Published Humanitas, Volume XV, No. 1, 2002

“In aesthetics . . . one can argue more and better than in any other subject.” —Anatole France

A Mildly Polemical Preface

It needs finally to be said, in paraphrase and in extension of Hegel, that art theory on the side of its highest possibilities is a thing of the past. How did this come about? How did art theory come to its demise?

Things die off in various ways: they wear out, they dissipate into triviality, they self-destruct, they no longer have any raison d’être. Postmortem analysis of art theory will reveal that at the turn of the millennium it has succumbed to all four of these. Hegel’s premature obituary concerns art, of course, and not art theory.

The precise and complete quote reads:

Art no longer affords that satisfaction of spiritual needs which earlier ages and nations sought in it, and found in it. . . . Consequently the conditions of our present time are not favorable to art. . . . In all these respects art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past. Thereby it has lost for us genuine truth and life, and has rather been transferred into our ideas instead of maintaining its earlier necessity in reality and occupying its higher place.

As to the manner and cause of art’s end, Hegel adds: “it is precisely at this its highest stage that art terminates, by transcending itself; it is just here that it deserts the medium of harmonious presentation of mind in sensuous shape and passes from the poetry of imaginative ideas to the prose of thought.” In the present age Hegel claims…


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