history.

Art’s suicide should, in fact, be carried out in successive steps. First of all should die painting, absorbed (after having performed to the end its role as carrier of avant-garde methodology) by architecture, as concrete existential space: but only temporarily, because architecture itself will have to dissolve in the city, in the ordered metropolis, in which the rhythm of life that has gone beyond the dissensions of history — for Mondrian the dissensions of the tragic—- has become the rule of rational behavior, in point of fact, of a kind of Stijl.”  Manfredo Tafuri, Theories and History of Architecture (1968).  Pg. 37.

“When we spoke of the death of sacrality in connection with artistic activity, we touched a theme closely linked to the death of art dealt with in the preceding chapter. The desecration of art happens in two ways: through the crisis of the artist’s direct contact with his work, and through the intentional insertion of the artistic product into the cycle of daily life, open to transformation, interpretation and even misunderstanding on the part of the observer.”  Manfredo Tafuri, Theories of History and Architecture (1968).  Pg. 89.

Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development (1971)

“Art as a model of action. This was the great guiding principle of the artistic redemption of the modern bourgeoisie. But it was at the same time an absolute which gave rise to new and irrepressible contradictions. Life and art having been revealed antithetical, there had to be found, either means of mediation-following this road the entire artistic production accepted the problematic as its new ethical horizon-or ways by which art could pass into life, even if the Hegelian prophecy of the death of art thus became a reality.”  Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development (1971).  Pg. 89.

Harold Rosenberg

The De-Definition of Art (1972)

“[T]he artist who has left art behind or — what amounts to the same thing — who regards anything he makes or does as art, is an expression of the profound crisis that has overtaken the arts in our epoch. Painting, sculpture, drama, music, have been undergoing a process of de-definition.  The nature of art has become uncertain.  At least, it is ambiguous.  No one can say with assurance what a work of art is — or, more important, what is not a work of art.”  Pg. 12.

“The uncertain nature of art is not without its advantages. It leads to experiment and to constant questioning.  Much of the best art of this century belongs to a visual debate about what art is.  Given the changing nature of twentieth century reality and the unbroken series of upheavals into which the world has been plunged since World War I, it was inevitable that the processes of creation should have become detached from fixed forms and be compelled to improvise new ones from whatever lies ready at hand.  In countries where high art is maintained according to the old definitions — as in the Soviet Union — art is either dead or engaged in underground revolt. So art must undergo — and has been undergoing — a persistent self-searching.”  Pg. 12.

“The post-art artist can go further — he can fashion an ‘environment’ (most potent word in present-day art jargon) in which all kinds of mechanically induced stimuli and forces play upon the spectator and make him no longer a spectator but, willy-nilly, a participant and thus a ‘creator’ himself.”  Pg. 13.

“In reality, however, an artist is a product of art — I mean a particular art.  The artist does not exist except as a personification, a figure of speech that represents the sum total of art itself.  It is painting that is the genius of the painter, poetry of the poet — and a person is a creative artist to the extent that he participates in that genius.  The artist without art, the beyond-art artist, is not an artist at all, no matter how talented he may be as an impresario of popular spectaculars.  The de-definition of art necessarily results in the dissolution of the figure of the artist, except as a fiction of popular nostalgia. In the end everyone becomes an artist.”  Pg. 13.

“Despite the Great Expectations held for the new open-form fabrications, the individual arts, in whatever condition they have assumed under pressure of cultural change and the actions of individual artists, have never been more indispensable to both the individual and to society than they are today.  With its accumulated insights, its disciplines, its inner conflicts, painting (or poetry, or music) provides a means for the active self-development of individuals-perhaps the only means.  Given the patterns in which mass behavior, including mass education, is presently organized, art is the one vocation that keeps a space open for the individual to realize himself in knowing himself.  A society that lacks the presence of self-developing individuals — but in which passive people are acted upon by their environment — hardly deserves to be called a human society. It is the greatness of art that it does not permit us to forget this.”  Pgs. 13-14.

“Ultimately, the repudiation of the aesthetic suggests the total elimination of the art object and its replacement by an idea for a work or by the rumor that one has been consummated-as in conceptual art.  Despite the stress on the actuality of the materials used, the principle common to all classes of de-aestheticized art is that the finished product, if any, is of less significance than the procedures that brought the work into being and of which it is the trace.”  Pg. 29.

“In regard to the objects themselves, rather than the ‘information’ through which they are customarily known, the term ‘arte povera,’ which means impoverished art, seems a convenient designation.  Works that customarily present themselves at second hand and provide no pleasure to the senses certainly deserve to be called poor.”  Pg. 35.

“[D]e-aestheticized art, like most art of this epoch, is deeply involved in parody.”  Pg. 36.

“Art povera leaves no doubt about where it stands.  A statement by a group known as ‘The Zoo,’ of Turin, announces, ‘It is useless to predict the end of art.  Art was done with fifty years ago.’  A circular neon sign reproduced on the back jacket of Art Povera states the final conclusion that ‘the true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.’”  Pg. 38.

“Whatever the case may be with regard to the end of art, the art world is more populous and pervasive than ever. In it a kind of malice toward art encourages assent to all forms of lightheadedness at the same time that the apparent exhaustion of painting and sculpture arouses uneasiness.  For all its nostalgia for reality, de-aestheticized art has never been anything but an art movement.  The uncollectible an object serves as an advertisement for the showman-artist, whose processes are indeed more interesting than his product and who markets his signature appended to commonplace relics.  To be truly destructive of the aesthetic, art povera would have to forsake art action for political action.  As art, its products bear the burden of being seen by nonbelievers, who must be persuaded to respond to them.  But to make a fetish potent outside its cult is precisely the function of the aesthetic.”  Pg. 38.

Jacques Derrida

Of Grammatology (1967)

The engraving: art being born of imitation, only belongs to the work proper as far as it can be retained in an engraving, in the reproductive impression of its outline.  If the beautiful loses nothing by being reproduced, if one recognizes it in its sign, in the sign of the sign which a copy must be, then in the ‘first time’ of its production there was already a reproductive essence.  The engraving, which copies the models of art, is nonetheless the model for art.  If the origin of art is the possibility of the engraving, the death of art and art as death are prescribed from the very birth of the work.  The principle of life, once again, is confounded with the principle of death.  Once again, Rousseau desires to separate them but once again, he accedes within his description and within his text to that which limits or contradicts his desire.”  Of Grammatology (1968).  Pg. 208.

“The outline (design or melodic line) is not only what permits imitation and the recognition of the represented in the representer.  It is the element of formal difference which permits the contents (colored or sonorous substance) to appear.  By the same token, it cannot give rise to [literally provide space for] art (techné) as mimesis without constituting it forthwith as a technique of imitation.  If art lives from an originary reproduction, the outline that permits this reproduction, opens in the same stroke the space of calculation, of grammaticality, of the rational science of intervals, and of those ‘rules of imitation’ that are fatal to energy.  Let us recall : ‘And, to the degree that the rules of imitation proliferated, imitative language was enfeebled’ [Essay, pg. 68].  Imitation is therefore at the same time the life and the death of art. Art and death, art and its death are comprised in the space of the alteration of the originary iteration (iterum, anew, does it not come from Sanskrit itara, other?); of repetition, reproduction, representation; or also in space as the possibility of iteration and the exit from life placed outside of itself.”  Pg. 209.

The Truth in Painting (1986)

“The end of art, and its truth, is religion, that other circle of which the end, the truth, will have been philosophy, and so on.  And you know — we shall have to get the most out of this later on — the function of the ternary rhythm in this circulation. The fact remains that here art is studied from the point of view of its end.  Its pastness is its truth.  The philosophy of art is thus a circle in a circle of circles : a ‘ring’ says Hegel, in the totality of philosophy. It turns upon itself and in annulling itself it links onto other rings.  This annular concatenation forms the circle of circles of the philosophical encyclopedia.  Art cuts out a circumscription or takes away a circumvolution from it.  It encircles itself.”  Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting (1986).  Pg. 26.

Thierry de Duve

Pictorial Nominalism (1984)

“[T]he ‘abandonment’ of painting by the individual, Duchamp, has had a considerable historical resonance and that this completely personal avatar of his career has been invested, more than once, with an interpretation that gives it a general import.  It has been seen as the announcement or the recording of the death of painting or as its deliberate assassination; it has also often been seen as the confirmation of Hegel’s prediction of the end of art.  These interpretations are still very much with us, now that the art world seems split into two camps: those who, under the banner of the transavant-garde, of Neoexpressionism or of Postmodernism, herald the triumphant return of painting, and those who, sometimes under the same banner of Postmodernism (but endowed with an entirely different meaning), sometimes out of faithfulness to the modernism of the historical avant-gardes, definitively proclaim that painting is obsolete.”  Thierry de Duve, Pictorial Nominalism (1984).  Pgs. 16-17.

“The readymade is thus an act, in the sense of an action: indeed, it acted and still acts on the history of art.  But it is equally, we might say, a notarized act that acknowledged receipt of the history that preceded it and that was the history of painting.  If there was a ‘death of painting,’ the readymade was the codicil at the bottom of its last will and testament.  Whoever says ‘testament’ also means heritage, transmission, the passing of powers, and the passage of tradition to the living.  The history of painting is not ended with its ‘death,’ and painting is not dead because of the arrival of the readymade: painting dies and lives anew with each transmission.” Thierry de Duve, Pictorial Nominalism (1984).  Pgs. 17-18.

