My topic today concerns analytic aesthetics not because I think continental versions don’t warrant attention but simply because I need to confine my paper to manageable limits, and because the problem – the dilemma – I want to address today is more clearly illustrated in the case of analytic aesthetics than in its continental counterpart.
Some basic points to begin: Analytic aesthetics, obviously, is an offshoot of analytic philosophy. It regularly discusses topics in literature and music as well as visual art and often turns its attention as well to general issues such as the nature of beauty, the Kantian notion of disinterestedness, the nature of “aesthetic pleasure” and so on. Managing the two main academic journals in the field – the British Journal of Aesthetics and the American Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism – analytic aesthetics is probably the most active school of philosophical aesthetics in the English-speaking world. Its impact on neighbouring disciplines such as art history and literary theory appears to be limited, but to the extent that philosophers in Anglophone contexts attempt to give an account of art in the general sense of the word, analytic aesthetics is probably the principal locus of activity.
My talk today examines certain assumptions underlying analytic aesthetics (or the analytic philosophy of art – the terms are more or less interchangeable). The issues I’ll consider are rarely discussed by analytic philosophers of art themselves – a matter of regret, as I’ll suggest – but they nevertheless tell us much about the field of study in question and the presuppositions on which it’s based. The focus of my paper is the relationship between art, in the general sense, and time – not time as presented within works of art (how the passing of time might be represented in a novel or a film, for example) but time as an external factor, time understood as the changing historical contexts through which works of art pass, which in some cases stretch over centuries or even thousands of years. In the terminology I’ll employ here, the topic is the temporal nature of art and a key objective is to explore the assumptions of analytic aesthetics in this regard. What does this school of thought have to say about the temporal nature of art? What account does it give of the relationship between a work of art and the effects of historical change? Relatively specific though they seem, these questions, I believe, take us to the heart of analytic aesthetics and reveal some of its major characteristics.
The temporal nature of art, in the sense I’ve indicated here, is by no means a new topic. It has an important history and although that history is rarely considered by philosophers of art of either the analytic or the continental stamp, it’s easy enough to trace. It begins with the Renaissance. When Renaissance artists rediscovered the works of antiquity – when they eagerly dug time-worn statues from the ruins of ancient Rome, or found new and unsuspected beauties in classical authors such as Horace and Plato – they found themselves faced with a bewildering question. How was it possible that these ancient works, which had been neglected and despised for a thousand years, could still seem radiant with life? How had their peerless beauty (for “beauty” was the quality the Renaissance ascribed to them) survived across such expanses of time? The answer the Renaissance gave – an answer that would prove hugely influential in Western thought – was that unlike other objects, a work of art has a divine quality: art in all its forms, it was decided, is immune from the passage of time. It may, of course, be broken, destroyed or lost, but if it survives, its beauty is impervious to change. Art possesses the quite extraordinary feature that it exists outside time. In terminology that would become standard for centuries to come (but which would certainly have shocked medieval minds for whom divine qualities belonged to God alone) art is timeless, immortal, eternal.
The philosophical discipline called aesthetics was not invented in its modern form until the eighteenth century but the Renaissance had no need of it to celebrate its discovery. I remember studying Shakespeare’s sonnets at school and encountering lines such as “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments/Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme…”, and I remember being told that the idea that a beautiful poem is immortal was simply a flight of Elizabethan poetic fancy, a “poet’s conceit” it was called. It was clever, certainly, but not to be taken too seriously. That, however, was a misunderstanding because there was much more at stake. The idea expressed in lines such as these was central to Renaissance thinking and explains why art in all its forms (and the very word “art”) was held in unprecedented esteem from then on, and why the idea is found again and again in other writers of the times such as Petrarch, Ronsard, Drayton and Spenser – and also Michelangelo who, as well as being a painter and sculptor, wrote poetry, and who writes in a sonnet entitled The Artist and His Work that “[art’s] wonders live in spite of time and death, those tyrants stern”. The immortality of art was an idea that the intellectual world of the time embraced with enthusiasm. It was part of the ideology of the Renaissance, if one can put it that way – as much a part of the Renaissance world-view as, say, belief in the powers of science is for us today.
The idea was, moreover, destined for a long and illustrious life. So influential was it, indeed, that Romantic poets were still celebrating it centuries later, as the French poet and art critic Théophile Gautier did, for instance, in his poem Art which proclaims that “All things pass. Sturdy art/Alone is eternal”. More importantly for present purposes, the same conviction was central to the beliefs of the eighteenth-century thinkers who laid the foundations of the philosophical discipline we know as aesthetics. The evidence is plain to see. David Hume writes in his well-known and highly influential essay Of the Standard of Taste that the function of a suitably prepared sense of taste is to discern that “catholic and universal beauty” found in all true works of art, and that the forms of beauty thus detected will “while the world endures … maintain their authority over the mind of man”, a proposition Hume supports by his familiar dictum that “The same Homer who pleased at Athens and Rome two thousand years ago, is still admired at Paris and London”. This belief was undisputed – indeed, by this time, it was simply taken for granted – and it received endorsement from a chorus of other Enlightenment voices including the influential art historian of the times, Johann Winckelmann, the poet Alexander Pope, the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds in his Discourses on Art and Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgement. In short, where the relationship between art and the passing of time is concerned, the Enlightenment gave a firm stamp of approval to the well-established view. The Renaissance had declared art immune from time – timeless, eternal, immortal – and the Enlightenment was in full accord.
