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Danto and His Critics: After the End of Art and Art History Author(s): David Carrier 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. 1-16 Published by: Blackwell Publishing for Wesleyan University Stable URL:

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In Bielefeld, Germanyin April, 1997 an authorconference was devoted to ArthurC. Danto's 1995 Mellon LecturesAfter the End of Art: ContemporaryArt and the Pale of History(Princeton,1997).This essay providesan introductionto seven essays given atthat conferenceandexpandedfor thisThemeIssueof Historyand Theory.Dantopresentedhis view of the natureof art in The Transfigurationof the Commonplace(1981). He then

addedin the Mellon lecturesa sociological perspectiveon the currentsituationof the visu- al arts,and an Hegelian historiography.The historyof arthas ended, Danto claims, and we now live in a posthistoricalera. Since in his well-known book on historiography,

unsympatheticto Hegel's speculative

ways of thinkingabouthistory,his adaptationof this Hegelian frameworkis surprising. Danto's strategyin After the End of Art is best understoodby graspingthe way in which he transformedthe purelyphilosophicalaccountof The Transfigurationinto a historical account.Recognizing thathis philosophicalanalysis provideda good way of explaining the developmentof artin the modem period, Danto radicallychangedthe context of his argument.In this process,he openedup discussionof some seriousbutas yet unanswered questionsabouthis originalthesis, andaboutthe plausibilityof Hegel's claim thatthe his- tory of arthas ended.

AnalyticalPhilosophy of History (1965), Danto is


towardsfutureart was optimistic, not pessimistic has no end but will evolve foreverwith time.

did not declarethatmodernarthadendedor would disintegrate

his attitude


Accordingto his dialectic

Arthur C. Danto's 1995 Mellon Lectures After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (Princeton, 1997), bringing together the concerns of aes- theticians, art critics, and historiographers, offer a very rich perspective on recent American painting and sculpture, and their history. In its original context, this text might be described as a reply, certainly critical but at bottom oddly sympa- thetic, to the 1956 Mellon lectures of Ernst H. Gombrich published in 1961 as

Art and Illusion. Gombrichtracesthe historyof naturalisticart,offering a theo- ry explainingwhy this figurativetraditionhas a history;and in the conclusion, turningaway from representationto expression, he suggests why this tradition

1. ZhuLiyuan,"Hegelandthe 'Disintegrationof Art',"ContemporaryChineseAesthetics,ed. Zhu LiyuanandGene Blocker (New York, 1995), 303-305.



probablyhas come to an end. Like Gombrich'sArt and Illusion, Danto'sAfter theEndofArt is anexercisein historiography;butwhereGombrichdescribesthe origin and seeming conclusion of a particularlyEuropeantradition,Danto aims to offera universalaccount-he describestheessentialnatureof art,artas it must be at any time in any culture. Andyet, so immensearethe differencesbetweenArtandIllusionandAfterthe End of Art that these books seem to come from differentintellectual worlds. AlthoughGombrichmentions some modernistartists,and drawsupon contem- porarypsychology of perception,his basic intellectualframeworkis highly tra- ditional. John Ruskin would have understoodArt and Illusion's discussion of landscape painting-it builds upon his treatise, Modern Painters-though he would havepreferredthatsuch a historybe focused on Turner,not on Constable, as Gombrichchooses; and Vasarishared, and so would readily have grasped, Gombrich'sessential idea thatthe historyof artis markedby progressin natu- ralism. Gombrichhas very little to say about twentieth-centuryart. Danto, by contrast,is concernednot just with modernism,mentionedin a dismissive way by Gombrich,but with Andy Warholand his successors, the figures in what Dantocalls ourposthistoricalera.Thatthe argumentof AftertheEndofArtcould be presenteda mere thirty-nineyears afterArt and Illusion shows how quickly andhow farour visual culturehas moved. Afterthe End of Art offers a theoryof the natureof art;discusses some of the moreimportantrecentartisticmovements;andlinks Danto'saesthetictheorizing to his earlierworkin historiography.It is this last concern,of course,which is of special interesthere. In Bielefeld, Germanyin April, 1997 an authorconference was devotedto Afterthe End of Art;therediscussion focused close attentionon diversereadingsof Danto'swork,with repliesby him andfull discussion by the participants.I thoughtit desirableto memorializethis very agreeableoccasion in print,and so solicited papersfrom all participantsfor Historyand Theory.2The sevenessays publishedhereareonly a selectionof the workpresentedatthe con- ference-but a rich selection.3My sense of how to deal with these issues has been very much influencedby all the papersI heard,not only those published here,andby the discussionsin Bielefeld, which continuedlong intothe evenings. WehavehereNoel Carroll's"TheEndof Art?,"MichaelKelly's "Essentialism and Historicism in Danto's Philosophy of Art,"FrankAnkersmit's"Dantoon Representation,Identity,andIndiscernibles,"BrigitteHilmer's"Being Hegelian afterDanto,"RobertKudielka's"Accordingto What:Art andthe Philosophyof the 'End of Art',"MartinSeel's "Artas Appearance:Two Commentson Arthur C. Danto'sAfterthe Endof Art,"and JakobSteinbrenner's"TheUnimaginable."

2. Apartfrom the authorswhose writing is presentedhere, the participantsincludedThierryde

Duve, Boris Groys, Gregg M. Horowitz,KarlheinzLfideking,BernhardLyp, HansJuliusSchneider,

Oliver R. Scholz, GuntherSeubold, ChristianSteiner,and WolfgangWelsch. This introductionbor- rows ideas from an as yet unpublishedmanuscriptby JonathanGilmore.

also The

End of Art and Beyond:Essays after Danto, ed. Arto Haapala,JerroldLevinson,andVeikkoRantala

(AtlanticHighlands,N.J., 1997).

