After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History

Arthur Coleman Danto, Author Princeton University Press $42.5 (264p) ISBN 978-0-691-01173-8
Columbia philosophy professor and Nation art critic Danto has always claimed that there have been three great events in the history of art. First, in the 15th century, art was born when Vasari redescribed what had been the craft of relic- and icon-making as a quest for more and more perfect representations of beauty. Then, in the 1880s, art was reborn: purity, ""truth to materials,"" replaced illusionistic beauty as the progressive artist's Holy Grail. Finally, in 1964, the quest ended with Warhol's Brillo Box, a work that challenged--and existed to challenge--the distinction between art and nonart. Without any single ideal to drive it, art (as it had been known since the Renaissance) died. In these lively essays, written on the occasion of the 1995 A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, Danto expands on his customary thesis with chapters on (among other subjects) the criticism of Clement Greenberg, the history of monochrome painting and the future of the museum. Although, in all these inquiries, Danto takes Hegel for his master, the book's most repeated sentence belongs to Dostoevsky: ""Everything is permitted."" In context, the tag (like the book's title) sounds a little overblown. Danto makes a convincing case in each essay that not everything is permitted: even without any myth of historical inevitability, the ""pressures on artists constantly to come up with something new"" keep producing art that is smarter or sillier, more or less relevant than other art. As a consequence, the need for critical works such as this one--learned, discerning and refreshingly open-minded--is perhaps greater than ever. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/04/1996
Release date: 11/01/1996
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