Arthur C. Danto
January 1st, 1924 to October 25th, 2013
January 1st, 1924 to October 25th, 2013
"Arthur C. Danto, a Philosopher of Art, Is Dead at 89"
October 27th, 2013
The New York Times
Arthur C. Danto, a philosopher who became one of the most widely read art critics of the Postmodern era, championing avant-garde artists like Andy Warhol and proclaiming the end of art history, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.
The cause was heart failure, his daughter Ginger Danto said.
The author of some 30 books, including “Beyond the Brillo Box” and “After the End of Art,” Mr. Danto was also the art critic for The Nation magazine from 1984 to 2009 and a longtime philosophy professor at Columbia.
“His project, really, was to tell us what art is, and he did that by looking at the art of his time,” said Lydia Goehr, a Columbia University philosophy professor who has written extensively about Mr. Danto. “And he loved the art of his time, for its openness and its freedom to look any way it wanted to.”
Mr. Danto was pursuing a successful career in academic philosophy when he had a life-defining moment. As he recalled in numerous essays, it happened in 1964 when he encountered a sculpture by Andy Warhol in a New York gallery. It was “Brillo Box,” an object that seemed to Mr. Danto to differ in no discernible way from the real cardboard soap-pad container it copied.
If there was nothing visible in Warhol’s sculpture to distinguish it from an ordinary object, Mr. Danto wondered, what made it art? At a time when more and more artists were creating works lacking traditional artistic qualities, this was an urgent question.
Leaving aside that Warhol’s sculpture was made of silk-screened plywood, not cardboard, the defining feature of the sculptural “Brillo Box” was, in Mr. Danto’s view, that it had a meaning; it was about something — consumer culture, for one thing. The real Brillo box only had a functional purpose. But how would you know whether you were looking at a meaningful or a merely functional object? The short answer was, you knew because the Warhol box was presented as art in an art gallery.
This led Mr. Danto to propose a new way of defining art. The term would be bestowed not according to any putatively intrinsic, aesthetic qualities shared by all artworks but by general agreement in the “artworld,” a community that included artists, art historians, critics, curators, dealers and collectors who shared an understanding about the history and theory of modern art.
If that community accepted something as art, whatever its form, then it was art. This required an educated viewer. “To see something as art requires something the eye cannot descry — an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of the history of art: an artworld,” wrote Mr. Danto in his oft-quoted 1964 essay “The Artworld.”
Mr. Danto’s notion of the art world inspired what came to be known as the Institutional Theory of Art, an idea that was developed most fully by the philosopher George Dickie in the 1970s and that remains widely influential on thinking about contemporary art.
Mr. Danto also came to believe that in the contemporary world, no single style could dominate, as Abstract Expressionist painting had done in the 1950s. Pluralism would be the new order.
This led him to proclaim the end of art history. By this he meant not that people would stop making art, but that the idea of art progressing and evolving over time along one clear path, as it seemed to have done from the Renaissance through the late 19th century and into the first post-World War II decade, could no longer be supported by art of the late 20th century. After the ’60s, art had splintered and gone off in a multitude of directions, from Photorealist painting to the most abstruse forms of Conceptualism.
But if so many different kinds of things could be viewed as art, what, if anything, did they have in common? The common denominator, Mr. Danto concluded, was meaning, and that led him to propose that the art of our time was mainly animated by philosophy. Artworks in the Postmodern era could be viewed as thought experiments about such problems as the relationship between representation and reality; knowledge and belief; photography and truth; and the definition of art itself.
If the new art was philosophy incarnate, then the critic who was also a philosopher might have an advantage over the traditional critic when it came to understanding and explicating art. Mr. Danto got a chance to test himself in that capacity when he became the art critic for The Nation.
But while he won the National Book Critics Circle prize for criticism in 1990 for “Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present,” he was not universally admired.
The critic Hilton Kramer, writing in The New Criterion in 1987, likened Mr. Danto’s views to one of “those ingenious scenarios that are regularly concocted to relieve the tedium of the seminar room and the philosophical colloquium.”
Arthur Coleman Danto was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Jan. 1, 1924. He grew up in Detroit, spent two years in the Army and then studied art and art history at Wayne State University.
He aspired to be an artist, and he specialized in woodcuts, his daughter Ginger said. “He had quite a life as an artist,” she said, “but when he got money from the G.I. bill, he decided to study philosophy.” In 2010, Mr. Danto donated many of his prints and original woodblocks to the Wayne State University Art Collection.
He did graduate work in philosophy at Columbia University, and he studied with Maurice Merleau-Ponty on a Fulbright grant in Paris.
Mr. Danto began teaching at Columbia in 1951, earning his doctorate the following year. He continued to teach at Columbia until his retirement in 1992, after which he was named Johnsonian professor emeritus of philosophy.
Mr. Danto’s first wife, Shirley Rovetch, died in 1978. In addition to his daughter Ginger, who is a writer about art, Mr. Danto is survived by his wife, Barbara Westman Danto, and another daughter, Elizabeth Danto.
As The Nation’s art critic, Mr. Danto wrote extended reviews and essays about prominent artists, past and present, with philosophical insight, professorial erudition and, almost always, sympathy and curiosity. He avoided negative criticism, which he considered cruel.
His interests were catholic. “Unnatural Wonders: Essays From the Gap Between Art and Life” (2005), one of several volumes of collected reviews, includes essays on contemporaries like Damien Hirst, Barbara Kruger, Yoko Ono, Gerhard Richter and Matthew Barney and on past masters like Picasso, Giacometti and Leonardo.