3. Danto's work on the historiographyof arthistoryhas been much writtenabout-see



Building upon their oral presentationsin Bielefeld, now writing independently

fromone another,they offer a rich arrayof perspectives,admirablein theirclar- ity andwide-rangingargumentation,on Danto's concerns.My aim in this intro- ductionis to place Danto's workin a largerframework-in the contextof recent discussionsof Americanartcritics;in relationto his broaderphilosophicalargu- ments;and,most especially, in relationshipto debateswithinhistoriography. If we thinkof the academicdiscipline of "arthistory"as a special branchof

history,thatdivision of historyconcernedwith a particularkind of

fact, then it may appearsurprisingthat arthistoriansinterestedin methodology have not devotedseriousattentionto historiography.4Whenin the recentpast art

historianshave taken a new seemed obvious for them to

Theoryhave to say abouthistoricalexplanation.But althoughArthurC. Danto and ErnstGombrichhave long been on the EditorialBoard, few contributions devotedspecificallyto art-historicalissues have appearedin Historyand Theory. Nor,to the best of my knowledge,have arthistorianspublishingelsewheretaken muchinterestin historiography.This is unfortunate,for one lesson Afterthe End ofArt teachesis thatthe concernsof Historyand Theoryareatpresenthighlyrel- evantto arthistory. Priorto the Mellon lectures,Danto's own well-developedinterestsin histori- ographyand aestheticsseem quite distinctconcerns;an accountof the argument of his TheTransfigurationof the Commonplace(1981) would not need to appeal to the much-discussedclaims of his Analytical Philosophy of History (1965).5 The Transfigurationis centrally concerned with defining art and showing the consequences of Danto's definition for the practice of interpretation.Arguing against the traditionalaccounts defining art as representationor as a form of expression, Danto claims that Warhol'sBrillo Box (1964), a sculptureindis- cerniblefromits equivalentin the grocery,is an artworkbecauseit exemplifiesa theoryof what artis. AnalyticalPhilosophyof History, arguingagainstCarlG. Hempel's claim that historical explanationsimplicitly appeal to general laws, shows thathistoricalchange is best understoodby identifyingthe role of narra- tives in historians'writings. In these two books, Danto is dealing with quite diverse subjects; although these volumes share an intellectual style with his books on the theoryof action, epistemology,andNietzsche, thereis no particu- lar reasonto connect his claims aboutthe natureof artwith his view of histori- cal explanation. The approachof these books is surprisinglyhardto place in relationto the broad divisions in this country between analyticaland continentalphilosophy. Danto has always identifiedhimself as an analyticalphilosopher,buthe also has played a distinguishedrole in championingNietzsche andJean-PaulSartre,con-


interest in questions about theory, it might have look across to learn what writers in History and

4. On the relationof historyto arthistorysee my "ArtHistory,"ContemporaryCritical Termsin

ArtHistory,ed. R. Nelson andR. Shiff (Chicago, 1996), 129-141.

5. A discussionof Danto'ssystem appearsin my "Dantoas SystematicPhilosopher,or;comme on

lit Danto en franqais," in ArthurDanto and His

Critics,ed. M. Rollins (Oxford, 1993),13-27.



tinentalfigureshe frequentlyidentifiesas his key intellectualinfluences.Danto's rejectionof positivism and his focus on the role of narratives,amplifiedby the additionto the 1985 edition of AnalyticalPhilosophyof History-the book was

republishedas Narration and

essays in 1985-might seem to link his concerns with those of HaydenWhite and the many French scholars interestedin narratology.But unlike White and most narratologists,FrenchorAmerican,Danto was nevertemptedby any form of relativism;his view, rather,is thatanalyticalphilosophersshouldextendtheir basic ways of thinking,using theirwell establishedmethodologies,from propo- sitions to largernarrativeunits. Analytical philosopherstend to think that lan- guage can transparentlydescribethe structuresof the world;narratologists,that any hardand fast distinctionbetween the featuresof the world in itself and the textsused to representthatworldis problematic.Dantohasno sympathywith the narratologists,or with the deconstructionistswho frequentlyare their allies. He has consistentlyrejectedthe suggestionthatthe end of arthistoryas he identifies it is merelythe end of one narrative,not the end of this actualsequenceof events in the world'shistory.AftertheEndofArt describesthe natureof art,notjust one way of telling art'shistory. AnalyticalPhilosophyof HistorymentionsHegel only a few times in passing, observingthatthereis some limited analogy between Danto's accountof narra- tive and "the alleged dialectical patternwhich Hegel famously contended is exhibited everywhere throughouthistory."6Noting this "certainresemblance" betweenHegel's thesis/antithesis/synthesisandhis narrativestructurewhich also involves three stages-beginning/middle/end-Danto says that "it is difficult to know how far this analogy could be pressed, and I shall not attemptto elaborateupon it here."It is unsurprisingthathe did not pursuethis analogy,for it would be hardto find much point of contactbetween his analyticalconcerns and Hegel's dialectic. Insofaras Danto's goal was to propose an alternativeto Hempel'sanalysis,discussionof Hegel's historiographywould havebeen entire- ly irrelevant.Indeed,Dantosuggests thatso-called speculativephilosophyof his- tory exemplifiedby ThePhenomenologyof Spiritis cognitively illegitimate. The style of argumentof The Transfigurationalso falls within the world of analyticalphilosophy. One of its targetsis the denial, influentiallyderived by analyticalphilosophersof artfromLudwigWittgenstein'slaterwork,thatartcan

be defined.Danto aims to identify the essence of art,to give necessaryand suf- ficientconditionsfor somethingto be an artwork.Tounderstanda thing,philoso- phers always have argued,we need to know its defining qualities. Merely by looking at an objectlike Brillo Box, Dantoallows, we cannotdetermineits iden- tity as artwork;but with properknowledge of its history-and thatincludes for him referenceto the artist'sintentions-interpretationis entirely unambiguous. So, to take one of his best-known thought experiments,although Giorgione's unfinishedhistorypaintingTheDrowningof the Egyptiansin the Red Sea and a

