ask23 > Lingner: Reflections on / as Artists' Theories

Michael Lingner

Reflections on / as Artists' Theories

(In the context of the symposium Reflection on/as Artists' Theories)

"That I could easily become a theoretical artist... it wouldn't matter." P.O.Runge

That artists' theories could develop in modernism is mainly attributable to the fact that, after the French Revolution, Romantic art emerges as a completely new and self-determined form of experience for the ascending middle-class. The unprecedented autonomy gained by the arts is not so much a result of the drive for independence, which it has always had, as it is of the revolutionary changes in society preceding Romanticism, because, even if the French Revolution with its socio-political objectives initially failed, and so cruelly betrayed its own progres-, sive humanistic ideals, the earlier secular and spiritual domination by nobility and clergy had nevertheless been forever eliminated.

It was this wide-reaching loss of an inherited frame of reference which contributed substantially to art becoming autonomous and not so much its characteristic pursuit of freedom.

In any case, an art which has finally freed itself of its clerical and feudal shackles at the beginning of the middle-class era of secularization and democratization cannot and no longer desires to function as an instrument of religious doctrines or the dictates of ruling classes and is therefore not excluded from the circle of the useful arts.1 Divested of their function, be it as an altar painting or the portrait of a noble, pictures can only make sense or, even more, have a value, when they can, in every sense, hold their own as art. Having lost its function, art could, according to the art historian Martin Warnke, "like other manual skills [...] as a result, have died out" had it not been able to make this non-functionality into an integral, vital part of its aesthetic development.2

On the one hand, the arts are liberated, attain greater functional, institutional and economic independence, through their social autonomy, but, on the other, the result is a profound loss of a sense of purpose. Robbed of the former spiritual authority and secure financial foundations, all the expectations which had been directed at art prove themselves non-binding and, lastly, unfounded. Freed of its traditional ties and obligations, everything in art, whatever it wants to be or become, must be invented and justified out of itself. Thus the social autonomy of art, which was made possible by the revolutionary political changes, requires that the acquired formal and, initially, merely abstract freedom now be given a definite form through the self-determination of artistic decisions.

In the previous centuries the "what" of art was extensively predicated, and all that the artists had at their disposal was a traditionally defined "how." In order to make use of a new, constitutionally guaranteed freedom of art, it became necessary to create from nothing, both content and form, and, in addition, also to justify the sense and value of this activity. Theodor W. Adorno introduces his Aesthetic Theory with an apt description of the modern artist's situation: "It became self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore, not within it and not in its relationship to the whole, not even its right to exist.3

One can well understand that artists no longer believed that they could manage in their traditional field of work, given the enormous innovation and justification pressure, combined with existential anxiety, and that they would then have to take recourse to the medium of language to express the thinking process. Considering the complexity of the problem they faced, their thinking, with the application of reason, inevitably developed into full-fledged theory-like constructs. The phenomenon of the artists' theory in its modern form was born and has, in various ways, shaped the work of most of the important modern and avant-garde artists.4 But their lives were also affected, since theorizing also functioned as an instrument with which one could emancipate oneself from the new social expectations and demands directed at the artists, that is to say, the conventions of the middle-class.

Since autonomy can certainly never be realized through anything but a process of "self-governance through reason,"5 a more rational and conceptual structure had to be developed in the arts parallel to the growth of autonomy. Once the process has started to think itself, there is no escaping from it, because reason, through its own tendency to be self-reflective and to generalize, must continuously refer to everything, even to itself. That reason has this tyrannical6 according to Adorno totalitarian structure, condemned art to continuously develop its aesthetic autonomy. This, in its turn, compels art to continue the process of intellectualization, so that the processes towards aesthetic autonomy and the rationalization of the aesthetic mutually necessitate and strengthen each other. The ultimate conceptualizing of art in the so-called Concept Art of the 1970s is therefore a logical result. Or, to formulate it with a quote from Thomas Lehnerer's (an artist/theorist who, sadly, died young) postdoctoral thesis relevant to artists' theories, "The degree of art's social autonomy stands in proportion to the fundamental idea of the related artists' theories."8

The plausibility of this thesis was, not least, confirmed by the fact that the beginning of postmodernism in the 1980s to jump ahead somewhat marks the end of artists' theories. The post-modernist program, still paradoxically caught in the logic of modernism, autonomously, that is, independently managed to free itself of the previous avant-gardistic forced autonomy, which had also been cultivated in relation to its own (art-)history. This led to a reduction in innovation and justification pressure, and existential anxiety. Even if these pressures, objectively, continued to exist as artistic production conditions, the artists maintained the illusion that they could completely overcome them by means of irony or by ignoring the situation. Thus, any further efforts concerning artists' theories to overcome the risks of modern art production seemed superfluous, and artists' texts began increasingly to serve self-marketing rather than self-reflection.