His was the kind of art criticism that could engage even readers with no particular interest in art. “There is a lot of uninspired work in the galleries,” Mr. Danto once wrote. “But there is so much ingenious work, so much intelligence, so much dedication, and really so much high-mindedness in the art world that, were it shared by the rest of the world, we would have entered a golden age.”
"Arthur C. Danto, groundbreaking critic who declared ‘the end of art,’ dies at 89 in NYC"
October 27th, 2013
The Associated Press
Arthur C. Danto, a provocative and influential philosopher and critic who championed Andy Warhol and other avant-garde artists and upended the study of art history by declaring that the history of art was over, has died. He was 89.
Danto, art critic for The Nation from 1984 to 2009 and a professor emeritus at Columbia University, died of heart failure Friday at his Manhattan apartment, daughter Ginger Danto said Sunday.
An academically trained philosopher, Danto became as central to debates about art in the 1960s and after as critic Clement Greenberg had been during the previous generation. Danto was initially troubled, then inspired by the rise of pop art and how artists such as Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein could transform a comic strip or a soup can into something displayed in a museum, a work of “art.” Starting in the ‘60s, he wrote hundreds of essays that often returned to the most philosophical question: What exactly is art? Danto liked to begin with a signature event in his lifetime — a 1964 show at New York’s Stable Gallery that featured Warhol’s now-iconic reproductions of Brillo boxes.
“Is this man some kind of Midas, turning whatever he touches into the gold of pure art? And the whole world consisting of latent art works waiting, like the bread and wine of reality, to be transfigured, through some dark mystery, into the indiscernible flesh and blood of the sacrament?” Danto wrote in “The Artworld,” a landmark essay published in 1964.
“Never mind that the Brillo box may not be good, much less great art. The impressive thing is that it is art at all. But if it is, why not indiscernible Brillo boxes that are in the stockroom? Or has the whole distinction between art and reality broken down?”
Danto would refer to the show as the moment when art history ended and “progress could only be enacted on a level of abstract self-consciousness.” In such essays as “The End of Art,” Danto noted the progression of styles in the 19th and 20th century— impressionism, modernism, abstract expressionism, pop art. After the Brillo show, art had reached its ultimate expression and became a medium not of trends but of individuals — some brilliant, some ordinary, none advancing the overall narrative.
“When I first wrote about this concept, I was somewhat depressed,” Danto later observed. “But now I have grown reconciled to the unlimited diversity of art. I marvel at the imaginativeness of artists in finding ways to convey meanings by the most untraditional of means. The art world is a model of a pluralistic society in which all disfiguring barriers and boundaries have been thrown down.”
Danto would be praised by The New York Times’ Barry Gewen as “arguably the most consequential art critic” since Greenberg, an “erudite and sophisticated observer” who wrote with “forcefulness and jargon-free clarity.” But his ideas were not universally accepted. Danto frequently had to explain that art wasn’t dead, only art history.
Rival critics such as Hilton Kramer questioned whether the story was over and whether Warhol deserved to be part of it. In an essay published in The New Criterion in 1987, Kramer likened Danto’s views to one of “those ingenious scenarios that are regularly concocted to relieve the tedium of the seminar room and the philosophical colloquium.” He also dismissed Warhol’s work as “a further colonization of the aesthetically arid but nonetheless seductive territory” of avant-garde art.
In “What Art Is,” a book published in 2013, Danto responded that his “effort was to describe art differently from that of the conservative taste of most of the New York critics.”
“From my perspective, aesthetics was mostly not part of the art scene. That is to say, my role as a critic was to say what the work was about — what it meant — and then how it was worth it to explain this to my readers,” he wrote.
Danto’s other books included “Encounters and Reflections,” winner of a National Book Critics Circle prize in 1991, “Beyond the Brillo Box” and “After the End of Art.” He was an editor of The Journal of Philosophy, a contributor editor to Artforum and president of the American Philosophical Association.
Arthur Coleman Danto was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., and raised in Detroit. He served two years in the Army during World War II and was stationed in Italy and in North Africa. He then studied art and history at Wayne State University and received a master’s and doctoral degree from Columbia University, where he taught from 1952 to 1992 and chaired the philosophy department for several years. He was especially influenced by the 19th-century Germany philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and drew extensively upon Hegel in his theory of art history.
After the Warhol show, Danto pursued a definition of art that could be applied to both the Sistine Chapel and a Brillo box. He rejected the ancient Greek idea that art was imitation and the Renaissance ideal that art was defined by aesthetic pleasure. Danto was shaped by the 20th-century rise of “ready-mades,” ordinary objects turned into “art,” whether Warhol’s Brillo boxes or the urinal Marcel Duchamp submitted to galleries during World War I. In “What Art Is,” Danto concluded that art was “the embodiment of an idea,” defined not by how it looked but by what it had to say.
“Much of contemporary art is hardly aesthetic at all, but it has in its stead the power of meaning and possibility of truth,” he wrote in “What Art Is.”
Danto’s stature as a critic overshadowed his early career as an artist. He was an accomplished printmaker whose woodcuts were exhibited in the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art and elsewhere in the 1950s. He later donated his prints to Wayne State.
“When I became a critic, I met everyone under the sun. But I knew very few artists when I was an artist. Some printmakers, some second generation Abstract Expressionists. ... They were the great figures of my world, like Achilles and Agamemnon in ancient times,” he wrote in a 2007 essay about his own work.
“The heroes today are very different, and so the artists for whom they are heroes have to be very different. I could never have been an artist shaped by such heroes, though as a writer, I like their art well enough. I am glad to see that my work holds up despite that. In a way, I feel like an old master.”
Danto was married twice — to Shirley Rovetch, who died in 1978, and since 1980 to Barbara Westman. He had two children, Ginger and Elizabeth.
Arthur C. Danto [Wikipedia]