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fith-type editing to which we have already alluded.
Through the use of the notion of amplification, we see one way that the cul-
tural practice of art has for expanding itself by enabling practitioners “ both artists
and audiences “ to identify new work as developments of the tradition. In this
manner, the view of art as a cultural practice assimilates the point of the open con-
cept approach that the originality of art must be respected. However, there also is
another way in which the artworld supplies its practitioners with the means both
to produce and to track legitimate expansions of the tradition. An artwork need
not only stand in relation to the tradition as an amplification; it may also function
as a repudiation of an antecedent style and its associated values.6 For an object to
count as a repudiation, it must not only be different from what has preceded it, it
must also be interpretable as in some sense opposed to or against an antecedent
artistic project.
When an artwork is regarded as a repudiation of a preexisting style or form
of art, it appears, in the culture from which it emerges, to stand to what it repu-
diates somewhat like a logical contrary. We think this way, for example, of the
tension between Classicism and Romanticism, on the one hand, and between
Soviet montage and deep-focus realism in cinema, on the other. A repudiation
is not simply different from the art that precedes it, but is opposed to it in a
way that gives the repudiation™s relation to the past a distinctive structure. To
identify a new object as art by virtue of its being a repudiation, one must show
exactly along what dimensions the object rejects the tradition as well as show-
ing that just that sort of rejection was conceivable in the context in which the
work appeared (i.e., Duchamp™s readymades, as Danto teaches us, could not
have been intelligible as a repudiation in the artworld of Cimabue). History
and tradition, in other words, supply information that constrains what at any
given time can function as a plausible repudiation and, thereby, a radical expan-
sion of the frontier of art.
The cultural practice of art transforms itself through amplification and repudi-
ation. Amplification might be thought of as an evolutionary mode of change; in
contrast, repudiation is revolutionary.We think of artistic development not only in
70 ART, HISTORY, NARRATIVE
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terms of the smooth process of solving self-generated problems, but also in terms
of the eruption of conflict between opposing movements and artistic generations.
Repudiation is the category meant to capture this latter process. But it needs to be
emphasized that an artistic repudiation is not a total break with the past. Rather,
repudiation typically proceeds by maintaining contact with the tradition in several
ways that enable us to view it as a continuity within the cultural practice of art.
First, and most obviously, the artistic repudiation stays in a structured relation
with the tradition insofar as it proposes itself as contrary to prevailing practices.
The object that counts as a repudiation is not an ineffably alien creation but, in
the Hegelian sense, is a determinate negation of certain tendencies of its prede-
cessors. It remains, so to speak, in an essential conversation, no matter how acri-
monious, with its generally immediate forebears. Second, it is interesting to note
another characteristic relation that works of repudiation maintain with the past.
Usually, though repudiating art rejects the styles and values of its immediate prede-
cessors, it often at the same time claims affinity with more temporally distant exem-
plars in the tradition.The German Expressionists, for example, while decrying the
limitations of the realist project, cited the expressivity of medieval painters, such as
Grünewald, to warrant their figural distortions.The predecessor program of real-
ism, that is, was rejected by the Expressionists in the name of the exclusion or
repression of qualities, such as expressive distortion, that could be found in the
work of more remote practitioners of the tradition, which possibilities, by the way,
had earlier been repudiated by realists.
It is easy to multiply cases of this sort. In the sixties, ambitious American nov-
elists rejected the psychological realism of much dominant postwar fiction in
favor of gargantuan comic escapades in which characters were types. But this
rejection of psychological realism was accompanied by the reminder that such
forms were in the older tradition of the picaresque.The newer works, by people
like Pynchon, were not repetitions of the picaresque, but developments in the
light of the experience of the psychological novel. Likewise, postmodern archi-
tects, such as Venturi, advance their position not only by rejecting the modern tra-
dition of figures like Le Corbusier, but also by citing the influence of Renaissance
Venetian cityscapes.The point illustrated by these examples is that even in cases of
artistic revolution, the break with tradition is anything but complete. Not only
does a work that repudiates a tradition remain conceptually tied to the predeces-
sor program that it rejects, but also the qualities that the predecessor program is
said to preclude or repress are argued to have precedent in more temporally
remote tendencies in the tradition.7
Through contrast and precedent, then, the repudiation remains continuous
with the tradition of the cultural practice. In order for an artist to have a new
work accepted as an example of art through the rubric of repudiation, as well as
for a critic or spectator to argue concordantly, it must be maintained that the work
in question determinately negates one part of the tradition while rediscovering or
reinventing another part. Obviously, if no connections could be found between a
new work and the practice, we would have no reason to call it art.
