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

By Maarten Doorman; Sherry Marx | Go to book overview

6

The End of Art

The cakewalk in the present

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 manner in which changes in the arts took place during recent centuries. The early years of De Stijl, for example, were dominated by a feeling of impasse and ill-ease. This discontent with the status quo of the visual arts and architecture showed similarities to what Kuhn describes as a generally prevailing anomaly in the sciences. A series of new techniques and procedures were introduced by the movement, and analogous to what Kuhn claims for the sciences, the most important changes were initiated by the younger generation or relative outsiders. The element of a `radical switch,' aptly characterized by Kuhn as a Gestalt switch, was also present in De Stijl. Initially, De Stijl innovators met with incomprehension and disdain, because both their way of experiencing things and their visual vocabulary differed too much from the Dutch tradition and context.

The term Gestalt switch refers to the revolutionary content of change, and is an appropriate metaphor for illustrating the complex, radical nature of change in the arts. With another vocabulary and another way of seeing, the world changes. Such changes occur increasingly often in the history of the avantgarde: a new movement or trend continually emerges. In this way, the history of the arts gains an incredible momentum. The radical variant of the avantgarde, with its `break' idiom, thus gradually becomes less of a variant. In the end, the avant-garde becomes a permanent revolution in which there are scarcely any pauses. The periods during which a specific artistic system of norms prevails (the counterpart of Kuhn's `normal science') gradually become shorter, until, ultimately, they dissolve, in an uninterrupted revolutionary state, something often denounced as a `crisis' in the arts during the course of

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

Table of contents

  • Art in Progress - A Philosophical Response to the End of the Avant-Garde *
  • Contents 5
  • Foreword 7
  • Introduction 9
  • 1 - Perspectives on Progress: a History 15
  • 2 - From the Ancients and the Moderns: a Door to the Future 29
  • 3 - From Romanticism to the Avant-Garde 45
  • 4 - On Making Revolution 61
  • 5 - Innovation in Painting and Architecture: De Stijl 81
  • 6 - The End of Art 115
  • 7 - A New Approach to an Old Concept 131
  • Notes 147
  • Bibliography 165
  • Index of Names 177
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