General aspects

The initially described type of artist's theory, which grew out of art's autonomy process, should be seen as a form of to use an expression by Wolfgang Welsch "aesthetic thinking." Ideally, this thinking is aesthetically defined according to its content and purpose, but also its form, and from it one should be able to infer the work's inherent art conception. In any case, since Romanticism, artists' theories are an implicit or explicit precondition of artistic practice and have therefore, at least for modernist and avant-garde art, become an essential production factor. Artists' theories can also be defined in general terms, focused on their own artistic practice with productive intentions, i.e. thoroughly pragmatic, onceptualized reflections. They appear theoretic in so far as they more or less discursively form a connected statement.

Artists' theories can differ greatly in, for example, their reflectivity, systematics and intersub-jectivity, so that "in the form of theory" does not necessarily mean "theoretical" in the sense of "academic/scientific." But artists' theories can help themselves to the corpus of academic knowledge without having academic ambitions. Although even academic theory has meanwhile come to the conclusion that the criteria for what is considered to be scientific rationality is in the end subject to aesthetic options.9 The minimal criteria for each theoretical claim are that the statements do not merely exhaust themselves in the deictic (pointing) or descriptive, appellative or apodictic and rhetorical or even redundant use of language to characterize just a few of the dangers of the. usual artistic usage of language. And even if one accepts a very broad concept of theory there must be a recognizable purpose and a willingness by the theorizing artist to allow for general statements.

By nature, artists tend to stress the particular aspect, yes, the uniqueness of their ideas, to accentuate their art designs or personal achievements. Unlike the classics of modernism, who frequently operated with sometimes disastrous absolute positions, many later artists find it difficult to relate to a form of discourse whose subject is the general aspect of their work, for example their concept of art. For this reason, statements intended as artists' theories in content and form cannot avoid subjectivity, even if the author tries to make them appear objective through general philosophical, ideological or also academic re-insurances.

The subjective, self-confessional character of theoretical statements by artists is the main reason that one has various reservations about it. The spectrum covers the general suspicion that its only purpose is to advertise the artist's own work; to academic scepticism that maybe it should be considered as a completely separate and independent parallel phenomenon to the work, which, according to Hans Gadamer, perhaps requires as much interpretative work as the art works themselves. The result of such scepticism is a disinterest on the part of the unprofessional public and a prevailing ignorance amongst the experts on the subject of artists' statements. Academic philosophy mostly ignores artists' theories, considering them mere "surrogate forms of aesthetics,"10 and academic art history mostly relativizes them, as one of the many available historical sources. This situation is also the reason why philosophical aesthetics, according to Dieter Henrich, "has not succeeded in reaching the peak of the philosophical consciousness of the times without contradicting the self-image of their artists."11 This is the case for most art historical interpretations of contemporary art. It is these who suffer the strange condition of a latent competitive relationship to whatever artists express with language. One of the consequences of academic disinterest and ignorance about artistic thinking is that there is hardly any art criticism honed by art academics, instead it is characterized by market conformity and those who want to make a name for themselves. And that the post-modern artists have no interest in subjecting themselves to these intellectual exertions is quite understandable.

The artists' continued need to theorize means that it is necessary to see this as a decisive factor in artistic productivity, making Adorno's demands all the more important: "if artists are forced to a permanent reflection, then one must prevent it from being contingent, so that it will not end in random and amateur pseudo-hypotheses, justifications for handicrafts, or in non-binding ideological declarations about intentions."12 In order to protect theoretical thinking by artists from such deficits and to promote its cultivation, I would like to engage an idea of the art historian Hans Belting. He challenges the academics working in the field modern art to become "partners of the artist's historical voice [...] (and) take on certain functions of the artist."13 A new, cooperative type of artist's theory could develop under certain methodical and humane preconditions, if one could succeed, for example, through dialogue to reformulate and/or reappraise the artists' statements, without sacrificing authenticity, so that they can be useful and reliable sources for the comprehension of the respective art concepts. In 1985, together with F.E. Walther, I launched, in book-form, what was probably a first attempt in direct cooperation between artist and art academic to formulate an artist's theory which would satisfy these criteria.14 The fact that this book became a kind of bible amongst those interested in Walther, makes our undertaking as much a success as a failure.

