H. de Roos - The critique of the toronto exhibition


Banality In Modern Art: Arthur C. Danto And Nelson A. Goodman

Schuster´s educational text demonstrates that notions, developed by Arthur C. Danto and Nelson A. Goodman, by now have become widely accepted:

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

Over a decade ago, Arthur Danto announced that art ended in the sixties. Ever since this declaration, he has been at the forefront of a radical critique of the nature of art in our time. After the End of Art presents Danto's first full-scale reformulation of his original insight, showing how, with the eclipse of abstract expressionism, art has deviated irrevocably from the narrative course that Vasari helped define for it in the Renaissance. Moreover, he leads the way to a new type of criticism that can help us understand art in a posthistorical age where, for example, an artist can produce a work in the style of Rembrandt to create a visual pun, and where traditional theories cannot explain the difference between Andy Warhol's Brillo Box and the product found in the grocery store. Here we are engaged in a series of insightful and entertaining conversations on the most relevant aesthetic and philosophical issues of art, conducted by an especially acute observer of the art scene today.

Originally delivered as the prestigious Mellon Lectures on the Fine Arts, these writings cover art history, pop art, "people's art," the future role of museums, and the critical contributions of Clement Greenberg--who helped make sense of modernism for viewers over two generations ago through an aesthetics-based criticism. Tracing art history from a mimetic tradition (the idea that art was a progressively more adequate representation of reality) through the modern era of manifestos (when art was defined by the artist's philosophy), Danto shows that it wasn't until the invention of Pop art that the historical understanding of the means and ends of art was nullified. Even modernist art, which tried to break with the past by questioning the ways of producing art, hinged on a narrative.

Traditional notions of aesthetics can no longer apply to contemporary art, argues Danto. Instead he focuses on a philosophy of art criticism that can deal with perhaps the most perplexing feature of contemporary art: that everything is possible.

[From: Princeton University Press Website, Book release in 1998]

The banality of the copy

The new American painters, the generation that today's critics so associate with rigidity and power, had to live as never before with art become institution and commodity. Critics therefore had to question again the copy and the art world.

An essay by Arthur C. Danto, in fact called "The Artworld," saw the questions as linked. Danto wrote about "Fountain," Duchamp's appropriation of a urinal, but he was really responding to the shock of Warhol's Brillo boxes. In his essay, and more carefully in The Transfiguration of the Commonplace , Danto puzzled over how we ever manage to recognize Minimalism, geometric abstraction, and Pop Art as art. (...)

If Modernism had from the first been about making art into life (rather than the other way around), Abstract Expressionism had encouraged blowing the banal up to poster size. Now the results became hard to tell apart from what Danto called "ordinary things." Another analytic philosopher less well known to today's critics, Nelson A. Goodman, independently pursued the same question in Languages of Art and other books.

Both writers in effect asked whether two objects could be as indiscernible as original and perfect copy, yet only one be taken up by art institutions. The work of art might be just another colored mark on the wall, or it might look all too much like a commercial product. Formalism and Pop Art, both at the time anything but banal, seemed equally at risk. (...)

Art as foster child

Danto concluded that neither resemblance to the world nor, conversely, uniqueness can stand as a criterion for a successful work of art. Rather, an object is or is not art by virtue of being adopted as art. Its adoption, he argued further, depends on our willingness to see it as meaningful —as referring to something. If Keats described art as a foster child of silence, now it could be adopted only once it (and its parents) learn to talk. Art, Danto is saying then, permits of interpretation as ordinary things do not.

The meaningfulness of art is not a trivial inference. It convinced other writers, among them George Dickie, to develop Danto's idea into an "institutional theory of art." If art works must be adopted, somebody must get to run the orphanage and to be the foster parents. For each such privilege, there have to be social criteria.

Goodman, meanwhile, focused instead on the critical eye. He too worried about close resemblances, but he noted that identity hinges on what differences we allow ourselves to grasp. As a number of philosophers had already written, there is no such thing as "pure observation." Seeing depends on an active, shaping consciousness: we understand and interpret what we see in terms of what we know. Convention may keep seeing and knowing apart, but only tentatively. They are still constantly tested against one another. Once again, interpretation is inevitable.

Once we see a work as a painting, Goodman pointed out, it turns out not to be nearly the same as that other mark on canvas. We do need to read and study, as Danto noted, but not just to get the latest word on who counts as an artist. Our aim, rather, is to notice new things about the art.

[From: John Haber, The Reusable Past, under www.haberarts.com/krauss.htm]





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