Knowledge, with the addition of several newer




minimalistpaintingcalled redsquarewould appearvisually indistinguishable- bothof themaresolid fields of red-they will be seen to be quitedistinctobjects once theirhistoriesareunderstood.7This examplepermitsus to understandsome of Danto'sreasonsfor rejectingthe deconstructionists'view thatinterpretationis anopen-endedprocess.8The self-sameobject,a redsquare,has anidentitywhich depends upon how it is put into context.9By itself, the painting red square is visually indistinguishablefrom TheDrowningof the Egyptiansin the Red Sea. The deconstructionists'argumentsin favorof openness of interpretationtend to appealto the idea thatthis contextcan be establishedin an indefinitenumberof ways; Danto argues,rather,thatthe historyof such an objectdeterminesits con- text unambiguously. TheTransfigurationoffers a theoryof the identityof artworks,andAnalytical Philosophyof History a view of how to explain historicalevents. Whatbroadly links Danto's concernsin these books is his generalview of whatphilosophyis. Problemsin all domainsof philosophy,Danto argues,are definedby the identi- fication of what he calls indiscernibles-two perceptually indistinguishable things which can be told apart only with the aid of some theory. Thus, Descartes'sMeditationsarguesthatthereareno internalcriteriapermittingus to distinguishbetweendreamingandbeing awake;only anepistemologypermitsus to make that distinction. In the theory of action, ethics, and indeed in every branchof philosophy,we find-so Dantothinks-something like this distinction. This basic way of thinkingis totally ahistoricaland apolitical-as is typical of, andtraditionalwith, analyticalphilosophy. Descartesis a useful referencepointhere, for an older Marxisttraditionanda more recentstyle of feminist writingcriticize him for projectingonto the struc- ture of things as they are a merely parochialworldview,that of a seventeenth- century Latin-speaking Frenchman. Descartes's style of argument, some Marxistsandfeminists have claimed, is not andcannotbe universal;universali- ty requiresimpartiality,and as IrisYoungwrites:

Impartialitynames a point of view of reason that stands apartfrom any interests and desires. Not to be partialmeans being able to see the whole, how all the particularper- spectives and interests in a given moral situationrelate to one anotherin a way that, because of its partiality,each perspectivecannot see itself. The impartialmoralreasoner

thus standsoutside of and above the situationaboutwhich he or she reasons


But, asYounggoes on to argue,all pointsof view arenecessarilyperspectivaland are thus inherentlyconnected to some viewpoint and its constitutiveinterests. This argumentdraws heavily on Nietzsche's perspectivism,and it thus has to seem interestingthat although Danto's early book on Nietzsche has played a seminal role in opening up Americanphilosophers'discussions of that writer,

7. ArthurC. Danto, The Transfigurationof the Commonplace:A Philosophy of Art (Cambridge,

Mass., 1981), 1-2.

8. I arguefor this claim in my "Derridaas Philosopher,"Metaphilosophy16 (1985),221-234.

9. See my Artwriting(Amherst,Mass., 1987), Overture.

10. "Impartialityand the Civic Public,"Feminismas Critique,ed. Seyla Benhabiband Drucilla

Cornell(Minneapolis,1987), 60.



Danto himself has nevertakenseriouslythe claim thatimpartialityis an impos- sibility. Set in the contextof Danto's philosophicaldevelopment,what then is

prising about After the End of Art is the appearancein it of an essentially Hegelian view of art's history. Danto's claim in The Transfigurationwas that purelylogical analysiscould revealthe natureof art;andso it was not unexpect- ed thatAndy Warholand Hegel each make but one cameo appearancein that book.1'Brillo Box, like Danto's various imaginaryexamples-a forged tie by Picasso, the red monochromaticpaintingmentionedearlier,and Borges's cele-

bratedexample (a perfect copy of a portionof Don Quixote) presentedin his shortstory,"PierreMenard,SymbolistPoet"-merely illustratethatgeneralthe- ory.Danto'stheoryof artcould havebeen generatedat anytime by anyonecapa- ble of creating these thought experiments; that theory-like the Cartesian


tratingthe general natureof philosophicalthinking-is timelessly true. Unlike Hegel, analyticalphilosophersdo not thinkin historicistterms. Whathappened,then,between TheTransfigurationandAftertheEndofArt so thatin the laterbook Hegel andWarholbecome centralfigures?Observingthat "I am likely today to take a more charitableview of substantialphilosophiesof historythanI would have done in 1965, when my book was writtenin the late stages of high positivism,"Dantorejectshis earlierclaim thatsuch philosophies of historyas Hegel's are in principleillegitimate.'2Now he takes very seriously indeed some remarkswhich when presented in 1981 in The Transfiguration

seemed of but marginalsignificance: "Not everythingis possible at every time

. certainartworkssimplycould not be insertedas artworksinto certainperiods

of arthistory,thoughit is possible thatobjects identicalto artworkscould have been made at thatperiod."'3Only in retrospect,in light of the sustainedattention

given to Hegel and Warholin After the End of Art, does this remarkseem so important.(The phrase,"noteverythingis possible at every time"alludesto the historicistaccountof HeinrichW6lfflin, whose views are taken up in After the End.) Set side by side, The TransfigurationandAfterthe End of Art thus are books which illustrateDanto's view of indiscernibles.The same argumentabout the natureof art appearsquite differentwhen set in a new context. In moving his argumentfrom a frameworkgiven by analyticalphilosophy to the perspective providedby anHegelianhistoriography,Dantoinevitablychangeshow thatargu- ment will be understood.What seems to have happened-this reconstructionof Danto'schangeof mindat leastis consistentwithboththe obvioushistoricalevi- dence and the accounthe presentsin Afterthe End of Art-was thathe realized

so sur-

epistemology or any of the other examples cited by Danto as illus-

11. Moreexactly,in TheTransfigurationWarhol'sBrillo Box is mentionedas an exampleon p. 44;

and accordingto the index, "Hegel"appearson p. 86-but

mentionedon thatpage.

12. Afterthe End, 43.

thatis a minorerror,for his name is not



Hegel's historicismwas consistentwith bothhis own view of historiographyand his generalinclinationsas an analyticalphilosopherunderone special condition:

the end of art'shistoryhad alreadyoccurred. Moreexactly,the developmentof Danto'saestheticswas a three-stageprocess. In 1964, inspiredby anexhibitionof Brillo Box, he published"TheArtworld,"an essay whose concernswere not immediatelytakenup by him; his aim then was to explainhow such a banalobjectcould be an artwork,a startlingexperiencefor an aesthetician.14When seventeenyearslaterhe finishedTheTransfiguration,he used thatexampleto generatea generalaesthetictheory,saying little in thatbook specificallyaboutWarhol.Finally,afterthe 1980s-when he became an artcrit- ic-Danto repositionedhis philosophicalanalysis, now refocusing attentionon his startingpoint, the experiencein 1964 of Warhol'sart. Whatreallyhappened,I surmise,to transformthe ahistoricalanalyticalanaly- sis of TheTransfigurationinto the quasi-Hegelianaccountof Afterthe EndofArt was thatDanto'swritingin the 1980s as an artcriticled him to recognizethathis abstractphilosophicalaccountprovideda good explanationof whata greatmany people were then saying, thatthe historyof arthad ended.What was originally presentedby Danto as a timelessly trueanalysisbecame transformedinto a his- torical analysis of the 1980s; in this way it became clear that this theory had implicationswhich in 1981 neitherDanto nor anyone else grasped.The differ- ence in tone between The TransfigurationandAfter the End of Art is immense. The former book deals with recognizably traditionalaesthetic questions-the natureof art,its relationto philosophy,the analysis of metaphor;the later vol- ume treatsa varietyof concernsof the workingartcritic-issues aboutthe nature of the museum,the statusof ClementGreenberg'sartcriticism, and the evalua- tion of particularart movements-not yet much discussed by aestheticians. Nothing in Danto's basic theory has changed, but now the implicationsof that accountare understoodin a new way, which now permitshim to link his analy- sis of aestheticissues to concernsin historiography. WhatWarhol'sBrillo Box shows, Danto argues,is thatthe history of arthas ended. No one else interpretedWarhol'sachievementin this way. One Marxist traditionpraisedWarholfor criticizing commodificationin bourgeois culture; some admirersof the AbstractExpressionists,and many people who loved aes- theticallypleasing art,hatedhim; and, more recently,his role as a gay man has begun to be explored. One reason thatWarholhas become the most influential artistin the last half of the twentiethcenturyis that so many challenging per- spectives on his achievement are possible."5In this large literatureDanto's account stands alone, for no one else claimed that Warhol'sart advancedany philosophicalthesis. As Danto himself notes, Warholwas not a bookish sort of person;no one else has identifiedhim as a philosopher-painter.

14. Journalof Philosophy61 (1964), 571-584. 15.A useful surveyof the literatureappearsin TheCriticalResponseto AndyWarhol,ed. Alan R. Pratt(Westport,Conn., 1997).



In Afterthe End of Art Danto (following in his independentway some earlier readersof Hegel) arguesthat art'shistory has ended, though historyin general continues.How odd thatClementGreenberg,a Marxist,had a Kantianaesthetic theory,while Danto,an anti-Marxist,constructeda neo-Hegelianaccount."6Both Greenbergand Danto use ideas grounded,ultimately,in Hegel, but to very dif- ferenteffect; this shows how trickyare connectionsbetween the historyof phi- losophy and the history of art-historical historiography.Recently Francis Fukuyamahas made fashionablethe idea that political history has essentially come to an end; but when at Bielefeld I presenteda paper "ErnstGombrich, ClementGreenberg,ArthurC. Danto:NarratologyandIts Politics"takingup that claim, Danto declinedto speculateone way or anotheraboutthe political impli- cations of his view of art history.The end of history,Fukuyamawrites, "will

meanthe end

descent of artisticactivity into the empty formalismof the traditionalJapanese arts.""7Fukuyama'send of historythusalso marksthe end of art'shistory;butthe converseneed not be the case. Nothing said in Danto's publishedwork (or our extensivediscussionsandpersonalcorrespondence)requiresthathe takeanypar- ticularview of this thesis aboutthe end of history as such. The special role he gives to Brillo Box is consistent with any numberof views of political history; indeed, since Danto's analysisis an ontological thesis, it is hardto see how this view of artcould have any equivalentin political theory.Whateverthe meritof Fukuyama's arguments, they give no reason to support (or deny) Danto's