“If we could remain at this point of passage, we would well understand that, from Duchamp on, to be born a painter simultaneously means to declare the death of painting.” Thierry de Duve, Pictorial Nominalism (1984).  Pg. 94.

“A few months after the Munich trip, it was the ‘invention’ of the readymade that would confirm this revelation.  Duchamp abandoned painting for the first time, or, to be more precise, he abandoned painting as a making and seeing, as an artisanal pleasure, an ‘olfactory masturbation.’  But he did not abandon the paradoxical contract that tied him to the history of painting; rather, he reduced the act of painting to nothing more than the enunciation of this contract itself: to name the death of painting and its survival all at once, to name the broken pact and the new pact that, since Manet at least, were part of the rhythm of the destiny of an avant-garde painter, and, by a supplementary turn of the screw, to name the name.”  Thierry de Duve, Pictorial Nominalism (1984).  Pg. 98.

“One might argue against this that Malevich and Mondrian never abandoned painting in the way that Duchamp did. This is true both intuitively and empirically.  From an epistemological point of view, however, they abandoned painting as much as Duchamp did not abandon it.  If it is true that, to a large degree, the truth-function of a work of art is to declare its real conditions of existence, Duchamp’s readymade speaks of the conditions for the survival of painting in a society that renders its craft impossible as much as Malevich’s Black Square speaks of the impossibility of painting in a society that continues to valorize this craft ideologically.  The know-how that Black Square demanded of its author is nil.  This kind of craftsmanship is within the reach of anyone, and there obviously lies not only its provocational value but also its force of epistemological affirmation.  This force is the same as that of the readymade but with a symmetrical twist: the ready made addressed itself to the historical conditions, principally the technological ones, of painting as dead painting.  Being no longer painting, it declared negatively that painting could survive its own death only by recognizing the cause of it. And it declared this cause positively by being an industrial object: industrialization, which had assassinated all the crafts, had assassinated the craft of painting as well.  Black Square addressed itself to the ideological consequences of the same assassination.  It declared positively — by insisting on still being a painting — ‘that its practice was alive because it no longer wanted to be artisanal, while it jettisoned those ideological effects that had been attached to artisanal practice. And it declared these effects negatively in being ‘handmade’: craft, which had succumbed to the force of industry, was evidenced by its absence.”  Thierry de Duve, Pictorial Nominalism (1984).  Pg. 155.

“This mourning process does not deny the death of painting, but it helps grasp what in the desire for the dead (painting) partakes of the melancholic.”  Thierry de Duve, Pictorial Nominalism (1984).  Pg. 176.

Yve-Alain Bois

“Mondrian and the Theory of Architecture” 

“He developed at length the (mythical) theme of the end of art, of its dissolution in life, and this was the only theme within which he evoked architecture: it will be founded, Mondrian stated, in the same way as painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts, in a much vaster totality, a new category, ‘architecture-as-environment.’  But this would concern only the future.  ‘The end [of art] now would be premature.  Since its reconstruction-as-life is not yet possible, a new art is still necessary.’  Art, including neoplasticist painting, was indeed a surrogate for Mondrian.”  Yve-Alain Bois, “Mondrian and the Theory of Architecture.”  Assemblage 4.  Pg. 114.

“The theme of the end of art was, in fact, a commonplace of the artistic theory of this century, at least of the theory of every artist belonging to what one could call the ‘constructivist’ branch of modern art.  This theme appeared in Mondrian’s writing as early as 1918 and persisted to the end of his life.  It was indubitably linked to his (sketchy) reading of Hegel (to whom Mondrian made a few references), or rather of his Dutch popularizer, the philosopher G.J.P.J. Bolland.  The syncretic sources of neoplasticist teleology were very different from those of Russian constructivism (for which Marx was a primary reference).  But even though his starting point was more theosophical than materialist, Mondrian came to the same conclusions: neoplasticism, like Russian constructivism, prepared for the end of art; later, (much later, Mondrian sometimes underscored) there will be no difference between the artist and the non-artist, and, in this ‘paradisiac’ future toward which the ‘unshakable evolution’ of humanity leads, architecture will no more exist than painting as art, as a separate activity.  Architecture will be dissolved, like the other so-called plastic arts, into ‘architecture-as-environment.’  As for the less ‘material’ arts, said Mondrian, they will be directly ‘realized’ in everyday life.  ‘Music as art,’ for example, ‘will come to an end.  The beauty of the sounds around us — purified, ordered, brought to the new harmony — will be satisfying.’  And Mondrian foresaw the same fate for dance, the theater, and literature.”  Yve-Alain Bois, “Mondrian and the Theory of Architecture.”  Assemblage 4.  Pg. 116.

Jean-François Lyotard

 Heidegger and the ‘jews’ (1988)

“[T]his is not the place to deconstruct Adorno, and I would never think of giving him lessons.  As it is, his thought twists and turns us toward an aesthetics, an ‘after-Auschwitz’ aesthetics, and one within the technocientific world.  One might ask, Why an aesthetics? Is it a singular leaning toward the arts, to music? It is because the question of the disaster is that of the insensible, of what I have called anesthesia.  I have invoked briefly such an occurrence in Kant’s analysis of the sublime: the incapacity into which imagination is put when it has to produce forms to present the absolute (the thing).  This incapacity to produce forms inaugurates and marks the end of art, not as art but as beautiful form.  If art persists, and it does persist, it is entirely different, outside of taste, devoted to delivering and liberating this nothing, this affection that owes nothing to the sensible and everything to the insensible secret.”  Jean-François Lyotard, Heidegger and the ‘jews’ (1988).  Pg. 44.

The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (1988)

“At the horizon of what is called the ‘end of art,’ which Hegelian though discovers at the start of the nineteenth century, we find the melancholy of ‘there is nothing left but the conditions of time and space,’ which tends and bandages itself in that immense work of mourning, that immense remission which is Hegelian dialectical thought.  Not only is it going to be necessary to absorb the fact that ‘there is nothing left but time and space’ as pure conditions (which is done from the start of the first great work, the Phenomenology of Spirit, where it is demonstrated that space and time have their truth not in themselves but in the concept, that there is no here-and-now, that the sensible is always already mediated by the understanding), but the theme of the end of art reveals on another level the persistence of the theme of the retreat of the donation and the crisis of the aesthetic.  If there is no time, if time is the concept, there is no art except by mistake, or rather the moment of the end of art coincides with that of the hegemony of the concept.  We should connect this problematic back with the one we are immersed in nowadays, generalized logocentrism, and show that the art-industry belongs indirectly to this way of finishing art off.”  Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (1988).  Pgs. 114-115.

“A study of the avant-gardes is imperative. Their movement is not only due to the end of art.  If they are in a problematic analogous to the one through which Hegel thematizes the end of art, they have ‘exploited’ this ‘there remains only’ in an exemplary way. If there remain only the conditions of space and time, in other words, basically, if representation, the staging of plots, are not interesting and what is interesting is Oedipus without a fate, then let’s elaborate a painting of the fate-less. The avant-gardes get to work on the conditions of space and time.  Attempts which have been going on for a century without having finished yet.  This problematic makes it possible to resituate the real issue of the avant-gardes by putting them back in their domain.  They have been inflexible witnesses to the crisis of these foundations of which theories of communication and the new technologies are other aspects, much less lucid ones than the avant-gardes.” Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (1988).  Pg. 115.

Paul de Man

“Hegel on the Sublime” (1983)

“In no instance has it been possible to reach a consistent reading, especially when, as is the case for Heidegger and for Adorno, the reading of the Aesthetics has to become part of a general critical reading of Hegel himself by way of such key concepts as that of Aufhebung or of the dialectic itself.  For, at first sight, the Aesthetics appear as the most blandly orthodox and dogmatic of the late writings, at a moment when the magisterial exposition of the system seems to have reached a stage of deadly mechanical didacticism.  One either has to reduce the Aesthetics, as Heidegger does, to the gnomic wisdom of its most enigmatic pronouncements the end of art, the sensory appearance of the idea-and treat it as the mute sphinx that ends all conversation, or, like Adorno and some of his followers, one has to consider it as the Achilles’ heel of an entire system, in the very specific sense that the Aesthetics would be the place where the inadequacy of Hegel’s theory of language would be revealed.”  Paul de Man, “Hegel on the Sublime” (1983).  Aesthetic Ideology.  Pg. 107.

Arthur Danto

“The End of Art” (1984)

“Nothing so much belongs to its own time as an age’s glimpses into the future: Buck Rogers carries the decorative idioms of the 1930s into the twenty-first century, and now looks at home with Rockefeller Center and the Cord automobile; the science fiction novels of the 1950s project the sexual moralities of the Eisenhower era, along with the dry martini, into distant eons, and the technical clothing worn by its spacemen belong to that era’s haberdashery.  So were we to depict an interplanetary art gallery, it would display works which, however up to the minute they look to us, will belong to the history of art by the time there are such galleries, just as the mod clothing we put on the people we show will belong to the history of costume in no time at all.  The future is a kind of mirror in which we can show only ourselves, though it seems to us a window through which we may see things to come.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 83.