ART, PRACTICE, NARRATIVE 71
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Art is a cultural practice that supplies its practitioners with strategies for iden-
tifying new objects as art. Since cultural practices tend to reproduce themselves
and to negotiate their self-transformations in ways that sustain continuity between
the existing tradition and expansions thereof, the modes of identifying new
objects as art make essential reference, though in different ways, to the history of
the practice. New objects are identified as artworks through histories of art, rather
than theories of art. Artists and audiences share strategies for identifying new
objects as art.The artist is concerned with these strategies in order to present new
artworks, while the audience is concerned with them in order to recognize
new artworks. Primary, though not necessarily exhaustive, examples of these
strategies involve regarding whether the objects in question can stand as repeti-
tions, amplifications, or repudiations of acknowledged artistic tendencies in the
tradition.8 Moreover, these strategies are not necessarily mutually preclusive. A
given avant-garde work may be a repetition of a stylistic gambit of a contempo-
rary art tendency “ for example, the displacement of popular iconography à la
postmodernism “ while also being a repudiation of preceding art movements “
for example, of minimalism.
Confronted by a new object, a practitioner of the artworld considers whether
it can be shown that the new work is a repetition, amplification, or repudiation of
the tradition.These strategies are key means of identifying artworks.They are not
definitions of art but rely on identifying new artworks by a consideration of the
history of the artworld. Their essential historical reference is grounded in art™s
being a self-transforming historical practice with a flexible tradition that facilitates
innovation. If this sounds somewhat like the family resemblance approach, insofar
as it underscores correspondences (albeit not necessarily manifest ones) between
new art and past art, it nevertheless evades the crushing objection to that concep-
tion since it also relies on genetic links between such works. Nor does it claim
that art is an institution, but rather makes the weaker point that art is a cultural
practice, though, of course, cultural practices are the sorts of things from which
institutions may emerge.

III

So far an attempt has been made to maintain that the way in which we identify
objects as art is to rely upon strategies internal to the practice of art, which
enable us to situate objects that repeat, amplify, or repudiate already accepted
artworks as contributions to the expanding tradition of art. The question of
“What is art?” “ where it is construed as a question of identifying artworks “ is
deferred as an issue internal to the artworld, which provides procedures, rather
than real definitions, in order to ascertain which objects are artworks. But this
may be thought to be a dodge.
To say that objects are identified as artworks in virtue of strategies internal to
the practice of art invites reframing the issue as a request for a statement of the
identifying conditions of the practice of art.That is, if we deflect the demand to
72 ART, HISTORY, NARRATIVE
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supply an account of the essential nature of the artwork by an invocation of the
practice of art, we will soon be asked to specify the conditions that differentiate
the cultural practice of art from other cultural practices.
But I would like to suggest that the practice of art need not be characterized
by means of setting forth the necessary and sufficient conditions of this realm of
activity. The cultural practice of art may be elucidated by means of narration
rather than by means of an essential definition.That is, pressed to portray the unity
and coherence of the practice of art, we propose rational reconstructions of the
way in which it historically evolved. The identity of art, in other words, is con-
ceived to be historical. One would not attempt to characterize a nation™s identity
by means of sets of necessary and sufficient conditions. For a nation is an histori-
cal entity whose constituent elements came together as a result of certain patterns
of development, whose guiding purposes emerged in certain circumstances, and
whose interests can be transformed in response to subsequent pressures.The unity
of this sort of entity is best captured by an historical narrative, one that shows the
ways in which its past and present are integrated. Similarly, though differences
between art and a nation are readily to be admitted, the cultural practice of art is
essentially historical, and accounting for its coherence primarily involves narrating
the process of its development, highlighting the rhyme and reason therein.9
The historical or narrative approach to the cultural practice of art has already
been foreshadowed in our discussion of some of the key strategies for identifying
new objects as artworks. For repetition, amplification, and repudiation are obvi-
ously, though implicitly, narrative frameworks. They are story forms or genres, if
you will, to be filled in with details of the artistic tendencies, movements, and pre-
suppositions of one stage of development that give rise to a later stage in virtue of,
for example, one of the processes discussed. At any point in the history of the
practice (or practices) of art, the unity of a later stage of development is rendered
intelligible or explained within the practice by filling in the narrative of its emer-
gence from an earlier stage by means of such processes as repetition, amplification,
and/or repudiation.
What is called Early Modern Dance, for example, is intelligible within the
practice of art as a repudiation of European ballet, while Impressionism in paint-
ing can be viewed as an amplification of the realist project in fine arts. Perhaps
MTV, or at least some of it, could be shown to be art by pointing to the ways in
which it repeats the techniques of avant-garde film. Such narratives are open to
criticism.Their reports must be based on evidence.They must be accurate as well
as plausible historically, and their descriptions of the objects under scrutiny must
be appropriate.
Such narratives reveal the unities within the practice of art, its coherence, so to
say. Moreover, these narratives are rational in that they aim to make optimal sense
out of their materials by integrating past and present. The significance of later
works is rendered intelligible in light of relations with past works. At the same
time, in examining such processes as repudiation, the significance of past, perhaps
forgotten art is brought to our attention. New works can inform our understand-
ART, PRACTICE, NARRATIVE 73
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ing of past art, while past art informs our understanding of new art.This under-
standing proceeds by historical narration, which is both forwards- and backwards-
looking, and which discloses lines of development through such recurring
patterns as repetition, amplification, and repudiation.
