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  • Foto do escritorAna Luiza de Lima

a review on ‘The End of Art’ and thereafter

Atualizado: 26 de abr. de 2020

Art is an embracing concept that has been coexisting alongside humanity. Its definition although has changed trough time and today there is none, as in a general perspective it is not possible to find a similarity or common condition that could put the artworks together as an unity.

“Apparently, it is no longer the visible or tangible qualities that count, only the conceptual ones”¹

The end of art, as it was declared in 1984 by Arthur Danto in his article ‘The End of Art’, is a statement formulated after his visit to a Warhol exhibition, where he saw the Brillo Box. The Brillo Box brought to Danto numerous questionings, because he didn’t understand what was the main difference between the Brillo Boxes exposed in the gallery and the ones in the supermarket, and around that matter the ‘end of art’ has come. It is important to clear that the ‘end of art’ is  about the end of the narrative, as the end of the historical timeline of the art ‘evolution’, now it has reached a point where there are no rules in the art making, but that will be discussed later.

The Art Concept

The first definition of the term ‘art’ came through Plato and Aristotle, as they were discussing the nature and objectives of theater, they realized that the drama was a direct simulation of reality and if analyzed in a closer distance the reflections and paintings do are also a product of simulation. In that way, it was stated that art should be derived of reality, it should be an imitation – and it was a necessary condition to the art status – that is called the Imitation theory.

As Plato deduces in his book, The Republic, since art imitates physical things, art is always a copy of a copy,


and leads us even further from truth and towards illusion, that was the gap that linked the void left by the representative artworks and gave rise to the artists to start thinking about the meaning and role of the artworks.

The second most important art theory came in the beginning of the nineteenth century, with Romanticism, when the painters became less worried about picturing the exact reality and started revealing their inner selves, the subjective experience of the author is the main point of change, the artworks went from mere copies/representations of reality to images that presented distorted and abstract characteristics, which diverted the ‘purpose’ of art. The mirror that used to be turned to nature and life like situations was turned to the self and that is how a new theory was needed to explain how this new way of portraying life could be considered art too. The Expression theory is about the intention of the artist in transmitting his feelings; although, this theory has a gap, because according to it, the artist has to clarify and understand his emotions before trying to present it, the artistic creation should be a controlled activity, and in some way – according to the considerations on art that we have nowadays – that can break the artistic creation process. In the developing of this theory there was also two segments: the transmission theory, in which the artwork is made to be presented to an audience and the solo expression theory that states that the art does not involve the intention of the transmission of the clarified emotion because the artwork still the same if its exhibited or not.

When the photography emerged it ‘broke’ the imitation theory since there was not a point in dedicating in reproducing the reality if there was a new device that could do that. So, as the time went through the imitation theory was being left behind, and the formalism came as an explanation, especially for the abstract artworks. The Formalism came as statement to refute the Imitation theory and was not directly related to the Expression theory, it is another art theory that was developed from the ‘Theory of Forms’ by Plato, in which the eidos (or shape) is everything, since an object to a virtue, everything has a form. This theory can be explained by Plato’s reflection in ‘Allegory of the Cave’, where the people inside the cave could only see the shadows formed by the light and had no knowledge of the real things, in this way he meant that the shadows were the real forms for the prisoners in the same way that the painting of any form is as real as its representation in the real world. The idea behind this theory is not about representation or feelings, its stands for the creation of non-objective paintings that should have a significant form and a visual organization, but besides the form, the formalism was also concerned with the colors and the arrangement of the lines and spaces. As Clive Bell said “the distinction between form and colour is an unreal one; you cannot conceive of a colourless space; neither can you conceive a formless relation of colours². Bell argued that because form is the object of aesthetic appreciation, everything that needs to be considered is in the artwork. The main point in the formalism is not to consider what it is meant to represent or why the artist made it, it is all about what is in the canvas, the artwork is self-explanatory.

The Institutional theory is based in the artworld, which is a social institution composed by artists, art sellers and buyers, art specialists or consultants, curators and also the audience – so, practically, everyone is involved in the art business. In this case, to be considered an artwork the object at first has to be an artifact – it implies that it is a creation resulted of the human work, and not an average work, it has to be hard work, but at the same time it is said that can also be a ready-made object that someone frames and uses it with an exhibition purpose; to be an artifact the object needs also to be publicly accessible – and then considered art by the artworld.

This reflection through the history of definition of art brings us to the philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto and The End of Art. According to Danto the art history reached this point that there is nowhere else to go; since it started, the redefinition of the art concept followed a course that made sense according to the artworks transformations, but now everything can be accepted as art and there isn’t a definition capable of defining everything anymore, all the theories that were built before are accepted now and also the works that does not frame in any of the previous can be called art. So the term ‘art’ went from the artistic to the philosophical field, it is not just about the technique or colors or feelings, is about thoughts.

