The Conquest of Time: The Forgotten Power of Art

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Abstract
It’s common knowledge that those objects we regard as great works of art have a capacity to survive across time. But that observation is only a half-truth: it tells us nothing about the nature of this power of survival – about how art endures. This question was once at the heart of Western thinking about art. The Renaissance solved it by claiming that great art is “timeless”, “eternal” – impervious to time, a belief that exerted a powerful influence on Enlightenment philosophers and, later, on modern aesthetics. The notion that art is timeless was contradicted by nineteenth century thinkers such as Hegel, Marx, and Taine who stressed the historical embeddedness of art. The conflict of these two ideas, together with other major factors discussed in this paper, has left us today without a viable account of the nature of art’s capacity to transcend time. This paper proposes an alternative solution: the proposition that art survives by a process of metamorphosis. But the principal emphasis of the paper is on the question itself: how does art transcend time? (a question that has nothing to do with the so-called “test of time”). If modern aesthetics is to remain relevant to our modern world of art, in which the art of the past – stretching back to Lascaux and beyond – is as important as Picasso and contemporary art, it urgently needs to address this neglected question.
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ALLTCO-32
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First archival date: 2018-11-17
Latest version: 2 (2019-04-01)
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2018-11-17

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