It is wrong because the Thesis makes no prediction as to the future of art. It is not primarily a thesis about art so much as a thesis regarding our relationship to it. We have outgrown art, so to speak. If, then, there were going again to be a moment when art regained its earlier purpose, that would not be because of the kind of art that came about, but because we ourselves had reverted to an earlier condition.
The moment it is entertained, the answer is clear. When art really does express the kind of truth in question, no one, in the spirit of cultural or artistic criticism, can wonder whether it does. We cannot undo the history of mind, which has brought us to our present situation. I use the word Mind where Hegel employed the word Spirit, or Geist. Broadly speaking, the defining activity of Spirit is thinking.
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In this, Hegel was very close to Descartes, who attempted to prove that he was, essentially and necessarily, a thinking being — an ens cogitans. Where Hegel differed from his predecessors lay in the fact that he saw thinking as having a history. The various historical phases of art are phases of thought expressed as art. Hence art is through and through a product of thought, though limited by the fact that it must express its thoughts by sensuous means.
The End-of-Art Thesis proclaims our liberation from having to find sensuous equivalents for the content of thought. Thinking has risen above and beyond what art is capable of. Art belongs to a less evolved mode of thinking than what the mind, not only ideally but actually, is capable of — and we find this higher capability only in philosophy. Hegel distinguishes three modes of thought, which he terms subjective, objective, and absolute spirit.
Objective Spirit, by contrast, is thought objectified, as it is, for example in works of art, or in our political institutions, moral codes, or forms of family life. It is from the perspective of objective spirit that any institutional theory of art is credible. The subjective mind of the artist is constrained by the objective structures of the art world. Religion clearly failed to register this limitation, since it recruited art as a way of giving its ideas vivid and graphic images: The advent of art, in a religion still in the bonds of sensuous externality, shows that such religion is on the decline.
At the very time it seems to give religion the supreme glorification, expression, and brilliancy, it has lifted religion over its limitation…Beautiful art, from its side, has thus performed the same service as philosophy: it has purified the spirit from its thralldom. The peculiar nature of artistic production and of works of art no longer fills our highest need.
We have got beyond venerating works of art as divine and worshiping them, The impression they make is of a more reflective kind, and what they arouse in us needs a higher touchstone and a different test. Thought and reflection have spread their wings above fine arts. He saw Art as, so to speak, a staging area in the epic of self-knowledge.
Having served that transitional but momentous service, art may now lapse back into the entertainment and ornamentation so important in the enhancement of human life. The End-of-Art thesis is the defining idea of Hegel's philosophy of art, and his philosophy of art is the heart of his entire philosophical system.
He could not have based his philosophy of art on an empirical study of artistic practices, as an art historian or a psychologist of art. For these empirical studies yield no clue to art as a phase of Absolute Spirit.
There are the deepest differences, then, between the End-of-Art Thesis in Hegel, and in its various formulations in the late twentieth century 15, where it really does serve as a summary judgment on the present condition of art. It refers to one of the great stages through which art has passed, culminating perhaps in the Renaissance. Romanticism held that art is superior to philosophy. The End-ofart Thesis translates into the end of Romanticism in this sense.
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Classical art achieves this precisely as an art of the past. More specifically, the emphatic achievement of classical art is the transformation of the symbol into convention and tradition. In short, tradition -- the locus of conventionality -- itself might be characterized as just that successful melding of invention and discovery:. Conventions can be denounced, suppressed, transformed, and degraded; one can accuse or praise them. But there is only one place where conventions are produced. The imaginary home of anachronicity, in which tradition and convention are invented in order to be rejected, transformed, or sublated, is the museum.
The museum then, obvious enough to many writers in aesthetics, functions as the entombment of the past. Less obvious to most is that by functioning this way the museum also necessarily makes available the modern possibility of the establishment of traditions, and of what might be called the invention of discovery. The continuing and continuous birth and rebirth of the tradition of modernity -- specifically as tragedy -- ought to come immediately to mind.
And therewith Geulen's subsequent chapter is titled "Nietzsche's Retrograde Motion," in which, and without explicit acknowledgement, it is nonetheless apparent that it is all too easy to replace the Hegelian tropes of invention and discovery with the Nietzschean figures of Apollo and Dionysus. But the reconciliation achieved for and by? Hegel in the simultaneous invention of the museum and discovery of classical art is for Nietzsche instead tragedy, indeed a tragedy made genuine by its success at making all aesthetic appearance homogeneous:.
