Gediminas Akstinas. ± Begalybė. 2002, metalas,
stiklas, 540 x 400 x 31
of the History of Art and Criticism in Culture
should start by redefining key concepts of art, history,
culture, and criticism.
We are interested in the question why history of art today becomes instrumental
in deeper understanding of the world and man. In modern civilization,
it can counter the one-sided technocratic attitude, which turns human
being into a screw in the postmodern consumer society. Yet plunging
into the realm of art and aesthetics also entails some dangers and may
result in developing snobbishness or museum fetishism. Indeed, it takes
almost supernatural ability to differentiate between the real and pseudo
art and to share this with others. Chronological tables of contemporary
positivistic art history can hardly reveal any spiritual experience
for a student of art.
If art is a spiritual phenomenon, does that imply the existence of some
spiritual hierarchy, denied by the adepts of Postmodernism? Being rooted
in the soil of the Enlightenment, history of art in its current shape
explains just one facet of the overall picture and fails to address
this hierarchic anatomy.
Art history was formed under the influence of the 19th century historicism,
contemporary concept of art emerged even prior to that.
At that stage the history of art was subjected to the methods of historical
rationalism and presented stereotyped picture of the development of
While looking for the sources of art criticism, it becomes obvious that
history of art as the phenomenon aesthetic, cultural or secular-cultic
is only possible when art is defined as an aesthetic
experience and a form of conceptualism separate from integral religious
and rational scientific truth. Yet as soon as art gained complete independence
and became art in the sense of musee imaginaire, it trigged the
great art revolution. Nowadays this was brought to the extreme where
questions arise whether that still is art.
This doubt proves the fact that art based on exclusively aesthetic considerations
is a bastard of Modern times. In post-Christian civilization it clandestinely
absorbs sacramental functions of religion. Spiritual experience is reduced
to the sphere of pure aesthetic experience.
Postmodernists are probably right in declaring the end of art, as the
New Ages applied this concept only to a certain specific category of
artworks. Later attempts were made to project the same criteria on the
art of previous ages and to forge a uniform history of art. Art history
in its present shape applied classification and analysis methods borrowed
from the 18th 19th century historicism. It cast away criteria
of value and separated traditional (including sacral) and untraditional
(modern) art. Metaphysical categories of beauty and truth were artificially
replaced by a dynamic institution of art criticism.
What is art criticism? It is a substitute of magic legitimization
and legal approval. Art critic performs the functions of a judge, magician,
actor, and a jester. In the epoch of Enlightenment and Romanticism,
art critic hides behind a mask of a double-faced character, which reflects
the old opposition between philosophy and sophism. Art criticism is
inevitably poised between romantic idealism and bourgeois pragmatism.
Idealism turns artists into semi-gods, while art critic retains the
role of a shaman. When an artist becomes a sanctified idiot, his critic
is a double idiot interpreting mirages created by fools. Such a situation
is only possible when a certain world outlook blocks the entire horizon
of existence and establishes itself as a reality to be taken for granted.
On the practical level, art critic performs functions of a publicity
In the critical discourse on Modern art, several rules apply. These
rules are based on expectation of uniqueness and novelty, as these qualities
serve to support the hypothesis of the creative spirit inherent in history.
The legacy of the Enlightenment is a vision of an intelligent and bright
future for culture. As some mutations of art compromise such a prospect,
art criticism ends up playing a double game. Art critic or historian
must restore a balance every time when a genius destroys
the established aesthetic and psychological order.
Modern technology and entertainment industry have placed art into a
difficult situation. Science has appropriated truth, therefore art champions
artistic truth. Art history and criticism play the role
of a servant and chronicler. The fact that each classification and collection
is in a sense interpretation, and even propaganda, seems to be ignored.
I want to note how much art criticism depends on specific conditions,
which have produced contemporary art as a pure aesthetic phenomenon.
It largely depends on a certain conventional world outlook, ontology
and ideology in its broadest sense. That means that the cult of art,
which emerged in the New Ages in Western world and the critical discourse,
which supports it, are neither universal nor completely convincing.
I would like to stress that art history does not necessarily need to
be dogmatic: it can relate more closely with a certain philosophical
or religious perspective.
Deeper knowledge of art, which was created in different traditions,
and an insight into underpinning believes give hope that a common platform
will be established enabling a better understanding of our culture and
that of others. When different cultures and civilizations interact,
the language of art and comparative art history discourse can provide
impetus for gaining more spiritual wisdom.
In the face of triumphant technocratic ideology, art becomes a refuge
and shelter for man. The art critic or historian is tasked to draw boundaries
and post signs separating the realms of material phenomena, aesthetic-artistic
domain, and the sphere of virtual deceit. It means critical revision
of the same eternal categories of life and death, truth
and beauty, reality and fiction, pleasure and pain, as reflection on
art and its interpretation is not something neutral, but a factor influencing
human consciousness and the subconscious.