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Adorno's claims about art in general stem from his reconstruction of the modern art movement. So a summary of his philosophy of art sometimes needs to signal this by putting "modern" in parentheses. The book begins and ends with reflections on the social character of (modern) art. Two themes stand out in these reflections. One is an updated Hegelian question whether art can survive in a late capitalist world. The other is an updated Marxian question whether art can contribute to the transformation of this world. When addressing both questions, Adorno retains from Kant the notion that art proper ("fine art" or "beautiful art"—schöne Kunst—in Kant's vocabulary) is characterized by formal autonomy. But Adorno combines this Kantian emphasis on form with Hegel's emphasis on intellectual import (geistiger Gehalt) and Marx's emphasis on art's embeddedness in society as a whole. The result is a complex account of the simultaneous necessity and illusoriness of the artwork's autonomy. The artwork's necessary and illusory autonomy, in turn, is the key to (modern) art's social character, namely, to be "the social antithesis of society" (AT 8).

With this in mind I think we can find only an eternal conflict between this demand for "formal autonomy" and that all art must have some form. This makes an interesting dilemma for criticism which focuses on demands of form. And at any point that the artist reflects as their own critic we see the dilemma most profoundly as the artist will have necessarily to struggle between autonomy, form, and what judgements and memories they and society carry along from history with art being among artifacts. Autonomy, at its end, is an isolation that presents itself as incoherence. The extreme of formalism is a lack of anything new in its message presented against a backdrop where the being has a life that rises from the new itself - All things to a baby are new. In this the struggle of the artist is always to present something new, autonomous, but which for the sake of coherence must be related to form, and therefore history, that thing which criticism must have in mind, but which art may, in fact, forget.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 22nd, 2009 04:08 am (UTC)
So, I have a few thoughts on this, but before I say anything I want to clarify: how does art not abide to form? I agree that certain works of art and installations are....out there, but isn't the artist himself the result of society? And therefore anything he creates abides to preexisting forms?

But I don't know if I understand correctly what you're saying. Clarify?
Jan. 22nd, 2009 04:47 am (UTC)
I think you have it in essence. And it going to be hard to elaborate on this without it being so obvious that its silly.

An artist wants to create something "new". They spread colors around on a flat surface. Someone else comes along and says, "Oh, a painting."

At the other end of the spectrum are "starving artist" sales of paintings of still lifes of fruit and beach scenes. Works which lack any "newness".

At a point, performance art was having the audience pull pieces of paper with instructions in them out of a hat. Was this a play?

Stuff that is really "new" for their time - Van Gogh's paintings or Duchamp's "Fountain" - are often on the edge of controversy or incoherence. Or we might talk again about the reluctance of the "high" art world to consider video games as a "form" of art even while it has the capabilities as a form to do anything a painting, a moving picture, or stereo might do.

So at the extreme end, an artist seeking "the new" always wants escape form but in the end they cannot. For even when they reach the New in an established form, it is controversial. Remember, riots broke out at performances of the Modern composers like Stravinsky and Schoenberg.
Jan. 22nd, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
I'm struck by your last set of words: "that thing which criticism must have in mind, but which art may, in fact, forget."
I wonder how literal this "forgetting" is. Does the artist literally forget, as in not remember, or does the artist ignore the formal and critical aspects of making while at the same time being influenced in a non-mental way. As a possibility, could it be that the artist has the ability to transform thoughts into purely electrochemical constructions that affect our brains with equal, if not greater, intensity than abstract thought? This might account for the incoherence you speak of--a knowledge inaccessible through thought so often referred to as "energy" or emotion?

This would seem to allow for the creation of the new, in that through the conscious or unconscious conversion of a keen awareness of history, criticism and form, the artist might be at liberty to express style, which i feel, is the little that is left to contribute. Perhaps this stems from a sort of despondency on my part, but whenever i feel i've come across something "new" from a contemporary artist it seems like nothing more than an expression of style.
Jan. 22nd, 2009 07:44 pm (UTC)
Re: forgetting...
This is going to go a few different directions. I hope you'll bear with me.

Often, new art comes from the ignorant. An artist who does without formal training. This is akin to "forgetting".

I personally have moments where I've been playing the instrument, stop, and reflect that for the past few moments, I've had no internal dialog. In this I've had no reflection on history nor on what I ought to be doing as an artist. These are the best moments.

Then there is a path of breaking the rules by knowing them. I had a bit of a row with someone on Schoenberg because there is evidence in that coming up with the 12 tone compositional form he is quoted as saying, "Harmony is dead" or "We must forget harmony" with the implication that harmony had been exhausted in history for the avant garde in composing. The break between myself and this person, in so far as I saw it, was that they said that even the 12 tone compositions were up for harmonic analysis as polyharmonic works. That could indeed be the case, but Schoenberg's approach I think is telling.

If you want to talk about abstract painting, there is always Pollack. It is reduced to few choices (what? color, brush size, canvas dimensions) and then a rather pure act where the painting remains as an artifact of a artistic performance. This stands in contrast to the sort of compositional works of history, planned and executed in stages, sometimes by teams of apprentices.

Despondency, I might say, comes from the anxiety originating in this tension in the post modern environment. You aren't alone in that, friend! It is perhaps notable that Rothko wanted to infuse the Seagram's pieces with an anxiety that would settle on those diners his paintings were to surround! There is less and less wiggle room for the "new" going forward, and what there is left of it becomes ever more overshadowed by politics and economics, market "pop" as the end in style. What may remain is symbolism, the capture of the emotive, irony, etc.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )