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The End of Art: A Philosophical Defense


Author(s): Arthur C. Danto
Source: History and Theory, Vol. 37, No. 4, Theme Issue 37: Danto and His Critics: Art
History, Historiography and After the End of Art (Dec., 1998), pp. 127-143
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
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THE END OF ART: A PHILOSOPHICAL DEFENSE.

ARTHURC. DANTO'

ABSTRACT

Thisessayconstructs philosophical
defensesagainstcriticismsof my theoryof theendof
art.Thesehaveto do withthedefinitionof art;theconceptof artisticquality;the roleof
aesthetics;therelationship betweenphilosophyandart;howto answerthequestion"But
is it art?";the differencebetweenthe end of artand"thedeathof painting"; historical
imagination andthefuture;the methodof usingindiscernible counterparts,
likeWarhol's
Brillo Box andtheBrillocartonsit resembles; thelogicof imitation-andthedifferences
betweenHegel'sviewson theendof artandmine.Thesedefensesamplifyandfortifythe
thesisof theendof artas set forthin myAfter the End of Art: ContemporaryArt and the
Pale of History (1997).

For the most part,historicalnarrativesdo not belong to the events they transcribe,
even if their writersin fact were partof them. To be sure, one writes a narrative
only when something is felt to have come to an end-otherwise one is writing a
kind of diaryof events, nevercertainof what will belong to the final narrativeand
whatwill not. Still, the narrativeitself is externalto what it transcribes:otherwise
a furthernarrativemust be writtenwhich includes the writing of the first narra-
tive among the events narrated-and this can run to infinity.By contrast,I have
the most vivid sense thatAfter the End of Art belongs to the same history that it
analyzes, as if it, itself, is that history's end-a perhaps prematureascent to
philosophical consciousness of the art movements that are its subject. I know,
from his great commentator,AlexandreKojeve,2that Hegel saw himself situated
in the same history of which he wrote the philosophy, as if the ascent to philo-
sophical consciousness in his narrativewas the end of that (of all) history.
History,as he saw it, ended in the recognitionthat all were free-and how could
therebe history after that?Things would happen,of course, and freedom had to
be fought for and preserved.But there would be no furthernarrativeof the sort
the history of freedom exemplified, but simply a vast postscriptof free individ-
ual lives, as when, the war over, those who participatedin it are scatteredto pur-
sue their personal ends. That was, with qualification,the same narrativevision
Marx and Engels proposed-an end of history when class conflicts had been

1. I do not in these endnotescite the papersI discuss, as they all appearin this issue of Histoty and
Theory.
2. AlexandreKojeve,Introductionto the Reading of Hegel, transl.James H. Nichols (Ithaca,N. Y.,
1980), 34-35.

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128 ARTHURC. DANTO

definitivelyresolved, leaving the survivorsto practicehuntingor fishing or liter-


ary criticismas they wished, in a world of fay ce que voudras.But in an immea-
surablymore modest but similarway, the claim thatarthistory is at an end could
have been the end of arthistory-a declarationof artisticfreedom, and hence the
impossibility of any further large narrative.If everyone goes off in different
directions,there is no longer a directiontowardwhich a narrativecan point. It is
a wholesale case of living happilyever after.And that,I have claimed, is the state
of the art world after the end of art.
I know that without certain transformationsin artistic practice, a philosophy
such as mine would have been unthinkable,so that my philosophy of arthistory
is necessarily different from what I might have achieved had I written philo-
sophically about art when abstractexpressionismwas at the flood, or cubism or
futurism, or impressionism or neoclassicism. I hold myself fortunateto have
lived throughthe sequence of artisticstyles which culminatedin pop artand min-
imalism, and to have learnedmore from what I saw in New Yorkgalleries in the
1960s than I possibly could have learnedfrom studying aesthetics,based, as the
latterinevitably must be, on earlier artistic styles. And yet I do not feel that the
philosophy of art I developed both in The Transfigurationof the Commonplace
andAfter the End of Art was only relevantto the artthat occasioned it. I did not,
for example, as if writing a manifesto, declare that pop art was what the history
of art had been stumblingtoward,its telos and fulfillment.No: pop art and min-
imalism made plain the immediatepromise of a radicalpluralism,of which they
of course could be part if someone cared to pursue them-but with no greater
right than realism, surrealism,performance,installation,cave art, or folk art or
whatever.My aim has been essentialist-to find a definition of art everywhere
and always true.Essentialismand historicismare widely regardedas antithetical,
whereas I see them not only as compatiblebut coimplicatedwith one another,at
least in the case of art.It is the very fact, I believe, that there is an essence of art
that makes artisticpluralisma possibility. But that means that art's essence can-
not be identified with any of its instances, each of which must embody that
essence, however little they resemble one another.What gave essentialism a bad
name was precisely such an identification,as in the case of Ad Reinhardtor
Clement Greenberg.What made essentialism seem impossible was the condition
of ultimatepluralism,since works of arthad outwardlyso little in common. My
contributionwas to make plain that only when these extreme differences were
availablecould one see the possibility of a single, universalconcept.
Such were among the extravaganttheses I found myself defending at the
remarkablyintense discussions which took place in the author's colloquium
organizedfor the Zentrumfur InterdisciplinareForschungin Bielefeld by Prof.
Dr. KarlheinzLUdeking,of the Hochschule der Bildenden Kunstin Nuremberg,
and Dr. Oliver Scholz, of the Frei UniversitdtBerlin. LUidekingand Scholz made
a radicaldeparturefrom academic protocol-a paper,a commentary,a response
to the commentary,and questions from the floor in the remainingfew minutes.
Instead, they asked for two fifteen-minutepresentationsto begin each section,

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THE END OF ART:A PHILOSOPHICALDEFENSE 129

leaving two and a half hours for the give and take carriedforwardby the more
extended papers printedhere. In candor, the first session was so intense that I
wonderedwhat there could be left to say. But in fact the intensity was-well-
intensified throughthe remaining sessions, as members of the wider Bielefeld
philosophicalcommunityjoined the discourse.It is as a monumentto these mar-
velous interchangesthat David Carrierinvited the participantsto move the dis-
cussion on to a differentplane-and, thankingeveryone involved, I would like,
within my powers, to respond to the challenging essays that have resulted.The
colloquium was not so much an honor as an education.