The implications of ‘The End of Art’ in the Artworld

In the past decades, in each period, there was specific material that you should consider before starting to make an artwork, for example, in the 18th century, during the Romanticism and the Imitation ‘era’, the artist should concern about picturing the exactly reality, on the contrary, the paint would not be even considered art. In the 19th century, after the invention of photography, the main ‘goal’ of the artist was reach the expression of their emotions, this happened through the colors, the brushes, the chosen subject. With the formalism came a hiper-valorization of the form – that does not mean that before it didn’t matter, but the form was just a resemblance with reality (in the expression case) or a mere copy.

As mentioned above at the beginning, the art making has no rules anymore; in the present 21st century, creation is an open process and each artist faces his/her own. The process of creating can be compared in the way that it can be an outburst or a profound study and the result can also be from any segment of art (that is why is called pluralism) because art came to this level of freedom in which the artist is the one who bid in his productions, but he is not the one who chooses if it will be consider as such in the artworld or not – even he is being part of it, because he is inserted in it, it does not mean that he will necessarily achieve acceptance or even that his work will be known, as Donald Judd said “If someone calls it art, it is art.”. The institutions of art are the main part of the artworld constitution since they move great amount of money; the curators and/or buyers are those who are responsible for its collections, they have to pick the work of arts and their disposition at the gallery. The museums, the art schools, the private galleries, the auction houses are responsible for the artworks that are in the market, the artists that are ‘high or low’ and the way of teaching art (the students in the art academy have to learn not just about theory but also technique, how to deal with the creation process and the art research).

With the new concept on art, or no concept at all (as it is possible to reflect on), the artworks that rotate the artworld have a huge variety, in a way that they comprehend all the schools of art – Renaissance, Baroque, Modernism (which includes Impressionism, Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism) and the Postmodernism (Pop Art). As mentioned above, the artworks that are placed in the institutions of art are ruled by the artworld opinion and that is product of those who are in the top of artworld and are building news concepts – that was what happened with Andy Warhol, the art critics did not like his work but the massive approval of the population, caused the artworld accept his work.

Is the ‘End of Art’ real?

After Danto proposed the ‘end of art’ it can be imagined that lots of art critics and philosophers rose against it. Maarten Doorman, a Dutch philosopher, was one of them, he did not believe in the end of art in the 1980’s as he argues about it in his book “Art in Progress”. According to Doorman, the avant-gard lasted through the 20th century and because of the western culture evolution it came to an end at 2000s and the reason was that the notion of time was changing – in the sense that seemed that time was beginning to pass faster –and that made the artworks older in a faster way so the artist had to come with a new style, the other reason was that during the avant-gard movement brought lots of different styles and the next always had the intention of breaking the previous one. This demand drained the avant-gard and that and the appearance of the Pop-art made it come to an end.

The end of avant-gard does not predicts the end of arts in a general way, Doorman criticizes Danto because he is living and analyzing an era of the art evolution in the present time without knowing what is going to happen next, and just as Daniel Herwitz quotes, “He does not wait for the news, he invents it.”³, that is Danto’s major contradiction, he should not judge the future, even having the awareness about the situation of the art in the present it is not predictable what is coming. Doorman also reminds us that is pointless for the philosophers to keep contesting the art existence and its way of representation.

Considering Arthur Danto and Maarten Doorman’s opinion in the current philosophical state of existing or non-existing art it is possible to conclude that a man cannot write the history by himself, which means that Danto is ahead of the time trying to comprehend the art revolution as an end, since as movements arise, we (humanity) are not able to tell what is happening next. After proclaimed the ‘End of Art’ in 1980, the art production has changed a lot and it is possible to see new segments of art – considering that the  concept is now open and does not limit the works by its characteristics – as can be seen in the work of the performance artist Marina Abramović or more technological productions like Les Pissenlits by Edmond Couchot and Michel Bret, for example.


¹ Maarten Doorman『Art in Progress』, Amsterdam, 2003, (p.121).

²Bell, Clive.『Art』, London, 1914. ³ Herwitz, Daniel. 1993.

Carroll, Nöel, 『Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction』, New York, Routledge, 1999. Danto, Arthur, 『Beyond the Brillo Box』, Berkely, Los Angeles, London; University of California Press, 1992. Doorman, Maarten, 『Art in Progress』, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2003.

* texto desenvolvido para a disciplina The Future of Arts at Maastricht University, ministrada pelo professor Guido Goosen.

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