Fifteen years ago, philosophy professor and art critic Arthur C. Danto delivered The A.W. Mellon Lectures In The Fine Arts at The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The book After The End Of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, published by Princeton University Press, NJ, 1997, grew out of these insightful lectures first given in 1995.
In After The End Of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, Mr. Danto reasons:
"As for the second part of the lectures' title, that connects with a curious thesis I have been urging for a number of years concerning the end of art - a somewhat dramatic way of declaring that the great master narratives which first defined traditional art, and then modernist art, have not only come to an end, but that contemporary art no longer allows itself to be represented by master narratives at all. Those master narratives inevitably excluded certain artistic traditions and practices as "outside the pale of history" - a phrase of Hegel's to which I more than once have recourse. It is one of the many things which characterize the contemporary moment of art - or what I term the "post-historical moment" - that there is no longer a pale of history. Nothing is closed off, the way Clement Greenberg supposed that surrealist art was no part of modernism as he understood it. Ours is a moment, at least (and perhaps only) in art, of deep pluralism and total tolerance. Nothing is ruled out."
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"The history of modernism is the history of purgation, or generic cleansing, of ridding the art of whatever was inessential to it. It is difficult not to hear the political echoes of these notions of purity and purgation, whatever Greenberg's (Clement Greenberg) own politics actually were. These echoes still crash back and forth across the tormented fields of nationalist strife, and the notion of ethnic cleansing has become a shuddering imperative of separatist movements the world round. It is not surprising, simply shocking, to recognize that the political analog of modernism in art was totalitarianism, with its ideas of racial purity and its agenda to drive out any perceived contaminant. "The more closely," Greenberg writes, "the norms of a discipline become defined, the less freedom they are apt to permit in many directions. The essential norms or conventions of painting are at the same time the limiting conditions with which a picture must comply in order to be experienced as a picture." And, as if to underscore the depth of the political analogy, Greenberg wrote explicitly, apropos of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, "The extreme eclecticism now prevailing is unhealthy, and it should be counteracted, even at the risk of dogmatism and intolerance." Greenberg was an intolerant and dogmatic person, but dogmatism and intolerance belong to the symptomatology (to follow him in using medical imagery) of the Age of Manifestos. You cannot use the idiom of purity, purgation, and contamination and at the same time take easily to the postures of acceptance and toleration. Because Greenberg's views drew their energy from what we might speak of as the spirit of the times, he was not alone in his denunciatory stance, which remains a feature of critical discourse in New York even today - even in our age of relativism and multiculturalism, when one might expect a degree of toleration and openness."
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"... Indeed, it was a theme of postmodernism, according especially to Lyotard, that there were no more master narratives to be had. The deconstructive spirit saw theories less in terms of truth or falsity than in terms of power and oppression, and since it became the standard question to raise as to who tended to benefit from a theory being accepted, and who was oppressed by it, those very questions very naturally were extended to modernism itself. Leftist critics took the view that modernism, which assumed that painting and sculpture were the vehicles of art-historical development, in fact was a theory calculated to entrench privilege by entrenching the institutions which painting and sculpture presupposed - the museum preeminently (with the sculpture park as a variant), the gallery, the collection, the dealer, the auction house, the connoisseur. The artist was inevitably co-opted, if he or she wanted to succeed, into producing work which reenforced these largely exclusionary institutions. And the museums in turn, subsidized by corporate funding, acted as conservative agents for the status quo. ... Painting itself came to be represented as the art form par excellence of the group empowered by the institutions in question, and hence, increasingly and inevitably as politically incorrect, and museums came to be stigmatized as repositories of oppressive objects which had little to say to the oppressed themselves. Painting, in brief, became obliquely politicized, and in an odd way, the purer its aspiration, the more political it seemed. What did the allover white painting have to do with women, African-Americans, gays, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and such other minorities as there might be? The all-white painting seemed almost to flaunt the power of the white male artist! It fits this picture precisely that in the most political of recent major exhibitions, the 1993 Whitney Biennial, only seven painters were included. (It says something about political reconciliation that the 1995 Biennial had twenty-seven painters in it.)"