Raised to an academic level, the artist's theory can also develop into a form of, and foundation for, artistic research if it can identify new developments in the arts, not only nominally, as art, that is, making their essential aesthetic difference to tradition recognizable, and thus real. If art must above all be contemporary, whether in a modern or post-modern terms, then the traditional artistic methods of passing things down, such as the "copying" of the great works, or "succession," that is, following on after a great master, no longer suffice. All the same, a certain amount of continuity and historical reference remain indispensable. This is the only way to keep artistic innovation from merely becoming, or being seen as fashionable, that is, as abstruse novelties or mere witnesses of the Zeitgeist.

Only from an historical positioning can the artist afford to formulate independent ideas which do not fall short of the most advanced positions in the history of aesthetic ideas. For this the artist must reconstruct at least the outline of a thematic history (based on traditional developments in art and individual works) of the aesthetic ideas relevant to him and his work. If this necessarily subjective attempt at reconstruction should not omit rationality and validity from the start, then the artist must subject his thinking to scientific research standards, because only then, when the historical development of aesthetical ideas are analyzed with sufficient stringency, and their meaning analyzed critically according to current standards, can ideas on aesthetics be defined as such and also be exonerated from the accusation that they are subjectively arbitrary and historically inadequate.

Aesthetical ideas thus won, and formed into an artistic concept, can then serve as specific hypotheses for further individual artistic research. The testing of these, undertaken on its many concrete forms of expression, earns the privilege to be called an experimental art practice. The obvious objection that no actual artistic materialization could ever be even nearly congruent to a previously, ideated, hypothetical concept of art, misses, above all, the inspirational function and the special quality of artistic research. It was Marcel Duchamp who called the differences between artistic intention and its material realization "art coefficients," and declared the magnitude and type of deviation as the decisive marks of the quality of a work. He no longer considered such structural differences to be unique or deficient, but, basically, as a given and even as highly productive. Above all, he took up this challenge in his own artistic research practice, especially with the ready-mades.

Let us change perspectives and finally look at the artists' theories themselves, as the object of scientific-analytical research, and study individual forms in detail. Thus we clearly enter the field of art theory. It should be studied, keeping the following aspects and questions in mind:

1 Can one recognize an art idea and a personal art conception in the different artists' theories?

2 How stringent and coherent are the arguments in the different artists' theories?

3 Has an historical positioning taken place in the different artists' theories?

4 Can one discover an historical difference with respect to the explicated or reconstructed art concept?

5 What value can one attach to this historical difference, and according to what criteria?

Discussing these questions can lead to a better understanding and to a sounder assessment of artists' theories, art concepts and art conceptualization. But one should not assess the work itself, neither positively nor negatively, rather not at all, based on these results. What is instead required is an examination of how the individual works relate to a particular artist's theory. A possible agreement between the artist's theory and work(s) is not necessarily to be taken as a sign of quality neither for the theory, nor for the work. This must be subjected to an individual/intrinsic analysis, taking into account the information one has gained from the artist's theory.

It would be a mistake to think that the quality of art can be proven by means of such a differentiated discourse, no matter how discerning. That one should substantiate this in a better and more rational way and not leave it to individual caprice, would be of great cultural importance to society, but also of substantial methodic value, for example, to the art academics, who would then no longer need to omit the question of artistic quality. But this leaves us with one last unsolvable question: How does (scientific) rational judgement relate to the sensual experience of a particular work? Art reception becomes more enjoyable and aesthetics more adequate and productive the further one enters in upon the adventure of this interplay.

Typical functions

The program I have presented above, concerning the research of particular artists' theories, will now be followed by a general analysis of how the changes in type and function of artists' theories have developed historically, on the basis of three examples. First, an example dating from Romanticism, when artists' theories first appeared. It serves to introduce the basic functions and types of artists' theories in modernism. The artist is P.O. Runge (1777-1810), who is a particularly suitable example, as two volumes of writings have come down to us, from which one can reconstruct the characteristic artistic revolution of the times.

