By Lucian Krukowski
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My discussion of the American avant-garde, in contrast, begins by tracing the concept of form from its roots in the Kantian aesthetics of beauty through its successive linkages with other concepts: genius, creativity, and self-expression. " The artists I refer to in this context are Jackson Pollock and Ad Reinhardt. " Here, my conceptual source is an early theoretical work by Theodor Adorno and his linkage there of radical form in music with social criticism. The composers in question are those Adorno is preoccupied withArnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webernbut the issue I focus on goes beyond his concerns.
Each of these positions exhibits a remarkable congruity between artwork and Page 11 theoretical writing, and their comparison, I submit, supports the distinction I am attempting here. II Much of avant-garde theory is self-consciously historical. 2 Works are understood as exemplars of particular historical trends and developments and are judged for their adequacy in this role as well as for their "internal" aesthetic qualities. Such theory, evidently, has strong Hegelian roots. Art itself, for Hegel, is but an episode in historical time.
10 At this historical juncture, the imperative for art is to retain its own vitality. Within avant-garde theory, it attempts this by assuming the mantle of historical progress for itself and by acting, through the nature of its own development, as a rebuke to the society at large. In a ''decadent" society, one that thwarts its own potential for progress, aesthetic symbols that are ordinarily affirmative need become negative in order to reveal the social malaise. Criticism cannot, however, be projected through conventional, ''popular," means, for this only serves to reinforce decadence in that the "matter" of criticism is couched in forms that, paradoxically, suggest approval of the status quo.