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Autonomy and Anti-Art: Adorno’s Concept of Avant-Garde Art

Stewart Martin

§ 1 Importante
“In other words, his conception of the autonomy of avant-garde art is that it emerges
through this crisis”
“At this point the dialectical constitution of autonomy and anti-art reveals its
historical significance. Anti-art is the anti-traditional form which art must
necessarily risk if its autonomy is not do depend merely upon the authority of
“ (…) Thus, if anti-art can be seen as integral to the formation of art’s autonomy, then
the rejection of art’s autonomy present in recent art no longer speak of an indifference
to art’s autonomy, but rather can emerge as forms of the necessary negation of
what has previously been autonomous in the attempt to constitute autonomy
anew without the authority of tradition”

p. 199
The Concept of Anti-art
“Despite the apparently abstract negativity of the term “anti-art”, its claim can be
seen to involve various determinations according to what is primarily takes itself to be
negating of affirming (…). Schematically, I would like to suggest three main forms
that, despite their interrelation, are nonetheless distinguishable and that appear to be
paradigmatic for the meaning of the concept, including how it was received by
Adorno: 1. Anti-art as the affirmation of non-art; 2. Anti-art as politics; 3. Anti-art as

1. Anti-art as the Affirmation of Non-art

“The classic form of this negation is Dada and the affirmation of life, and perhaps, in
a minor form, Russian Constructivism and the affirmation of an industrializes
aesthetic. These might be said to be combined in the contemporary form of the
affirmation of the everyday and popular culture”.

3. Anti-art as anti-tradition
- “ (…) Conversely, in stressing (sublinhar, insistir, acentuar; recalcar) the finitude of
the claim to anti-art, anti-tradition as self-negation begins to emerge as an ongoing
(contínuo) task: a form of anti-traditionalism. This might be identified as a defunct
modernism by the types of postmodernism indicated above, although the continuing
obligation to the new, even as a raw (bruto) function of the market, remains a feature
of the contemporary art world which sustains something of this anti-traditionalism”.
- “Before turning to Adorno’s account of anti-art, it is revealing to consider how de
concept of anti-art is developed in relation to Peter Bürger influential account of the
avant-garde, which is also a direct critique of Adorno. For Bürger’s Theory of the
Avant-Garde, the anti-artistic rejection of art’s autonomy by the early twentieth-
century avant-garde movements is the occasion of an historical rupture. Whith
their revolutionary principle of the dissolution of art into life, these movements
(particularity Futurism, Dada and Surrealism) reveal the limits of nineteenth-century
aestheticism as institutionalized autonomy (…). Although subsequent art movements
may attempt to renew the anti-art claims of these historical avant-garde movements,
for Bürger they do so only in light of the failure (fracasso) of the historical avant-
garde to realize its revolutionary principle, which is itself signaled (anunciar por sinal)
by the extent which its products have subsequently become autonomous artworks
within the institution of art. These subsequent movements are therefore distinguished
as the “neo-avant-garde” by Bürger.
- “For Bürger, Adorno’s account of the avant-garde does not recognize this distinction
and displays (mostra, expõe) a conflation (uma confluência) of the “historical avant-
garde” with the subsequent, qualitatively distinct historical condition of the “neo-
avant-garde”. He claims that Adorno does not recognize how the “historical
avant-garde” transforms the concept of the artwork – from the Romantic
paradigm of an organic totality, to the historical paradigm of a fragment from
life – and that he generalizes the concept of the new as a persistent feature of the
continuing history of the avant-garde, rather than recognizing the historical distinction
between the newness of opening a horizon beyond aestheticism, and de novelty
(novidade) of subsequent avant-garde innovations.
- “ (…) although what he takes as conflation and generalization is for Adorno
constitutive of the historical condition of the avant-garde. Thus, Adorno does
indeed recognize the historical transformation that the early twentieth-century
avant-garde movements instigate. However for him this produces a mutual
transformation of art’s autonomy and the claim of art’s autonomy and the claim of
anti-art, which now becomes constitutive of the historical temporality of avant-garde
art. Thus, whereas for Bürger the history of avant-garde is chronologically split
between its origination and its subsequent manifestations, which are mere echoes
of the original impulse, for Adorno the avant-garde is constituted by the quality
of its historical temporality, which is produced by an anti-traditionalism that
must be persistent in order for that quality of newness to remain.”
- “While for Bürger’s account tends to reduce subsequent avant-garde strategies to
repetition of an unfulfilled (não-realizado) origin or opening, conversely, once the
avant-garde is regarded as constitutively and persistently anti-traditional, as is the
case of for Adorno, then chronologically subsequent movements can be seen to be
qualitatively equivalent.
p. 202
- “However, if Adorno’s historiography of the avant-garde gives greater
legitimacy to the persistence of the avant-garde and its claim to anti-art, this is
only rendered coherent within the paradigm of art’s autonomy. If anti-art is a
transgression that art’s autonomy must undergo (sofrer, suportar, vivenciar) in
order to constitute its possibility, anti-art remains reconstitutive of art’s

p. 202
Anti-art in Aesthetic Theory
- “(…) It is due to the proximity of a “message” in the artwork and instrumental
communication that Adorno considers committed art or anti-art as politics, as
destroying that which is most critical in the artwork. However, despite Adorno’s
fundamental opposition to the dissolution of autonomy, he is equally opposed to
autonomy becoming compensatory or concealing and therefore a parody of the critical
claims that can be made for it. It is in recognition of this that he integrates anti-art into
the constitution of art’s autonomy.
p. 203
- “For Adorno, autonomous art’s integration of anti-art is a qualitative transformation
of the idea of art, which takes place in response to the crisis that autonomous art faces
(encarar) as it finally disengages (desobrigar, desligar) from its theological heritage
(???), a disengagement which initially constitutes art’s autonomy (…). Anti-arts
rejection of art’s autonomy as compensatory ideology hereby becomes legitimate.
Note 11) “As a result of its inevitable withdrawal (retirada) from theology, from the
unqualified claim to the truth of salvation, a secularization without which art would
never have developed, art is condemned to provide the world as it exists with a
consolation that – shorn (despido) of any hope of a world beyond – strengthens
(reforça) the spell of that from which the autonomy of art wants to be free…In face of
the abnormity into which reality is developing, art’s inescapably affirmative essence
has become insufferable (insuperável). Art must turn against itself, in opposition to
its own concept, and thus become uncertain of itself right into innermost fiber”.
Aesthetic Theory, 2.
- “Thus, anti-art – whose own qualitative transformation from a purely external
rejection of art is registered at one point terminologically by Adorno as ‘the aesthetic
conception of anti-art’ – becomes a crucial feature of art’s critical relation to the
- Citação: “If all art is the secularization of transcendence, it participates in the
dialectic of enlightenment. Art has confronted this dialectic with the aesthetic
conception of anti-art; indeed, without this element art is no longer thinkable. This
implies nothing less than art must go beyond its own concept in order to remain
faithful to that concept”. Aesthetic Theory, 29.
p. 204
- “This anti-traditionalism tends to generate the appearance of a rather dogmatic or
perhaps pessimistic linearity. Note 15) The problem of a ‘Post-modern’ Art”, in The
problems of Modernity: Adorno and Benjamin.