“Even so, we may speculate historically on the future of art without committing ourselves on what the artworks of the future are to be like, if there are to be any; and it is even possible to suppose that art itself has no future, though artworks may still be produced post- historically, as it were, in the aftershock of a vanished vitality.  Such indeed was a thesis of Hegel, certain of whose views have inspired the present essay, for Hegel said quite unequivocally that art as such, or at least at its highest vocation, is quite finished with as a historical moment, though he did not commit himself to the prediction that there would be no more works of art.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 83.

“In almost precisely this way, Hegel’s thought was that for a period of time the energies of history coincided with the energies of art, but now history and art must go in different directions, and though art may continue to exist in what I have termed a post-historical fashion, its existence carries no historical significance whatever.  Now such a thesis can hardly be pondered outside the framework of a philosophy of history it would be difficult to take seriously were the urgency of art’s future not somehow raised from within the artworld itself, which can be seen today as having lost any historical direction, and we have to ask whether this is temporary, whether art will regain the path of history — or whether this destructured condition is its future: a kind of cultural entropy. So whatever comes next will not matter because the concept of art is internally exhausted.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 84.

“[T]he boundaries between painting and the other arts — poetry and performance, music and dance have become radically unstable. It is an instability induced by the factors which make my final model historically possible, and which enables the dismal question to be put.  I will conclude by asking how we are to adapt to the fact that the question has an affirmative answer, that art really is over with, having become transmuted into philosophy.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pgs. 84-85.

“Thomas Kuhn surprises us when, in the course of laying out his novel views of the history of science, he observes that painting was regarded in the nineteenth century as the progressive discipline par excellence: proof that progress was really possible in human affairs.  The progressive model of art history derives from Vasari, who, in a phrase of Gombrich, ‘saw stylistic history as the gradual conquest of natural appearances.’  Interestingly enough, this is Gombrich’s view as well, enunciated as such in his book, The Image and the Eye, and throughout his writings.  The history of art, or at least of painting so conceived, really did come to an end, so I will begin with this familiar model.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 85.

“There is a continuity between recognizing pictures and perceiving the world, but picture-making is a different sort of skill: animals are demonstrably capable of pictorial recognition, but picture-making seems exclusively a human prerogative.  And its having to be learned is part of the reason that art — or at least representationalistic art — has a history.  Our perceptual system may have evolved, but that is not the same as having a history.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 90.

“Once art becomes construed as expression, the work of art must send us ultimately to the state of mind of its maker, if we are to interpret it.  Realistically speaking, artists of a given period share a certain expressive vocabulary, which is why, right or wrong, my casual interpretations of De Kooning, El Greco, and Giacometti seem at least natural.  Even so, this seems to me a quite external fact, not at all necessary to the concept of expression, and conceivably each artist could express himself in his own way, so that one vocabulary, as it were, would be incommensurable with another, which makes possible a radically discontinuous view of the history of art, in which one style of art follows another, as in an archipelago, and we might in principle imagine any sequence we choose.  In any case we must understand each work, each corpus, in the terms that define that particular artist we are studying, and what is true of De Kooning need have nothing to do with what is true of anyone else. The concept of expression makes such a view possible, relativizing art, as it does, to individual artists.  The history of art is just the lives of the artists, one after another.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 104.

“It is striking that the history of science is thought of somewhat along these lines today — not, as in the optimism of the nineteenth century, as a linear, inevitable progression toward an end state of total cognitive representation, but as a discontinuous sequence of phases between which there is a radical incommensurability.  It is almost as though the semantics of scientific terms were like the semantics of terms like ‘pain,’ where each user is referring to something different and speaking in a private idiom — so that to the degree that we understand one another at all, we do so on our own terms.  Thus ‘mass’ means something different in each phase of science, in part because it is redefined with each theory that employs it, so that synonymy between theory and theory is ruled out.  But even if we stop short of this extreme lexical radicalism, the mere structure of history might insure some degree of incommensurability.  Imagine the history of art reversed, so that it begins with Picasso and Matisse, passes through Impressionism and the Baroque, suffers a decline with Giotto, only to reach its pinnacle with the original of the Apollo Belvedere, beyond which it would be impossible to imagine a further advance.  Strictly speaking, the works in question could have been produced in that order.  But they could not have the interpretation, nor hence the structure, we perceive them as having under the present chronology.  Picasso, only for example, is constantly referring to the history of art he systematically deconstructs, and so presupposes those past works.  And something of the same sort is true of science.  Even if scientists are not as conscious of their history as artists are, in truth there are intertheoretic references which assure a degree of incommensurability, if only because we know Galileo and he could not have known us, and to the degree that our uses refer to his, the terms we use cannot have the same meanings his did.  So there is an important respect in which we have to understand the past in our own terms, and there can in consequence be no uniform usage from phase to phase.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pgs. 104-105.

“There have been philosophies of history which have made these incommensurabilities central, if not for precisely the reasons I have sketched.  I am thinking just now of Spengler, who dissolved what had been assumed to be the linear history of the West into three distinct and self-contained historical periods, Classical, Magian, and Faustian, each with its own vocabulary of cultural forms, between which no commensurability of meaning could be assumed. The classical temple, the domed basilica, the vaulted cathedral are less three moments in a linear history than three distinct expressions in the medium of architecture of distinct underlying cultural spirits.  In some absolute sense the three periods succeed one another, but only in the way in which one generation succeeds another, with the specific analogy to be drawn that each generation reaches and expresses its maturity in its own way.  Each of them defines a different world, and it is the worlds that are incommensurable.  Spengler’s book was notoriously titled The Decline of the West, and it was reckoned exceedingly pessimistic when it first appeared, in part because of the biological metaphors Spengler employed, which required each of his civilizations to go through its own cycle of youth, maturity, decline, and death.  So the future of our art is very dim, if we accept his premises, but — and how optimistic he after all was — a new cycle will begin, with its own peaks, and we can no more imagine it than we could have been imagined from an earlier cycle.  So art will have a future, it is only that our art will not.  Ours is a form of life that has grown old.  So you could look on Spengler as saying something dark or something bright, depending upon how you feel about your own culture within the framework of the severe relativism it, as indeed all the views I have been discussing in this section, presupposes.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pgs. 105-106.

“Art ends with the advent of its own philosophy.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 107.

“[A]fter about 1906, the history of art simply seemed to be the history of discontinuities… our century: Fauvism, the Cubisms, Futurism, Vorticism, Synchronism, Abstractionism, Surrealism, Dada, Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Op, Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, Conceptualism, Photorealism, Abstract Realism, Neo-Expressionism-simply to list some of the more familiar ones. Fauvism lasted about two years, and there was a time when a whole period of art history seemed destined to endure about five months, or half a season.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 108.

“‘The end of history’ is a phrase which carries ominous overtones at a time when we hold it in our power to end everything, to expel mankind explosively from being.  Apocalypse has always been a possible vision, but has seldom seemed so close to actuality as it is today. When there is nothing left to make history — i.e. , no more human beings there will be no more history.  But the great meta-historians of the nineteenth century, with their essentially religious readings of history, had rather something more benign in mind, even if, in the case of Karl Marx, violence was to be the engine of this benign culmination.  For these thinkers, history was some kind of necessary agony through which the end of history was somehow to be earned, and the end of history then meant the end of that agony.  History comes to an end, but not mankind — as the story comes to an end, but not the characters, who live on, happily ever after, doing whatever they do in their post-narrational insignificance.  Whatever they do and whatever now happens to them is not part of the story lived through them, as though they were the vehicle and it the subject.”  Arthur Danto, “The End of Art” (1984).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pgs. 111-112.

“Art, Evolution, and History” (1985)

“There is a third model of history, one which incorporates features of the other two, which was set forth by Hegel, and which I sought to vindicate in a certain sense in my essay ‘The End of Art.’  This is a kind of cognitive model, and characteristically of Hegel’s idealism, the causalities of history are in effect the causalities of thought, which he interpreted romantically, as a process of inquiry and investigation, rather than classically, as the rehearsal of eternal logical forms.  Hegel saw history pretty much as the effort to come to an understanding of its own processes: an unconscious effort to break through to consciousness of itself.  In effect, he saw history as a drive to form its own philosophy, which he congratulated it for having attained in his own work: as though history really had come to its fulfillment in him. What is striking in Hegel’s thought is that art, not always but at a certain stage, played a central transformative role in this process.  At that point, art moves from its passive role as symbolic form, marking as it were a stage of thought taking place at another level, and becomes a force in history.”  Arthur Danto, “Art, Evolution, and History” (1985).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 204.

“Art, through its own internal development, reached a stage where it contributed to the internal development of human thought to achieve an understanding of its own historical essence. When that happened, one could no longer think of art as one had thought of it before: but neither could one practice it as one had practiced it before, which is part of what I had in mind by the idea of art having come to an end.  It has come to an end in that we cannot think about it in the same terms as before: and a deep transformation of thought such as this is exactly a shift in evolution; unlike perception, thought is not modular.  And it is a transformation of thought that art made happen.”  Arthur Danto, “Art, Evolution, and History” (1985).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pgs. 204-205.