Dantohas repeatedlyexpressedhis debtto Hegel's aesthetics.But since Hegel himself appearsto have thoughtboth that art'shistory and history as such had come to an end, in ways which areconnected,obviously he had a differentcon- ceptionfromDanto.Still Dantodoes in AftertheEndofArt andelsewhereappeal to the Hegelian idea of artcoming to self-consciousness in orderto explain the importanceof Warhol-"to my mind the nearestthing to a philosophicalgenius the historyof arthas produced."'9Thatmay seem to the artcritic an odd use of this Hegelian idea; as Danto himself notes in the full discussion of Clement Greenbergin Afterthe End of Art, Greenbergappealedto this Hegelianconcep- tion of self-consciousness to explain the origin of modernism,identifying with Manet'smodernisma momentin historywhich Dantolinks to Warhol.Fora his- toricistlike Hegel, who blursthe distinctionbetween how the world is and how

of all artthatcould be consideredsocially useful, andhence the

16. Danto once told me that in the 1950s, he discussed Marxismat ColumbiaUniversity,in lec-

turesthatattractedthe attentionof watchfulFBI agents seeking political subversives,who were soon boredwith his criticalphilosophicalanalysis.

17. TheEnd of Historyand the Last Man (New York,1992), 320.

18 Fukuyama'sgeneral view has real plausibility,even though many details of his account are oddly unconvincing.Whathas blockedseriousconsiderationof this issue is the tendencyof American

academicsto cling, still, to an obviously obsolete Marxistworldview;see my "ArtCriticismand the Death of Marxism,"Leonardo30 (1997), 241-245.

19. ArthurC. Danto, Encounters& Reflections:Art in the Historical Present (New York, 1990),




it appearsto be, identifyingsuch a momentof self-consciousnessis very impor- tant;for analyticalphilosophers,such historicalconcernscharacteristicallyseem less important.Afterall, since Descartesdiscoveredatone historicalmomentthat dreams were indiscerniblefrom waking life, and other philosophers at other moments identifiedthe indiscerniblesmarkingout the structuresof action and ethics, why should we give any privilegedrole to what Warholtaughtus about artin 1964? In any event, since Danto is a very lucid writer,andHegel famous- ly obscure,attemptingto explicateDantoby appealto Hegel seems an obvious- ly wrongheadedway of proceeding. The 1980s' accountsof the end of art'shistoryso often discussed in the New Yorkartworldrelied on no high-poweredtheorizing;they were responsesto the Zeitgeistof a prosperousera when a small groupof young artistswhose merits appearedhighly controversialwere heavilypromoted.Manypeople thenfelt that nothing especially new was happening. Everything that could be painted or sculptedhad appeared,it seemed to them;andso novel artwas buta recombina- tion of whathad come before. Sometimesthis thesis was presentedin a stronger form: nothing especially new could happenbecause everythinginterestinghad been done. This essentially intuitiveway of thinkingboth differs from Danto's analysis andyet could, I believe, be seen as giving it support.But here a briefly sketchedhistoricalperspectiveis necessaryto understandthe contextof Afterthe End of Art.

Before the era of AbstractExpressionism,there was little developed marketin American art. Once the triumphof Jackson Pollock and his contemporaries showed that majorart, work which museums everywherecompeted to collect, was being made in this country,then inevitablytherewas greatpressureto find

equallyinterestingartistsof the next generation.The pop artists,the minimalists, the feminists,the conceptualfiguresof the 1960s continuedto makeinternation- ally significantartin New York.The developmentof a sophisticatedsupportsys- tem-galleries, artjournals, museums of contemporaryart, critics, and collec-

art demanded,in turn,that highly significantartists

continueto appear.I recall at the opening of a youngerartist'sexhibitionin the late 1980s being shown an arthistorysurveytext discussingcontemporaryart,a

book in which appearedcolor reproductionsof paintingsfrom this man's previ- ous exhibition. This was what inevitably was happening when many people expected the traditionof ambitiousAmericanartto continue.Once Pollock and the otherAbstractExpressionistshad become canonical figures, and once their successorsfrom the 1960s, in turn,had this role in the museumsandthe history books, then it was naturalboth to enjoy the good fortuneof the Americanart world andto wonderhow long this situationcould continue.

A glance at the historyof modernFrenchartis suggestivehere.Jacques-Louis

tors-devoted to such new

David was succeeded by two very different,seemingly opposed figures,Ingres andDelacroix;they,in turnwere followed by Manet,the Impressionists,andthe post-Impressionists;and then by Picasso and Giacometti(Frenchmenby adop-



tion), Braqueand Matisse. But when we get to the 1950s, it becomes hardto point to any Frenchsuccessors to these masters.Ultimatelya traditiondepends upon a surprisinglyfew individuals-a group of industrioussecond-rateartists do not constitutea tradition.Once a serious traditiongets going, people tend to expect it to continue,butthis does not always happen. Once artistscould easily study in excellent reproductionsthe history of art everywhere,once contemporaryart of all cultureswas displayed in fully illus- tratedjournals,once therewere so very many artistsworkingin New York,then it was not absurdto think that everything significant might have been done. When, therefore,in the early 1980s, it was not obvious who were the successors to then-distinguishedfamous mid-careerfigures-Helen Frankenthaler,Robert Mangold, Dorothea Rockburne,Robert Ryman, and others who already had received a greatdeal of attention-then it was not absurdto worrythatperhaps the traditionof Americanart had been exhausted.Just as people enjoying the benefitsof a risingstockmarketareuneasilyawarethatsucheconomictrendsare cyclical, so anyonein the artworldwith an even modestly self-conscious histor- ical perspectivewould worryaboutwhetherimportantyoung artistswould con- tinue to appear.Some critics welcomed this expansionof the artmarket;others, criticalof the obvious ties between attentiongiven to such artistsandcommodi- ficationof artworks,were criticalof this whole process.This situationproduced odd bedfellows. Conservativeslike Hilton Kramerand his fellow critics at The New Criterion agreed with Rosalind E. Krauss and her leftist colleagues at Octoberaboutone thing:the 1980s were bad aesthetictimes, with muchgrossly overratedartbeing made.

