According to Adorno, "The concept of art is located in a historically changing constellation of elements; it refuses definition" (2). However, the OED defines "art" in definition 8b as "The expression or application of creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting, drawing, or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Also: such works themselves considered collectively." In Adorno's eyes, this definition is simply not enough. He argues that art is constantly changing and opposing concepts that have once been considered fundamental; therefore, Adorno believes that art inherently cannot be defined. He says, "Art must turn against itself, in opposition to its own concept, and thus become uncertain of itself right into its innermost fiber...By attacking what seemed to be its foundation throughout the whole of its tradition, art has been qualitatively transformed; it itself becomes qualitatively other. It can do this because through the ages by means of its form, art has turned against the status quo..." (2).
I thought that it would be interesting, and useful, to test Adorno's argument by looking at how the word "art" has been used since the 1600's using the OED online. In 1694, Dryden in his To Sir G. Kneller in Ann. Misc. 89 wrote "From hence the Rudiments of Art began; A Coal, or Chalk, first imitated Man." In other words, "art" was defined in 1694 as being highly imitational. Moreover, one could presume that "art" was characterized by an attempt to be as realistic as possible, in order to imitate human form. Later in 1927, R.H. Wilenski in Mod. Movement in Art 30 wrote that "Nineteenth-century romantics deliberately left out all the features which the admirers of classical painting were accustomed to regard as indispensable to art." This proves that over time "art" began to lose distinct characteristics that could be used to define it since 19th century romantics opposed "indespinsable" classical painting techniques and forms.
1 year ago