He had to account for the definitive—because unsurpassable—character of the definition of art reached by Pop Art.
Indeed, the closure of the definition of art in terms of comprehension implied its opening in terms of extension: The end of art primarily meant the advent of pluralism, the impossibility of excluding a priori anything from the field of art and of giving a direction to the latter.
Second, because the term was often used de facto as a stylistic category, its scope was too narrow, as it could evidently include the artworks of Julian Schnabel, David Salle or Frank Gehry—to take the examples cited by Danto—while ignoring those of Jenny Holzer and Robert Mangold, despite their being both contemporary and thoroughly post-historical. Nothing could be more dismal to contemplate than philosophizing without end, which is an argument that philosophy is not art and that pluralism is a bad philosophy of philosophy. Thus, little by little, Danto mobilized continental authors who are generally neglected by analytical philosophers: Hegel, who inspired his philosophy of history, Leibniz, from whom he took up the question of the indiscernibles, Plato, not only the dialectician but also the metaphysician concerned with moving from words to Essences, but also Heidegger, Nietzsche, Sartre—authors whom he drew on very freely, if not erroneously with respect to the academic criteria of the history of philosophy.
Overall, Danto never intended to be the careful commentator of the texts he quoted, sometimes simply from memory or at least fairly roughly. Similarly, his knowledge of art history, which was far from limited to modern and contemporary art, never took the form of antiquarian scholarship. Thanks to the charm and apparent simplicity of his writing, which contrasts with the ambition of his philosophical interrogation, his work has attracted readers well beyond specialized philosophical circles—as well as fierce detractors.
Without ever quite losing his tongue-in-cheek humor, he shone especially in his descriptions and evocations, as well as in his choice and use of examples, which he borrowed from art history and literature Henry James, as we saw earlier, but also Borges, Shakespeare, Keats, Joyce, etc.
Andy Warhol | Yale University Press
Thus, he deployed numerous thought experiments around his question—that of the indiscernibles—which he regarded as the philosophical question par excellence. In the eyes of the curator, this canvas appeared not as the obvious failure that it was in , but as a brilliant masterpiece, the starting point of the entire history of the white monochrome. Danto described the scene as follows:.
It belongs in my monograph—it belongs in my museum! You will be celebrated! Theobald would have no choice but to regard the curator as mad. But if he has a philosophical imagination, he might say this: It does not follow from those blank canvases being artworks, together with the resemblance function between their work and my blank canvas, that this blank canvas is an artwork.
Once again, albeit in very different terms, he was confronted with the question of his own position in history. In the early s, Danto was concerned with not staying behind, with not missing the present and the future it foreshadowed. Danto was sixty years old and the time of the revolutions, of the avant-garde ferment whose zenith he had known and celebrated, was past by definition.
He himself wrote the eulogy that magnified this era, and from then on seemed condemned to spend the rest of his life looking back.
After history, can one even be somewhere? Is there any sense in trying to remain in touch with the present if it is no longer located in the course of history, understood in the strong sense Danto strove to give to the term? If there is no frontier left for artists to transgress, if the truth of the essence of art has been unveiled, what remains for the philosopher to think and to pursue? What happens to heroes after the conclusion of the novel? Happy people, the saying goes, have no history. He no longer regarded history as the great engine that assigns tasks and lays down challenges, offering everyone the possibility to take part and find a meaningful place in it.
Through assiduously attending art in the making, he came to view history as a burden that it is obviously good to be free of. As an art critic, Danto found the opportunity to scrutinize this future that is not one, in the sense that the surprises it has in store are not historical in nature. However, he did not refrain from rereading the past, as he seized on the pretext of an exhibition or a retrospective to devote occasionally unexpected texts to canonical figures of art history Giotto, Chardin, Tintoretto, Manet, etc.
Above all, criticism was a way of testing his major philosophical theses by giving them practical application. And pluralism, even though it has decentered beauty and untied it from the essence of art, can only make the place for it that artists are willing to give. Thus, in accordance with his desire as an artist and then as a philosopher, Danto remained a man of his time; or rather, he never stopped trying to become one.
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Volume 70 , Issue 4 Fall Pages Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. Browse All Figures Return to Figure. Previous Figure Next Figure. Email or Customer ID. Forgot password? Old Password. After all, the problem arose in the first place because no perceptual difference could be imagined finally relevant. But neither can possession of so-called "aesthetic qualities' serve, since it would be strange if a work of art were beautiful but something exactly like it though not a work of art were not.
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In fact it has been a major effort of the philosophy of art to de-aestheticize the concept of art. It was Marcel Duchamp, a far deeper artist than Warhol, who presented as "readymades" objects chosen for their lack of aesthetic qualities - grooming combs, hat racks, and, notoriously, pieces of lavatory plumbing.
It was precisely Duchamp's great effort to make it clear that art is an intellectual activity, a conceptual enterprise and not merely something to which the senses and the feelings come into play. And this must be true of all art, even that most bent upon gratifying the eye or ear, and not just for those works which are regarded as especially "philosophical," like Raphael's School of Athens or Mann's The Magic Mountain.
Were someone to choreograph Plato's Republic , that would not, simply because of its exalted content, be more philosophical than Coppelia or Petrouchka. In fact these might be more philosophical, employing as they do real dancers imitating dancing dolls imitating real dancers! Where are the components for a theory of art to be found? I think a first step may be made in recognizing that works of art are representations , not necessarily in the old sense of resembling their subjects, but in the more extended sense that it is always legitimate to ask what they are about.
Warhol's boxes were clearly about something, had a content and a meaning, made a statement, even were metaphors of a sort. In a curious way they made some kind of statement about art, and incorporated into their identity the question of what that identity is - and it was Heidegger who proposed that it is a part of the essence of being a human that the question of what one is part of what one is.
But nothing remotely like this could be true of a mere soap box. Dances, too, are representational, not simply in the way in which a pair of dancers may dance the dance the characters dance in the action they imitate, but in the same wide sense in which even the most resolutely abstract art has a pictorial dimension. The Problem of Indiscernible Counterparts follows from the representationalistic character of works of art. Imagine a sentence written down, and then a set of marks which looks just like the written sentence, but is simply a set of marks.
The first set has a whole lot of properties the second set lacks: it is in a language, has a syntax and grammar, says something. And its causes will be quite distinct in kind from those which explain mere marks. The structure then of works of art will have to be different from the structure of objects which merely resemble them.
Arthur Coleman Danto
Now of course not all representational things are works of art, so the definition has only begun. I shall not take the next steps here. All I have wished to show is the way that the philosophy of art has deep questions to consider, questions of representation and reality, of structure, truth, and meaning. In considering these things, it moves from the periphery to the center of philosophy, and in so doing it curiously incorporates the two things that give rise to it.
For when art attains the level of self-consciousness it has come to attain in our era, the distinction between art and philosophy becomes as problematic as the distinction between reality and art.
And the degree to which the appreciation of art becomes a matter of applied philosophy can hardly be overestimated. Princeton: Princeton University Press, New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, Berkeley: University of California Press, ,