“My sense is that this profound change takes place with the historical shift to modem art, roughly near the turn of this century.  Modern art is not a temporal indicator, meaning what is happening now — as may be supported by the consideration that modern art is over with, save as a manner, and postmodern art is taking place now.  No: “Modem Art” refers to a stylistic period, like Mannerism or Baroque.  But the shift into the period it names is not just another shift to a new period: it is a shift to a new kind of a period.  It marks a kind of crisis.  In Sartre’s beautiful ontology, there is a moment when the pour soi, as he terms it, which up to then had been invisible to itself, a pure nothingness, becomes, abruptly, an object for itself, at which point it enters a new stage of being.  Less climactically, there is a stage in the history of each of us when we become objects for ourselves, when we realize we have an identity to inquire into: when we see ourselves rather than merely see the world.   But we also recognize that becoming conscious of ourselves as objects is not like becoming conscious of just another object: it is a new kind of object, a whole new set of relationships, and indeed all the old relationships and objects are redefined.  In modem art, art became an object for itself in this sense or something like it.  I am incidentally impressed with the fact that the shift from the first to the second model of art history coincides, historically, with the shift from premodern to modem art.”  Arthur Danto, “Art, Evolution, and History” (1985).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 205.

“The philosophical story is roughly as follows . Let us suppose that from the time of Giotto to roughly the end of the nineteenth century, there was a gradual progress in the con quest of visual appearances, in the eliciting of illusion, granting that this progress was marked by various punctuations and long periods of equilibrium.  Even Impressionism is part of this history, the Impressionists having made certain discoveries about the color of shadows, about the nature of color, about how patches at near glance fuse into forms at a distance.  Nevertheless there were certain inherent limits to this, and my argument has been that the advent of motion picture technology showed that the limits could not be broken within the standard possibilities of painting and sculpture.  At this point, the progress was to be carried forward by a new medium altogether, and one which, just because it could show movement, could also better achieve the representation of narrative than painting ever could hope to do: painting supposed that observers already knew the stories, biblical, classical, Shakespearean: but telling new stories was another matter altogether, and in any case required immense cooperation on the part of the audience.  Movies could address themselves directly to the narrative centers of the audience’s minds: very simple, even illiterate audiences could understand the stories they were shown.  It has of ten been remarked that the intellectual level of moving pictures was exceedingly primitive at a time when that of art was very high: when Cubism was being worked out, the movies showed people falling in puddles and receiving custard pies in their faces. But this would be wholly explicable if, as I believe, painting and sculpture realized that they had to define their nature if they were to continue.  And this is the crisis to which I refer: paintings and sculpture, as art, become objects for themselves, and the further evolution of art could henceforward take place only on the level of philosophy.  Modern art is philosophy in the medium that up to then had been treated as transparently as consciousness is supposed to have been in traditional theories of the mind.  Locke once wrote, beautifully, of the understanding which ‘like the eye, whilst it makes us see and perceive all other things, takes no notice of itself; and it requires art and pains to set it at a distance, and make it its own object.’  Painting, similarly, made us see and perceive all things within its limits: but when those limits were themselves perceived, art became its own object in a philosophical move that almost exactly recapitulates what Hegel calls Absolute Knowledge, where the gap between subject and object is overcome. Of course self-consciousness came to cinema as well, preeminently in the work of Vertov, but it was not an internal necessity but as a philosophical application through which this transpired.”  Arthur Danto, “Art, Evolution, and History” (1985).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pgs. 205-207.

“I think of iconology, as programmaticized by Panofsky, as a response, on the level of theory, to this crisis. Panofsky was liberated by art to the insight that optical deception was not essential to art only because art itself had to dissociate itself from this if it was to have a future : it had to insist that it itself was only incidentally representational, for otherwise it was defeated by moving pictures.  So Panofsky insists that perspective is less a representational enhancement than a way of ordering the world, to be set as an equal alongside other way s of ordering it, none better or worse than any other.  And so others would conclude that there is no progress at all, but that kind of relativism of symbolic forms — the art of X, of Y, of Z — we find displayed side by side in the pluralistic corridors and galleries of our museums.   But there was progress, brilliant progress: it was the progress from art to philosophy that Hegel had described so powerfully in his astonishing lectures on the fine arts.  It was a progress of cognition, from one level to another, where cognition became its own object.”  Arthur Danto, “Art, Evolution, and History” (1985).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pg. 207.

“Early modernist art required of its practitioners a finding of their own way, and every work and movement was a kind of theory in action.  As I see it, there were two main moves.  The one was to deny that the essence of art lay in representation at all, which led in a few years, inevitably, to abstract art and formalistic aesthetics, which remains so central a feature of modernism.  The other, which on the surfaces of works would have been difficult to distinguish from abstraction, retained the criterion of representationality, but insisted that it was the task of art to represent a higher reality than the optical, which connected art to an ancient misprision of the senses, part of the fateful platonic syndrome of western civilization, and to all sorts of new realities, such as the fourth dimension and such occult realities that obsessed modernists in this period.  By relating to a higher reality than cinema could show, locked as it was in the physiology of motion detection, this was a move to trump its oppressor by brilliant outflanking.   Cubists are located somewhere in between, with some of the lesser Cubists clearly seized by occult aspirations.  I think we cannot overestimate the extent to which early modernists were possessed by a sense of higher realities, which painting could serve as a bridge to, and this made painting a highly transformative activity: one need but reflect on the mission for art projected by Kandinsky’s essay on spirituality.  It was an era whose chief artistic product, I believe, was the manifesto.  And if I may bite conjecturally the hand that feeds me, the thesis that art is a means, even the means, to the further evolution of humanity belongs to this stage of thought. The thought was irresistible that art revealed a higher reality to which we would become greater and more spiritual in consequence of adapting to it.”  Arthur Danto, “Art, Evolution, and History” (1985).  The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.  Pgs. 207-208.

Hans Belting

The End of the History of Art? (1984) 

“The word ‘Kunstgeschichte’ in contemporary German usage is ambiguous.  It denotes on the one hand the history of art as such, and on the other the scholarly study of that history.  Thus ‘das Ende der Kunstgeschichte,’ or ‘the end of the history of art,’ seems to suggest either that art is at an end or that the academic discipline is at an end.  Neither shall be claimed here.  The title is meant to raise instead two further possibilities, namely, that contemporary art indeed manifests an awareness of a history of art but no longer carries it forward; and that the academic discipline of art history no longer disposes of a compelling model of historical treatment.”  Hans Belting.  The End of the History of Art? (1984).  Pg. 3.

“The aim of art history [according to Hegel], then, is to define the role of art, a role which has already been played out.  Crucial is the idea that art, as a projection of a Weltanschauung, is inextricable from the history of culture.  Thus although modern interpreters may persist in considering art merely as ‘art,’ this art was not in fact heeding a norm inherent in its own nature, but rather was drawing on the historical circumstances and material at its disposal to express a Weltanschauung.”  Hans Belting.  The End of the History of Art? (1984).   Pg. 9.

“Precisely that which Hegel identifies as the universal essence of art — its symbolization in objective form of a historical Weltanschauung — must ultimately, and paradoxically, be a phenomenon of the past.”  Hans Belting.  The End of the History of Art? (1984).  Pg. 10.

“[T]his ‘pastness’ of art, its it ‘death within the historical world’ (as formulated by a dissenting Benedetto Croce) serves Hegel’s argument in a way too complex to be reduced to the thesis of an ‘end of art.’  Art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past…[Art] has rather been transferred into our ideas instead of maintaining its earlier necessity in reality and occupying the higher place.’  Where an absolute necessity is lacking, ‘art, taken purely as art, becomes to a certain extent something superfluous.  Art may well develop further, but its form has ‘ceased to be the supreme need of the spirit: None of these thoughts can be extracted from the argument as a whole.  The ‘pastness’ of art cannot be discussed outside the ‘system.’  Likewise the concept cannot simply be applied to the contemporary crisis of art as dramatized by [Harvé] Fischer, as if this had all been anticipated by Hegel.  Rather, Hegel’s argument was symptomatic of a new understanding of art itself characteristic of his epoch.  On the basis of this understanding rests the entire project of the historical study of art as a scholarly discipline.”  Hans Belting.  The End of the History of Art? (1984).  Pgs. 11-12.

“[P]roblems arise when the aesthetic experience — that is, an essentially prescholarly experience — is declared the object of scholarly inquiry.   Such problems reach back into the ancestry of aesthetics and hermeneutics.  Once an absolute aesthetic became no longer tenable, the theme of ideal beauty was replaced by the single work of art, which reconstituted itself afresh as the object of scholarly investigation.  The end of the philosophical concept of ‘art’ as such marks the beginning of the hermeneutic concept of the ‘work.’  The quarrel over judgments of taste and aesthetics is left to art criticism.  The objective for scholarship is no longer the vindication of an ideal of art but rather interpretation as a method.  The interpreter, according to Dilthey, aims at a ‘scientifically verifiable truth’; he is able to ‘understand’ the aesthetic product, namely, through a productive process of understanding between the subjective consciousness and the aesthetic constitution of the work.”  Hans Belting.  The End of the History of Art? (1984).  Pg. 20.

