How do Danto and Krauss differ?
Krauss’s “Originality” and “Expnded Field” both attack Historicism. By this I mean linear teleological, or linear and goal-directed, history. The idea here is that art is a set of institutional practices. The history of art will be that institution’s search to understand its own essence, to achieve perfect self-consciousness. Once art ‘acheives its notion’, the history of art is over. This idea comes directly from Hegel’s famous Lectures on Aesthetics, a book I have taught in past IT3 classes. Danto’s controversial contention is that art, which is tied to the human faculty of mimesis, achieves its notion in 1964, when Andy Warhol produces and displays a Brillo Box which is entirely indistinguishable from a a real Brillo box.
If there is any difference between Warhol’s Brillo Box and the real thing, that difference is wholly non-perceptible. Without any use of mirrors, the copy has become a perfect replica of the original. The history of art having completed itself, art is now free to turn in any direction it pleases with concerns for discovering or revealing its identity. Danto sees this moment not at the end of art in general, but rather the end of art history. With the end of art history we enter into a new epoch marked not by linear development but rather radical pluralism. The artist is now free to create, ad libidum, in a wide range of possible styles and mediums.
This is precisely what Krauss rejects in her essays. Staunchly opposed to Hegelianism, Krauss argues the history in non-linear and non-developmental. Here, she takes here lead from the French ‘structuralist’ thinkers anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss and controversial Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. It’s not that there is no such thing as history whatsoever. But history, here, is viewed as comprised of various epochs or moments, each with its own inner logic. The logical structure of each unique historical moment is more powerful than an individual, and it rigorously determines what artists can or can’t produce. Each structure has its given lifespan. Once all possibilities within it are played out, that moment, as ‘problematic’, has been worked through, at which point a new set of problems, guided by a different inner logical structure, will emerge.
The new structure, like the old one, will be self-governing, and it ought not to be viewed as an effect of which the prior structure was some prior cause. According to this deterministic logic, the artist is in no wise free simply to create whatever he or she wishes. Rather, an artist, in order to be considered serious and relevant, must produce work showing careful reflection on its specific technical preconditions and, crucially, work in a way which expresses its situatedness within the larger logical structure. Krauss would argue that to abandon all responsibility to the structure is to produce art which is frivolous kitsch. Meanwhile, her most recent studies have been dedicated to proving that various contemporary artists celebrated for their arbitrary and pluralistic approach to creativity are, as a matter of fact, producing work entirely governed by mappable structures, whether anyone is conscious of it or not. For Krauss, the freedom these ‘eclectic’ artists seem to enjoy is, in fact, an illusion.