A Runge's artistic development was initially shaped by the spirit of classicist art ideals15: "One of the perfect signs of art's decay is the mixing of its different genres. Art itself and its forms are related to each other. They possess certain tendencies to converge, even to lose themselves in each other, but precisely therein lies the duty, the merit and the honor of the true artist-that he can keep the art field in which he is working separate from the others, that he knows how to make every art and art form self-sufficient and, as far as possible, to isolate them."16 In this introduction to the 1798 first edition of the art publication Propyläen, Goethe, who was also the publisher,formulated« one of his basic ideas based on the renewal of classical art. His ideas were to receive a practical validity through the annual "Weimarer Preisaufgabe" in which visual artists competed for a prize. The meaning that such prescriptions, coming from the artist who wrote "Nature and Antiquity," could have on Runge is seen in a letter to his brother Daniel, written in Dresden in 1801, while Runge was still at the Academy in Copenhagen. Runge responded to his brother's question concerning his artistic goals with "To practice the ideals which Goethe propagates in his Propyläen."18

After Runge had thought about the theme of the 1800 "Weimarer Preisaufgabe" and happily concluded that his ideas "were quite similar to those of the best competitors,"19 his decision to take up the challenge set by the established standards, and "join the race for the prize in the following summer"20 seemed well-founded.

Runge finished Achill und Skamandros, his drawing on the twenty-first song of the Iliad, the theme of the 1801 competition, after he had "almost become ill with the work"21 on his numerous designs. He hoped that recognition from Weimar would confirm to him and his brother, Daniel, who supported Runge's artistic career financially up to Runge's death, "that upon which our choice had fallen, and which we had through our own experience found suitable, was indeed the right thing."22

As early as February 1802, barely six months after receiving the negative decision from Weimar, Runge freed himself of the standards set by the classicist art ideals, as represented by Goethe.23

This was a bitter experience,24 during which he undertakes a total re-evaluation of his reflections on the historical determination of art: "The art exhibition in Weimar and the whole procedure there is taking a wrong direction, in which it is impossible to create anything that is good [...]. Achill und Skamander and all the things related to how it should be brought to completion was in the end all in vain: we are no longer Greeks, cannot feel things in the same way when we see their perfect art works, even less ourselves create them. How could we ever have had the unfortunate desire to reawaken the old art?"25

Runge finds further arguments against "all the poppycock in Weimar,"26 for which he certainly did not so much blame Goethe as his Roman friend, the so-called "Kunstmeyer," 27 in an idea inspired by Ludwig Tieck, which reconstructs the evolutionary-stages of art in their dependence on the history of the religions28: 'The Greeks brought the beauty of form and design to the highest level at the time when their gods perished. The new Romans brought historical art the furthest when Catholic religion perished; and something is perishing in our world. We are standing at the border of all religions which emerged from Catholicism [...]."" With the fall of the old myths, ' Runge recognizes not only that a revival of antique art has become impossible, but he also considers any connection to Christian art as lost. Consequently, he considers a totally new start in the arts to be necessary. In 1802 Runge considers the break with tradition in such radical terms that he "sees absolutely no other means" than "a great war, which could turn the whole world around,"30 yes, he even considers it "most fortunate for art" as Quistorp, CD. Friedrich's teacher, interprets one of his letters "if all art works were to be destroyed in one stroke and art would have to start again from the very beginning."31 This awareness of a crisis in his own era will be politically confirmed through Napoleon's campaigns (1805 battle of Austerlitz, 1806 battle of Jena and Auerstedt) and his victory over Prussia/Russia, which will cause radical changes to Europe.

His decided rejection of historical imitation, based on the realization that the art of the past is irretrievable, provides Runge with the decisive impulse to anticipate a new art: "I hardly imagine that something so beautiful as historical art, when it was at its greatest, could ever happen again,[...] it would then have to come about in a completely different way, and this lies quite clearly before us, and maybe the time will soon come when quite a beautiful art could arise again, that is in landscape."32 The term "landscape" merely serves to provide Runge with a provisional title for the outline of an anti-classicist program, and does not signify any intention to further develop landscape painting or promote its academic form to a better position. Already in 1802, at a time when he is just developing his new art concept, Runge speaks disparagingly of "Landscapery, if you so will"33 and that "we must see landscape as something quite different."34 This is the last time that he will use the programmatic term landscape. The idea of the unity of the arts will take precedence.35

It is quite likely that his meeting with Ludwig Tieck in November 1801/ which would soon turn into a friendship, was the decisive impulse for Runge's transition to Romanticism.36 Though the actual extent of Tieck's personal influence on Runge is unknown, as there are insufficient testimonials to verify this, their friendship cannot be overestimated, as it was through Tieck that Runge evidently discovers the most important Early Romantics and their philosophy. Tieck's literary influence is in any case undisputed. "Nothing has ever so deeply affected me to my very soul as this book which good Tieck, I think, rightly, calls his favorite child,"37 Runge wrote enthusiastically to his friend Besser. This book, the here already quoted novel Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen (publ. 1798), formulates as did Atheneum published in the same year by the Schlegel brothers the essential Romantic ideas, and evidently influenced Runge's broad Romantic idea of landscape, which was clearly the key element in his rejection of classicism.

