….In February 1913, Malevich assured Matiushin that “the only meaningful direction for painting was Cubo-Futurism.” In 1922 the Dadaists celebrated the end of all art except the Maschine-kunst of Tatlin, and that same year the artists of Moscow declared that easel painting as such, abstract or figurative, belonged to an historically superceded society. “True art like true life takes a single road,” Piet Mondrian wrote in 1937. Mondrian saw himself as on that road in life as in art, in life because in art. And he believed that other artists were leading false lives if the art they made was on a false path. Clement Greenberg, in an essay he characterized as “an historical apology for abstract art” – “Toward a Newer Laocoön” – insisted that “the imperative [to make abstract art] comes from history” and that the artist is held “in a vise from which at the present moment he can escape only by surrendering his ambition and returning to a stale past.” In 1940, when this was published, the only “true road” for art was abstraction. This was true even for modernists who, though modernist, were not fully abstractionists: “So inexorable was the logic of the development that in the end their work constituted but another step towards abstract art….”
To claim that art has come to an end means that criticism of this sort is no longer licit. No art is any longer historically mandated as against any other art. Nothing is more true as art than anything else, nothing especially more historically false than anything else. So at the very least the belief that art has come to an end entails the kind of critic one cannot be, if one is going to be a critic at all: there can now be no historically mandated form of art, everything else falling outside the pale….
- Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art, pp. 27-28
Contemporary art… has no brief against the art of the past, no sense that the past is something from which liberation must be won, no sense even that it is at all different as art from modern art generally. It is part of what defines contemporary art that the art of the past is available for such use as artists care to give it. What is not available to them is the spirit in which the art was made. [Emphasis added in both cases.]
- ibid., p. 5
Arthur Danto is an excellent philosopher of art whose work has sometimes inspired me creatively. What he means by “the end of art,” I should clarify, which event he dates roughly to the 1970s, is not the cessation of meaningful artistic creation, but the end of a monolithic cultural conception of art that grew in the early 15th century. And I take pleasure in reiterating his most concise conclusion: No art is any longer historically mandated as against any other art. “There can now be no historically mandated form of art.” Not everyone knows it yet – but we have indeed turned a corner.