Compelling Quotes about the Death of Art

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Earlier this week we examined art critic Boris Groys’ new book In the Flow, which “explores art in the age of the thingless medium, the Internet.” Our own Jonathon Sturgeon writes: “Groys again upends the expectations of contemporary art, and, yet again, he does so from the angle of death. Specifically, this go-round, Groys writes that contemporary art is designed to die, whether its makers realize it or not.”

The “art is dead” conversation is one we’ve been having for decades. Art theorist Keti Chukhrov writes: “Art withers away if it doesn’t take interest in what is beyond the limits of art.” We’ve barely scratched the surface, but here are some compelling arguments by philosophers and artists that have helped shape the way we view our evolving aesthetic experience.

“Art is dead. Long live Dada.” —Walter Serner

“For me there is something else in addition to yes, no or indifferent — that is, for instance — the absence of investigations of that type. . . . I am against the word ‘anti’ because it’s a bit like atheist, as compared to believer. And the atheist is just as much of a religious man as the believer is, and an anti-artist is just as much of an artist as the other artist. Anartist would be much better, if I could change it, instead of anti-artist. Anartist, meaning no artist at all. That would be my conception. I don’t mind being an anartist . . . What I have in mind is that art may be bad, good or indifferent, but, whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art is still art in the same way as a bad emotion is still an emotion.” —Marcel Duchamp

“The word ‘anti’ annoys me a little, because whether you are anti or for, it’s two sides of the same thing. And I would like to be completely – I don’t know what you say – nonexistent, instead of being for or against… The idea of the artist as a sort of superman is comparatively recent. This I was going against. In fact, since I’ve stopped my artistic activity, I feel that I’m against this attitude of reverence the world has. Art, etymologically speaking, means to ‘make.’ Everybody is making, not only artists, and maybe in coming centuries there will be a making without the noticing.” —Marcel Duchamp

“The end of art, and its truth, is religion, that other circle of which the end, the truth, will have been philosophy, and so on. And you know — we shall have to get the most out of this later on — the function of the ternary rhythm in this circulation. The fact remains that here art is studied from the point of view of its end. Its pastness is its truth. The philosophy of art is thus a circle in a circle of circles : a ‘ring’ says Hegel, in the totality of philosophy. It turns upon itself and in annulling itself it links onto other rings. This annular concatenation forms the circle of circles of the philosophical encyclopedia. Art cuts out a circumscription or takes away a circumvolution from it. It encircles itself.” —Jacques Derrida

Alexander Rodchenko, Pure Red Color, Pure Blue Color, Pure Yellow Color, 1921

“I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: it’s all over. Basic colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no representation.” —Alexander Rodchenko

“Constructivism proceeds to the negation of all art in its entirety, and calls into question the necessity of a specific activity of art as creator of a universal aesthetic.” —Varvara Stepanova

“Art is always coming to its end. The ‘end of art’ is always the beginning of its plurality. It could also be the beginning of another sense of and for ‘technics’ in general.” —Jean-Luc Nancy

“It [the image] withdraws therefore as image of, image of something or someone. . . . In a world without image in this sense, a profusion, a whirlwind of imageries unfolds in which one gets utterly lost, no longer finds oneself again, in which art no longer finds itself again. it is a proliferation of views [vues], the visible or the sensible itself in multiple brilliant slivers [éclat] which refer to nothing. Views that give nothing to be seen or that see nothing: views without vision.” —Jean-Luc Nancy

“According to Piero Raffa, ‘the avant-garde is a trick of history meant to hasten the ‘death of art,’ or, rather, art’s transition from the cultural function it fulfilled in the past to a completely different one. In order to express this concept I have used a metaphor (a ‘trick of history’) which, however, should not be taken to mean that most avant-garde ideologies are not aware of what is happening. Quite the contrary: most of them are so aware of it that it is all they can speak about . . . This change manifests itself as a surplus of rational self-consciousness in relation to the creative process and the kind of artistic pleasure it is supposed to produce. . . . Today’s art demands an increasingly keener critical awareness, an ‘ideologization’ of itself. . . . This has resulted in a paradoxical imbalance between what the works actually say and the doctrinal surplus that justifies them.” —Umberto Eco

Theodor Adorno, Self portrait, 1963

1. Down with art, long live technical science. 2. Religion is a lie. Art is a lie. 3. Destroy the last remaining attachment of human thought to art. . . . 6. The collective art of today is constructive life. —Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko

“Purge the world of bourgeois sickness, ‘intellectual,’ professional and commercialized culture, purge the world of dead art, imitation, artificial art, abstract art, illusionistic art, mathematical art, — purge the world of “Europanism”! PROMOTE A REVOLUTIONARY FLOOD AND TIDE IN ART. Promote living art, anti-art, promote NON ART REALITY to be grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals. FUSE the cadres of cultural, social & political revolutionaries into united front & action.” —George Maciunas

“Art in the traditional sense is in danger of coming to an end at the very moment when experts are taking stock of its vast history, broadening its limits and gloating over the extent of their knowledge about it. They dream up the universal museum, the total library, the perfect audiotape collection and film theater, gloomy ossuaries of art thrown open to the voracious and boundless curiosity of the public. There is an immense amount of information about art: the accumulation of knowledge about it goes on unabated. Art is in danger of finishing its days in a delirium of aesthetic saturation on the bourgeois side, and in an absence of aestheticism and a use of art as a politico-ideological instrument on the socialist side. If socialism is compromising art, and perhaps even killing it by recklessly politicizing it, capitalism and the bourgeoisie are killing it by considering it solely as a firmly ingrained need which can be enjoyed on a purely physical level and ruthlessly exploited (not to mention the thousands of other dirty little tricks which we could describe in detail, had we the time, by which art is being dispatched). Thus, the bourgeois, with their aestheticism, and the socialists — or ‘Communists’ — with their lack of it are engineering the end of aesthetics, while at the same time professing their unbounded commitment to the cause of art.” —Henri Lefebvre

“Artworks stand in the most extreme tension to their truth content. Although this truth content, conceptless, appears nowhere else than in what is made, it negates the made. Each artwork, as a structure, perishes in its truth content; through it the artwork sinks into irrelevance, something that is granted exclusively to the greatest artworks. The historical perspective that envisions the end of art is every work’s idea.” —Theodor Adorno

“Even today, even in times of so-called postmodernism, a work of art remains itself: it must have an identity, and so must its creator. When one visits a contemporary exhibition she will immediately recognize the paintings of the same artist and also that all of them are different. All paintings have an ipseity — one needs to stand for more than a few minutes in front of them to realize this — and they all carry the signature of the artists who created them even when they are not signed. Individuality, the unrepeated and unrepeatable individuality remains the ‘soul’ that appears in the works — we can call them bodies if you like — and nothing will change this ‘constellation’ of the individuality of the artwork and of the artist until the end of art which, despite the popular slogan, is not in sight.” —Agnes Heller

“Hegel, modern art, and the end of art: a delimitation from Pippin” with Slavoj Žižek (headphones are a must)