"I do not want to copy trees and mountains; but my feelings, my moods, which move me at this moment, it is these I wish to hold on to and to communicate to all those who understand."38 This firm resolution by Tieck's Sternbald, the painter, serves to characterize the belief that the Romantic concept of landscape manifests itself as an "artwork of the mind."39 Runge takes this up and makes it his own: "Just as the philosophers have concluded that one imagines everything out of oneself, we also see or should see in every flower the living spirit which man puts into it, and this is how the landscape will develop, as all flowers and animals are only half present, unless man does his part. Thus man forces his own feelings onto the objects around him, and through this all acquires meaning and a language."40 "I believe that I can now understand you a bit, what you actually mean by landscape,"41 Runge writes to Tieck at the beginning of December 1802, when he discloses his perspective for the successful Romantic transition with this apt description of his own concept of landscape. By investing landscape with sense and meaning through the exaggeration of emotions, Runge discovers the possibility of a completely new beginning for art and for himself as an artist. "No ' landscaper ' ever existed who has brought any real meaning into his landscapes, who has managed to put allegories and clearly beautiful thoughts into a landscape."42

In further theoretical writings, Runge generalizes the landscape concept, making it a nature concept, and finds in its principle of "becoming and passing" his actual subject, which will occupy him in the various versions of his main work, the Vier (Tages)Zeiten, until the end of his life.

The essential and clearly recognizable meaning which Runge's theorizing has for his art practice can best be characterized as "constitutive function." This, to a greater or lesser extent, is also valid for most of the artists'theories in modernism. But in Runge's case it is not only particularly strong, there is also the classical case of theory taking absolute temporal precedence in relation to artistic practice.

B A second example moving about one hundred years forward is Adolf Hölzel (1853-1934), a representative of a classical modernist position, and a particularly fitting choice as an extensive theoretical literary estate exists, edited by myself.43 Hölzel was not only one of the first "conceptional" type artists, which was at the time misunderstood and for which he was criticized as being "too pedagogical," but his was also an artistic practice in which manual exercises, researches in painting and drawing as well as conceptual work are continuously combined and interrelated with each other. Hölzel, and later Paul Klee, gave this process the seemingly paradox but absolutely fitting name of "artistic thinking" or rather "imagist thinking," thereby formulating an artistic credo which would remain valid for decades. Artistic theory and practice are here no longer separate concepts, but are somehow carried out simultaneously.

On the one hand, Hölzel demanded that one allow the "necessary intellectual" aspects to "precede"44 the work, and on the other hand he equally considered the mastery of "artistic elem ents" as an important prerequisite for creating art, and he dedicated much time to the practical aspects. For decades he began his working day with "manual exercises," the "daily thousand lines," which he executed with brush, pen or pencil, for the most part on wastepaper. This training, which can be compared to the finger exercises of a pianist, not only served to make his hands more skillful, but was in its different manifestations the foundation and the very core of his art. His artistic practice and, surprisingly, also his theoretical reflections both originate in this basic training.

These exercises which were initially just carried out to improve Hölzel's manual dexterity, consisted in a more or less steady, parallel, rhythmic swinging motion of the drawing hand. It was important for him that he move in harmony with his anatomy, that this sensation help him express "the soul of the hand" and thereby also "the completely personal."45 This also explains the cathartic function, which he attributed to his "scribblings." "When I want to free myself of all the worldly, and the painful and negative thoughts, then I begin with my exercises. And then it quickly seems as though all earthly things fall away and only artistic thoughts stream forth [...]. I recommend this daily spiritual bath."46

Reports on Hölzel's "notoriously strange habit, while thinking through something or entering into a mood to accompany his rhythmic process with drawn lines"47 go all the more to show that he did not carry out his exercises in a merely mechanical manner, nor were they artificial displays. Quite the contrary, it was actually a way of life, and this usually ignored existential aspect is what makes his exercises so special. Body and soul, feelings and intellect are involved in a natural way, so that the exercises are practically predestined to function as a medium of "artistic thinking," in which one almost incidentally succeeds in making amazing formal discoveries.

