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Artistic Autonomy

By gmiller - Posted on 21 February 2011

Susan Buck-Morss describes Walter Benjamin's engagement with Brecht’s dialectical approach, and wrote that, subsequently Benjamin concluded the “… images of the unconscious are thus formed as a result of concrete, historical experiences, not (as with Jung’s archetypes) biologically inherited.” (DIALECTICS OF SEEING, p. 278.) This conforms with my view that autonomous work is properly seen as a product of the autonomous artist, not beholden to theology, the bourgeois market place, a need to be socially useful, nor even to resolve dialectic tensions.

“…. [S]ociety today would have more to fear from a radically articulated, de-aestheticized autonomous art than it would from a thoroughly culinary and ornamental postmodernism or a committed art staged for a bourgeois public sphere which has in effect become imaginary and mythical.” (Richard Wolin, WALTER BENJAMIN: AN AESTHETIC OF REDEMPTION, p. 257)

In his book THE INVISIBLE MASTERPIECE (Chicago, 2001), Hans Belting chronicles the history of the idea of the masterpiece and how its significance changed in the Renaissance as the role of art changed from religious explanation to individual expression. Belting describes the diminution of the importance of the individual artwork to the point where it could be asserted that a work itself is unnecessary. He describes the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1913, and how the theft contributed to the commodification of this painting, a process that continued through Duchamp’s moustache and goatee recreation. (The commodification of art is a significant topic in art history and is touched on elsewhere on this site.) This long and densly packed book repays close reading.

In a subsequent book, LOOKING THROUGH DUCHAMP'S DOOR (Cologne, 2009), Belting recounts how Duchamp in the end reasserted the primacy of the work with detailed instructions for the posthumous construction of a permanent installation (entitled Etant donnes) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 2012 I visited Philadelphia to look at Entant donne. It is clearly intended to be unsterdood as a purposfully created artwork, exhibiting craft, agency and content. Belting describes this work's continuity with the artist's earlier works, The Large Glass, which the artist began in 1912 and The Green Box, from 1934. (INVISIBLE MASTERPIECE, pp. 329-32).

Please click on the next entry, Modernism and Post Modernism, as it contains links to additional topics. Also, please read ARTIST'S STATEMENT, the link to which is at the top of this page.


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