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Art in Progress

Art in Progress: A Philosophical Response to the End of the Avant-Garde

Maarten Doorman
translated from the Dutch by Sherry Marx
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 181
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  • Book Info
    Art in Progress
    Book Description:

    In this challenging and erudite philosophical essay, the author argues that in art, belief in progress is still relevant, if not essential. The radical freedoms of postmodernism have had a crippling effect on art - more than ever before, art is in danger of becoming meaningless. Art can only acquire meaning through context, and the concept of progress is ideal as the primary criterion for establishing that context. History of art can be seen as a process of constant accumulation. Works of art comment on each other, enriching each other's meanings. These complex interrelationships lead to progress in both the sensibility of the observer and the significance of the works of art. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0513-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. 7-8)
    Maarten Doorman

    In the damning criticism that Kant once wrote of the Swedish spiritist Emanuel Schwedenborg, he apologizes for depriving his reader of a few moments ‘he might otherwise have spent readingsubstantialtexts on this material but probably with equally limited results.’ Yet Kant believed he still accommodated his reader ‘by leaving out many wild fantasies,’ for which he expected as much gratitude ‘as a patient might ever owe his doctors because they made him eat only the bark of the quinine tree, whereas they might have made him eat the whole tree.’ This, I believe, is the best attitude a...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 9-14)

    Ludwig Wittgenstein’s foreword to hisPhilosophical Investigationsbegins with a motto borrowed from the nineteenth-century Austrian playwright and satirist Nestroy: ‘One characteristic of progress is that it appears to be much bigger than it really is.’ This is an unusual choice of motto, because nowhere in hisPhilosophical Investigationsdoes he mention historical development or processes, let alone progress. Moreover, nowhere does he say anything of significance at all about such a concept.¹

    No less intriguing is the way the concept of progress continues to resurface during the twentieth century. Progress, it was repeated, was a dated concept based on...

  5. 1 Perspectives on Progress: A History
    (pp. 15-28)

    The main attraction of the first World Exhibition, held in London in 1851, was the Crystal Palace. Through the glass walls of this renowned building, which could easily have housed seven football fields, light shone down on a vast array of achievements and inventions from the Western world. There, one could gaze in awe at the recently invented typewriter, Nasmyth’s steam hammer, a sewing machine, and a solid ingot of quality steel weighing some 2,000 kilograms manufactured by the German Krupp concern. Confident, and filled with admiration, one contemporary wrote:

    […] the House of Glass will continue in the annals...

  6. 2 From the Ancients and the Moderns: A Door to the Future
    (pp. 29-44)

    Those involved with the history of ideas often find it difficult to resist the temptation of searching for a beginning – or eventhebeginning – of an idea in antiquity. We see this in Bury, but even in a more contemporary scholar like René Wellek. In his article on the evolution of literature, Wellek attempts to find a starting point in Aristotle, whom he cites as follows: ‘From its early form tragedy was developed little by little as the authors added what presented itself to them. After going through many alterations, tragedy ceased to change, having come to its...

  7. 3 From Romanticism to the Avant-Garde
    (pp. 45-60)

    During the eighteenth century, a past emerged that would be unlocked and classified by countless scientists. The empirical approach of the scientists exposed a hitherto inconceivable wealth of customs, events, rituals, natural phenomena, and art objects. From that time on, mankind had a history it could no longer ignore.

    Thus the past came to occupy a prominent place in Romanticism. The Romantic thinkers, however, had little affinity with historical schemes such as Condorcet’s. A linear and rational progression in history was the last thing they considered important. For them, the richness of the past lay in its otherness and strangeness...

  8. 4 On Making Revolution
    (pp. 61-80)

    On 28 May 1913, Stravinsky’sRite of Springpremièred in the new Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris, performed by Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes, with Nijinsky in the lead role. Stravinsky later recalled the first performance of this much talked-about composition:

    The piece had hardly begun when a jeer broke out, and I cannot judge the performance because I left the concert hall after the first few measures of the Prelude. I was furious. These manifestations, which initially occurred only now and again, were now common. Counter reactions arose, and a terrible commotion ensued. During the entire performance, I stayed...

  9. 5 Innovation in Painting and Architecture: De Stijl
    (pp. 81-114)

    The staging of a retrospective exhibition on De Stijl at the American Walker Art Center and various museums in the Netherlands in 1982 established the place of this movement as one of the keys to modernism. According to Mildred Friedman, then-Design Curator of the Walker Art Center, writing fifty years after the publication of the last issue of the journal of the same name, the De Stijl movement was a

    focus for wide-ranging invention in painting, architecture, furniture and graphic design.²

    This observation is somewhat problematic, however, because anyone who encounters such a statement in an art history handbook would...

  10. 6 The End of Art
    (pp. 115-130)

    The previous chapter described how one artistic movement, De Stijl, utilized concepts of progress. It also looked at the extent to which this movement viewed as progress the innovations it propagated and implemented. Chapter four, ‘On Making Revolution,’ offered an explanation for the major role that such concepts can play. The explanation made use of Thomas S. Kuhn’s model for change in the sciences, a model that pays considerable attention to the revolutionary character of transitional phases and that, moreover, allows for a number of external factors, unlike earlier explanatory models.

    Kuhn’s model casts light from various angles on the...

  11. 7 A New Approach to an Old Concept
    (pp. 131-146)

    The concept of progress assumes that developments exhibit a certain continuity and direction, that there is some evidence of accumulation in the phenomena involved, and that the change accompanying these developments is desirable. So, to what extent is there still room today, despite the prevailing skepticism, for someone to attach any importance to ideas of progress in art? There are roughly two types of arguments in support of such progress. The first can be grouped under the ostensibly trivial slogan that art may, indeed, not become increasingly beautiful (better, more didactic, more moving, more convincing, and so on), but that...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 147-164)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 165-176)
  14. Index of Names
    (pp. 177-182)