Hegel’s End-of-Art Thesis
In tragedy appearance becomes visible as appearance, and just as the privileged status of tragedy is the result of a translation, so translation is also its innermost principle: 'Dionysus speaks the language of Apollo; and Apollo, finally the language of Dionysus: and so the highest goal of tragedy and of all art is attained' When all aesthetic appearances become interchangeable, tragedy comes to an end, and what Nietzsche calls "tragic knowledge" no longer has any import beyond any other form of knowledge. Nietzsche's repeated reports of the death, demise, suicide, etc.
And the purpose of this overdetermination is for Nietzsche to provide himself an ironic distance from the death of tragedy as well as from tragedy per se. Irony thereby becomes the aesthetic means by which Nietzsche attempts to avoid the deathliness of the Hegelian end of art aesthetic. Nietzsche's accomplishment, however, remains ambiguous and therefore not distinct enough from Hegel's ; for his ironizing of tragedy and tragic knowledge also can be read as reenactment of just that ambiguous interplay between discovery and invention.
Irony is at once the inventive undermining of a tradition -- insofar as it calls into question the legitimacy of any assertion -- as well as the reinforcement, hence discovery, of the force of some tradition. Walter Benjamin enters Geulen's account as the subject of Chapter Four wherein he figures as the "counterplay" to Nietzsche's attempt, via irony, to forestall the endlessly repetitive gesture that founds the modern tradition of art.
Allegory and mechanical reproducibility, the objects respectively of Benjamin's study, The Origin of the German Mourning Play , and his essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," become the devices, one archaic and the other modern, which Geulen construes as the unified effort to avoid the irony -- and one might also say, the dialectic -- of Nietzsche and Hegel's accounts of modernism.
Benjamin's rumoring thus expands to consider the fraught character of history as well as the possibility that it could, with the appropriate device, cease to be altogether, or rather: come to be in a wholly unique manner.
No doubt Nietzsche's own "untimely meditation" on the uses and disadvantages of history might nonetheless have provided an inspiring model. These works are able to show how certain questions, contrary to the question of the definition of art, can still be viewed as functioning parameters in the understanding of the artworld. The symbolic verges toward exaggeration in its attempts to find a balance of form and content and ends, in its last stage, with the realization of the necessity of turning inward to fully represent the nature of reality and human beings, a representation it cannot achieve.
These questions, the conflict between human products and nature, the alterations of reality, and finally the attention toward self-consciousness and self-investigation are still on the agenda of contemporary art and of those works that, at least chronologically, have survived the end of art. What characterizes these questions is their ability to belong to art in itself and not to a specific stage in the history of art.
Being intrinsic to the nature of artistic creation, they are largely independent of the historical and evolutionary unfolding of art, and in this sense also immune to the end of art thesis.
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Yet this is not the only question asked by art; in fact, it might not even be the most pressing one. The first question to be analyzed concerns the relation between art works and nature. In particular, I am interested in the extent to which the modification of nature and public spaces is able to construct a new sphere, something that, along the lines of the symbolic, can build a temple for meaning by playing with the concreteness of material and of what surrounds the places considered.
Secondly, I will analyze the impact of the element of distortion in its quantitative and qualitative senses. Specifically, I will focus on the perceptual and cognitive effects triggered by distortions and alterations. The last example deals with the contrasting relation between the dissolution of concrete materiality and the presence of a different set of concepts stemming from a consideration of self-consciousness. My analysis of the conceptual meaning of the symbolic in contemporary art closely follows the steps outlined by Hegel, from his questions to the movements detected in the unfolding of the symbolic.
At the same time I point to the differences and new routes that can be observed today. Built of crystals, salt, and other lake sediments, the work is probably one of the most effective examples of land art, an earthwork. Land art echoes minimalism in its representational simplicity as well as in the choice of materials while, at the same time, polemically rejecting the institutionalization of art. Works of land art are not only oftentimes too large or too inaccessible to be moved to a museum, but they are also impossible to preserve in a collection because of their material components.
Land art reinforces a close connection between art and nature, a connection in which the two act upon each other. The installation emerges from nature; it is made of natural components, and yet it is bound to disappear because of the very same reasons. Spiral Jetty will return to nature because it is, in its very artistic status, part of it.
In the construction of earthworks we can observe the two movements of unconscious symbolism. On the one hand, nature is recognized as a state from which art can evolve, something human beings have the ability to alter. The modification of nature is the product of the recognition that nature can become an artifact. On the other hand, as in the symbolic stage, the construction cannot truly abandon its material component. An important feature of the symbolic is the difficulty of distinguishing art from nature.
