More on Kant and Modern Art

kant-portraitIn my Kant and Modern Art post, I quoted eight varied big-name contemporary thinkers — Danto and Dutton and Rand and Scruton and others — who identify Immanuel Kant as the key philosopher in explaining the transition to modernism in art.

Here are two more I came across recently:

Jean-François Lyotard, leading postmodern thinker: “It seems to me indispensable to go back through the Analytic of the Sublime from Kant’s Critique of Judgement in order to get an idea of what is at stake in modernism, in what are called the avant-gardes in painting or in music.”[1]

David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian: “Sublimity is in critical fashion, here on the far side of modernity; and it is — with whatever degree of conceptual alteration — the sublime of Kant’s Critique of Judgment that has come to define the nature of this fashion.”[2]

So: Why is Kant’s version of the sublime fundamental to modernism in art?

kant-via-pomoIt’s an interesting question, for there’s over a century from the publication of Critique of Judgment at the end of the eighteenth century to the modernist break at the end of the nineteenth. What happened in that century? It’s also interesting because Kant is a highly abstract philosopher. How did his philosophical theories come to define artistic practice? And it’s interesting because Kant has a deserved reputation for rigid Prussian formality in the content and style of his writing, while modernism in art embraces the very un-Prussian figures of Picasso, Duchamp, Pollock, and Warhol. How can any explanation conjoin such apparent opposites?

So a fun intellectual history project that still awaits writing up.

[1] Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman (Stanford U.P., 1991), p. 135.
[2] David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Eerdmans, 2004), p. 44.

Connecting Kant to postmodern epistemology: Chapter 2 of Explaining Postmodernism [pdf].
Connecting Kant to the phrase “giving back.”
Wendy Steiner on Kant and modernism in art.

2 thoughts on “More on Kant and Modern Art

  • October 26, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    I quote from [in]famous art critic Robert Hughes [a liar and a fraud but that is another issue] on the most famous art critic of the 20th.c. Clem Greenberg-

    Though Greenberg stopped writing nearly a quarter of a century ago—the last piece in this collection is dated 1969, and it is a radio interview with him done for the United States Information Service—he continues to haunt some of his former disciples, who have never gotten over the resentments of apprenticeship. Rosalind Krauss, for instance, still can’t forgive him for writing off Surrealism, and for a memory like a film clip—Greenberg’s writhing lips pontificating to her about “Smart Jewish girls with their typewriters” is replayed four or five times in her recent book, The Optical Unconscious. And some Americans find it mightily hard to accept the fact that, just as Greenberg’s positivist, Kantian aesthetic positions seem to have been superseded by the flood of French theory into academe, the French themselves have recently discovered a new interest in Greenberg.

  • October 26, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Also, On Kant and “Giving Back” – the Christian view is mitigated by the notion of reward in the next life – a concept which Kant was particularly hostile to.

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