Has art ended again?

Resultado de imagem para Andy Warhol in 1964. Photo by Mario De Biasi/Mondadori/Getty

Andy Warhol in 1964. Photo by Mario De Biasi/Mondadori/Getty

Ever since Hegel, artists and critics alike have been claiming that art is finished. But what could that actually mean?

Owen Hulatt  is a teaching fellow in philosophy at the University of York. His research focuses on profundity in music and art. His latest book is Adorno’s Theory of Aesthetic and Philosophical Truth: Texture and Performance (forthcoming September 2016). 

There are more artworks, and more types of artwork, being produced than ever before. Galleries are widespread and – in some countries – free. Major art prizes, and major artists, receive frequent press attention. With all this abundance, it seems nonsensical to suggest that art had ended. It’s not clear that the claim even makes sense – how could art come to an end?

But this idea is not as obviously wrong as it seems. Talented and insightful philosophers of art have taken this claim quite seriously, even while acknowledging that artworks will continue to be produced in larger numbers, and in new and exciting ways. When these philosophers claim that art has ended, they are not saying that there will be no new artworks. Their claim is quite different. They are telling us that art has some kind of goal, or line of development, which has been completed; plenty more will happen in art, but there is nothing left to achieve. Just as Francis Fukuyama claimed in 1989 that history had ended – meaning not that nothing more would ever happen, only that all ‘viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism’ had been exhausted – so too some philosophers claim that art as a practice will continue, but has no more ways of progressing. Two of the more prominent philosophers to have made this sort of argument were G W F Hegel in the early 19th century, and Arthur Danto in the late 20th century.

Hegel was, in many ways, the father of what we now call the history of art. He gave one of the earliest and most ambitious accounts of art’s development, and its importance in shaping and reflecting our common culture. He traced its beginnings in the ‘symbolic art’ of early cultures and their religious art, admired the clarity and unity of the ‘classical’ art of Greece, and followed its development through to modern, ‘romantic’ art, best typified, he claimed, in poetry. Art had not just gone through a series of random changes: in his view, it had developed. Art was one of the many ways in which humanity was improving its understanding of its own freedom, and improving its understanding of its relationship to the world. But this was not all good news. Art had gone as far as it could go and stalled; it could, according to Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics (1835), progress no further:

the conditions of our present time are not favourable to art […] art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past.

In 1835, Hegel claimed that art had ended. Almost exactly 10 years later, the German composer Richard Wagner premiered Tannhäuser in Dresden, the first of his great operas; the beginning in earnest of a career that would change musical composition forever. Less than a century after Hegel’s claim, the visual arts saw the onset of Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism and Fauvism, among other movements, and literature, poetry and architecture were deeply changed by Modernism.

In 1964, Danto attended an exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York. He came across Andy Warhol’s artwork Brillo Boxes (1964) – a visually unassuming, highly realistic collection of plywood replicas of the cardboard boxes in which Brillo cleaning products were shipped. Danto left the exhibition dumbstruck. Art, he was convinced, had ended. One could not tell the artworks apart from the real shipping containers they were aping. One required something else, something outside the artwork itself, to explain why Warhol’s Brillo Boxes were art, and Brillo boxes in the dry goods store were not. Art’s progress was over, Danto felt; and the reign of art theory had begun.

We could ask ourselves whether these claims were false – but a better question is, what would it mean for these claims to be true? What do philosophers mean when they say art has or will come to an end? Is it just hyperbole? And why does art keep ending, for philosophers, while the rest of us see it carrying on, taking new directions?…




Signs of Consciousness, Sentience and Intelligence in Nature Demand Our Respect

by Sofia Adamson, Staff Writer, Waking Times

Part of our lot as human beings on planet earth is dominion over the plant and animal kingdoms, and as a by-product of our economic and cultural heritage, we have largely become indifferent to the suffering of animals. An indicator of the cruelest aspects of our nature.

This systemic disrespect for nature and her creatures is part of, or symptomatic of, a larger problem with modern society, the institutionalized perception that we are separate and independent of our environment. This dualism is part of the division of consciousness that is often noted in ancient texts as well as contemporary discussions of the characteristics of human consciousness.

Perhaps the most appalling sign of human kind’s dualistic trap is how we treat our friends in the animal kingdom. Yet this destructive idea is a tragic falsehood, as animals and plants alike are conscious, sentient and intelligent. The examples of this are everywhere today, and in this video, we see humpback whales clearly showing their appreciation to the humans who freed them from fishing nets.

We are now also discovering the deeper lives of plants, and in a research study spanning some 30 plus years, biologists have discovered the songs of plants.


Forest ecologist Dr. Suzanne Simard of the University of British Colombia has uncovered the subterranean network of organisms that allow trees to communicate with one another.

It appears that animal consciousness is rising at present here on planet earth, in spite of wholesale neglect. Elephants can understand and correctly interpret human gestures, and chimpanzees are developing new behaviors and skills. Here, Kanzi the bonobo chimpanzee starts a campfire to roast marshmallows.

Chimps have now been observed using tools to fish for food, a sign of their continuing cognitive development.


Their learning process is now being compared to that of human children, and in the following video, an experiment demonstrates the similarities between the two.

Many of the world’s most majestic animals are under direct threat of extinction today, and while most humans fail to appreciate this for what it really means, others continue to learn from animals, admiring their tenacity in the face of overwhelming pressure from humans. In the following case a pack of Andean bears works together to dismantle remote wildlife cameras.

Animals display a broad range of emotion as well, as is sometimes revealed in front of cameras, for example here, when a leopard exhibits compassion for the child of monkey it has just killed.

And animals also like to have fun, as is seen in this clip of dolphins getting high off puffer fish and having a good time in the wide open ocean.

You don’t have to look to hard to find signs of mankind’s disrespect, disregard, and distrust of nature. Raising awareness of our connection and dependence on the natural world in these materialistic times is the only way to counter the devastation. Fukushima, the Deepwater Horizon, mountain-top removal, deforestation, tar sands, fracking, plastic pollution, depleted uranium, animal cruelty, so on and on… there really is no end to our ignorance and disrespect.

Whatever your relationship to the natural world is, and no matter what kind of dystopian illusions you may have for our future, there is no escaping the truth that we are all products of nature, and as such dependent on the natural world for survival and happiness.

About the Author

Sofia Adamson is a contributing writer for Waking Times with a keen appreciation for matters of science and the spirit.

This article (Signs of Consciousness, Sentience and Intelligence in Nature Demand Our Respect) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Sofia Adamson and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution and author bio.