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The End of Art = Then + Now + Later

After the End of Art is a companion piece that modifies Arthur C. Danto’s original insight from his earlier book, The End of Art. Though the titles are somewhat misleading, Danto is not referring to the “end of art” in the sense that art will no longer be produced, but rather that the narrative aspects of art have been punctuated with a terminal period.  He presents us with an extensive dialog, which examines art not through its own encompassing movements and periods, but as its own “movement or even a period, with marked temporal boundaries.”

The End…was already Here

His major assertion is that the pale of history resides in the time frame from somewhere within the 14th century to 1965 and anything outside is “post historical.”  His claim is that there has been an end to the master narrative within art and it began when philosophy became separated from style, an absence of the “stylistic imperative.”

In support, Danto finds Hegel’s lectures on aesthetics to be equivalent to his own argument of today:

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.  What is now aroused in us by works of art is not just immediate enjoyment, but our judgment also, since we subject to our intellectual consideration (i) the content of art, and (ii) the work of art’s means of presentation, and the appropriateness or inappropriateness of both to one another…Art invites us to intellectual consideration, and that not for the purpose of creating art again, but for knowing philosophically what art is.

In relation to the practicing artist, he also states that it is becoming more common for an artist to “refuse the boundaries or limits of a genre­­­.”  In response to this situation Danto warns that it is “increasingly inadequate,” and we should take care when defining contemporary art through classical aesthetics.  Drawing on the work and philosophy of Duchamp we are involved with the on-going discussion of the “art object” and the discouragement of evaluating art through classical aesthetics.  What concerns me is Danto’s then acquaintance with Warhol’s Brillo Box and the idea of “pluralism” and his perception of art in relation to this piece and not more specifically the earlier work of Duchamp or other conceptual artists.

Outside the Box

This debate leads us to the complex realm of art criticism and how we should define, or analyze art after the end of art.  Through an analysis of Greenberg, Kant and Hegel, Danto points us in a more collective, or at least less divided, way of critiquing art.  He suggests that we should look at art with a “practiced eye” and observe the “good” or experience in art.  One of Danto’s reflective statements says this, “If people, open their minds by allowing the mind to take its cue from what the practiced eye delivers, there will be no final disagreements.”  His necessary summation of art criticism is to respond through words the meaning of beauty conveyed by an artist’s method of presentation, or “embodying its meaning.”

Danto also discusses the role of the museum when it comes to dealing with the works that are being created after the “end of art”.  He comments on how “contemporary art is too pluralistic in intention and realization to allow itself to be captured along a single dimension…it is incompatible with the constraints of the museum.”  This is a strong discussion and I believe that museums today have to deal with the very real condition that some artworks do not lend themselves to the museum or gallery means of exhibiting work.  Complimentary, he takes the issue further by stating, “an entirely different breed of curator is required.”  It has become very apparent that museums may not always represent the best outlet for displaying an artist’s ultimate piece and the challenge now falls into the hands of the curator to bring relevant art to the public masses.

Art is not a single medium…

In conclusion, we see that Danto has laid out a foundation for his approach and has offered many avenues to guide us through his proposal.  Although spirited, Danto’s approach seems to be somewhat more than usually analytical.  At one point he uses a style matrix to encompass painting.  At times he deviates from his argument and strays from his original purpose.  From his philosophical background and through his many authoritative references he suggests a very objective proclamation, but I question his intentions.  With that, I’m not sure I fully agree with Danto’s thesis and I feel that he does not examine entirely other art forms.  Though his concentration on painting and presentation of the Brillo Box is an exceptionally strong reference point for the long “pale” of history in art, I feel that it cannot alone attest for all of art through the ages.  If art alone only existed through painting and the Brillo Box then I do think that Danto may have a well established base for his claim.

I press the issue further by bearing in mind that we now have many different mediums and forms that are part of the art collective such as photography, film, and video.  At the time this book was being published there was an explosion in the technology of the internet and computers, and a new renaissance of communication and global inter-connectivity was established.  Now, ten years after its publication, we are still seeing an exponential growth within technology and the new uses of it within art.  Some fine examples include web art, virtual reality, 3D animation and video games, all of which are computer-based works that are now considered appropriate art forms.  Although he covers his statements with idea that like the time after Hegel there was boom in artistic creation, I wonder how Danto would comment on the newer art forms that are the direct result of the above mentioned technology and their place within the art world?

Perhaps instead of an end of the narrative expression within art, the narrative has been once again modified to fit our cultural needs and appearances.

Excerpts taken from:

Danto, Arthur C. After the End of Art, Contemporary Art and the Pale of History. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995.

Hegel, G.W.F and Knox, T.M. (Trans.) Hegel’s Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. New York: Oxford UP, 1975.

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