I. THE DEFINITIONOF ART

By essence I mean a real definition,of the old-fashionedkind, laying out the nec-
essary and sufficientconditions for something to fall undera concept. The main
effort of The Transfigurationof the Commonplace'was to provide a fragmentof
a real definition for art. This was in no sense a mere philosophical exercise. It
was, rather,a response to an urgencyin the artworld of the mid-1960s. The pre-
vailing wisdom regardingthe definitionof art,based on a thesis of Wittgenstein,
was thatthere can be no definitionof art, since no single propertyor set of prop-
erties was exhibited by the class of artworks,as can be verified when we try to
find it. But neither is a definitionreally needed-for we all are able to pick the
artworksout of a set of objects, leaving the non-artworksbehind.And clearly we
cannot account for our ability to do this by appeal to a definition,since there is
and can be none. What we have at best is a family-resemblanceclass of things,
among which there are partialbut only partialresemblances.
In the mid-1960s, however,it was no longer clear that we could pick the art-
works out from the non-artworksall that easily, since art was being made which
resemblednon-artworksas closely as may be required.My favoriteexample was
Andy Warhol'sBrillo Box, which looked sufficiently like actual Brillo cartons
that one could not tell, from a photograph,which of them was which nor which
was artand which was not.4A set of metal squares,arrayedon the floor,could be
a sculptureor a floor covering.5A performanceby an artistteaching funk danc-
ing to a group of persons appearedsimilarto a dance teacherinstructinga group
in funk dancing.6A 600-pound block of chocolate could be an artworkwhile
anothersuch block would be merely 600 pounds of chocolate.7And so on, all
across the face of the artworld. Clearly,therewere no manifestoverarchingsim-
ilarities in this partial class of artworks.But equally clearly, neither could we
pick out which was the artworkin an indiscerniblepair,and which was not. But
this was in principleperfectly general:for any non-artwork,an artworkcould be

3. ArthurC. Danto, The Transfigurationof the Commonplace(Cambridge,Mass., 1981).


4. ArthurC. Danto, "TheArt World,"Journal of Philosophy 61 (1964), 571-584.
5. This refers to certainworks of CarlAndre.
6. The work referredto is AdrianPiper's video, Funk Lessons.
7. This work is Gnaw, by JanineAntoni.

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130 ARTHURC. DANTO

imagined which resembled it as closely as might be required.And for any art-


work, a non-artworkcould be imagined like it to whatever degree. So what
couldn'tbe an artwork,for all one knew? The answer was that one could not tell
by looking. You could not after all pick the artworksout like cashews from a pot
of peanuts.
This was the situationto which the Transfigurationendeavoredto respond.It
began by treating artworksas representations,in the sense that they possessed
aboutness. Since not all representationsare artworks,this did not carry us very
far, but it at least helped force a distinctionbetween an artworkand its non-art
counterparts,real or imagined.An artistwas affirmingsome thesis by means of
the block of chocolate, or at least it was appropriateto ask what it was about,
whereas it would have been inappropriateto ask what a mere large lump of
chocolate was about.But one could always, on the hypothesisthat one was deal-
ing with an artwork, ground an interpretivehypothesis-an ascription and a
meaning-on certainof its properties,which would have no particularsalience if
the .objectwere merely an object. An artwork,in this sense, embodies its mean-
ing when it is seen interpretively.Anything,of course, can be seen interpretively
as long as one supposes it to embody a meaning. Upon discovering that it does
not, the interpretationwithers away.A flight of birds gets read as a sign from the
gods until one stops believing in the gods, after which a flight of birds is a flight
of birds.
Aboutness and embodimentwas as far as I got in the Transfigurationof the
Commonplace.I had no sense that it was more than a start. In attemptingto
define knowledge in Theatetus,Socratesgot as far as saying that knowledge was
trueopinion-but he was awarethat somethingmore was required,and though a
third condition was added later-knowledge is justified true opinion-every
epistemologist knows that a fourth condition is required,and no one is entirely
certainwhat this would be. Still, my two conditions solved the problemI set out
to solve, and I had a pleasantshock of recognitionwhen, later,I found in Hegel's
famous statementabout the end of art precisely the same two conditions cited
when he attemptedto explain artisticjudgment:"(i) the contentof art,and (ii) the
work of art'smeans of presentation."'Parenthetically,I thinkthatHegel believed
no such intellectual effort was requiredwhen art, by its own means alone, was
able to presenteven the highest realitiesin sensuousform.9Partof what he meant
by talking of the end of art was that art was no longer capable of this. It had
become an object ratherthan a medium through which a higher reality made
itself present. But in any case, it seemed to me that the two components of the
definitionwere in effect imperativesfor the practice of art criticism, namely, (i)
determinewhat the content is and (ii) explain how the content is presented.

8. G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel's Aesthetics:Lectureson Fine Art, transl.T. M. Knox (Oxford, 1975), 11.
9. Ibid., 7.