“It is telling that the term for all this is ‘postmodern.’  The term ‘modern’ is no longer available as a self-description.  It refers not to our present but to an already past style, the so-called modernism.  It is equally significant that the real nostalgics today are the champions of classical modernism.  They hold fast to abstract art as a symbol of modernism without noticing that in the meantime it has ‘lost its content.’”  Hans Belting.  The End of the History of Art? (1984).  Pg. 55.

Fredric Jameson

“The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994)

“The debate about the ‘end of history,’ assuming it is still on, seems to have driven out the very memory of its predecessor, the debate about the ‘end of art,’ which was hotly pursued in the sixties, now some thirty years ago, it is strange to think.  Both of these debates derive from Hegel and reproduce a characteristic turn in his thinking about history, or in the form of his historical narrative, if you prefer: I trust we are by now far enough along in our consciousness of the narrative structure of historicity that we can forget about hoary old chestnuts about the evils of totalization or teleology.  At any rate, the excitement about the Fukuyama/Kojève contribution — welcomed fully as much by a certain Left as by a certain Right — shows that Hegel may not be as old-fashioned as people used to say and think.”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pg. 73.

“So let’s close our eyes, and by a powerful trance-like effort of the imagination try to think our way back into the halcyon era of the 1960s when the world was still young.  The simplest way of approaching the ‘end of art’ debate can be discerned via a recollection of one of the hottest fashions or crazes of those bygone years, namely the emergence of the so-called happenings, discussed by everyone from Marcuse to the Sunday supplements.  I never thought much of happenings myself, and would tend to recontextualize them in the large movement of theatrical innovation generally: for what we call the sixties — which may be said to have begun (slowly) in 1963, with the Beatles and the Vietnam War, and to have ended dramatically somewhere around 1973-75 with the Nixon shock and the oil crisis, and also with what is again derisively known as the ‘loss’ of Saigon — was amongst other things an extraordinarily rich moment, the richest since the 1920s, in the invention of new kinds of performances and staging of all the canonical playbooks inherited from the cultural past of world literature generally: it suffices to mention the Hallischer Ufer, let alone Schiffbauer Damm, Peter Brook or Grotowski, the Théâtre du soleil, the TNP or Olivier’s National Theatre, and the off-Broadway theater of the New York stage, let alone the production of Beckett and so-called anti-theater, to conjure back a whole universe of playacting and representational excitement in which, clearly enough, the so-called happenings necessarily take their place.”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pgs. 73-74.

“[T]he very deployment of the theory of the ‘end of art’ was also political, insofar as it was meant to suggest or to register the profound complicity of the cultural institutions and canons, of the museums and the university system, the state prestige of all the high arts, in the Vietnam War as a defense of Western values: something that also presupposes a high level of investment in official culture and an influential status in society of high culture as an extension of state power.  On my view, this is truer today, when nobody cares any more, than it was in those days, particularly in an exceedingly anti-intellectual United States.”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pg. 75.

“What did Hegel himself mean by the ‘end of art’ — a phrase he is unlikely to have used himself in quite that sloganeering fashion? The notion of an immanent ‘end of art’ is in Hegel something like a deduction from the premises of several conceptual schemes or models which are superimposed one upon the other.”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pg. 76.

“[W]hatever reading one chooses to make of Hegel’s final stage of art, few historical prognoses have been so disastrously wrong.  Whatever the validity of Hegel’s feelings about Romanticism, those currents which led on into what has come to be called modernism are thereby surely to be identified with one of the most remarkable flourishings of the arts in all of human history.  Whatever the ‘end of art’ may mean for us, therefore, it was emphatically not on the agenda in Hegel’s own time.  And, as far as the other part of the prophecy was concerned, the supersession of art by philosophy, he could not have chosen a worse historical moment for this pronouncement either; indeed, if we follow the practice of Hegel and his contemporaries in identifying philosophy with system as such, then few will wish to deny that in that sense, far from being a forerunner of a truly philosophical age, Hegel was rather the last philosopher in the tradition: and this in two senses, by being utterly subsumed and transfigured in and by Marxism as a kind of post-philosophy, and also by having occupied this philosophical terrain so completely as to leave all later purely philosophical efforts (which in our own time have come rather to be identified as theory) to constitute so many local guerrilla raids and anti-philosophical therapies, from Nietzsche to pragmatism, from Wittgenstein to deconstruction.”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pg. 82.

“But the ways in which the authority of philosophy was weakened and undermined cannot be said to have simply allowed art to develop and persist alongside it, as some alternative path to an Absolute whose questionable authority remained intact.  In this sense Hegel was absolutely right: an event took place, the event he planned to call ‘the end of art.’  And as a constitutive feature of that event, in fact a certain art ended.  What did not conform to Hegel’s prognosis was the supersession of art by philosophy itself: rather, a new and different kind of art suddenly appeared to take philosophy’s place after the end of the old one, and to usurp all of philosophy’s claims to the Absolute, to being the ‘highest mode in which truth manages to come into being.’  This was the art we call modernism: and it means that in order to account for Hegel’s mistake, we need to posit two kinds of art with wholly different functions and claims on truth.”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pg. 83.

“[I]f you have been willing to go this far, perhaps you will be prepared to take another step further, or rather a leap, into our own time, or rather our own yesterday, of the 1960s and the happenings, and that particular contemporary ‘end of art,’ to which it is time to return.  Now, however, I think that we are in a better position to identify this particular ‘end of something’: it can only be the end of the modern itself, or in other words the end of the Sublime, the dissolution of art’s vocation to reach the Absolute.  It should be clear, then, that whatever this particular historical event is, it will scarcely present much similarity to that older and earlier ‘end of art’ in which philosophy failed to live up to its historic vocation, and in which it was left to the Sublime to supplant the merely Beautiful.  The end of the modern, the gradual setting in place of postmodernity over several decades, has been an epochal event in its own right whose changing and shifting evaluations merit some study in themselves.”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pg. 84.

“[T]his second ‘end of art’ was scarcely to be imagined as having opened the way to the final realm of philosophy any more than its very different nineteenth-century equivalent had.  But if you think of the dissolution of the modern as a lengthy cultural process, which began in the 1960s, and whose 1980s’ unveiling as a new gilded age does not perhaps give us its final word either, then other conjectures and historical interpretations seem possible as well.  What for example of the emergence of Theory, as that seemed to supplant traditional literature from the 1960s onwards, and to extend across a broad range of disciplines, from philosophy to anthropology, from linguistics to sociology, effacing their boundaries in an immense dedifferentiation and inaugurating that long-postponed moment as well in which a Marxism that had established its credentials as an analysis of political economy finally earned its right to new ones in the analysis of superstructures, of culture and ideology? This grand moment of Theory (which some claim now also to have ended) in fact confirmed Hegel’s premonitions by taking as its central theme the dynamics of representation itself: one cannot imagine a classical Hegelian supersession of art by philosophy otherwise than by just such a return of consciousness (and self-consciousness) back on the figuration and the figural dynamics that constitute the aesthetic, in order to dissolve those into the broad daylight and transparency of praxis itself.  The ‘end of art’ of this period, the waning of the modern, was not merely marked by the slow disappearance of all the great auteurs who signed modernism in its grandest period from 1910 to 1955; it was also accompanied by the emergence of all those now equally famous names from Lévi-Strauss to Lacan, from Barthes to Derrida and Baudrillard, that adorn the heroic age of Theory itself. The transition was not characterized by an abrupt shifting of gears, in which a preoccupation with the narrative sublime, for example, suddenly gave way jarringly to a return to the study of logical categories: rather Theory emerged from the aesthetic itself, from the culture of the modern, and it is only in the dreary light of, the old anti-intellectual distinction between the critical and the creative that the movement from Maiakovskii to Jakobson will seem a downward curve, or that from Brecht to Barthes, or from Joyce to Eco, from Proust to Deleuze.”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pgs. 84-85.

“[N]ow we need to move on to an even more complicated topic — one that turns, not merely on the end of art, but seemingly, on the end of everything; namely the so-called ‘end of history’ itself.  We have unfortunately no time to retrace the fascinating story of this motif: which originates in a certain ‘epochality’ in Hegel, his sense that a whole new unparalleled era was beginning; which is then readapted by the Russian émigré Alexandre Kojève — an admirer of Stalin and later on an architect of the European Common Market and the European Economic Community, whose 1930s lectures on Hegel are often credited as the source for what came to be called ‘existential Marxism’; finally, the version of ‘the idea with which [Francis] Fukuyama startled the world’s journalists in the summer of 1989,’ as Perry Anderson puts it — in short, the notion that at the end of the Cold War capitalism and the market could be declared the final form of human history itself, a notion to which piquancy was added by the position of Fukuyama in George Bush’s State Department.  Fortunately, however, the history of this concept has been written as definitively as anyone might now wish, in Anderson’s book A Zone of Engagement, so that we do not have to review the details here, as entertaining as that might be.”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pgs. 87-88.

“Two features of the story need to be retained, however, and both relate to historical materialism.  Those conversant with a materialist and dialectical interpretation of history will for one thing not be likely to make the more naïve objection to Fukuyama, namely that, in spite of everything, history does go on, there continue to be events and in particular wars, nothing seems to have stopped, everything seems to be getting worse, etc., etc.  But insofar as Marx evoked his version of the end of history at all, it was with two qualifications: first, he spoke not of the end of history, but of the end of prehistory; that is to say, of the arrival of a period in which the human collectivity is in control of its own destiny, in which history is a form of collective praxis, and no longer subject to the non-human determinisms either of nature and scarcity, or of the market and money.  And, second, he imagined this end of prehistory not in terms of events or individual actions but in terms of systems or better still (his word) modes of production.  (Nor did he teach the inevitability of any particular outcome; a famous phrase evokes the possibility of ‘the mutual ruin of the contending classes’ — a rather different end of history, surely — while the equally famous alternative of ‘socialism or barbarism’ obviously includes a fateful warning and an appeal to human freedom).”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pg. 88.

“These two blocks, then — the taboo on Prometheanism and on the value of intensive development and industrialization; the impossibility of imagining a secession from the new world system and a political and social, as well as economic, delinking from it — these spatial dilemmas are what immobilize our imaginative picture of global space today, and conjure up as their sequel the vision that Fukuyama calls the ‘end of history,’ and the final triumph of the market as such. Turner’s pronouncement about the closing of the frontier still offered the possibility of an imperialist expansion beyond the borders of the now saturated continental United States; Fukuyama’s prophecy expresses the impossibility of imagining an equivalent for that safety valve, nor even of an intensive turn back inside the system either, and this is why it was so powerful an ideologeme, an ideological expression and representation of our current dilemmas.  How the various ‘ends of art’ are now to be coordinated philosophically and theoretically with this new ‘closing’ of the global frontier of capitalism is our more fundamental question, and the horizon of all literary and cultural study in our time. This, with which I now have to end, is where we ought to begin.”  Fredric Jameson, “The ‘End of Art’ or the ‘End of History’?” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pgs. 91-92.

“Transformations of the Image” (1994)

“As for Adorno, his remarkable (and unfinished, posthumous) speculations take their force from the way in which his keen sense of the historicity of art forms problematizes the attempt to codify and systematize the ‘features’ of the aesthetic at every point. In this sense, Adorno’s aesthetics can be seen as a quintessentially ‘modernist’ text in its own right, with everything paradoxical and energetic about the contradiction between the aesthetic and the historical ‘end’ of aesthetics that it does not cease to exasperate. Hegel meanwhile was supremely able to have it both ways, constructing an aesthetics whose very conception of possibility was a frame in which aesthetics as such was seen to have a historical end (the famous ‘end of art’ with which his Ästhetik necessarily concludes, thereby abolishing itself).” Fredric Jameson, “Transformations of the Image” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pg. 102.

“The return of the aesthetic, however, has (as has earlier been observed) seemed to go hand in hand with the equally widely trumpeted end of the political in the postmodern era.  This paradox demands a dialectical explanation, which has to do with the end of artistic autonomy, of the work of art and of its frame. For once one no longer scrutinizes individual works as such, for their form and inner organization, the tour of the museum calls forth aleatory perceptions, in which glints of color are collected from this or that surface in passing, fragments of form consumed in Benjaminian distraction, and as though laterally, out of the corner of the eye, textures acknowledged, densities navigated in an unmappable way with space assembling and disassembling itself oneirically around you.  Under these conditions aesthetic attention finds itself transferred to the life of perception as such, abandoning the former object that organized it and returning into subjectivity, where it seems to offer a random and yet wide-ranging sampling of sensations, affectabilities and irritations of sense data and stimulations of all sorts and kinds. This is not a recovery of the body in any active and independent way, but rather its transformation into a passive and mobile field of ‘enregistrement’ in which tangible portions of the world are taken up and dropped again in the permanent inconsistency of a mesmerizing sensorium.”  Fredric Jameson, “Transformations of the Image” (1994).  The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998.  Pgs. 111-112.

Valences of the Dialectic (2006)

“It would also seem possible, on this occasion, to reread or reinterpret Hegelian historicism, which in the general realm of religion posits for humanity in general three stages (he will be followed in this, with modifications, by Auguste Comte), in which the obscure conceptual stirrings of religion within the figures we have illustrated is followed by the great aesthetic moment of the Greeks, and thereupon, in the famous ‘end of art,’ by philosophy itself which breaks through the figures of both art and religion and introduces the pure concept or Begriff onto the stage of history (and of modernity).”  Fredric Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic (2006).  Pg. 169.

György Márkus

“Hegel and the End of Art” (1996) 

“[I]t is not so easy to forget the ‘end of art’ when dealing with Hegel.  This is not only because (together with its supplementary, the paradigmatic character of Greek art) it constitutes one of the most basic structuring principles of the Aesthetics, so that its omission inevitably transforms interpretation into a proposal of rewriting (as with Bungay, who declares about half of the text philosophically irrelevant). Equally, the idea has become a cliché, or at least a historical topos which returns in judgments about contemporary art again and again, seemingly easily applicable to the constantly and radically changing character and circumstances of art. It returns from Heine’s prediction of the end of the art-period with the death of Goethe, to Arthur Danto’s locating it sometime after World War II.  And, of course, it is this judgment of Hegel, in a reinterpreted, weakened form, that stands behind all theories of artistic decadence, be they Marxist in origin, as with Lukács and Adorno, or Heideggerian.  For Heidegger, this judgment remains in force as long as Geschickdoes not decide otherwise about the truth of our whole world understanding, which originated with the Greeks.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 417.

“In view of the many voices of dissent and reinterpretation I would like to present here a rather orthodox defense of Hegel: that what he meant by the thesis of the ‘end of art’ is quite true, and discloses something of genuine importance about the situation of the arts in modern times. There is, of course, a catch in this simple-minded confession to a straightforward Hegelianism: that what Hegel really meant is strictly true. To unravel this meaning it is worthwhile to recall that Hegel declared not only the end of art, but in the same breath the end of religion and the end of history too.  By reminding ourselves of what is implied in this last, the seemingly most outrageous claim, we can perhaps gain a better understanding of how to approach at all the presumed end of art.” György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 417.

“There is nothing utopian — as any reader of The Elements of the Philosophy of Right will know — in this end of history: finitude involves the uneliminable role of accidentality in the life of individuals, and Hegel discloses a whole series of contradictions even within the normatively conceived framework of modernity.  But these contradictions can be, not eliminated but pacified in their systematic effects, constrained by the very working of modern institutions in the course of their continuous adaptive change through rational reform.  It is this which is the end of history.  For even everyday consciousness vaguely presumes that history is what happens to us, and happens owing to some memorable deeds deciding the fate of nations and states.  From now on, however, history is made, and made rationally, by the anonymous many.  It is rational, not so much because of the depth of their insight or the energy of their will, but because of the inner logic of their positionally determined, interlocking activities.  History ends because the distinction between the philosophical and empirical concepts of history disappears.  What philosophical inquiry had to discover through the hard labor of thought in history, acts of freedom for the realization of freedom, from now on becomes prosaic, empirical reality.  Die Vollendung ist das Ende — reaching the end is the ending. The vocation is now fulfilled; what remains is its everyday exercise.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 418.

“This parallel with the end of history may bring into focus that one can only comprehend the Hegelian idea of the historical end of art through the understanding of what Hegel regards as the teleological end, the ‘vocation’ of art.  Art in its empirical sense certainly will not disappear: ‘we may well hope,’ he writes of his present, ‘that art will always rise higher and come to perfection.’  What is ended is what philosophy discloses as the meaning of art, and it is ended because its task has been fully realized. In the course of its historical development art has become fully and solely art, and thereby lost its deepest sense and highest vocation.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 418.

“The twin values and requirements of beauty and of ultimate truth (with its associated social relevance) are in no way incompatible.  The case of their joint satisfaction, that of Classical art, represents the fullest flowering, the realization of the highest potential of art. Such a unity, however, cannot be sustained all the time.  Under some conditions it falls apart, not because of accidental circumstances but owing to the very character of the content expressed, of the historically specific comprehension of the Absolute.  If this comprehension is inherently abstract and undetermined, then any concrete sensuous representation of it will be overdetermined, and therefore the form only ambiguously related to its content. This was the case with the ‘Symbolic’ art of the Orient: a not yet beautiful art.  If, on the other hand, the understanding of the Divine by its very nature transcends the possibilities of being fully expressed by any sensuously individual configuration, the form will become underdetermined in relation to the content.  This is the case with ‘Romantic,’ that is, Christian, art, a no more beautiful art.  The development of this leads necessarily to the end of art as a form of Absolute Spirit.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 422.

“This is, in the most simplified form, the conceptual background of the Hegelian idea of the ‘end of art.’  This very background, though, may give rise to some not infrequently encountered misunderstandings of what Hegel meant by his thesis.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 422.

