Good Reads | Greatest Philosopher in American Art History
“Philosopher” is one of those job descriptions in America that brings inevitable jokes about unemployability. Carlin Romano’s new book, America the Philosophical, aims at transforming the Rodney Dangerfield of academic disciplines into a more respectable and surprisingly “American” enterprise. Romano argues that philosophy isn’t the epistemological navel gazing normally associated with the term but actually the everyday, pragmatic analysis that surrounds our every decision point. When it comes to the art world, Romano picks Arthur Danto (shown above) as the greatest philosopher in American art history—the man every thinking art lover has to read and every other philosophical critic needs to come to terms with in one way or another. Is Romano right? If not, who deserves Danto’s crown?
My aim is to show that we have entered a period of post-historical art, where the need for constant self-revolutionization of art is now past. There can and should never again be anything like the astonishing sequence of convulsions that have defined the art history of our century. . . . In a sense, the post-historical atmosphere of art will return art to human ends. The fermentation of the twentieth century will prove to have been terminal, but exciting as it has been to live through it, we are entering a more stable, more happy period of artistic endeavor where the basic needs to which art has always been responsive may again be met.
—Arthur C. Danto, in The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (1986)
I am suggesting that. . . there are to be no next things. The time for next things is past. The end of art coincides with the end of a history of art that has that kind of structure. After that there is nothing to do but live happily ever after. It was like coming to the end of the world with no more continents to discover. One must now begin to make habitable the only continents that there are. One must learn to live within the limits of the world.
As I see it, this means returning art to the serving of largely human ends.
—Arthur C. Danto, in The State of the Art (1987)