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THE END OF ART:A PHILOSOPHICALDEFENSE 131
II. QUALITY

Kudielkafeels, perhapsrightly,thatI have resisted the additionof the concept of


qualityas among the "essentialfactorsof art."When Hegel speaks of contentand
presentation,he makes explicit that artisticjudgment should address"theappro-
priatenessor inappropriatenessof one to the other."It bears remarkingthat the
second critical imperativedoes not seem to apply to what Hegel calls symbolic
art, whose meaning lies outside itself. It stands to its meaning the way a name
standsto its bearer,and though, in namingour children,we seek names that will
embody the person we hope they will become, names and bearersare externalto
one another.Since symbolic art fails the second imperative,this may count as a
criticism of symbolic art, which Hegel in any case regardedas primitive.On the
other hand, Hegel appearsnever to have conceived of abstractart. Who did in
1828? The critic Thomas Hess wisely observed that "Abstractart has always
existed, but until this century,it never knew it existed."10If, from the perspective
of abstraction,we think of the pyramid,to use Hegel's paradigmof symbolic art,
an interpretationof its meaning as embodied does not seem out of the question.
Classical and romanticart, in Hegel's scheme, explicitly embody their contents.
Kudielkasays, en passant, that classical art was, for Hegel, the highest art-but
Hegel speaks indifferentlyof "The beautiful days of Greek art, like the golden
age of the laterMiddleAges."'IIClassical statuaryandGothic rose windows serve
as examples of art"in its highest vocation."But so does symbolic art,if we think
of it as abstract.
The notion of quality has recently become, in the American art world espe-
cially, a vexed matter.12It has, for example, seemed to be inconsistent with the
multiculturalismwhich has raisedthe possibility of incommensurabilitybetween
and among the artworksof differentcultures.It may be truethat we ought not to
judge the work of one culture by the criteria of excellence which belongs to
another.Still, that does not abolish the concept of quality,since within the work
of a given culture,not everythingis of the same quality,and there is some sense
of how works are to be ranked,insofar as they differ at all. I am, on the other
hand, unpreparedto add quality as a third condition, for the same reason that I
would be reluctantto place conditions on the concept of content. It has some-
times been arguedby American critics that the category of art rules out certain
contents-that the gamy photographsof Robert Mapplethorpecannot be art
because of theirgaminess. It may be a criticismof Mapplethorpethathis content
is offensive, but thatis a moralratherthanan art-criticalassessment.On the other
hand, thereis a differencebetween not embodyingcontent-as in every instance
of symbolic art as Hegel understoodit-or embodying it badly. It is an artistic
criticism of a work that it embodies its content poorly. Once content is estab-

10. Thomas Hess, AbstractPainting: Backgroundand the AmericanPhase (New York, 1951), 4.
11 Hegel, Aesthetics, 10.
12. See Michael Brenson, "Is Quality an Idea whose Time has Gone?"New YorkTimes(July 22,
1990), section II, 1.

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132 ARTHURC. DANTO

wished,a whole menu of hypotheticalimperativescomes up on the screen, and


one discusses how the work might have been better-or might have been
worse-from the perspectiveof embodiment.PerhapsI made these considera-
tions insufficientlyexplicit, but since quality, on this account, is a modality of
embodiment,I see no groundsfor adding it to my list.
What desperatelyrequires analysis, of course, is the notion of embodiment.
The simplest case of embodimentis exemplification,to which Nelson Goodman
drew attention:13a sample shows what it means because it itself is what it means,
the way a swatch of gabardineexemplifies the kind of fabric it is. But things
quickly get more complex. Christ was God's embodiment-the word made
flesh-and representationsof Christ endeavorto show how his divine natureis
made manifest:by beauty,luminosity,or whatever(his fleshliness is made man-
ifest throughblood and the expression of pain.) But these quickly become con-
ventions. What does the fact that a pitcher in a Cubist painting is embodied in
nested facets imply? I concede to Kudielkathat I have not developed these mat-
ters at all rigorously.

III. AESTHETICS

MartinSeel finds unacceptablewhat he perceives, I believe rightly,as a certain


"irritatingbias" in my writingagainstaesthetic appearance.His argumentis that
"the creationof unique appearancesin the world"is the point of all artisticpro-
duction. Hence I show a certain Erscheinungsvergessen.Even Hegel, after all,
4
spoke of art in its prime as presenting"the highest realities in sensuous form."'
And it must be conceded that somethingmust embody the content-the way the
face embodies feelings-and that it is, as Seel contends, difficult to imagine a
completely dematerializedwork of visual art (though Henry James comes close
in his story "The Madonnaof the Future"by calling the unrealizedpainting a
"masterpiece").Of course, this is using "aesthetic"in the way Kantused it in the
"TranscendentalAesthetic"section of the Critiqueof Pure Reason, as having to
do with the senses as sources of knowledge. This is not how the term is custom-
arily used today, where it refers, rather,to appreciativeresponses to beauty-to
the aestheticas contrastedwith the phenomenalpropertiesof things. I don't think
that I have been neglectful of the materialpresence of meanings in art, since so
much of my writingis an effort to show how meaningsare, so to speak, inscribed
in the objects which presentthem. But I will admitthere may be a problemwith
aestheticsunderstoodas "the sense of beauty,"to use Santayana'sexpression. It
is not that I am indifferentto aesthetic considerationsas a person or even as a
philosopher,nor that I would deny that a good many works are made specifical-
ly to produce aesthetic pleasure in viewers. It is just that I am disinclined to
include this as a thirdcondition in the definitionof art.

13. Nelson Goodman,Languages of Art (Indianapolis,1976).


14. Hegel, Aesthetics, 7.

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THE END OF ART:A PHILOSOPHICALDEFENSE 133

