Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

Embodied Meaning and Art as Sense-Making: A Critique of Beiser's Interpretation of the "End of Art Thesis"

Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

Embodied Meaning and Art as Sense-Making: A Critique of Beiser's Interpretation of the "End of Art Thesis"

Article excerpt


Whenever "Hegel" and "aesthetics" are ever mentioned together in the same sentence, invariably one will refer to this so-called "End of Art" thesis.1 Hegel is taken to have espoused this thesis in the following passage from his Lectures on Aesthetics:

In all these respects art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past. Thereby it has lots for us genuine truth and life, and has rather been transferred into our ideas instead of maintaining its earlier necessity in reality and occupying its higher place. What is now aroused in us by works of art is not just immediate enjoyment but our judgement also, since we subject to our intellectual consideration (i) the content of art, and (ii) the work of art's means of presentation, and the appropriateness or inappropriateness of both to one another. The philosophy of art is therefore a greater need in our day than it was in days when art by itself as art yielded full satisfaction. Art invites us to intellectual consideration, and that not for the purpose of creating art again, but for knowing philosophically what art is. (Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art, 1: 11)2

To some, what Hegel had written effectively amounted to a Shelley-esque elegy3 for the death of art.4 The onset of market capitalism, and growing secularisation,5 which were symptomatic of the modern age, meant that art "ceased to have the central importance ... that it once had in the classical and medieval eras."6 Modern man was a truly fallen creature and art had no place in this world full of alienation.7 To others, Hegel's meta-aesthetical views are simply an embarrassment given how much post-Hegelian art has been produced.

However, it is far from clear how either a defender or critic of Hegel can legitimately take this passage to amount to an End of Art argument.8 To quote Fred Beiser on this subject, "Hegel himself does not use the phrase 'the death of art', which has so often been ascribed to him. Furthermore, he does not even talk about 'the end of art."'9 A similar view is held by Robert Wicks, who writes: "... it cannot be Hegel's view that artistic production will totally cease at some point within the progressive development of human history. Nor can it be Hegel's view that, as we presently stand, art will never again serve to express the deepest interests of humanity."10 So, the issue is not whether Hegel is right to think art is dead/art has come to an end, but rather the following: What does Hegel mean by claiming art "considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past" (ein Vergangenes)?

According to Beiser, we should understand Hegel as claiming "[w]hile art will indeed continue, it will do so in a greatly reduced role: it will be nothing more than a form of individual selfexpression."11 In other words, Hegel is not committed at all to any kind of End of Art thesis, but he is committed to no longer regarding art as maintaining any kind of serious or especially valuable status. One way of understanding Beiser's position is to claim that because modern consciousness expresses itself predominantly through ingenuity in the natural sciences, medical disciplines, and the rapid rise of developments in technology; art in the modern era is no longer representative of expressing human Geistigkeit. As Robert Pippin writes, "[w]e have invested our hopes in science, technology, medicine, market capitalism, and, to some lingering extent, in religion, but certainly not in art."12 Given that the modern age and the corresponding normative standards of modern consciousness hardly seem conducive to find a place for art as a source of profound value for humanity, art must be relegated to the private sphere, wherein neither production nor appreciation of artwork has any substantive significance.

It is important to note that Beiser's understanding of Hegel's position does not simply rest on the claim that since modern culture is more secular, Hegel thought art had no future, "because its glory lay in the past, and its past was unrecoverable. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.