Drawings dating from the beginning of the century exist in which the spontaneous, endlessly circling drawing motions already result in suggestive linear constructs. When the continuous flow of the ink has reached a certain intensity, one can already see signs of a method later created by the Surrealists: "automatic writing," and sometimes almost similarly bizarre and archaic figurations ensue. But there are drawings even from before 1900, in which the linear traces of motion turn into completely abstract, but extremely suggestive combination of signs. These "abstract ornaments" initially had a Jugendstil appearance, taken directly from figurative designs or typography. And Hölzel would soon stop seeing these ornaments as isolated shapes, but as free forms in an interplay between figure and background, in relation to the whole surface, thereby achieving an imagery which goes beyond all conventional calligraphic design. ,

As abstract pictures gradually develop out of the autonomous ornaments, Hölzel distances himself also in his own main work from any kind of figurative art and introduces the "epoch of great spirituality"48 in art before Wassily Kandinsky. No later than 1905, with his Composition in Red, Hölzel finally achieves artistic abstraction and discovers painting as a means of expression completely free from any kind of perceptual intentions. As a consequence, the object loses its erstwhile "harmonizing" function, previously necessary for the formal design of a picture. That Hölzel has mainly conducted his exercises on used paper, which has already been written or printed on, helps him in his search for a compositional solution equivalent to that of representational art. The continued overlayering in the drawings produced a confusion of lines, which he used to conduct formal reductions and accentuations with the help of transparent paper and tracing technique. In this way he created his varied constructive scaffolding what he called "concepts" which became the basis for his abstract picture compositions.

Just as Hölzel's exercises beyond their educational and therapeutic function on the one hand, as surreal "scribblings," open the door to the subconscious and enable both abstract designs and structural picture concepts, on the other hand they are also the source for the very "conscious" and theoretical statements by the artist. While the hand usually moved over the picture surface row by row, the free, circular swinging of the line often turned into actual writing movements, which sometimes also dissolved into drawing movements. Hölzel described such processes in detail in which the letters of the alphabet cropped up and even took the shape of coherent words and statements. "The pen glides on, not how you want it to, but how it wants, often further than you imagine, and suddenly there are complete word combinations, about which you don't know who or what they are until a word ignites and leads your spirit into other regions [...] and so sentences might be formed [...] it is poetry even in the prose which comes as much from feelings as the intellect."49

Hölzel's drawing exercises put a medium at his disposal which enable a continued, yet gradual transition from the manual exercise, via the poetics of drawing, to the prose of conceptual thinking. This is how the "daily thousand lines" come about and also the notes on his theoretical reflections, concerning the phenomenon of the image. Organically integrated in Hölzel's daily art work, they are also for this reason of such a large quantity that they have become part of an extensive literary estate. But of the whole collection, only the theoretical estate remains as complete bundle. What Hölzel has written over the decades is not in the traditional ¦ sense a literary collection and does not contain a coherent theory or even teachings, despite all the art theoretical content. It is rather about an individual, a different form of artistic practice, which, in the drawings with a writing pedestal, has even developed into special form of work. Between manual-mechanical exercises on the one hand and aesthetic-creative experiments on the other, the art theoretical reflections have an integrating function.

C The last example, some 50 years later, is the American artist, Joseph Kosuth born, by his own account, in 1945. His work evidences a more far reaching integration of artist's theory and practice. Not only has he declared his programmatic texts, such as Art after Philosophy to be art, but in his later development, work and theory actually become identical and are presented as one. Just as the theoretical concept determines a work's form, the work also presents the theoretical content. When functioning in this way, the artist's theory must be characterized as performative.

Conceptual art is as far as one can see the last art form which seamlessly fits into the historical development of 20th century avant-garde art. Avant-gardist art was about the continuous attempt to redefine art. In the continuation of this tradition it is only consistent, if finally the medium of painting or sculpture no longer seems predestined for the self-definition of art, because for this purpose the more precise, more suitable medium is language with its abstract conceptualization, which is therefore a preferred medium of conceptual art. It uses this medium in a consciously "unartistic," functional way, in order to define itself as art beyond all material expression, purely conceptual. Avoiding all morphological similarities with conventional art forms, concept art originally aimed for a purely language-based definition of art, indifferent to the aesthetics of material.