In this, I think, I follow Marcel Duchamp, who set out specifically to sunder
aesthetics from art through the Readymades,which he selected in part on the
basis of their dull and uninflected appearances.They were, he hoped, beyond
good and bad taste. No one, he once remarked,even sought to steal the metal
grooming comb which might, with the snow shovel, serve as a paradigmof this
portion of his oeuvre. It may be that in other cultures these very objects would
be anythingbut dull-Francis Naumanonce told me that a woman in Francehad
never seen a snow shovel, and we can imagine cultures in which a grooming
comb would be beyond theirmetallurgicmeans. But in our culture,they are com-
monplaceand dull. And since they are art,it is difficultto say thatDuchampwas
interestedin "uniqueappearances."They are unique as art-but not as objects.
Such aesthetic response as there may be is accordingly not to the comb or the
shovel as such, but to whateverremainsof the artworkwhen one subtracts,as it
were, the sensuous properties.As I see it, Duchampwas endeavoringto exclude
aestheticsfrom the concept of art,and, as I thinkhe was successful in this, I have
followed his lead.
Indeed, the idea of uniquenessencountersa serious problemwith the kinds of
examples to which I typically have recourse in these discussions-pairs (or
triples or whatever)of indiscerniblecounterparts,like the eight or so indiscrim-
inable red squareswith which the Transfigurationbegins.'5They shareall sensu-
ous properties,which is what makes them sensuously indiscernible.But they are
uniqueas works of art,each having, and indeed each embodying,a differentcon-
tent. We respondto them as art-but that is not respondingto them as mere red
squares. It is not seeing but interpretiveseeing that is at issue, which in effect
means framinginterpretivehypotheses as to meaning. One may respondto them
aestheticallyas well-or one may not.
I had a furtherreason for distancingaestheticsfrom art.Aesthetics has been a
fairly marginalphilosophical subject, especially in analytical philosophy. But I
felt that art has a philosophicalexcitement to which philosophers,however ana-
lytical in bent, should be responsive. I glumly studied aesthetics with Irwin
Edman and, far more philosophically,with Suzanne K. Langer.But I was never
able to connect what they taught me with the art that was being made in the
1950s-and I could not see why anyone interestedin art should have to know
about aesthetics. It was only when I encounteredWarhol'sBrillo Box that I saw,
in a momentof revelation,how one could make philosophyout of art.But Brillo
Box has only the sensuous propertiespossessed by Brillo boxes, when the latter
are conceived of merely as decoratedcontainers.A lot of Warhol'sworks are aes-
thetically as neutralas the personalityhe endeavoredto project.
By way of concession, I think that aestheticianshave had far too restricteda
rangeof aestheticqualitiesto deal with-the beautifuland the ugly and the plain.
And have assigned to taste far too central a role in the experience of art. I feel
that expanding this range will itself be an exciting philosophical project. But it

15. The Transfigurationof the Commonplace,1-3.

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134 ARTHURC. DANTO

falls outside the range of defining art. Just think of how exciting coming into a
new piece of knowledge can be-and how irrelevantcognitive excitement is to
the humdrumtask of definingknowledge. Two and a half millennia, and we still
have not found a fourthcondition!

IV. ART AND PHILOSOPHY

However importantto the concept of art, neitherquality nor aestheticconsidera-


tions appearas if they immediatelybear on the end of art as a historical thesis.
They do bearon it, however,in virtueof challengingthe definitionof artthrough
philosophical argument.My thesis was that once art raised the question of why
one of a pair of look-alikes was art and the other not, it lacked the power to rise
to an answer.For that, I thought, philosophy was needed. Even were I to grant
Seel's view that reference to the sensuous propertiesof artworksis essential, it
would be interestingto ask whetherit would be possible to representthe idea of
art's "highestreality"entirely in sensuous terms. The "highestreality"of art is
its own essence, broughtto self-awareness, and this requiresthe sort of philo-
sophical argumentationof which Kudielka and Seel are masters.The pyramid,
classical sculpture, the rose window give sensuous embodiment to what the
Egyptians,the Greeks, and the Christiancommunityof the Middle Ages took to
be the highest realities.But thereare internallimits on what artcan achieve-and
philosophical self-understandingis beyond those limits. What marksthe end of
art is not that art turns into philosophy,but that from this point on, art and phi-
losophy go in differentdirections.Art is liberated,on this view, from the need to
understanditself philosophically,and when that moment has been reached, the
agendaof modernism-under which art sought to achieve its own philosophy-
was over. The task of definition belonged to philosophy-and art was thereby
free to pursuewhateverends, and by whatevermeans, seemed importantto artists
or their patrons.From that point on there was no internalhistoricaldirectionfor
art, and this is precisely what the condition of pluralismamountsto.
Michael Kelly contends that turningthe definitionof art over to philosophers
amountsto a disenfranchisementof art.I introducedthe concept of a philosoph-
ical disenfanchisementof art in an eponymous essay' which argued that the
canonicalphilosophiesof artsought a metaphysicaldemotionof artby assigning
it to the domainof dreamand illusion (as in Plato), or by showing it to be an infe-
rior way of doing what philosophy itself does better.My explanationfor these
strategies,which weave artinto the structureof the universeas philosophershave
variously conceived of it, is that, for complex reasons, philosophershave feared
art (ratherin the way in which, fearingfemale sexual power, society has evolved
ways of keeping women in their "place").Therehave been, of course, non-philo-
sophical disenfranchisementsthroughouthistory-censorship, repression,icon-
oclasm. I have nothing to say about these here. But is my theory any more

16. ArthurC. Danto, "ThePhilosophicalDisenfranchisementof Art,"in The Philosophical Disen.-


franchisementof Art (New York, 1986).

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THE END OF ART:A PHILOSOPHICALDEFENSE 135

enlightenedthan the philosophies that dependedon some form of artisticdisen-


franchisement?
Kelly makes centralto his deconstructiona model I have frequentlyemployed
for makingvivid the idea of a history which comes to an end when the subjectof
the story attainsself-knowledge-the idea of a Bildungsroman,which, according
to Josiah Royce,17 Hegel's Phenomenologywas said to exemplify. Hegel's hero,
Geist, goes through an ingenious sequence of states, through which he (she?)
arrivesat last at an idea of his or her own nature.It is an idea that does not have
to be true,since Geist is revealedas Geist even (or especially) when it gets things
wrong. Goethe's WilhelmMeister'sApprenticeshipis such a novel, as are femi-
nist novels, in which the heroine first understandsher differences from males,
and then, througha sequence of episodes, attainsconsciousness of what it means
(hence what it is) to be a woman. I have certainlypresentedthe history of art as
a kind of Bildungsromanin which art struggles toward a kind of philosophical
self-understanding.And now, Kelly notes, the task of such understandinghas
been handedover to philosophy,because it lies beyond the limits of art to carry
it any further.
This is an acute criticism and it is, I think, true. The question for me, howev-
er, is whetherthis is a philosophicaldisenfranchisementof art.It is certainlynot
a re-enfranchisement.But the liberationof art from the philosophicaltask it has
set itself is the liberationof art to pursueits-or society's-individual ends. The
thesis of "ThePhilosophicalDisenfranchisementof Art"was that art and philos-
ophy were from the beginningjoined at the hip-that the greatmetaphysicalsys-
tems designed the universe as a kind of prison for art. After the End of Art is
intendedto separateartfrom philosophicaloppression,and leave the task of find-
ing definitionsto a practicedesigned to provide them. That is as much as philos-
ophy can do for art-to get it to realize its freedom. The joint narrativeof phi-
losophy and art is then a Freiheitsroman-the story of freedom gained or
regained-as in The Tempest,when Ariel is set free at last.

