Arthur C. Danto

  • Peter Hujar, Susan Sontag, 1975, black-and-white photograph, 14 3/4 x 14 3/4".

    Arthur C. Danto

    Susan Sontag was, like Oscar Wilde, an aesthetician hero. They both lived by the code of Puccini’s Tosca: “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore” (I lived for art, I lived for love). In one of her earlier pieces for the then-new New York Review of Books, she classified writers as husbands or lovers—steady as opposed to dangerous, providers of emotional stability in contrast to engines of unpredictable ecstasy. The piece, as I remember it, was about Camus. By her criteria she was herself a lover rather than a wife, addressing dangerous topics like pornography in edgy ways rather than building a systematic


    Critic, activist, novelist, filmmaker, Susan Sontag exceeded even that elastic and amorphous category of “public intellectual” so often linked to her name. To mark Sontag’s passing last December at the age of seventy-one, Artforum asked ARTHUR C. DANTO, HAL FOSTER, ABIGAIL SOLOMON-GODEAU, and WAYNE KOESTENBAUM to reflect on her achievements and legacy, which challenge us to reconsider the role of the critic today.

  • the best books of the year


    Arthur C. Danto

    The title of Joseph Leo Koerner’s extraordinary study The Reformation of the Image (University of Chicago Press) refers to the way Martin Luther “reformed” religious pictures to make them consistent with the Second Commandment, thus protecting them against the wave of iconoclasm that swept Protestant churches in the early sixteenth century. Luther’s remedy consisted in treating images

  • Arshile Gorky, Aerial Map, 1936–37, oil on canvas, 6' 5“ x 10' 1”.

    American Self-Consciousness in Politics and Art

    WITH THE GLOBALIZATION OF THE ART world, national differences among artists have grown increasingly marginal. There is little to distinguish American art from the rest in the growing list of intercontinental art fairs and biennials. At the same time, “American art,” however defined, is widely assumed to reveal something of the inner life of America as it changes over time. So there is a value in an exhibition such as the Whitney Biennial, which is largely restricted to American artists, since it may, at two-year intervals, tell us something worth knowing about where we are as a culture. During

  • Francisco de Goya

    IT IS AN ART HISTORY 101 TRUISM that Francisco de Goya is the Father of Modern Painting, and a truth of art history that later painters, in fact associated with modernism as a style, acknowledge him as an influence. But one may stand in a paternal relationship to modernists without being modern oneself—after all, Velázquez inspired Manet without anyone caring to push the origins of modernism back to the time of Philip IV. And Goya’s philosophy of painting stands far closer to Velázquez and Rembrandt than to Manet. Dark and light, for example, carry a moral, if not metaphysical, meaning in his

  • the best books of 2003


    Though photography was first believed to entail the death of painting, early photographs presented viewers with a dead world: Objects could be rendered with clarity only under the conditions of nature morte. Unlike paintings, which were able to depict the fact that, say, horses were in motion, the camera could capture animals only when immobile. Eadweard Muybridge’s achievement in 1872—thirty-three years after photography’s invention—was to bring the new medium abreast of painting by depicting the fact that a live horse was in motion. Muybridge had taken an important

  • 1989: The Removal of Tilted Arc

    BY THE TIME RICHARD SERRA’S Tilted Arc was lifted from Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan in March 1989, the controversy over its existence had spanned a decade. Discussions sparked by the 120-foot-long curved steel wall started even before its installation in 1981 and caused a detectable shift in attitude among artists, curators, and their audiences about the responsibility of public art to the public for whose benefit it is ostensibly intended.

    Though the debate continues to this day, at the time the nature of that benefit had certainly been inadequately canvassed. The placement of art in the

  • Painting by Julian Schnabel installed at Sotheby’s, ca. 1990–91. Photo: Louise Lawler.


    Few funerals have been as indecorous as the one held for painting in the early ’80s. Was the deceased truly dead, and, if so, in whose name could the death certificate be signed? Or was this a burial without a corpse, another instance of the ritual interments that seemed to recur throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as Arthur C. Danto suggests in his keynote statement? Artforum convened the roundtable that follows to offer our own reexamination of the Death of Painting debate and its legacy throughout the decade. In the April issue, a second group led by Robert Storr considers the afterlife of painting in the ’80s and beyond.

    In recalling a period of severe depression he underwent in the “melancholy winter of 1826–27,” John Stuart Mill wrote, in a famous passage of his autobiography, that he had been “seriously tormented by the thought of the exhaustibility of musical combinations.” Sooner or later, all the possibilities would have been used up, and music would be over with. There was no sense in Mill that this had already taken place, but the thought that it could or would deepened his distress. No composer of Mill’s time had, for instance, presented monotone works—a single note sustained for a substantial interval—nor

  • The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné

    AT SOME MOMENT between 1959 and 1961, Andy Warhol underwent an artistic change deep enough to bear comparison to a religious conversion. Before then his work had the effete charm of designer valentines: plump cherubs, posies, pink and blue butterflies, pussy cats in confectionary colors, young men with ornamental cocks, and ladies’ footwear seemingly designed with fantasists in mind. His images after the change were vernacular, familiar, and anonymous, drawn from the back pages of blue-collar newspapers, the cover pages of sensationalist tabloids, pulp comics, fan magazines, junk mail, publicity

  • Fernand Léger, Leisure, 1948–49, oil on canvas, 61 x 72 3/4".

    Arthur C. Danto on John Berger

    Except for his remarkable novels, John Berger’s books are collections chiefly of art-critical essays, always original and often inspired, held together by a somewhat cloudy political vision that has evolved with the fortunes of radical politics over the course of the past half century. The combination of the two—a grandly conceived and prophetically enjoined political philosophy, internally related to an intense and knowing preoccupation with specific works of art—is perhaps matched only in the work of John Ruskin. And though Berger’s criticism can be read and appreciated independent of his

  • Reading 9-11-01

    IN THE DAYS immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, titles that promised answers in the face of the disaster threatened to keep retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch's straight-talking memoir out of the top slot on best-seller lists. Studies of the Taliban movement, Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, and the ill-fated twin towers themselves predictably climbed the charts, but according to the New York Times, king of the hill was Nostradamus: At the online bookshop, three editions of the prophesies of the sixteenth-century mystic, into whose

  • Jörg Immendorff

    Painting must take on the function of the potato.
    —Jörg Immendorff, 1966

    Discussions of Jörg Immendorff’s artistic itinerary often begin with a painting from 1966, when he was still a student of Joseph Beuys in Düsseldorf. The words Hört auf zu malen—“Stop painting”—are smeared over an impulsively crossed-out bed, with Beuys’s signature hat hung on the bedpost. Like Brecht’s Erst kommt das Fressen (“Grub comes first”), Immendorff’s injunction analogizing paintings and potatoes signaled a determination to make art that was humanly useful in some basic way. Shaped paintings of fat-cheeked, Buddhalike