Post #205 • February 3, 2004, 6:49 AM • 4 Comments
From my network of informants:
In case you haven't seen it, the Fallon/Rosof artblog has a VERY juicy post on Arthur Danto. It's like a painfully tense hot-air balloon begging to be punctured. If I had a blog, I'd be on it like a shark on blood. The guy is incredibly overrated, but then again, so is a great deal of the art world.
No argument there. Granted, we're all a little pumped up around here after the Dave Barry post on this site - which is still getting action in the comments from somebody calling himself Asesino (Sp., assassin) who seems to be aligned with the Serious Art People that Barry skewered to great comic effect. Asesino has posted on the ArtForum message boards regarding this discussion; if it takes, it will be the first time I've seen the art world print media acknowledge the existence of an art blog. Thanks! (Next stop would be an acknowledgement in print. I expect that ArtForum et al. will not so much report on artblogging as grudgingly recognize its existence after just about everybody knows about it.)
As for the Danto piece, it reminded me of a passage in Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery:
The Master must have felt what was going on in my mind. He had, so Mr. Komachiya told me later, tried to work through a Japanese introduction to philosophy in order to find out how he could help me from a side I already knew. But in the end he had laid the book down with a cross face, remarking that he could now understand that a person who interested himself in such things would naturally find the art of archery uncommonly difficult to learn.
Danto in a nutshell, courtesy Fallon & Rosof:
With the role of philosopher taken over by artists, the role of the critic became all the more important, said Danto.
Art's meaning needed to be decoded by critics. No longer could a piece of art be looked at and understood all at once, the way Michelangelo's audience understood the message painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. As Hegel had said in the 1800s, art no longer satisfied our spiritual needs.
Danto also pointed out the Minimalism, Conceptualism and Pop art all undercut some of the old assumptions about art, including that it was a work of genius, that it required skill and the artist's hand, or that it had to be an object of some special kind. A work of art could be anything--a hole, a game, words.
If anything could be art, then that was the end of art as it had been historically understood. "It was the first time civilization had been in such a situation. Artists could make what they wished."
Danto's conclusion had been inspired by D.T. Suzuki, so I sympathize to some extent, but the freedom has turned out to be its own kind of tyranny. A work of art could be anything! Sounds liberating, doesn't it? But it's like tennis with the net down, as Robert Frost once put it - you trade intensity for liberation. (Artists that chose to keep some of those old parameters, which ought to be an option in this allegedly pluralist art world, have been villified with the worst possible language; accusations of populism, elitism, racism, and sexism are common if not the norm.) Ah - but here come
philosophers critics such as Danto, who will, like priests in the Catholic church, serve as intermediaries between Lordly Art and lowly viewer, and make up for the lack of intensity through their magic ability to decode art. It can't be any other way, really. After all:
Art from other cultures for the most part no longer had the immediacy of understanding that religious art from primitive cultures or the Middle Ages had, thanks to globalization.
"Everyone is entering into the same consciousness structure," he said, noting similar problems for critics across the globe, including China and Japan. He saw this pass as a confirmation that his original position that art as we knew it prior to the '60s was dead and that we were living in a different kind of time.
The immediacy of understanding that religious art supplied to those cultures came from their homogeneity, of course. Now that globalization is causing cultures to become more homogenous, the immediacy of understanding is being lost, because, well, I wonder if there are any more cookies in the fridge.
There was also this:
He added that all art was "conceptual, with a small 'c,'" including Michelangelo and Artemisia Gentileschi.
My knee-jerk response is that all art is formal, with a small f. Of course, all art contains conceptual, iconographic, and formal components. Danto's approach looks like a simplistic way of dealing with art.
I would want to read some more Danto before I pass final judgment, but it's not hard to see why he's had such an illustrious career. This all fits in with the anything-goes spirit of the art world since the end of modernist hegemony. If you think that anything goes, Danto's your man. If you think that anything goes, but some things go better than others, it looks like he's not.
UPDATE: Wow, the ArtForum comments boards are going, like, nowhere.