V. "BUT IS IT ART?"

In Hegel's somewhatdisenfranchisinganalysis, underwhich artis a thing of the


past, he says such things as "it has lost for us genuine truthand life," or "we sub-
ject to our intellectual consideration. . ." or "Artinvites us to intellectual con-
sideration. . ."18-and the questionis to whom this "we"refers.It is perhapsnat-
ural for philosophers-and who else for the most partreads Hegel? to suppose
that it is philosopherswho are addressed.But in fact "we"could be anyone who
thinks critically about art who ponderswhat art is about and how its aboutness
is registeredin the matterof art.Hegel is talking about artcriticism here, and art
has attaineda sufficientdegree of self-awarenessthat it is made with art-critical
questions in mind. Art criticism mediates between art and philosophy, to the

17. JosiahRoyce, Lectureson ModernIdealism,ed. Jacob Loewenberg(Cambridge,Mass., 1920).


18. Hegel, Aesthetics, 11.

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136 ARTHURC. DANTO

point where today artistsare theirown best critics, explainingwhat they are after
andwhy, as if conceding thatarthas "beentransferredto our ideas."'9 This means
thatarthas become an object for its practitionersas well as for philosophers,and
this may somewhat temper Kelly's charge of disenfranchisementon my part. It
means that the practice of art is "two-tiered,"to use Brigitte Hilmer's useful
phrase.There is a division of labor,in that the analysis, as againstthe ascription
of content, is more a philosophical than an art-criticalmatter,as is the analysis,
in contrastwith the identification,of modes of presentation.
Penetratedas artisticpracticeis today by art-criticalconsiderations,especial-
ly when works of artdo not wear their meaningson theirfaces, thereis not quite
so sharpan interfacebetween art and philosophy as my argumentshave perhaps
implied. Hilmer is entirely correct in saying that Hegel, thinking of philosophy
as the domain of thought and art the domain of sensation, was obliged to think
thatarthad come to an end when it becomes suffused with criticalthoughtabout
itself.20The sharpdivision between thoughtand sensation is pure Romanticism.
The idea that the work of art can or once did convey its truthsimmediately
throughthe senses, withoutthe mediationof thought,was thinkablewhen artwas
mimetic. But it is less and less that today, hence less and less capable of being
addressedby sense alone. When, moreover,artbecomes its own subject,as it evi-
dently has undermodernism,then the practice of art has gone even furtherinto
the philosophicaldomain throughthe variousmanifestoes in which art is said to
be this and that:"art"has in its own right become partof art's own reflectionon
itself. It is not necessary,on the other hand,for artiststhemselves to have a clear
idea of what is meant by art. "The discovery of art as an independenthuman
activity demanding higher intellectual capacity than mere craftsmanship"to
quote Hilmer,is alreadyto have discovered a great deal.
I am struckby the expression "merecraftsmanship"in this formulation,and
wonder whetheror not it stipulatesa disenfranchisingboundary.However arro-
gant philosophy may be, its disenfranchisementsare rarelyas vehement as those
which arise within artisticdiscourse itself, where artistsand critics are disposed
to say of somethingthat it is not art when there is very little other than art that it
can be. When Judy Chicago first showed her Dinner Party in New York,"But is
it art?" was the question of the day. Such controversies have unquestionably
extended and deepened the concept of art, and except with reference to such
work as Chicago's, it is difficultto imagine how the vaguely graspedconcept can
have been made more explicit. We can even ask whether there was, in Hans
Belting's phrase,"artbefore the era of art,"2'so that we can identify cave paint-
ings and altarpieces as arteven if those who made them had no concept of artto
speak of. Hilmer asks, from a feminist perspective,Why not "beautifulworks of
knitting or weaving or patchwork?"If "art"and "merecraftsmanship"exclude

19. Ibid.
20. But Hegel also says "The artist himself is infected by the loud voice of reflection all around
him and by the opinions andjudgementson artthat have become customaryeverywhere,so that he is
misled [my emphasis] into introducingmore thoughtsinto his work."Ibid., 11.
21. Hans Belting, Likenessand Presence: The Image before the Era of Art (Chicago, 1994).

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THE END OF ART:A PHILOSOPHICALDEFENSE 137

one another,then thereis no hope for craftto become artunless ... And it is here
that the philosophy of art has a task.
I do not think that adding beauty to craftsmanshipis the formulafor transfig-
uringit into art.That is like, to borrowa thoughtfrom RobertVenturi,2decorat-
ing a shed to turnit into architecture.But it is a problemfor craftspersonstoday
to get for their productionsthe kind of respect they suppose recognizing them as
art creates an impossibility if craft automaticallyexcludes what they do from
the domainto which they aspire.At the same time, in America at least, works of
craft really are beginning to be recognized as art-the glasswork of Dale
Chihuly,the ceramics of Betty Woodman,23the fiber art of Ann Hamilton,24the
furnitureof John Cederquist.25The "discourse"has a "He said-she said" form,
when it already seems to me that however impoverishedmy definition, it can
help. Craftworkis art when it is about what it embodies. Woodman'svases are
about the vase, even though they also exemplify the vase to the point where her
workcan be filled with flowers, as they are at the admissionsdesk of the Museum
of ModernArt in New York where they are brilliantlypresent. Retrospectively,
The Dinner Party is about sisterhood,presentedin terms of the ritualof a spiri-
tual community,namely,sitting down to a meal together.It is possible to criticize
it even so but one is alreadytreatingit as art when one does so.

