Warhol’s 1964 exhibit of Brillo soap boxes at the Stable Gallery in New York
City signaled, at least according to Arthur Danto, the demise of a historical
narrative of art. Danto codified this
transition in 1984 as The End of Art
(Danto, 1998). Though art was still obviously being produced and exhibited,
Danto asserted that art had become obsolete because art and philosophy were
rendered autonomous. Similar fatal edicts, Danto noted, were proclaimed for
poetry and music by John Keats and John Stuart Mill, respectively.
comments are problematic for many reasons, the rigid boundaries and exclusions
foremost (e.g. the Western canon, the nomothetic fallacy as applied to art, the
normative constraints of art history, etc.) but perhaps more fundamental is the
taxonomic conceit that a purely descriptive agreement among experts in art
history or the philosophy of aesthetics is a stable foundation for the
description of art. Designation is not synonymous with causation. Danto’s
perspective is more aligned with the construction of a field guide. If an
artistic representation has certain characteristics, as in identifying a bird, for
example, it is art. Ignoring, of course, the morphological and evolutionary
basis for characterizing genus and species, a field guide approach to art is
especially vulnerable to the prejudices and commercial incentives of critics,
institutions, philosophers and historians.
essentialist perspective to art is no less problematic because the writing of
art history is itself often in flux. Finding a definition of art that is
putatively inclusive (this is art), but has clear boundaries (what isn’t art)
is a reasonable, but invariably elusive, goal.
art a thing or is art a process?
consciousness is fundamental to human thought, William James believed that it
is a process, something that emerges from the intersection of the brain, the
body, and the environment. Contemporary perspectives continue to suggest that
consciousness is a process, the interplay of signals from the environment, the
body, and the brain, with each integrated core state succeeded by yet another
differentiated neural state. If consciousness itself is a process that is
experienced as a dynamic equilibrium, a tangible steady-state so to speak, why
not consider art to be a process that emerges from the intersection of the
artist, the viewer, and the socio-cultural world? Using severe trauma as
prototypical input, it seems reasonable to consider the impact of severe trauma
on how an artist conceptualizes and depicts his or her art, how a viewer might
interpret these representations (particularly if they are aware of the
biographical details), and how a culture perceives the severity of that traumatic
event: AIDS, child sexual abuse, slavery,
or war, for instance.
this regard it’s interesting to note, despite Danto’s dismal proclamation, the
emergence of a fully articulated pedagogic discourse on art and trauma as a
late twentieth and early twenty-first century phenomenon whereby countless
authors (both academic and artistic (e.g. David Wojnarowicz), performance
artists (e.g. Karen Finley), and curators (e.g. The Imperial War Museum in
London (Artists’ Responses to the
Holocaust)), the Van Gogh Museum
in Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh: myths,
madness, and a new way of painting), etc.) have collectively heralded the
inception of Art and Trauma as a means of furthering our understanding of the
multiplicity of factors that underlie the creation and perception of art. These
writings are of course by no means anomalous, but parallel similar developments
in other art forms, such as criticism, memoir, music, and poetry, where the
sequelae of trauma are fully acknowledged and carefully scrutinized.
Tania Love Abramson, In Case of Shame (2017), 36"x12"x6", custom fabricated red enameled safety cabinet, sledgehammer, broken glass, warning labels.
Tania Love Abramson, MFA
Instructor in the Honors Collegium, University of California, Los Angeles.
Paul R. Abramson, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles.
Published August 1, 2018.