A very striking critical perspective on this situation appears in Douglas

Crimp's influential essays, recently published as On the Museum's Ruins. "Duringthe 1960s, painting's terminalcondition finally seemed impossible to

ignore. The symptoms were everywhere

resistedeven painting'smost dazzling feats of illusionism-time-now became

the dimension in which artists staged their activities, as they video, andperformance."20

A large partof Crimp'sconcern is political-to continue to make paintings

when photographyhas changed the very natureof art is, he thinks, politically reactionary.Crimplinks this artmarketwith the conservativenationalpolitics of the 1980s. When the politically critical art he admiresis truly understood,he

argues,"theend of paintingwill have been finally acknowledged."2 Writingas an artcritic,I neveracceptedthese dourviews of the 1980s.22That much bad artwas being displayedand sold gave no reason,I thought,to believe

The dimension that had always

embraced film,

20. Withphotographsby Louise Lawler(Cambridge,Mass., 1993), 92-93, 105.

21. As Crimpandthe othercriticsthenassociatedwith Octobermustsurelyrecognizetoday,what-

evertheirintentions,theeffect of theircriticismwas to promoteartiststheyadmired,some of whom-

CindySherman,RichardSerra-benefited greatlyfromthe expandingartmarket.Such is the cunning of history.

22. A selectionof my criticismpublishedas TheAesthetein the City:ThePhilosophyand Practice

of AmericanAbstractPaintingin the 1980s (UniversityPark,Pa., 1994) includes some judgmentsI now question;butthe basic view of this periodremainsconvincing.




thatthe end of art'shistorywas at hand.But widespreadinterestin this plausi- ble-seemingpessimisticview helps explainwhy people in the artworldwerepre-

paredto give attentionto Danto's claims, and why he was able to transformthe strictly philosophical argumentsof The Transfigurationinto the very different formulationof After the End. The Transfigurationwould not have attractedany attentionoutside of the small world of academicaestheticssince artcritics and artistshave only a very little interestin the argumentationof academicaesthet- ics. The goal of The Transfigurationwas to show how, contraryto the view of variousfollowers of Wittgenstein,"art"could be definedand to demonstratethe consequencesof this definitionandtheway in which thistheoryof artfittedwith-

in Danto's broaderphilosophy.Only when-in

ings directednot just to philosophersbut also to an artworld audience-Danto turnedthe abstractanalysis of The Transfigurationinto the accountof art'spre- sent situationin Afterthe End did artcritics have reasonto look seriously at his work.Danto,it graduallybecameclear,was makingclaims aboutthe presentsit- uationof artthatdeservedattentionby everyonein the artworld.

As a numberof commentatorshavenoted,it has to seem odd thatAftertheEnd says so much aboutartcriticism,the museum, and the evaluationof recent art, andso little aboutwhatwould seem to be the centralphilosophicalissue, the def- inition of art.About this task,Afterthe End says:

TheTransfigurationof the Commonplace,in its effortto lay downa definition,hence chart

the essence of art,did little betterthancome up with conditions(i) and (ii) as necessary for somethinghavingthe statusof art.To be a workof artis to be (i) aboutsomethingand

his artcriticism and in his writ-

(ii) to embody its meaning

insufficientlyconvincedthatthey werejointly sufficient go next, and so ended the book.23

my book ekes out two conditions, and I was (and am)

But I did not know whereto

Insofaras all of the rest of Danto's analysis dependsupon the adequacyof this definition, it may seem surprisingthat he has not returnedto this point. This seeming omission may explain the oddly divided reception of After the End:

philosophers,respectfulof Danto's statusas a philosopher,but mostly ignorant

about the artworld, worry aboutthe details of

world, uninterestedin this philosophicalissue, focus on the sociological impli-

cations of Danto's analysis. Whatfor the purposesof Historyand Theorymattersaboutthis change in the presentationof Danto's ideas was the way that the concerns of historiography enteredhis writingson aesthetictheory.Danto's abstractclaim thatartworkscan be indiscernibles,visually identicalwith physical objects, becomes transformed into a historicaltheoryaboutwhathad happenedsince 1964 when Warholmade one such artwork,Brillo Box. This sculptureidentifiedexplicitly the problemof indiscernibles because it is perceptually indistinguishablefrom the ordinary Brillo box in the grocerystore,which is not an artwork.Whatdefinesan artwork, Warholthus demonstrated,is not a thing's mere visual properties.In the proper