“The development of Romantic art thus leads to the realization of the concept of art, of art becoming fully and solely art.  But this is the very end of art, the end of art in its ‘highest vocation’ and philosophical concept as a spiritual-cultural power able to form collective consciousness and legitimately claiming universal significance.  In the Introduction Hegel argued that when art aims to bring home to us ‘everything which has a place in the human spirit,’ simultaneously it loses the capacity to disclose that ‘common’ and ‘substantial end’ which can confer unity on diversity and difference.  One could argue, in the spirit of Hegel, that under conditions of modernity (as he conceives them), the deepest need that gave rise to art disappears: the need to create a sensuous reality in which particularity and universality are reconciled.  The need disappears because in the modern world as the end of history, this reconciliation becomes an empirical fact.  Human beings no more need the world of art to possess some concrete imagery in which they are at home; they are, or at least now can be, at home in the world of social actuality.  But art is not only not needed for this task of reconciliation; by its own means, no more can it bring the reconciliation to an adequate, if imaged, presence.  For it is ‘the firm and secure order of civil society and the state,’ the impersonal working of this vast institutional structure as the rational mediating mechanism of social objectivity, that now effects, in principle, a reconciliation that can be penetrated only by speculative thought.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 427.

“By becoming autonomous, art ceases to be a form of Absolute Spirit; by finding what always was its ultimate subject matter, Humanus, human life in all its freedom and variety, it also loses the ability to make manifest its highest, universally binding ends in their historical, cultural relevance to the present.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 428.

“I think that the indubitable effectiveness of the Hegelian thesis of the ‘end of art,’ its being a constantly renewed topos in discussions of the art of modernity, is due principally to the radicalness with which it identified the problematic situation of modern art, the lack of clarity and the insecurity surrounding its social relevance and cultural accomplishment.  It is a problematic situation due not to some external limitations, but to the autonomization of art as the telos of its development, to art becoming fully and solely art and nothing else.  However, the idea of the ‘end of art’ in itself articulates this situation only negatively, as the loss of its ‘highest vocation,’ of its power to disclose for immediate apprehension the ultimate, binding ends of a community, and in this way to be an effective form of practical action orientation and socio-cultural identity.  But Hegel also clearly maintains that art in the empirical sense can flourish and ‘rise ever higher’ even after its ‘philosophical’ end.  One may then expect that his work-aesthetics, so decidedly concentrating on the question of the socio-cultural ‘work’ art can perform, also will tell us something of its possible function and significance after its end.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 429.

“Before looking at the Aesthetics with this question in mind, I will consider two interpretations of the ‘end of art’ which from our vantage point of acquaintance with the post-Hegelian development of art may seem plausible, even attractive, but which are, perhaps regrettably, irreconcilable with Hegel’s own conceptualization. One of these has been proposed by Danto: that art ends because, beginning with Duchamp’s Fountain and culminating in Warhol’s Brillo Box, it becomes its own philosophy, an ‘infinite play with its own concept.’  Danto, as a ‘born-again Hegelian,’ makes this proposal not as a strict interpretation of Hegel but as the free application of some of his ideas to the understanding the evolution of contemporary art.  It would hardly constitute an objection to him, therefore, if one simply suggested that no doubt Hegel would have furiously rejected such a view — as is attested by his deep hostility towards works of Romantic irony.  A work which playfully deconstructs the conditions of its own possibility satisfies the requirements neither of beauty nor of truth, and thus it is for Hegel not a work of art at all but a piece of harmful ideology.  But one can formulate more general objections, in Hegel’s spirit, against seeing in this type of ironic, deconstructive self-reflexivity the main function ‘post-historical’ art is capable of fulfilling.  It usually demands a relatively high level of philosophical sophistication to appreciate the point of such works of art; and once they are ‘decoded,’ once the provocative surprise of making these abstract ideas present as a sensuous object or happening is gone, they seem to be exhausted.  They lack not only the immediacy of impact but they do not sustain an impulse to linger upon them with an ear or an eye ‘that never can be sated.’  Furthermore, to have this power of provocation presupposes that art and its concept still has some genuine interest and importance for us, that it still possesses some other forms of relevance that can engage us directly.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pgs. 429-430.

“When Hegel states that art is a thing of the past, he means above all that for the contemporary recipient art first and foremost is the art of the past.  This historicization and musealization of art which, as Hegel clearly indicates, goes together with the broadening of the temporal and geographical compass of the aesthetically relevant traditions, plays an important functional role in modernity.  The great art works of the past open the way to the understanding of those cultures that constitute our spiritual prehistory; they are the most important constituents of our ‘historical memory.’  They are the background against which we can comprehend the present itself as historical, as our own — therefore changeable — work. Interest in and acquaintance with the masterpieces of the past is thus a basic element of that formal cultivation (formelle Bildung) without which the modern individuals cannot establish an adequate, self-reflexive, critically affirmative relationship with the general conditions of their life.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 431.

“Hegel did not identify the ‘end of art’ with its simply becoming functionless, losing all vestiges of social relevance.  But the concrete cultural functions he indicates as aesthetic potentialities in his analyses seem to be ad hoc, accidental and heterogeneous: cultivation of sensibility and intellectualized representation of the conflicts of modernity for conscious reflection, formation of a national cultural identity and cosmopolitan education, and so on.  But this is, I think, exactly what Hegel meant to say.  Art after its own end is problematical, because what function it can possess becomes an unsettled problem, to which all answers and solutions will remain ad hoc, accidental, transient and heterogeneous.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 434.

“[A]rtistic modernity does not simply replace the traditional question ‘Is this beautiful?’ with some much broader concept of aesthetic evaluation, for example the Schlegelian ‘interesting.’  What it asks, again and again, is the question ‘Is this at all art?’ To this question, no answer can be given on the basis of formally definable aesthetic criteria or merely historical considerations alone.  Ultimately the answer will depend on the facts of reception (including, of course, intra-art reception and influences).  This is co-determined by what is external to art, by the accidentalities of the present.  This is the ultimate meaning of the ‘end of art,’ the fundamental paradox of modem art.  Art, becoming fully autonomous, made the determination of what is art a matter of heteronomy.”  György Márkus, “Hegel and the End of Art” (1996).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 436.

“Adorno and Mass Culture: Autonomous Art against the Culture Industry” (2006)

“What Adorno counterposes to this vastly extended notion of culture industry is not even the esoteric art of the avant-garde, toward most of the trends of which he manifests no interest whatever or is even hostile.  The culture industry is opposed only by a few solitary figures of ‘authentic’ art: Proust and Joyce, Kafka and Beckett in literature, Kandinsky and Klee in painting and, of course and above all, Schönberg and the Second Vienna School in music.  Usually misunderstood even by their few devotees, they represent the line of artistic progress, still realizing the vocation of art: the disclosure of truth about this world, to which the work, in its total isolation, by its negation, belongs.  They render aesthetically manifest the total alienation and reification of the seemingly all-powerful subject, who transgresses all the inherited conventions of the sphere of its own activity, imposes its own rational domination upon the historically transmitted material of this activity — only to lose itself in, and succumb to, the inhuman and impersonal rationality of its own system.  The artistic price to be paid for such a success is also equally high — not only the refusal of communication, the willed absence of any stable supporting audience, but also the decomposition of the aesthetic values and categories that defined autonomous art, dissociating thereby expression and meaning.  These works realize the Entkunstung of art, they are genuine works of art after the end of art, which does not itself end, but just goes on.”  György Márkus, “Adorno and Mass Culture: Autonomous Art against the Culture Industry.” (2006).  Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity.  Pg. 611.

Susan Buck-Morss

“Aesthetics after the End of Art” (1997)

“I take seriously Walter Benjamin’s thesis in the ‘Artwork’ essay on the liquidation of art.  He is quite insistent that art as we know it is coming to an end — although there are many readers of the essay (including, regularly, my students) who refuse to see what he is saying.  It is not just a question of the loss of ‘aura’ of the artwork.  Benjamin is arguing that by the mid-twentieth century making art in the bourgeois sense is no longer tenable.  Bourgeois art has always been a commodity, bought and sold on the market, so the commodification of art is not the point.  His argument is, rather, that the technological conditions of production have so thoroughly blurred the boundary between ‘art’ and cultural objects generally that its special, separate status cannot be maintained.  Engineering has challenged the special status of architecture, journalism, that of literature, photography that of painting, cinema that of theater — and he is optimistic about these developments.  They led him to affirm the potential of mass culture, its ability to democratize not only access to culture, but cultural production itself.”  Susan Buck-Morss.  “Aesthetics after the End of Art: An Interview” (1997).  Art Journal.  Pg. 38.

“Recently I was asked, ‘Don’t you think that modernity is a white, male thing?’ Besides the fact that I happen to like white walls and lots of glass, I thought it was a remarkable question.  Considering that the era of modernity (say, 1860 to the present) gave us the end of slavery, the enfranchisement of women, the possibility for women and people of color to get a decent job, etc. — I just can’t agree.”  Susan Buck-Morss.  “Aesthetics after the End of Art: An Interview” (1997).  Art Journal.  Pg. 42.