In the course of time it became evident that the very rejection of aesthetic materials was a formal stylistic feature, emitting a power of definition at least as strong as what came from all conceptual operations. The "neo-conceptual" art movement of the '80s (compare for example Haim Steinbach), and also J. Kosuth (even earlier) reacted to this, taking the role of the aesthetics of the material into consideration. Exemplary for this further development in conceptual art is the project modus operandi. This work sequence, realized by Kosuth in various locations, differs from his earlier work exactly in that, beyond the purely conceptual meaning, now the specific materiality of an art statement is also reflected. Nevertheless, also this work attempts to provide a self-definition and justification of art, making the basic conditions under which art is still possible, or can still be defined as such, into its central theme.

Having become autonomous, the arts as previously shown are from the very beginning, subject to an extreme self-justification compulsion, which explains the tendency of most modern artists to theorize. Among the numerous theoretical artists' writings which have led to a general conceptualizing of art, Friedrich Hölderlin's remarkable and incomparably profound attempt to fathom from the "method of the poetic mind"50 the conditions in which art is. possible, is particularly noteworthy. Even if it is a famous text, and there are surely good reasons for its continued relevance, it is nevertheless astonishing when Kosuth today also considers the "modus operandi," that is to say, one of its specific procedures, to be a determining factor for art. But Kosuth does not provide a primarily conceptual explanation concerning the actual make-up of this "modus operandi."

Unlike Hölderlin and his own earlier works, Kosuth refuses any linguistic, detailed explanations of the actual procedures. Instead, he gives a more precise definition and demonstration of the "modus operandi" in a formal and material way, with the typography itself, by placing it in different contexts and varying the typography accordingly. Through the manner in which the wording is made concrete, that is how one deals with it as a text form; in a select spatial and social context, one can clearly see what the procedure is. The work modus operandi not only presents a nominal and hypothetical art definition, but carries it out on itself, realistically and factually, in such a way that the meaning and formal appearance of the text reciprocally elucidate and substantiate each other. "Modus operandi," as a general, conceptual definition of art, also defines its formal, material particularities as art.

The two basic directions of concept art: methodical planning and the more concept-defining directions, are here expanded upon by the aspect of a contextualization of its operations, which at the same time means a high point and a turning point of the self-referential nature of art.


1 Cf. M. Warnke: "The arts did not become autonomous because they always wanted [...] to, but probably because they were no longer useful in their traditional roles." M. Warnke, "Kunst und Verweigerungspflicht," Kunst im öffentlichen Raum. Skulpturen-boulevard Kurfürstendamm, Berlin 1987, p. 29.

2 Warnke, "Kunst und Verweigerungspflicht," p. 29.

3 T. W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, collected works, vol. 7, Frankfurt 1970, p. 9,

4 Michael Lingner points out that, although he has used the masculine form of "artist's theory," that is "Künstlertheorie," throughout the original German version of this text, he does mean the term" to refer to both men and women. He also thinks that it could well be an interesting subject for gender studies to investigate if and how artists' theories by men and women differ.

5 J. Ritter, Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, vol. 1, Darmstadt 1971, p. 707.

6 There where reason takes one, when it has been abandoned by feeling, is described by G. Förster, 16 April 1793: "(...] rule by, or rather tyranny through reason; perhaps the strictest of all, is still to come." With this idea Förster proves himself an early Romantic. After W. Hofmann, "Wahnsinn und Vernunft," Europa 1789, Kunsthalle Hamburg 1989.

7 Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, p. 24.

8 T. Lehnerer, Die Methoden der Kunst, post-doctoral thesis, Wuppertal 1992, p. 23.

9 Cf. W. Krohn and G. Küppers, Die Selbstorganisation der Wissenschaft, Frankfurt 1989, p. 18.

10 R. Bubner, "Über einige Bedingungen gegenwärtiger Ästhetik," Neue Hefte für Philosophie, n° 5 (1973), p. 39.

11 D. Henrich, "Kunst und Kunstphilosophie der Gegenwart. Überlegungen mit Rücksicht auf Hegel," W. Iser (ed.), Immanente Ästhetic - Ästhetische Reflexion. Lyrik als Paradigma, Munich 1966, p. 524.

12 Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, pp. 507-508.

13 "The art historian should become the partner, the historical voice of the artist, who commissions him. there is only a small step missing in this concept (by H.Belting, Das Ende der Kunstgeschichte, Munich 1983) to the conclusion that the art historian becomes an artist himself, or at least takes on certain functions of the artist." From Martin Warnke, "Ästhetik. Eine Kolumne," Merkur Heft, n° 5 (1984), p. 566.

