A New Approach to an Old Concept
So long as one leaves [a problem] unliquidated, there is
always a chance of it turning out to one's advantage.1
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 there is a growing variety of it. The second views art as a cognitive system out of which an ever richer interpretation of reality and possible realities may emerge.
Arguments of the first type are based mainly on a quantitative principle, namely that, over time, a growing number of techniques, procedures, styles, and forms of expression become available, together with an ever-increasing number of works of art and even entire new branches of art. 2 All of the following phenomena point to what is a more or less cohesive process: the use of acrylic paint, the invention of collage, the incorporation of music principles from non-Western cultures, the role of chance in compositions, the new possibilities of lighting in theater, the twelve-tone system, the flashback, the interior monologue, parlando poetry, the deployment of the computer in numerous art forms, and countless other new techniques and procedures; the birth of new art forms such as opera, photography, film, and video or of genres like the sonnet, the symphony, the nude, and the television drama; and, above all, the steadily increasing number of art works. This cohesive process or, rather, these cohesive processes are cumulative, and demonstrate continuity in the sense that the number of procedures and techniques does not suddenly