John Erik Hmiel

  • Fellowship year:2018-2019
  • University: University of Wisconsin- Madison
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: The End of American Art: Arthur C. Danto and the Decline of the American Aesthetic
  • My dissertation examines the thought of the late American philosopher, Arthur C. Danto. As arguably the most influential philosopher of art of the later-twentieth century, many scholars have devoted sustained attention to the details and nuances of Danto's arguments. In particular, they have made much of his "dethroning" of aesthetics as the key to understanding much of the art of the twentieth-century. As an intellectual historian, however, my project, offers a novel reading of Danto's thought that opens onto significant intersections between the American avant-grade, the history of the human sciences, and American culture, which have been hitherto ignored by historians and philosophers alike.

    Considering, for example, how Danto's earliest work in the philosophy of art was framed by a theoretical rejection of the naturalist project inherent to both the avant-grade and the early project of analytic philosophy; how his demotion of aesthetics was rooted in a commitment to centrist-liberalism; and how his mature work emerged from a context in which the autonomy of aesthetics was being denied in the humanities at large, my project coheres on the argument that Danto's philosophy tracked a larger moment in American intellectual history that I call the "decline of the American aesthetic." These contexts from which Danto's thought emerged, I argue, were fundamental to that "decline", but also to understanding both his philosophy and its larger significance for American intellectual and cultural history. It is in this sense that Danto's thought provides a lens through which to show how the development of so-called "contemporary" art was inseparable from larger trends in American intellectual and cultural history.