VI. THE "DEATHOF PAINTING"

Noel Carrollasks whether the end of art history has not been confused by me
with the end of painting. Since my theory was first publishedin 1984, at a time
when the so-called "deathof painting"was widely canvassedby art world theo-
reticians, it was perhapsunavoidablethat the two kinds of theories should have
been confused. This is a good place to consider them together,in orderespecial-
ly to make plain how differentin fact they are from one another.The "deathof
painting,"described here perfectly by David Carrier,is a theory of exhaustion.
The "end of art"instead is a theory of consciousness of how a developmental
sequence of events terminatesin the consciousness of that sequence as a whole.
It is for thatreason thatit is not implausiblethatthe history of art has something
like the form of a Bildungsroman,despite the difficulties which Michael Kelly
has shown with thatmodel. The "deathof painting"theoryfits an entirely differ-
ent kind of model. It fits, indeed, a model which haunted nineteenth-century
thoughtin a numberof domains.
According to John Keats' biographer,the poet felt at a certain moment that
"therewas now nothing original to be writtenin poetry; that all its riches were

22. Robert Venturi, Learning frosi Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbols of Architectural Form
(Cambridge,Mass., 1976).
23. See my text, Betty Woodman(Amsterdam,1996).
24. Ann Hamilton has just been selected to representthe United States at the Venice Biennale,
1999.
25. See my text, "Illusion and Comedy: The Art of John Cederquist" in The Art of John Cedertquist:
Reality of Illusion (Oakland,Calif., 1997).

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138 ARTHURC. DANTO

alreadyexhausted,& all its beautiesforestalled."26 A comparableview regarding


music was advancedby John StuartMill: he deduced that all possible combina-
tions of sounds would sooner ratherthan later have been made, and with that
thought the possibilities of indefinite musical creativity were closed.27
Nietzsche's notorioustheory of EternalRecurrencewas based upon the similar
notion that sooner or later all possible combinationsof states of affairswould be
exhausted,and with this there was no choice other than to begin all over again,
with nothing to look forwardto save an eternal repetitionof the same. Unlike
Mill and Keats, Nietzsche found in this thoughta form of courage:we must live
in the knowledge that whateverwe do, it will be done over and over for all eter-
nity. But he also felt his theory was fatal to any possibility of an enduring
progress,and that we must learn to live within the limits of our condition.
Now it would have come as a surpriseto the paintersof the Renaissancethat
paintingwould sooner or laterrun out of possibilities, simply because the possi-
ble subjects of painting were to begin with restrictedto biblical and classical
motifs. The demand was for annunciations,adorations,crucifixions, images of
the saints, as well as portraitsof notablepersonages.An artistwho tried for nov-
elty in motif would have been eccentric.Of course, patronsmay have wantednot
only a Madonna and Child, but a Botticelli Madonna and Child. Was there a
closed number of ways of presenting that motif? Probably but the closure
would not have been interesting.It would be like worryingthat humancharacter
is finite, that all the charactersand personalstyles would all be used up. Since no
two individualshave the same character,this is a needless fear.
I knew a Chinese artist, Chiang Yee, who was proud to have opened up the
canon of Chinese paintingby adding picturesof pandasto the bamboo, the iris,
the chrysanthemum,the plum blossom, and the like. This achievement is evi-
dence that he had internalizeda western idea of novelty as the concomitantof
originality for the traditionalChinese artisthad no interestin originalityat all.
The ambitionwas ratherto appropriatethe paradigmsof the masters.It was part
of the structureof Chinese artthatthe same motifs could be paintedand repaint-
ed foreverwithoutthe motifs being addedto. In the 1980s, however,and perhaps
in consequence of the fact thatartundermodernismhad come increasinglyto be
about itself, painting began to show limitations. Artists were expected to find
some unoccupiedniche in the range of possibilities in orderto demonstrateorig-
inality.But these niches were getting harderto find in the 1980s, and less and less
rewardingto occupy.
But whatever the internal limitations of painting if there are any it was
paintingas a whole which was held to be dead in the 1980s (despite the wave of
neo-expressionistfiguralpaintings that began to be shown in the galleries); this
was based mainly on certainpolitical conclusions radicalcritics of "latecapital-
ism" had reached:painting was finished because the social and economic struc-

26. AndrewMotion, Keats (New York, 1998).


27. John StuartMill, Autobiography,in Autobiogtraphy
and Litetway,Essays, ed. J. Robson and J.
Stillman (Toronto,1981), 148.

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THE END OF ART:A PHILOSOPHICALDEFENSE 139