14 M. Lingner, Zwischen Kern und Mantel, F.E.Walther and M. Lingner: art talks, Klagenfurt 1985.

15 On the definition of "classics" compare J. Ritter (ed.), Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, vol, 4, Darmstadt 1976, p. 854 f.

16 J.W.Goethe, In Goethe's Werke, vol. 12, Hamburg edition 1953, p. 49.

17 W. Roch, Ph.O.Runges Kunstanschauung, Strassburg 1909, p. 2.

18 Ph.O.Runge, Hinterlassene Schriften, vol. 2, Göttingen 1965, p. 92. (additional quotes will here be referred to as HS I/ or HS ll/)

19 HS ll/p. 63.

20 HSU/ p. 63.

21 HS 11/p. 80.

22 HS 11/p. 63.

23 In a covering letter one can also read: "We recommend the author to study antiquity and nature, as the ancients saw it. But most important would be the study of the works of the great artists of all time, with respect to their thoughts." HS ll/ p. 514.

24 HS ll/ p. 173 "With all his accursed stuff, Goethe has nearly led me to the brink."

25 HS I/p. 5 f.

26 HS 1/p. 14.

27 HS 11/ p. 120 " isn't Goethe who wants the wrong things; the good things to be found in Weimar, we certainly have him to thank for."

28 Cf. Schlegel's "Gemälde-Gespräch" in Athenaeum

29 HS I/ p. 7.

30 HS I/ p. 8. Runge's scepticism concerning the validity of the "old forms," was not only in reference to art, but also to the political conditions, "If the Prussians will be so mad as to continue with the same old story in their economy and same old bogey military state, how should the people in such a state come to their senses [...]. Should we not have realized that the old forms are no longer valid, that they are crumbling and collapsing?" HS 11/ p. 347.

31 HS 11/p. 235.

32 HS I/p. 14 f.

33 HS 1/p. 7.

34 HSI/p. 16.

35 This is why he (Ph.O.Runge, Berlin 1940) rightly says that one should not see C.D.Friedrich's art as the fulfillment of Runge's concept, one in which Runge himself failed.

36 This is why the discussions concerning the Runge-Tieck relationship are often controversial. J. Traeger, Ph.O.Runge und sein Werk, (Munich, 1976) p. 18 f. mentions three different versions.

37 HS 11/p. 9.

38 L. Tieck, "Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen," Marianne Thalmann (ed.), Ludwig Tieck, Werke in vier Bänden, based on the text as it appeared in Schriften from 1828-1854, and with reference to the first editions, vol. 1, Darmstadt 1973, p. 894.

39 H. Rehder, Die Philosophie der unendlichen Landschaft, phil. thesis, Heidelberg 1929, p. 144.

40 HS I/p. 16.

41 HS 1/p. 24.

42 HS 1/p. 6.

43 M. Lingner, "Die Praxis der Theorie." The artistic origin of Adolf HöIzel's "theoretical works" and the history of the editing work can be found in "Adolf Hölzel - Der kunsttheoretischer Nochlass" in the series PATRIMONIA 155, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart 1988. HYPERLINK

44 A. Hölzel quoted from W.Hess, "Zu Hölzels Lehre," C. Haenlein. (ed.), Adolf Hölzel Bilder, Pastelle, Zeichnungen, Collagen, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover 1982, p. 112.

45 A. HöIzel, "Aufbruch zur Moderne," cat. Museum Villa Stuck, Munich 1980,p.22.

46 A. Hölzel quoted from W. Venzmer, Adolf Hölzel. Leben und Werk, Stuttgart 1982.

47 A. Hölzel quoted from A. Roessler, "Dos abstrakte Ornament...," C. Haenlein (ed.), Adolf Hölzel. Bilder, Pastelle Zeichnungen, Collagen, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover 1982, p. 79.

48 W. Kandinsky, Über das Geistige in der Kunst, Berne 19S2, p. 143.

49 A. Hölzel quoted from Venzmer, Adolf Hölzel. Leben und Werk, p. 97.

50 F. Hölderlin, "Entwürfe zur Poetik," Sämmtliche Werke, vol. 14, Frankfurt 1984.

This translation has not been commissioned by the author.

Alle Rechte vorbehalten.
URL dieser Ressource:
Bearbeitete und undokumentierte Version der Ressource!! | berechneter wert: 76fb4a8afc904547418e0137358f49329685ae2a
gespeicherter wert: 0ec68276878063e73016aaea6c9f771e9cab11c4