image by Lauren Purje
“Though widely read, Danto’s theories are not wholly beloved by the art industry. Artists don’t necessarily want to hear that their work has no developmental potential. Danto’s work also presents a challenge for the art market which relies on perceived historic importance as a unique selling point. He predicted that the demand on the market would require the “illusion of unending novelty,” later citing 1980s Neo-Expressionism as an example of the industry’s need to continually recycle and repackage prior aesthetic forms and ideas, a charge that parallels the contemporary debate regarding zombie formalism.”
“art is the most powerful instrument for survival”
“When works of art become commodities and nothing else, when every endeavor becomes “creative” and everybody “a creative,” then art sinks back to craft and artists back to artisans –a word that, in its adjectival form, at least, is newly popular again. Artisanal pickles, artisanal poems: what’s the difference, after all? So “art” itself may disappear: art as Art, that old high thing. Which—unless, like me, you think we need a vessel for our inner life—is nothing much to mourn.”
Henri Rousseau. The Dream. 1910
‘Activation has become an end, not a means. Today museums cannot seem to leave us alone; they prompt and program us as many of us do our children. As in the culture at large, communication and connectivity are promoted, almost enforced, for their own sake. This activation helps to validate the museum, to overseers and onlookers alike, as relevant, vital, or simply busy. Yet, more than the viewer, it is the museum that the museum seeks to activate. However, this only confirms the negative image that some of its detractors have long had of it: that aesthetic contemplation is boring and that historical understanding is elitist; that the museum is a mausoleum. Just as the viewer must be deemed passive in order to be activated, so a work of art and art museum alike must be deemed lifeless so that they can be reanimated.
This ideology, which is so central to modern discourse on the art museum, is an assault on art history “as a humanistic discipline,” the mission of which, Erwin Panofsky wrote 75 years ago, is to “enliven what otherwise would remain dead.” Here the proper retort to the contemporary assault comes from the art historian Amy Knight Powell: “Neither institution nor individual can restore life to an object that never had it. The promiscuity of the work of art—its return, reiteration, and perpetuation beyond its original moment—is the surest sign it never lived.” ‘