tures which supportedit were held no longer to be viable. As Carrierobserves,


this did not mean to the death-of-paintingtheoriststhat art, as such, had come to
an end. Douglas Crimp,28for example, thoughtthatpaintinghad now given way
to photography an example of the work of art in the age of mechanicalrepro-
duction, raising questions on the futureof museums, collections, and the like.
One limitation on Crimp's idea that photographywas to be the central art
form of the coming age is that photographywas but one disjunctin a vast dis-
junction of expressive possibilities into which art-makingexploded, with paint-
ing as anothersuch disjunct.This I have referredto as "artafter the end of art."
It was no partof my thesis that the history of painting stoppeddead in its tracks
after the ascent to consciousness took place in the 1960s. It is on the other hand
true that painting after the end of art had stopped being the mediumof art-his-
toricaldevelopmentthatit had been before. There was in consequencea breakin
history,and the adventof a new periodof art the one in which we find and shall
find ourselves. Painting was the medium of development in traditional art
because there could be progress in the pictorial representationof the world,
throughperspective,chiaroscuro,foreshortening,and the like. It was the medi-
um of progress undermodernismbecause its task was to determinethe essence
of painting, if Greenbergis right. There is an importanthistorical question of
why traditionalartgave way to modernism,but I do not know its answer.Perhaps
the challenge came from photographyand moving pictures.Perhapsit came from
a complex loss of culturalfaith in Westernvalues, as we find it in the views of
the Orientheld by GauguinandVanGogh. In my view, however,the end of mod-
ernismwas the end of artin the sense thatfrom within art'shistorythereemerged
at last the clearest statementof the philosophicalnatureof art. Like abstractart,
as Hess recognized, the problem had always been there, but nobody could have
known of its existence. Philosophicalimaginationis limited.What would it have
meant in the eighteenth century to speak of two things, one of which was
Gainsborough'sSaint James Mall and the othersomethingthatlookedjust like it
but was not a work of art at all? Not until art reacheda stage where it could put
the questionby exhibiting it did the properphilosophicalproblemof artbecome
visible. After deliveringover this immense gift to the philosophyof art,artcould
go no further.But once it had done this, the post-historicalartworldbecame rad-
ically open and no longer subject to the kind of narrativethe history of art had
until then showed.
We live at a moment when it is clear that art can be made of anything, and
where there is no markthroughwhich works of artcan be perceptuallydifferent
from the most ordinaryof objects. This is what the example of Brillo Box is
meant to show. The class of artworks is simply unlimited, as media can be
adjoinedto media, and art unconstrainedby anythingsave the laws of naturein
one direction,and moral laws on the other.When I say that this condition is the
end of art,I mean essentially that it is the end of the possibility of any particular
internaldirection for art to take. It is the end of the possibility of progressive

28. Douglas Crimp,On the Museum'sRuins (Cambridge,Mass., 1993).

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140 ARTHURC. DANTO

development.Thatmuch the theoryhas in common with the end-statesfearedby


Keats and by Mill. In my case, however,it means the end of the tyrannyof his-
tory thatin orderto achieve success as an artistone must drive art historyfor-
wvard,colonizing the futurenovelty by novelty.
How can I know this, Carrollasks. How can I know that there will not, out of
the whole rangeof artisticchoices, be one performance,say which gives rise
to an entirely new art history?The answer is that I cannot know this. Nor can I
imagine this, any more than a medieval artistcould have imagined the spectacu-
lar illusions the history of painting was to provide. One has, of course, to be
open the end of art theory means to be an empirical theory. But the future is
what we cannot imagine until it is present.

VII. POST HISTORYAND THE LIMITSOF IMAGINATION

Carrierbrings forwardthe concept of the narrativesentence, which I first pre-


sented in the pages of this journal nearly forty years ago.29He wonders whether
the use of such sentences is compatiblewith the end of art having been reached.
For narrativesentences make an appeal to the future,if only to the futureof the
events we describe, if not our own future. When the Museum of Modern Art
mounted a retrospectiveexhibition in 1950 of the paintings of Chaim Soutine
(who died in 1943), Monroe Wheeler asked if Soutine was an abstractexpres-
sionist?30If we say he was, then it is certainlynot something Soutine could have
said, since the concept of abstractexpressionismwas not to become currentuntil
afterhis death.And this is generallythe case with narrativesentences.They refer
to two time-separatedevents, describing the earlier with reference to the later,
which we can do without cognitive dissonance, though those who were contem-
porarywith the earliest of the two events cannot have done. Soutine could not
have said that he was or was not an abstractexpressionist, the idea not being
within his temporalrange.
It is no partof my claim thatthere will be no stories to tell afterthe end of art,
only that there will not be a single metanarrativefor the future history of art.
There will not in partbecause the previous metanarrativesexcluded so much in
orderto get themselves told. As Carrierobserves, Greenbergexcluded surrealism
from modernismsince he could not defend his version of modernismif he admit-
ted it. But and this returnsme to the discussion with Noel Carroll we can
exclude nothingtoday.This makes narrationimpossible.Withinartisticpractice,
artistswill influence artiststhey never heardof, since unborn.Art historianswill
always have stories to tell.
The epistemological dimension of narrativesentences is, as noted, that they
can be known by historiansof events but not, generally,by those contemporary
with the events. They cannot because the concepts requiredto know them are

29. Arthur C. Danto, "NarrativeSentences," in Historn and Theory 2 (1962), 146-179. Sub-
stantiallyreprintedin my Analytical Philosophy of Histoty (Cambridge,Eng., 1965).
30. MonroeWheeler,Soutine (New York, 1950), 50.

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THE END OF ART:A PHILOSOPHICALDEFENSE 141

often not available. Soutine could not have understoodthe question whetherhe
was an abstractexpressionist.We understandit enough to be able to give a qual-
ified answer.This is the kind of thing I had in mind in saying that the future is
(often) "unimaginable."Quite possibly, there was in Soutine's artistic environ-
ment enough materialto teach him the meaning of abstractexpressionism-if
only there could have been, like Dickens's Ghost of ChristmasFuture,a visitor
from our presentto his to explain the meaning. JakobSteinbrennerhas reserva-
tions about the limits of historicalimagination,thinkingthat we can account for
everythingalong those lines by appealingto the concept of the genius, as in the
philosophy of Kant. One cannot anticipatewhat the genius will do next. But in
my view it would be extremely awkward to suppose that everything we are
unable to imagine from a certainlocation in history will be somehow the prod-
uct of genius. Maybe the abstractexpressionistswere geniuses, maybe not. But
there was a lot Soutine could not have imagined, dying as he did in 1943, only
including the art of the future.Could he have imagined bubble-wrap?Modems?
Cloning?
In truth,I would like to be able to take advantageof Hilmer'sidea of re-intro-
ducing the concept of Spirit, as used by Hegel but ratheroutlawedby analytical
philosophy.3'I think perhaps Spirit might possess some of the attributesKant
restrictsto the genius, which would account for the constantgenerationof nov-
elty. What Spirit would be unable to do is to predict its own futureproduction.
But I am loath, approachingthe end of my responses, to embarkon the project
of analytical rehabilitationthe concept of Spirit requiresif we are to enjoy its
philosophicalbenefits.

