Art and Concept: A Philosophical Study

Art and Concept: A Philosophical Study

Art and Concept: A Philosophical Study

Art and Concept: A Philosophical Study

Excerpt

This book is on the relationship between certain theories or "concepts" about art and particular periods or "styles" in art. The concepts by and large come from philosophy, and the art is mostly located in that part of modernism known as the "avant-garde." My arrays of art and concepts are not always chronologically parallel: In chapters 1 and 2, the artworks I discuss are of the twentieth century whereas the conceptual sources reach back to the eighteenth. This points to a relationship that I find between certain aesthetic theories -- particularly those of Kant and Hegel -- and the presumptions and practices of later radical art. In subsequent chapters, concepts and works are closer, not only chronologically but in the sense that the "meaning" of the former and the ontological "identity" of the latter are seen to be dependent on the nature of their interaction. Because I attempt to bring artworks and concepts together in a consequential way, I also dwell on intersections between concepts: those processes of grouping that provide contextual grounds for each concept's definition and conditions of use. I call those processes linkage. My analysis of linkage identifies a given artistic style with a specific group of concepts, and pairs central works from that style with particular concepts within that group. Although I include such standard aesthetic concepts as form and expression in the discussion, my analysis is not reductive in that it does not posit a "basic" conceptual term from which all other terms can be generated. Basic -- or "dominant" -- terms are indeed identified, but the emphasis is on their transformations. I hold that a change in concept signals a shift in historical context and, thus, the emergence of new artistic concerns. Accordingly, I take the dominance of a given conceptual term within a group to be a historical event, an indication of an "ascendant" style. The subordinate terms linked to that dominant concept, in effect, bear witness to both the past and the future of that style, to its actual forebears and possible offspring, and thus to shifts in dominance in both terms and works. In chapter 6, I engage in a somewhat technical analysis of this issue.

The notion of conceptual dominance suggests that the concepts I group together are polemical, not merely descriptive. Indeed, I believe that concepts in art importantly function in two ways: as normative and ontic justi-

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