In his 1920 lecture “Künstlerische Zeitfragen” (“Artistic Questions of the Time”), the art historian Wilhelm Worringer declares the end of expressionism and the end of art. The polemical diagnosis claims that because the arts are no longer able to express a collective subjectivity, they have become socially irrelevant. In a more redemptive gesture, Worringer then proposes that sensuous criticism of past art will replace art itself, since criticism now channels Germany's creative energy and serves the former social functions of art. This article historically contextualizes this new form of criticism as an intervention into the Methodenstreit (methodological debate) and the field of social energetics, two crucial discussions around 1900 on the future of the humanities. The article also shows that Worringer's new criticism, which takes the form of the Denkbild (thought-image), attempts to fuse the discursive with the sensuous and visual. It thereby aims to reverse a modern trend toward increasingly abstract or conceptual thought. Criticism should instead rely on empathy for historical artworks, whose appreciation is meant to foster the public's feeling of being at home in the world. At the heart of Worringer's text is the question of how we moderns identify and judge works of art.
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1 February 2017
Malika Maskarinec; The End of Art and the Future of Criticism in Wilhelm Worringer's Art History. New German Critique 1 February 2017; 44 (1 (130)): 143–167. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-3705739
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