Moreover, the contents of these patterns of development are neither preor-
dained nor closed but depend, at any given point, upon the antecedent evolu-
tion of the artworld. Narrative provides us with a means for tracing the unity
of the practice of art without prejudging what art of the future will be. For the
art of the future may branch out from the present not only through various
processes of change, but also with respect to a multiplicity of various dimen-
sions.That is, what aspect of an artform might be repudiated or amplified next
is not strictly predictable.
Thus far, our approach to questions about the unity or identity of the practice
of art has been to suggest that we can cut into the history of the putative practice
at any point and present narrative explanations of the way in which a given stage
developed from an earlier one and portended a later one, by, for example, intro-
ducing or extending a problematic, or promoting studied reactions. Such histori-
cal narratives reveal the coherence of the practice of art; they disclose its identity
as an integrated historical process.
This narrative procedure, of course, presupposes that we need to begin by pre-
suming that we have knowledge that some objects are art, as well as knowledge of
the salient features of those objects. However, once that rather reasonable assump-
tion is granted, we can move forwards or backwards from a given point in the his-
tory of the practice to show its unity and coherence with past and future stages.
Nevertheless, here it may be objected that what can be shown is at best the
unity of certain portions of the practice rather than the unity of the practice as a
whole. But I see no reason in principle why a narrative approach is fated to fail in
this matter. Undoubtedly, a narrative of every stage in the history of the practice
would be a herculean project and probably a tedious one, given the long swaths of
repetition we are likely to encounter. But, for example, granted that certain ten-
dencies of the present are art, I see no reason why we cannot move backwards
through history applying the strategies of repetition, amplification, and repudia-
tion, along with whatever other narrative-developmental frameworks we discover,
to reconstitute the trajectory of the tradition in reverse, so to speak.10
Admittedly, when present tendencies change, we may have to readjust our
characterizations of art history, just as the significance of the historical past in gen-
eral alters with the unfolding of contemporary events. However, each in-princi-
ple-possible revision would give us a characterization of the practice of art as we
know it. As it is, of course, we do not demand accounts of the historical unity of
the entire cultural tradition of art, but only more localized accounts of apparent
breaks with and striking departures from the normal, that is to say, repetitive
development. For, given the massive amount of obvious repetition within the tra-
dition, a full sketch of its unity is effectively besides the point. But, again, there is
no reason to think that such a sketch is impossible in principle.
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Talk of tracing the unity of the practice backwards raises questions about the
origin of the practice and, thereby, focuses questions about its purity. For as we
trace the development of the practice it becomes clear that it is not entirely dis-
junct from other cultural practices. Specifically, it is widely held that the practices
we regard as art emerged from religious concerns. Objects were made for the pur-
poses of representing (in some sense of the term) gods and myths, and such objects
were replete with potently expressive qualities, were inscribed with hermetic
messages, and reflected cultural self-conceptions. Spectators responded to these
objects by, among other things, recognizing their referents, by being moved affec-
tively, and by interpreting their significance. The possibilities of these sorts of
broadly described interactions were probably put in place by religion, but they
were gradually developed independently and, ultimately, secularly through
processes such as repetition, amplification, and repudiation in ways that have gen-
erated the history of the practice of art.11
This line of historical conjecture, however, would appear to pose a problem
for purists. For it freely acknowledges that the practice of art did not spring into
existence by way of Apollo™s neatly and decorously distributing clearly defined
roles to a covey of muses. But this type of purity does not seem likely as a descrip-
tion of the emergence of many human practices. Practices begin in a mess of
activities, often borrowed or derived from preexisting cultural realms, and some of
these begin to coalesce. Interrelations between these activities become refined as
practitioners become self-conscious and enter a self-interpretive conversation in
what starts to dawn as a tradition.
Of course, to admit that a practice starts ill-defined does not mean that its
cluster of originating activities are arbitrarily united. For a certain sense can be
discerned in the way in which they coalesce. In the case of art, supposing that rep-
resentation, expression, decoration, and communication, broadly characterized,
were, from the production side, the initial core activities of the practice of art, a
certain functional logic appears to ground their cohesion. For what an object rep-
resents constrains, and, in that sense, partially determines what it expresses, while
the expressive and aesthetic qualities of the object significantly inflect what the
object communicates. Or, to state the matter from the spectator™s vantage point,
what an object is recognized as representing modifies what expressive and aes-
thetic qualities we can derive from it, and these in turn contribute importantly in
structuring our interpretations of the work. This is not said in order to demand
that artworks be representative, expressive, and/or communicative, but only to
note that when these activities are combined, their logical interconnections would
indicate that their coalescence as deep-rooted activities of the practice is not
sheerly arbitrary.
As the preceding speculation concerning the origins of our cultural practice
of art indicates, when we begin to reach the boundaries of the tradition, our char-
acterization of its intelligibility tends toward considerations of function.12 How-
ever, once the core activities and accompanying objects within the tradition are so

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