Effective history and the end of art: From Nietzsche to Danto

Philosophy and Social Criticism 25 (6):1-28 (1999)
This article takes its shape from a recent conference at the School of Visual Arts in NYC on the theme, 'Tradition and the New: Educating the Artist for the Millennium'. Central to the way the conference was advertised and described was an implicit tendency to view tradition as wholly separate from the new. While the conference did not itself make a theoretical argument for the opposition of tradition and the new, Arthur Danto's recent elaboration of a thesis of the 'end of art' does provide such a theoretical underpinning for the opposition that the conference seemed to presuppose. Danto's thesis of the end of art offers a compelling view of 'what' and 'where' art is today, but it also has troubling implications for how our relation to the past is configured and, in Danto's view of art's having come to an end, for what it means that we are now living in 'post-historical' times. That is, as a compelling contemporary reading of the history of art, Danto's thesis seems to be more implicated in the very modernist project that he, in other ways, seeks to move effectively beyond. This article, then, explores the problem of counterposing tradition and the new, specifically, in Danto's thesis, but also more generally. In the first part of the article, I present Danto's end of art thesis. Next, I will offer a counterweight to this tendency to separate tradition and the new by examining the concept of 'effective history', focussing here on the writing of Hans-Georg Gadamer. Gadamer's insights, which I will link to Nietzsche, provide a way of moving beyond some of the problematic implications of Danto's thesis, and also illuminate some of the ethical dimensions at stake. In concluding, I will look at some contemporary examples where the notion of effective history can be productively applied. Key Words: art theory • effective history • end of art • hermeneutics • modernism • tradition.
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