In the same fashion, earthworks belong to nature in their way of supporting their own existence on the site. They are an alteration, but an alteration that shares the same spatial and temporal constraints of nature; they are never formally dissociated. It is interesting to recall, on this point, another Hegelian feature of symbolism. Hegel describes the first phase of the symbolic—unconscious symbolism—as something that is not yet art. Unconscious symbolism lacks a conscious component; more specifically, it is not self-conscious. Smithson gets to the same conclusion, but following an opposite route.
He turns Hegel upside down by emphasizing how, precisely when his creation realizes its existence, what we might want to address as its self-conscious nature, it ceases to exist and sinks back into nature, the victim of its own entropic power. His response is that the encounter of art and nature should not be phrased as a struggle for differentiation but as a connection abetting the final blending or reunion of the two. They have become the symbol of a connection, and a contrast that is always in place.
In their relationship to nature, earthworks keep going back to what Hegel saw as the initial differentiation of art and nature but with a great difference. The second feature of the symbolic I want to analyze, and with it a second question characterizing art works, is the Hegelian reference to quantitative exaggeration.
The symbolic is at this point aware of its power to create, yet its willingness to affirm this power is affected by exaggeration, distortions, or superfluous additions.
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The symbolic is trying but, in a sense, it is trying too hard, its energies wasted in the creation of something still far from the desired equilibrium. The excesses of the symbolic are symptomatic of its attempts to modify materiality, and yet the modifications taking place at this point are not qualitative but exclusively quantitative. Instead of separating itself from its material element, the second stage of the symbolic multiplies it to the point of finding itself trapped in it.
The figures represented, so quantitatively distorted, are, according to him, horrific, repugnant, grotesque. And yet, his judgment originates from a conception of harmonic beauty as the privileged standard by which to evaluate the quality of a work, a conception that can hardly be endorsed. Not only can art be ugly; distortions can convey meaning and encourage further reflection.
In being repugnant, grotesque, or fascinating and enchanting, quantitative distortions can become qualitative. His photos are larger-than-life exposures of sculpted bodies, the bodies of celebrities such as Paris Hilton, who are even too well known. Colors are over-saturated, the set clogged and surreal at the same time, and yet there is something inherently vulgar in his work that translates into social criticism and ultimately into self-criticism.
Quantitative distortions are qualitative statements, a commentary on what photography is depicting, can depict, or, as it is legitimate to suggest, is commanded to depict. Hegel does see in quantitative distortions a positive or self-critical feature of art, and he does not altogether condemn grandiose exaggerations. Possibly one of the most fervent advocates of minimalism of forms and materials, Serra creates giant, self-standing sculptures made of rusting steel or other oxidized metals.
Some of his projects, such as Tilted Arc , were public installations. I do not make portable objects. I do not make works that can be relocated or site adjusted. I make works that deal with the environmental components of given places. The scale, size and location of my site-specific works are determined by the topography of the site, whether it be urban, landscape, or an architectural enclosure. My works become part of and are built into the structure of the site, and they often restructure, both conceptually and perceptually, the organization of the site.
My sculptures are not objects for the viewer to stop and stare at. The historical purpose of placing sculpture on a pedestal was to establish a separation between the sculpture and the viewer. I am interested in creating a behavioral space in which the viewer interacts with the sculpture in its context.
Italics mine. Pyramids and Tilted Arc are perceptual symbols. They both refer to a specific historical and social context, and they both carry a distinct intrinsic meaning. However, remembering Federal Plaza as an idyllic space is delusional. Tilted Arc reminded people of its undeveloped potential, of what in their dreams the plaza could have been but was not.
Tilted Arc made people think about the necessity of something that never existed in the plaza, the desire for something beyond the material existence of the surroundings. The work became, for those employed in the area, a way of rediscovering their own perception and sensibility; it made the public self-conscious of its condition. Materiality and externality can become human once they assume symbolic significance. In the last stage of symbolism, the spiritual content of the works exceeds the available art form.
This, for Hegel, is the end of the symbolic stage, a stage bound to material concreteness and formal abstractness. Contemporary art, however, seems provocatively capable of existing even without the presence of a material object, substituting materiality with what is, in the end, only a thought.
From Welcome to the Situation to his latest project, The Associations ,  Sehgal has deprived art of any corporeality, from its physical permanence, to its commercial value how do you buy a work that does not exist? Recordings are banned. Sehgal does not provide written instructions for his performances, leaving ample margin for what is not improvisation but simply a form of respect and fascination for what can naturally happen.
In The Associations, seventy interpreters, both dancers and civilians, were asked to approach the visitors in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Gallery, invite them to say something, and then translate it into another language.