My friend and colleague Jay Noble just finished an article that he will present this spring at the FATE education conference in St. Louis, entitled "What Contemporary Art Means Today". After reading a draft that he sent to me, I emailed a response. This is an excerpt of what I wrote to him.
I was reading Arthur Danto, and I continue to site his thesis. His view is that the 'narrative' of Art ended in the 60's (and that narrative consistently got more and more aware of itself, culminating in Pop Art - which was the philosophical crown placed on top of the achievement of Modernism). Danto sees liberation in the 'post-narrative of Art' aftermath.
The point you make in your essay, as I see it, kind of ties in with Danto's view. Trends have lost their power. Anyone is free in creative terms, with plenty of physical space and seemingly no more chance for the 'theoretical King of the Hill' game to be impacting the reception of their work to any significant degree.
I believe that the stuff that happened in the 70s, 80s and 90s now looks like it was just the effects of market forces striving for domination - which I guess was causing people to be overtly prejudiced about the work being done at the time. It seems that there is less backlash today against the aims artists take in working through any tradition of their choice, than there was 20 or even 10 years ago. There's no veto power anymore in a situation where everybody can (and is) doing anything.
I'm left pondering. In the future, what are the challenges facing the higher institutions of art education? What is relevant to teach? What will end up being taught? What will constitute a 'complete' education in Art? (There's plenty of room for more essays on that in my opinion).
A big question remains: what is the importance of understanding art traditions (or an intuitive understanding of art history) to making art? Isn't everything becoming its own tradition? This gets into 'what is Art'? Arthur Danto believes that Pop Art successfully gave answers to that conundrum, yet I'm not so sure. I guess that if I do some work in the Philosophy of Art, I would understand Pop Art's answer much better from the inside out.
Meanwhile, there's always tactility to be found.