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Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe

1. Roots of Modernism

2. Art for Art's Sake

3. Modernism & Politics

4. Modernism & Postmodernism

5. The End of Art?

  • Bibliography

  • 5. The End of Art?

    In her book Has Modernism Failed? which initiated this discussion, Suzi Gablik makes the following observation:

      In the complex transition from modernism into postmodernism, a new terrain of consciousness is being occupied — one in which the limits of art seem to have been reached, and overturning conventions has become routine. As long as we are willing to consider anything as art, innovation no longer seems possible, or even desirable.

    Does art have a future? In his Lectures on Aesthetics [see BIBLIOGRAPHY], the German philosopher Georg Hegel argued that art had evolved in three stages beginning with the Symbolic, which sought a perfect unity of external form and the idea, from which emerged the Classical, which pursued a unity of the senses and the imagination to achieve a representation of spiritual individuality, and culminating in the Romantic, which rises above the visible world to a transcendent realm of infinite spirituality.

    Once the Romantic stage had been reached (which Hegel believed had occurred during his lifetime), art will have completed its evolution and would cease to develop further. Art will have served its usefulness, the role it played in helping the Spirit reach full self-realization, and the evolution of human consciousness would be over, its purpose fulfilled. There would no longer be any need for images and symbols and therefore no longer any need for any art by which they would be expressed. Art would come to an end.

    Hegel’s Romantic stage (extended forward in time and developing in ways Hegel would perhaps have found incomprehensible) corresponds to the Modern period. The philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto, in his essay ‘The End of Art’ (published in a collection of essays entitled The Death of Art in 1984), and further developed in his 1997 book After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History [see BIBLIOGRAPHY], applied Hegel’s thesis to Modern art, arguing that indeed the traditional linear history of art since the Renaissance has come to an end, replaced by a pluralism in which everything can or has the potential to be art .

    But it seems very likely that from the prevailing pluralism will emerge a new art. Applying the dialectical method of thesis–antithesis–synthesis associated with Hegel, the process must inevitably continue.

    If Modernism is the original thesis, it contains within it the seeds of its own antithesis (which in retrospect might be identified as those rooted in Marcel Duchamp’s ‘ready–mades’ and the claims of Dada), from which has emerged the synthesis of pluralism where nothing can be denied the status of art if it is claimed to be such. So, within the current pluralism (which is the new thesis), must lie the antithetical germ which will give rise to a new and presumably postmodern or post–Romantic synthesis. What form this new art will take, and what role, if any, it will play in the post–modern world, remains to be seen.

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