this definition;people in the art

23. Afterthe End, 195.



setting,given suitabletheorizing,perhapsanykindof objectwhatsoevercould be an artwork.This meansthatthe modernistprojectis over,for thereis nothingleft that artistscan do to advance this project. Hence the history of art has ended becauseno longeris it possible to makenew sortsof artworks,andso we live in whatDanto, here borrowingfrom Hegel's aesthetics,thoughtof as a posthistor- ical era.Appeal to Hegel's vision of historythus permittedDanto to engage the concernsof arthistoriansas well as artistsand artcritics. InAfterthe End of ArtDantoobserveshow ironicalit was thathis earlyessay "TheArtworld"(1964) spawned a whole school of analysis, developed by the philosopherGeorgeDickie andhis followers, devotedto whatbecameknownas the InstitutionalTheory of Art. According to these theorists,what defined art dependeduponthe decisions madeby authoritieswithinthe artworld.This claim has nothingto do with Danto's views; he holds thatwhat defines artis not such conventions, but the metaphysical considerations developed in The Trans- figuration. Analogously, it now should be observed, what was ironical about the art world'sfascinationwith Danto's argumentsis thatthey have little to do with the strictlyphilosophicalmerits of his work. Danto's own view-this point he has explainedmany times-is thatthe end of art'shistorymeans, simply, thatsince artcan no longerdevelop,now all thingsarepossible. He is not assertingor sug- gesting that the marketin contemporaryart is over-extended,but neitheris he denying that. Nor does he advance any general view about the quality of con- temporaryart.His very generalanalysisdoes not, andcannot,offer any view on theseparochialconcerns.As Dantohas been atpainsto specify,his aestheticthe- ory is naturallyassociatedwith his generalview, a way of thinkingvery familiar withinanalyticalphilosophy,thatphilosophymerely shows us how the worldis, changingnothing in the world it interprets.His general aesthetictheory,Danto has observed,provides no clues aboutthe particularjudgmentshe makes as an artcritic.Sometimesin the arts,we speakof an endingwhen no trulysignificant new figuresemerge.Operascontinueto be composedin Italy,butthe traditionof Rossini, Donizetti andVerdiended with Puccini. But Danto's essential thesis is not of this sort; he is making a metaphysicalclaim, not a judgment about the qualityof recentart.Since an aesthetictheorymust be general,it is compatible withall kindsof art;a critic'sjudgmentsdeal with individualcases. And so, any- one who readsAfter the End of Art expecting thatit will be making substantial claims aboutsuch a parochialconcernas the situationof artin the 1980s is sim- ply confused. The slogan to which Danto's fine-tunedargumentationcan be reduced,"the historyof arthas ended,"has attractedmanymisunderstandings.It seems as if he is offeringa sociological thesis, a claim aboutthe meritsof contemporaryart;but reallyhe is not, for such an endingof art'shistoryis compatiblewith the appear- ance of excellent new artists;indeed, in his criticism,Danto has respondedpos- itively to many such figures.Often Danto suggests that the end of art'shistory maybe a good thingfor artists,in somethinglike theway thattheend of thecold-



war strugglesbetween communismand capitalismwas a good thing because it dramaticallylessened the danger of nuclear war, and made it easier to solve regionalconflicts,or like the end of historyas we have knownit in the arrivalof communism,which is for Marxthe genuinebeginningof authenticlabor. Well,if thatbe the end of art'shistory,thenthateventdoes nothaveverymuch effect on everydaylife in the art world. (The same could be said, presumably, aboutHegel's view of the end of art history,which seemingly was a historical prophecy compatible with ongoing interest in art.) The end of the Venetian RepublicmeantthatVenice ceased to be an independentstate;the site depicted by Canalettoand Guardicontinued to charm tourists,but that place now was incorporatedinto Italy.In this process, manylives did change.The end of such a political entity is unmistakable-disagreements arise, of course, in arguments aboutwhetherthatending was a good thing, and perhapsaboutwhethersuch a state could again come to exist, as when recently some NorthernItalianshave proposedthattheirregion secede from the rest of Italy.The end of Venice was a clearly defined historicalmoment. By contrast,the end of art's history is a bit harderto pick out. And yet, this rationalreconstructionof the situationdoes not explaineverything,for if this were the whole story,thenAftertheEndwould add nothingto TheTransfiguration. One obvious critical question is that Danto's approachto historiographyin Afterthe EndofArt is only in partHegelian.Unlike Hegel, Dantospeaksonly of art's history,not of history in general;and this presumablymeans that art can achieve self-consciousnesswithoutthe largerculturealso reachingthatendpoint. For Danto, speakingof self-consciousness in conjunctionwith Brillo Box is to say that Warholtaught us what kind of things artworksare, in the way that Descartesin his Meditationstaughtus whatkinds of thingsdreamsare,or other philosophers taught us the natureof action and knowledge. Art, actions, and knowledge always had theiridentities,the discoveryof which occurredat some particularhistoricalmoment.Here Danto's generalway of thinkingseems quite un-Hegelian. Danto,as we have seen, claims thatnow he is muchmoresympatheticto spec- ulative histories like Hegel's than he was when he published Analytical Philosophy of History. But why does he say that when in fact After the End

adopts a very limited Hegelianism?What in Analytical Philosophy of History worriedDanto about speculative histories was their claim to be able to write completenarrativesof thepast,a claim Dantothoughtinconsistentwith the basic natureof narrativeitself and the sentences characteristicof it. So, to use one of his strikingexamples, no one witnessing Petrarch'sascent of Mount Ventoux could have said, "Petrarchis opening the Renaissance,"for thatjudgmentcould

only be made at a laterdate.24"Whatwe don't know

the futurearegoing to say aboutus. If we did,we couldfalsifytheiraccounts In the Phenomenology,Hegel seems to be writingjust such a completehistoryof

is whatthe historiansof

24. AnalyticalPhilosophyof History,61, 108.



the present. He can do that because he believes that history has ended. Analogously, now that the history of art has ended, Danto thinks that we can write a complete historyof art-for he knows how the storyhas ended. When Braqueand Picasso were painting their cubist pictures,no one could have known that in the 1950s Clement Greenberg would write, "Pollock's 1946-1950 mannerreally took up Analytical Cubism from the point at which

they drewback from the utterabstract-

ness for which Analytical Cubism seemed headed."25But Danto thinks that no such limitationobtainsregardingWarhol'sBrillo Box. Warholcan have no suc- cessors whose artwill standin relationto Brillo Box the way thatPollock stands,

for Greenberg,in relationto AnalyticalCubism.We cannotimagine, for exam- ple, a critic writing of Elizabeth Margaret,whose first show opens in 2018:

