The Fate of the Arts   /   Summer 2004   /    Reviews

Hans Belting’s Art History after Modernism

Wilson Brissett

These days, in order for art to catch the attention of anyone outside of a narrowly defined elite subculture, it seems there has to be some political interest involved. One of the latest examples, last year’s looting of Iraq’s cultural treasures permitted by inattentive invading American soldiers, sparked a wave of outrage among Western journalists, and the event opened a space for art once again to take the center stage for awhile. Whatever one thinks of the loss of Iraqi artifacts, and the presentation of those events in the news media, the hubbub that swelled around the issue amounted to one more example of an all- too-familiar cultural divide. While elite cultural guardians sharply criticized what was seen as an act of near cultural imperialism, more pragmatic voices were asking what was wrong with looking first to the security of what they considered to be the more essential social institutions. The gap between these two groups defines, in many ways, the ambiguous place of art in contemporary society. The populist scorn for art as arrogant, incomprehensible, and self-contained is greeted by an ever more determined insistence that art, whatever it looks like, holds an unquestionably sacred position as the receptacle of a nation’s cultural history.

To read the full article online, please login to your account or subscribe to our digital edition ($25 yearly). Prefer print? Order back issues or subscribe to our print edition ($30 yearly).