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"At the same time, these experiences now seem to many to make the museum vulnerable to a kind of social criticism. They are not what the thirsting millions thirst for. With this I return to the vast populations of Brooklyn for whom the museum is at best a childhood memory, or, at worst, an architectural pile on Eastern Parkway of no particular significance to their lives. There is a radical vision in the air these days, certainly in the United States, which shares at least a premiss with that of Adam Verver: the thirsting millions thirst for art. The art for which they thirst, however, is not something the museum has so far been able to provide them with. What they search for is an art of their own. In an exceptionally searching essay into what is called "community-based art," Michael Brenson writes,
Modernist painting and sculpture will always offer an aesthetic experience of a profound and indispensable kind, but it is one that can now do very little to respond to the social and political challenges and traumas of American life. Its dialogues and reconciliations are essentially private and metaphorical, and they now have limited potential to speak to those citizens of multicultural America whose artistic traditions approach objects not as worlds in themselves but as instruments of performances and other rituals that take place outside institutions. ... Certainly images whose homes are galleries and museums can do very little to respond to the present crisis of infrastructure in America."
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So here we are in the year 2010. How have things changed in the art world, and more importantly, in the real world "after the end of art"? With a calculated and often insincere call for openness, the agents for the status quo invested in the new dialogue (quickly discovered a new and contained set of willing heroines and heroes) and of course continue to maintain their privilege and power. I would argue that art schools should be included right up there alongside the guilty parties of museums, galleries, collections, dealers, auction houses, connoisseurs, artists and corporations in promoting the status quo of another art-world -ism. Who cares about real change when there's a new toy for everyone to play with and money to be made?
What does a general snapshot of the Wide World of Art look like at this moment in time? Please follow the links below to several articles on the arts in the NY Times:
- Brooklyn Museum's Populism Hasn't Lured Crowds by Robin Pogrebin
"The Brooklyn Museum has long faced criticism that its populist tack and exhibitions on topics like the "Star Wars" movies and hip-hop music have diminished its stature. And now the attendance figures raise questions about the effectiveness of those efforts to build an audience by becoming more accessible."
"This year, in another effort to stay relevant, it has entered into a partnership with Bravo on a new reality television show called "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist," which had its premiere on Wednesday. The winning artist gets an exhibition at the museum and a cash prize.
The show was the last straw for Martin Baumrind, a trustee for 10 years who resigned this month because, he said, he had long opposed the museum's direction. "What it has become is a party place and a center of celebrity - evidenced by the fact that they have partnered with Bravo," he said. "That is not what I signed up for."
- Siblings' Two Worlds Collide in War Over Chinese Art Trove by William Glaberson
"C. C. Wang died in 2003 at 96, still owning about 240 works yet to be sold or donated, the remainder of what experts had called the greatest collection of Chinese masters outside China.
Since then, his son and one of his younger daughters have been locked in a $50 million will battle that reads like a movie script, with claims of stolen masterpieces, smuggled art, a furtive meeting in Shanghai and old grievances stemming from the decision to leave the son behind six decades ago."
- Tight Times Loosen Creativity by Robin Pogrebin
Watch the accompanying video titled The Recession-Proof Artist as a young artist in Philadelphia describes his payday treat of a cup of coffee and an apple fritter.
- Hundreds Try Out for Art-World Reality Show by Randy Kennedy
"But few such casting calls have looked like the one that began in the wee hours of Saturday morning in the West Village, where Jeff Lipsky, a 37-year-old painter and digital artist from Tyngsboro, Mass., unfolded his New England Patriots lawn chair and camped out for the night in front of the White Columns gallery, first in line to audition for a new reality show being created by Bravo. Produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, the show ... will try to do for the contemporary art world what the cable channel has done for the worlds of fine cuisine ("Top Chef") and fashion ("Project Runway") ...
The 13 finalists eventually chosen - from among hundreds who have already auditioned in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and now in New York - will compete for a gallery show, a cash prize and a sponsored national museum tour ..."
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"Competitions are for horses, not artists." - Béla Bartók