Arthur C. Danto

  • Walter Benjamin

    “THE GOAL I SET for myself,” Benjamin wrote Gershom Scholem in 1930, “is to be regarded as the foremost critic of German literature. The trouble is that for more than fifty years, literary criticism in Germany has not been regarded as a serious genre. To create a place in criticism for oneself means to re-create it as a genre.” It is not insignificant that Benjamin wrote this in French, as if German itself had to be re-created as a language if one were to do serious literary criticism in it. Characteristically, Benjamin transformed German into an instrument willfully oblique, and just dark enough

  • Arthur C. Danto


    The retrospective exhibition of CONSTANTIN BRANCUSI’s work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art accomplishes in its own right one of the artist’s most distinctive achievements: it soars like a bird in flight. And to whatever degree Bird in Space is an emblem of spiritual aspiration, the design of the exhibition itself, an ascending curve, emblematizes the triumphant ascent of the artist’s vision, as if on wings. The early work, in which Brancusi’s signature style is almost immediately recognizable—pale or polished egg forms that become detached heads hatching dreams—is displayed

  • Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box

    CONSIDERATIONS OF MODESTY, fortified by counsels of prudence, must caution philosophers against inviting comparisons between their own work and that of Immanuel Kant. These wise recommendations notwithstanding, I have irresistibly thought of Andy Warhol as having played in the evolution of my thought the role that Kant assigned Hume in the evolution of his own. Hume, Kant wrote, “interrupted my dogmatic slumber, and gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy a quite new direction.” It was Warhol who awoke me from mine, and made plain to me that the philosophy of art must move


    There is a passage in the writings of Karl Marx that is as fateful as it is famous, and indeed its fatefulness is not unconnected with its fame: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” If this is indeed the second time this thought is expressed in history, it must by its own criterion be farce, and its first occurrence in Hegel tragic. And something like this did in fact come true: since every Marxist knew this line—it is the kind of slogan that gets printed


    Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays, by Camille Paglia. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

    So far we have seen two acts of the razzle-dazzle Camille Paglia show. The first act—the exposition, as it were—was Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, a tumescent tome that ranges swaggeringly over the whole of the Western cultural patrimony, resembling in its ambitions such old-fashioned surveys as Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis and E. R. Curtius’ European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, but hyped-up and amphetamized for the MTV generation. Dirty, too—Paglia’s willful

  • Matisse, Art, and Le Bonheur

    When I last saw a major retrospective of Henri Matisse’s work, at Paris’ Grand Palais in 1970, I recall thinking how little the external events of the artist’s life had impinged upon his art. It seemed to me that were Matisse’s paintings the sole evidence a future historian had to go on in reconstructing the 20th century, the conclusion would be inescapable that the artist had lived in golden times. I recently came across a letter Matisse wrote in 1915 to the American critic Walter Pach, in which the artist remarks, “Since I have not been drafted I believe it is my duty as a civilian to work as

  • Haruspicy

    ONE DAY IN 1984, I taxied down Broadway with the physicist I. I. Rabi, discussing the topic of age. Rabi told me he was 86—“Just as old as the century.” I could not resist an affectionate tease, but when I told him his computational powers had evidently waned, Rabi responded that for him the century began with the discovery of the electron by J. J. Thomson, in 1897—though even so, his mathematics were a little off. And then we went on to the observation that the great epochal events tend to fall on nondescript dates—1066 but not 1000, 1492 but not 1500, 1688 but not 1700, 1789 rather than


    “No ideas but in things,” declared William Carlos Williams. “Criticism,” wrote Harold Rosenberg, “ . . . can be significant only through the . . . practice of it by interesting minds and by the appearance of writings addressed to real things.” What happens, then, when the “real thing” is criticism itself? Throughout the year, in this “Critical Reflections”section of Artforum, a range of art critics and theorists will explore some of these issues: how they view their role and responsibilities; how they would articulate the unique functions that art criticism can or does fulfill; how they define