What shocks you about modern culture

Art must be allowed to shock

Twelve contributions to modern and postmodern art theory

By Rolf Löchel

Discussed books / references

In September 1998 the second Philosophicum of the Arlberg community of Lech took place. This time the participants dealt with modern and postmodern "art between animation and asceticism". The anthology of twelve lectures presents articles on various art forms, such as new music (Elmar Budde) and essays on individual artists such as Francis Bacon (Robert Kudielka), as well as fundamental art theoretical discussions (e.g. Boris Groys and Martin Seel). It is in them that the particular strength of the tape lies.

It starts with an essay by the editor Konrad Paul Liessmann. He believes that art can shock and that "through its sensual quality". Without the reaction of the shock, so Liessmann, the authentic art experience would be missing. Based on this, the author traces the paradox that modern art does not shock its "lovers and defenders", but those who are considered to be penniless. This can be understood in such a way that the shocked exclamation "This is supposed to be art ?!" the "connoisseur as a connoisseur" turns out to be the other way around in the relaxed museum visitor the "connoisseur as a connoisseur" is revealed. Liessmann lifts this only apparent paradox by realizing that the "true banaus" shows himself in the fact that he reacts in the museum in shock to something that "has long since ceased to shock" him as part of (media) reality - blood-smeared bodies about.

In a dispute with Harold Rosenberg, Rudolf Burger criticizes the fact that art has been burdened with a "claim to truth" since the Enlightenment. Nothing more than her "accompanying rhetoric" keeps her afloat. But he relativizes his verdict in a certain sense. Art only lives from "ritualized social manners" that do not allow one to say "what one really sees", but to say this is an "act hostile to culture", as the author puts it "without any irony".

Based on Schelling, Cornelia Klinger takes the view that the "utopian hope for a new age" initiated by the French Revolution has been transformed into the "utopia art (work)". In visual arts and poetry, the "overcoming of alienation and division", which failed in reality, should now be undertaken. This "reinterpretation" has proven to be "extremely productive". In addition, it has determined the definition of art and aesthetics up to the present day.

Following the statement that the "practice of asceticism" is particularly decisive for modern art, Boris Groys arrives at the thesis that the "merit of an artist of modernity" consists in the fact that he is much more radical on certain artistic forms limit than it was previously "customary and conceivable". Because the artist of the modern age does not practice the "accumulation of the artistic way of dealing with the world, but its reduction". Another thesis, however, is more interesting, namely that one can always "see and interpret" images in two different ways. On the one hand "in the sense of self-presentation, the autonomous manifestation of one's own personality". On the other hand, however, also as "a representation of the external appearance, as a re-presentation of an external form that still covers the interior of the picture even if this form does not look traditional at all." In connection with this he raises the question of whether "every avant-garde image cannot be understood as postmodern, i.e. as quoting" at the same time. Therefore, the "choice between two interpretations of the image - as a self-manifestation and as an image - remains undecidable". Unfortunately, the author does not ask another, obvious question: What distinguishes a picture in the interpretation as self-presentation as a picture, so what distinguishes it from any other object? Perhaps he thinks, however, that it is precisely the dual character that defines a picture. That would be more plausible, but then he doesn't know how to make his point of view clear. The decision between these two conflicting interpretations, continues Groys, can be brought about by "no optical experience and criteria". Thus, the avant-garde work of art confronts the recipient with a decision that is not so much "fateful" for the work of art as for himself: "The usual work-viewer relationship" is "turned around". It is the work that "judges" the recipient. A thesis strongly reminiscent of Lacan and Baudrillard, which the author justifies with the fact that approval of the avant-garde image does not come about through "insight, evidence and compelling recognition", but rather through an "original decision, an irreducible original creed." That sounds all too unctuous. Isn't it just a question of the arbitrariness or free choice of the viewer?

The essay concluding the volume was written by Martin Seel, who understands the distinction between "art between animation and asceticism [...] not as an alternative, but as a polarity". But in the end animation is the purpose of all art, "no matter how ecstatic or ascetic, opulent or economical" it may be. The reason for this is that art always aims at the "physical presence of its recipients". This also applies to the "apparently 'ascetic" art, which only uses other means than the "ecstatic". The goal remains the same, namely the "seduction of a pleasure in self-view and worldview in a foreign object." Seel developed his Position by means of a vehement criticism of Arthur C. Danto, whose arguments he also attests to madness. For Danto, the "dignity" of art lies in the fact that it is always beyond "its sensual appearance". Art objects are "different than they appear to be to the senses. "They would embody ideas that could not be" viewed "to them, but rather would be" ascribed "by producers and recipients. Seel describes this view as" fundamentally wrong ", and he understands it, his criticism It is based on the central thesis that no "successful work of art" has ever "left its appearance behind": art objects always remain "objects of a specific one Appearance ". One must, however, clearly distinguish the "normal obvious appearance of an object from its artistic appearance".