VIII. INDISCERNIBLES

I need hardly emphasize the impact on my philosophy of art of Andy Warhol's


1964 Brillo Box, which for all relevant purposes was indiscernible from the
Brillo boxes of warehouses and storerooms.It encourages me to think that if I
could show in what way the two were distinct, I would have found what seemed
to me central to my philosophical undertaking to distinguish artworksfrom
what I called "merereal things."It has latterlybecome clear to me that the ordi-
nary Brillo carton is a poor example of the latter category, largely because it
exemplifies the same philosophical structuresthat Brillo Box itself does. It is
about something-Brillo, namely and it embodies its meaning.The difference
is only that it is commercial art, whereas Brillo Box is fine art.And at the least
that reveals what must have been a prejudice of mine when I began using the
example I was unwilling to consider commercialart as art. This is a prejudice
which has a distantancestryin the animus of Socrates againstthe Sophists, who
could make the betterlook the worse, or vice versa if they were paid a fee.

31. But see "The Realm of Spirit,"in my Connectionsto the World(Berkeley, 1997), section 40.

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142 ARTHURC. DANTO

In fact, the design of the Brillo cartons is exceedingly ingenious, as I have


explainedelsewhere.32It celebratesthe productit containsthrougha certainvisu-
al rhetoric,enlisting color, shape, and lettering. (It may even make the worse
soap-padslook betterthan their competitors!)Warhol'sBrillo Box does not cel-
ebrateBrillo. It celebrates a fragmentof daily life in the AmericanLebenswelt,
definedby whatWarholcalls "allthe greatmodem things,"33 which would doubt-
less include the Brillo cartons and their contents. It might even say something
about art, which is excluded from that reality, though it looks just like it. Or, if
we may credit Warhol with a grasp of the history of aesthetics, it could have
shown thatfree and dependentart,to use Kant'sdistinction,cannotbe told apart,
having in principleall the same phenomenalproperties.34
It is, however,as free artthatart sharesa metaphysicalspace with philosophy:
the questions Warholraises are philosophical questions, whereas the Brillo box
as a piece of commercial art merely strives by rhetoricalmeans to make Brillo
preferableto other soap pads. Different as the indiscerniblesmay be phenome-
nally, they have differentmeanings which they embody correspondingly,and the
plain cardboardbox qualifiesas artin just the way Brillo Box does. One may take
this as a challenge to press for the thirdcondition in the definition.Or one might
seek a bettercandidateas an example of reality,and then go on to imagine a work
of artindiscerniblefrom it. This, however,is less easy thanit may seem. For any-
thing I choose to exemplify reality will differ from reality throughhaving the
property of exemplification it becomes a minimally representationalobject.
Bishop Berkeley argued that the hypothesis that there are mind-independent
things is incoherent,because the moment one tries to present an example, it is
ipso facto in the mind and not outside it.35And somethinglike this argumentmust
have served as a fulcrumfor Hegel to lift matterinto the realm of spirit,since we
cannot think away the way we think about it. (Q.E.D.)
Valuableas the exercise has been, my example failed to articulatethe differ-
ence between art and reality, since both the objects, however indiscernible,are
works of art already grantedthat they differ in ways other thanthose in which
commercial shipping cartons differ from one another(or Warhol'sdiffers from
the various other boxes artists were using at the time for [free] artistic purpos-
es Donald Judd,RichardArtschwager,Eva Hesse, and many others).

IX. IMITATION

FrankAnkersmithas discovered anothervexation for the example. He offers an


interpretationof Brillo Box that makes it a "materialillustration"of the theory
that art is imitation."Thefun would be,"Ankersmitwrites, "thatwith the Brillo

32. See my "Artand Meaning,"in ModernTheoriesof Art, ed. Noel Carroll,forthcomingfrom the
Universityof Wisconsin Press.
33. G. R. Swenson. "Whatis Pop Art?:Answers from 8 Painters,PartI, Art News 64 (November,
1963), 26.
34. See ImmanuelKant, Critiqueof Judgment,?16; and Hegel, Aesthetics, 11.
35. George Berkeley,Principles of HumanKnowledge,?23.

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THE END OF ART:A PHILOSOPHICALDEFENSE 143

box the history of art paradoxicallycomes to an end precisely where it began


threethousandyears ago."So much, if Ankersmitis right, for the theory that the
history of art is progressiveand developmental!The only philosophy of history
to which I would be entitled is that of a Vichian corso e ricorso-a 3000-year
cycle come full circle in 1964!
Ankersmitis correctin saying that since we cannotknow what Warholhad in
mind, we cannot rule out this interpretation,which plainly fits the facts: Brillo
Box really is an imitationof the Brillo boxes. It would need to have been an imi-
tation if Warhol'sulteriorpurpose had been to achieve "a playful parodyof the
Imitationtheory."It would be a self-conscious exemplar of an imitation in the
service of philosophicalparody.But it then has a kind of meaning imitationsin
their own right lack it would be about a theory of its relationshipto a thing,
ratherabout the thing it imitates. So it would not be merely, or entirely,an imi-
tation.It would exemplify partof its meaning thathere is an example of an imi-
tation without imitating that part of its meaning. So Ankersmit's marvelous
counterexampletakes its place as among the foundationson which the philoso-
phy of artrests. Imitationdoes not explain why Brillo Box is art.It only explains
the kind of artBrillo Box is, in which imitationis a means.

X. CONCLUSION

The papers I have responded to here are wonderfully rich, each packed with
interestingideas I would love to have gone into further,which, though they bear
on the ostensible topic of the colloquium, namely the philosophy of Arthur
Danto, do not especially bear on what everyone was anxious to talk about the
philosophyof arthistoryand the end of art.I am certainthatmy resourcefulcrit-
ics will find ways of respondingto the responses.If so, that would mean that this
symposium in History and Theoryprotractsthe spirit of the Bielefeld colloqui-
um by continuingratherthan closing off discussion!

New YorkCity

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