COURSE—Framing Art—The Origins of Cultural Authenticity


  • Quatremère de Quincy, Antoine. Ethical considerations on the Presentation of Works of Art [1815], Arthème Fayard, Paris, 1989, pp. 15–48 (transl. Jean-Paul Martinon)
  • Hegel, G. W. F. The Philosophy of History, transl. by J. Sibree, Dover, 1956, pp. 16–20
  • Inwood, Michael. A Hegel Dictionary, Blackwell, London, 1992, extracts: pp. 27–8, 101–3, 110–2, 118–9, 242–3, 274–5

After the First Reading

I’m having real problems seeing the relevance of Hegel’s piece to the seminar’s subject, and consequently his relation to Quincy.

To recap, this week’s lecture and seminar is entitled “the Origins of Cultural Authenticity” and the notes talk about these texts as “key texts in the origin of museums” and that the session will “introduce the key areas of investigation into the study of museums” and look “at the theoretical foundations of the museum and its relationship to the writing of art history.” Later we are asked to consider the notion of destination and what religious or historical references does it call for.

As far as I can see, there is no direct discussion of museums in the Hegel text. Therefore, the concepts and ideas discussed in it must have a general application to the subject, if we are to accept that it is relevant, and we must assume so, otherwise there is a major flaw in the session, or some kind of cruel joke/test taking place.

The hook, the entrée, must be this concept of “destination.” So how does Hegel deal with this?

Notes from Re-reading

What is “Reason”? Obviously not ‘reasoning’, as I initially understood it. It comes across as a more physical thing. Also, there is an emphasis on movement, development: “destiny”, “ultimate” – “. . . implies that that design is destined to be realized.” “Reason” is not an application but an attribute – which is inherent in an object? This is what confused me, the transferral of human faculties to concepts or objects – need more info on this.

So, I understand the example of the Roman Empire as a product of understanding, but how does it follow that an empirical fact (“its collapse”) is a “work of negative reason”? Understanding produces the concept which is described (I think somewhat confusingly) as an existing entity which sounds physical (although I suppose the RE is only an idea, not of the empire as a physical thing and negative reason is a feature of this idea (“entity”) which causes it to collapse and speculative reason causes the development of a new order. This seems an odd way of describing it.

Definition of ‘entity’: “being, existence, the existence of a thing as contrasted with its attributes.”

Is it the concept that is the entity? Or the actual collection of people and objects that make up the RE? Does it matter? The collection of people can still have, as part of its nature, the seeds of collapse, as much as the concept can.

‘Design’ is ‘destiny’. It inevitably works itself out. Is ‘import’ potential and ‘realization’ actual?

On the stage on which we are observing it—Universal History—Spirit displays itself in its most concrete reality.

(the ‘stage’ of history)

. . . the shape which the perfect embodiment of Spirit assumes—the State.

. . . that all [qualities of Spirit] are but means for attaining Freedom;. . .

[Matter] strives after the realization of its Idea; for in Unity it exists ideally.

Does Matter become Spirit on attaining it’s ‘central point’ (essence, freedom?)?

Spirit is self-contained existence.

–freedom, self-consciousness?

. . . it may be said of Universal History, that it is the exhibition of Spirit in the process of working out the knowledge of that which it is potentially.. . . so do the first traces of Spirit virtually contain the whole knowledge of that History.

. . . it is the freedom of Spirit which constitutes its essence.

This consciousness arose first in religion, the in-most region of Spirit; but to introduce the principle into the various relations of the actual world, involves a more extensive problem than its simple implantation; a problem whose solution and application require a severe and lengthened process of culture.

[which seems quite patronising]

Culture is the process by which Spirit is brought to consciousness, and:

. . . the thorough molding and interpenetration of the constitution of society by it, is a process identical with history itself.

“. . . the Christian principle of self-consciousness—Freedom” as opposed to “. . . the principle of Freedom generally”?

The History of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom; a progress whose development according to the necessity of its nature, it is our business to investigate.

In the process before us, the essential nature of freedom—which involves in it absolute necessity—is to be displayed as coming to a consciousness of itself (for it is in its very nature, self-consciousness) and thereby realizing its existence. Itself is its own object of attainment, and the sole aim of Spirit.

First conclusion

I think I have a better understanding of Hegel’s argument. To address the question of ‘Destination’, for Hegel this works by the development of Spirit to self-consciousness, and freedom. And this, outside of religion, is done by Culture – hence art/museums perform a didactic function – in this case to progress Spirit.

Quatremère de Quincy?

So how does Quatremère de Quincy relate to Hegel and the session’s subject?

His piece begins by stating that “Everyone now believes in the idea that collecting works of art and presenting them in what we now call Cabinets or Museums is the secret behind the well-being of the arts”, but proceeds to suggest that this is in fact denuding the works of their meaning, reducing them to “dull artifacts” and that by so doing we have stifled the development of any future masterpieces.

. . . no one will question the fact that art has to carry on perpetuating itself; but this must be driven by its own nature, not by some self-referencing game.

Could this be a similarity to the working out of the Spirit in Hegel?

No one is able to judge a work of art except by reference to an abstract notion of perfection which never changes. No one can now identify mitigating circumstances that have led artists to modify their technique or legitimise mistakes which, at first, came across as weakness or lack of genius. When seen in museums, works of art no longer retain the context or the circumstances which produced precisely those characteristics which for centuries generated admiration and awe. [. . .]

To what wretched destiny do you condemn Art if its products are no longer tied to the immediate needs of society? [. . .] We must stop pretending that the artworks themselves are preserved in those depositories. Their material relics may have been transported there; but not the network of ideas and relationships that gave the works their lives.

Is QdeQ saying that by divorcing the works from their original contexts we are breaking their possibility of destiny? Or their possibility of being useful as culture and hence as a means to develop Spirit in Universal History?

As much as I now understand the texts much better, I really don’t see how they relate in anything but a superficial way. I’ll have one more go at it tonight and see if I receive the lightning bolt of knowledge.

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