"Liz's2018 mannerreally took up PopArtfromthe point at whichWarholleft it in 1964."No criticcan possibly makeany such claim, says Danto,for thereis no way thatwhatWarholdid canbe takenfurther.Warholhas gone beyondthe mod- ernistproject-he has answered,once andfor all, the questionaboutwhat artis. Having demonstratedthat there is nothing more that artistscan furtherdo, and hence thatthereis no futurepointin time in which artwill develop further,artis, in this sense, over. FormulatingDanto'sclaim in these termsraises realquestionsaboutthe plau- sibilityof his view thatart'shistoryhas ended.Supposethatwe takeas given, for the purposesof argument,Danto's ontological thesis-Warhol's Brillo Box, let us agree,definesonce andfor all the natureof (modern)art.Why thenshouldwe acceptthis as showingalso thatart'shistoryhasended?WhenDantowritesabout such artistshe admires as RobertMangold, Sean Scully, Cindy Sherman,and MarkTansey,he certainlydemonstrateshow they makeartwhich looks different from anythingmade earlier.Scully, for example, for all of his immense admira- tion for MarkRothko,makes paintingsthatappearquite different.Why confine art to the task of self-definition,to the quest to determinewhat art is? Even if Brillo Box definitelydemonstratesthe falsity of the modernistanalysis, it does

not follow

Picasso and Braquehad left it when

that in the futureart cannot undertakeyet now unknowablequests.

The attemptsto representthe world or express the artist'sfeelings were super- seded by the modernistquest for self-definition.Perhapsin the future art will identify othersuch goals, in ways we cannottoday predict.(This point is made by MichaelKelly in his essay in this volume.)And so, it would seem thataccept- ing Danto's ontological thesis is compatible with allowing that after Warhol artistscontinue to do new sorts of things. Perhapsthis difficultyarises because Danto's original ontological thesis, presentedin The Transfiguration,has now become confusedwith the sociological claims presentedin Afterthe End.At any rate, since Danto himself has not found my presentcriticalargumentat all per- suasive, obviously thereis somethingthatI (and some othercritics) fail, as yet, to understandabouthis aesthetictheory.

25. ClementGreenberg,Art and Culture:CriticalEssays (Boston, 1961), 218.



Danto also got from Hegel the idea thatthe end of arthistorymeans thatthe distinctionbetweenartandphilosophyhas collapsed;art,it seems, since at least the 1880s, has been implicitly philosophical,in ways highlightedby the 1960s conceptualartistswho, refusingto make objects deservingvisual attention,pre- sentedverbalmaterials,sometimesincludingphilosophicaltexts. No doubtthere is a philosophicaldimensionto Warhol'swork,as it is describedby Danto,butit is hardto see why acknowledgingthis fact collapses the distinctionbetween art and philosophy.Brillo Box (1964) was an artifactdisplayed in a gallery, "The Artworld"(1964) a textpublishedin TheJournalof Philosophy:they aredistinct sortsof entities.CouldDanto'sessay become an artwork,orWarhol'sartworkan essay in philosophy?Therehave been conceptualartistswho displayedphiloso- phy books, turningthem into art;and there was in the 1970s one artist,Bruce Boice, who wrote about philosophicalaesthetics.When I attemptedto interest the then-editorof Artforumin my writings,I was told thatBoice was thatjour- nal's ideal of an artist-philosopher.But none of these cases gives any reasonto thinkthatartnow is, or is tendingto become, a branchof philosophy. Earlier I distinguished between the strictly philosophical thesis about the essence of artdevelopedin TheTransfiguration,and the sociological use of that analysis in After the End, which employs Hegel's historiography.Some of the problemsI have discussed seem to arise because it is a little difficultto see how that more recent sociological analysis is consistent with Danto's earlierthesis. Therealways has been a ratherdramaticdifferencebetweenphilosophyas prac- ticed by philosophers and "philosophy"as it is understoodby writers in the Americanartworld. The greatpromiseof After the End is thatnow a sophisti- cated philosophicalaccountis accessible to the artworld.My own sense is that becauseDanto'sphilosophicalanalysisis intimatelyboundup with the everyday concernsof the present-dayAmericanartworld,it is too soon as yet to definite- ly evaluatehis argument.

My present introductionis thus just that-an introductionto importantissues which demandmuchfurtherdiscussion. But somethingneeds to be said in clos- ing aboutDanto'sown personality,for his personalstyle has influenced(andwill continueto influence)the style of the argumentationabouthis ideas. Most famous philosophersproduce mere followers, pupils who offer com- mentaryin the style of their master,elucidatingpoints that he has not had the opportunityto discuss; such inevitablyscholasticwritinghas little lasting value. Danto's greaterhumanandphilosophicalachievementis to inspiregenuinedia- logue, to teachhis readersto thinkthroughissues in ways thatdisagreewith his. He has affectedmanypeople, andnotjust his pupils, in this way.When I was in Bielefeld, I was struck,as was everyoneI talkedto, by the good-natureddiscus- sion, andby the willingness of Danto and all the participantsto considera vari- ety of points of view. Many of us were highly criticalof Danto's claims, andhe enjoyed very much debatingwith us. Few of us were willing to accept all of his claims;but no one had an equally pregnantalternativehistoriographyof arthis-



toryto propose.No one, I think,believed Danto'sentireaccount,buteveryone- of this I am sure-thought that his argumentdeservedpassionateengaged dis- cussion. For that all too brief period, we lived in something like that happy posthistoricalera identified by Danto as characteristicof the present day art-


Carnegie Mellon University

26. I thankAlexanderNehamasfor the loan of some ideas;for attemptingto explainperspectivism to me; and for facilitatinga public discussion with Danto at PrincetonUniversity,when I was a vis- iting lecturerin the departmentof philosophyin February,1998.