Jean Baudrillard

“Art between Utopia and Anticipation” (1997)

“[F]or me, the fact that the entire world becomes aesthetic signifies the end of art and aesthetics in a way.  Everything that follows — including the resurgence of past forms of art — becomes readymade (a bottle, an event or its reenactment).  The forms of the history of art can be taken up as such; they only need to be transferred into another dimension to make them readymades, like Martin O’Connors, for example, takes up Millet’s Angélus in his own way.  But this readymade is less pure than Duchamp’s, whose act reaches a certain perfection in its bareness.”  Jean Baudrillard.  “Art between Utopia and Anticipation.”  The Conspiracy of Art.  Pg. 53.

“There was a Hegelian perspective in which one day art would be brought to an end.  As for Marx it was supposed to bring an end to economics or politics, because these would no longer have any reason to exist given the transformations in life.  The destiny of art is therefore effectively to go beyond itself into something else, whereas life…! This glowing perspective evidently did not materialize. What happened is that art substituted itself for life in the form of a generalized aesthetics that finally led to a ‘Disneyfication’ of the world: a Disney-form capable of atoning for everything by transforming it into Disneyland, takes the place of the world!” Jean Baudrillard.  “Art between Utopia and Anticipation.”  The Conspiracy of Art.  Pgs. 54-55.

Jean-Luc Nancy

The Muses (1996)

“[P]hilosophy will never reduce the difference of art except in the mode of a reduction that is ‘only thought,’ and that, in these conditions, the ‘end of art’ as its philosophical sublation is an end that one may call indifferently infinite or else always-already finite as end, that is, as destined to repeat itself.  The end of art was always yesterday.”  Jean-Luc Nancy.  The Muses (1996).  Pg. 30.

“[A]rt is always coming to its end.  The ‘end of art’ is always the beginning of its plurality.  It could also be the beginning of another sense of and for ‘technics’ in general.”  Jean-Luc Nancy.  The Muses (1996).  Pg. 37.

“It is now well established that what has been imputed to Hegel as the declaration of an ‘end of art’ is but the declaration of an end of what he called ‘aesthetic religion,’ that is, of art as the place where the divine appears.”  Jean-Luc Nancy.  The Muses (1996).  Pg. 41.

“Hegel could thus, in a late text, place art and philosophy together in the same relation to religion, a relation obviously that of a true freedom to a relative submission.  As we will see, Hegel presents as a ‘secret’ this thesis, according to which the ‘end of art’ (religious art) is identical to the liberation of art (artistic art).”  Jean-Luc Nancy.  The Muses (1996).  Pg. 47.

“If we do no more than take the step onto the limit of ontotheology, the step that succeeds Hegel, following Hegel but finally outside of him, the step into the extremity of the end of art, which ends that end in another event, then we are no longer dealing with the couple of the presenting sensible and the presented ideal.”  Jean-Luc Nancy.  The Muses (1996).  Pg. 97.

Boris Groys

“On the New” (2000) 

“[I]t is by no means accidental that the recent discourses proclaiming the end of art point to the advent of the readymade as the endpoint of art history.  Arthur Danto’s favorite example, when making his point that art reached the end of its history some time ago, is that of Warhol’s Brillo Boxes.  And Thierry de Duve talks about ‘Kant after Duchamp,’ meaning the return of personal taste after the end of art history brought about by the readymade.  In fact, for Hegel himself, the end of art, as he argues in his lectures on aesthetics, takes place at a much earlier time: it coincides with the emergence of the new modern state which gives its own form, its own law, to the life of its citizens so that art loses its genuine form-giving function.  The Hegelian modern state codifies all visible and experiential differences — recognizes them, accepts them, and gives them their appropriate place within a general system of law. After such an act of political and judicial recognition of the other by modern law, art seems to lose its historical function, which was to manifest the otherness of the other, to give it a form, and to inscribe it in the system of historical representation. Thus at the moment at which law triumphs, art becomes impossible: The law already represents all the existing differences, making such a representation by means of art superfluous.  Of course, it can be argued that some differences will always remain unrepresented or, at least, underrepresented, by the law, so that art retains at least some of its function of representing the uncodified other.  But in this case, art fulfills only a secondary role of serving the law: the genuine role of art which consists, for Hegel, in being the mode by which differences originally manifest themselves and create forms is, in any case, passé under the effect of modern law.”  Boris Groys, “On the New” (2000).  Art Power.  Pg. 35.

“Critical Reflections” (1997)

“The unwillingness of the critic to identify himself with specific artistic positions is chalked up theoretically to the opinion that we have reached the end of art history.  Arthur Danto, for example, argues in After the End of Art that those programs of the avant-garde intended to define the essence and function of art have finally become untenable. It is thus no longer possible to privilege a particular kind of art theoretically as those critics who think in an avant-garde mode — in the American context the paradigm remains Clement Greenberg — have again and again tried to do.  The development of art in this century has ended in a pluralism that relativizes everything, makes everything possible at all times, and no longer allows for critically grounded judgment.  This analysis certainly seems plausible.  But today’s pluralism is itself artificial through and through — a product of the avant-garde. A single modern work of art is a huge contemporary differentiation machine.”  Boris Groys, “Critical Reflections” (1997).  Art Power.  Pg. 115.

Svetlana Boym

The Future of Nostalgia (2000)

“In light of current discussions on the end of history, the end of the millennium and the end of art, the flies acquire another meaning.  When asked why his work lacks an apocalyptic dimension, in spite of its fascination with trash and refuse, Kabakov responded, ‘The towers might perish, all exceptional objects and individuals might perish, but something average, eternally alive, full of some sort of perpetual process, will be preserved forever.  Perhaps I myself have the vitality of an insect.’”  Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (2000).  Pg. 322.

Paul Virilio

Art and Fear (2000)

“Despite Magritte and a handful of others, commercial imagery — verbal art, visual art —would wreak the havoc we are all too familiar with yet which has for some reason provoked less of an outcry than that wreaked by ‘Socialist Realism,’ the official art of the defunct Soviet Union … The comic strip iconography of the likes of Roy Lichtenstein taking on the noisy sound effects of the Futurist machines, Mimmo Rotella aping systematic billposting, etc. Why go on?

As for Andy Warhol, listen to him: ‘The reason I’m painting this way is because I want to be a machine.’

Like Hamlet reinterpreted by the East German defector Heine Müller, the WARHOL-MACHINE no longer has something to say about the ‘worker,’ but only about the ‘unemployed.’

Somewhere between Antonin Artaud and Stelarc, the Australian body artist,Warhol does not so much document the end of art —preceding the end of history — as the end of the man of art: he who speaks even as he remains silent.”  Paul Virilio, Art and Fear (2000).  Pg. 47.

Slavoj Žižek

Less than Nothing (2011)

“The big political shift in Hegel’s development occurred when he abandoned his early fascination with the Romantic vision of the non-alienated society of Ancient Greece as a beautiful organic community of love (as opposed to the modern society of the Understanding, with its mechanical interaction between autonomous egotistical individuals).  With this shift, Hegel began to appreciate the very thing that had previously repelled him: the ‘prosaic’; non-heroic character of modern societies with their complex division of professional and administrative labor, in which ‘no one simply could be heroically responsible for much of anything (and so could not be beautiful in action)’: Hegel’s full endorsement of the prose of modern life, his ruthless dismissal of all longing for the heroic old times, is the (often neglected) historical root of his  thesis about the ‘end of art’: art is no longer an adequate medium for expressing such a ‘prosaic’ disenchanted reality, reality deprived of all mystery and  transcendence.”   Slavoj Žižek, Less than Nothing (2011).  Pg. 241.

“It is easy to miss the irony here: the fact that Marx needed Hegel to formulate the logic of capital (the crucial breakthrough in Marx’s work occurred in the mid-1850s, when, after the failure of the 1848 revolutions, he started to read Hegel’s Logic again) means that what Hegel was not able to see was not some post-Hegelian reality but rather the properly Hegelian aspect of the capitalist economy. Here, paradoxically, Hegel was not idealist enough, for what he did not see was the properly speculative content of the capitalist economy, the way financial capital functions as a purely virtual notion processing ‘real people’: And does not exactly the same hold for modern art? Robert Pippin endorses Hegel’s thesis on the ‘end of art’ — with a qualification: it does not refer to art as such, but only to representational art, to the art which relies on some pre-subjective substantial notion of ‘reality’ that art should reflect, re-present in the medium of sensuous materials.”  Pg. 253.

Ágnes Heller

“The Metaphysics of Embodiment in the Western Tradition” (2011)

“Even today, even in times of so-called postmodernism, a work of art remains itself: it must have an identity, and so must its creator.  When one visits a contemporary exhibition she will immediately recognize the paintings of the same artist and also that all of them are different.  All paintings have an ipseity — one needs to stand for more than a few minutes in front of them to realize this — and they all carry the signature of the artists who created them even when they are not signed.  Individuality, the unrepeated and unrepeatable individuality remains the ‘soul’ that appears in the works — we can call them bodies if you like — and nothing will change this ‘constellation’ of the individuality of the artwork and of the artist until the end of art which, despite the popular slogan, is not in sight.”  Ágnes Heller, “The Metaphysics of Embodiment in the Western Tradition” (2011).  Aesthetics and Modernity: Selected Essays.  Pg. 118.

2 thoughts on “Notes on the Death of Art

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