Now, aesthetics as we know it today, especially aesthetics of the analytic variety is, as I’m sure you know, in a direct line of descent from eighteenth century thinkers such as Hume and Kant and if one had any doubts about that, one would only need peruse the two journals I mentioned earlier where articles on aspects of Hume, Kant and their contemporaries are part of the staple fare. Two obvious questions arise therefore: Does modern analytic aesthetics endorse the view of its Enlightenment forefathers that art endures timelessly? And if not, does it offer an alternative explanation?
Before looking more closely at those questions, I’d like to pause a moment to reflect on the significance of the issues at stake. Let us consider the history of literature, for example. We know that of the thousands of novels published in the eighteenth century (for instance), only a tiny fraction holds our interest today, and that for every Tom Jones or Les Liaisons dangereuses, there are large numbers of works by contemporaries of Fielding and Laclos that have sunk into oblivion, probably permanently. And if we go a step further and think about objects outside the world of art, the point is equally true. We do not ask, for example, if a map of the world drawn by a cartographer of the Elizabethan era is still a reliable navigational tool, and we know that a ship’s captain today who relied on such a map would be very unwise. But we might quite sensibly ask if Shakespeare’s plays, written at the time the map was drawn, is still pertinent to life today, and we might well want to answer yes. The map survives as an object of “historical interest” but it’s no longer applicable to the world we live in. Shakespeare’s plays, however, are not just part of history (although one might also view them in that light); they have endured in a way the map has not.
So there is something very real and important at stake here, which applies not only to literature, of course, but to art in all its forms. One of art’s specific characteristics, we are entitled to say, is a power to endure – to defy, or transcend, time – and this is something our experience confirms every time we respond to a great work of art from the past. The nature of this power is a separate question: as we’ve seen, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment believed that art endures because it is exempt from time – timeless – and we shall see shortly that this is not the only possibility. But setting that question aside for the moment, one can at least say that the power to transcend time is a specific characteristic of art, a characteristic as real and evident as any that aesthetics, rightly or wrongly, traditionally ascribes to art – such as a capacity to give “aesthetic pleasure”, to “represent the world”, to respond to a sense of taste, and so on. If, in other words, one wishes to give a full account of the nature of literature, or of art generally, the capacity of certain works – those of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Titian, Mozart, Monteverdi and many others – to transcend time is one that cannot be ignored.
There is another, related point. As I’ve mentioned, timelessness is not the only conceivable way art might endure. In principle at least, art’s power of endurance might operate in a number of ways. Works of art might, for example, endure for a predetermined lengthy period then disappear definitively into oblivion. They might endure for a time, disappear, and then return – in a cyclical way. They might endure timelessly – the alternative under consideration at the moment. And, as we shall see later, there is at least one other possibility. So, by itself, a recognition that art has a special power to endure, important though that is, leaves us with an unanswered question, an explanatory gap. How, one needs to know, does art endure? Or to put the matter slightly differently: What does enduring mean in the case of art? Now, I shall argue shortly that for us today, the traditional claim that art is timeless has become unacceptable, but we should at least acknowledge that it gave an answer to the question of what enduring means. Art endures, it said, not simply because it persists in time in some unknown, unspecified way, but because it is impervious to time, “time-less”, unaffected by the passing parade of history, its meaning and value always remaining the same. So whatever one may think about the notion of timelessness, it was at least a complete solution. It did not merely assert that art endures; it described the nature of the enduring and the explanatory gap was closed. This, perhaps, is one of the reasons why the idea held sway for so long in European culture: here was an account of art’s seemingly miraculous power to transcend time that left no conceptual questions unanswered.
But let us return now to the question I left in abeyance a moment ago. Where does analytic aesthetics stand on the issue under discussion? Does it endorse the view of its Enlightenment forefathers that art endures because it is timeless? And if not, what alternative explanation does it offer? What, in other words, has been the contribution of analytic aesthetics to this topic which, as we now see, has a long and important history in Western culture?
Without doubt, the most striking feature of analytic aesthetics’ contribution is how slight it has been. Indeed, the topic has been all but forgotten. Textbooks seldom discuss it or even carry an index reference; the two leading journals, mentioned earlier, rarely carry an article with anything more than tangential relevance; and the topic is conspicuously absent from courses of study. Many other issues inherited from Enlightenment writers are discussed regularly – such as the nature of “aesthetic pleasure”, whether disinterestedness is essential to one’s response to art, the meaning of beauty, what exactly Hume meant by taste and so on; indeed, these are staples of modern analytic aesthetics. But the Enlightenment’s assertion that art is timeless is almost entirely ignored, and no alternative is suggested. Thus, a stream of thought that had its source in the Renaissance, deeply influenced Enlightenment thinking about art and beauty, and carried on through the Romantic period, has effectively run dry. Analytic aesthetics displays little or no interest in the relationship between art and the passing of time.
Ignoring an issue, however, does not necessarily make it go away. And, indeed, there are clear indications that although analytic aesthetics rarely gives explicit endorsement to the Enlightenment view that art is timeless, its practice as a school of thought typically implies that it accepts this view – or at least that it assumes that art is atemporal in some unknown and unexplained way. Hence the characteristically static feel of analytic aesthetics – its reluctance to offer explanations of art that consider historical factors in any but peripheral ways, its tendency to focus on topics such as “aesthetic pleasure”, disinterestedness, definitions of beauty and so on, that can plausibly be discussed without reference to temporal considerations. Hence also a fondness for the idea of artistic “universals” – features of art said to transcend time and place. Hence as well, the tendency of analytic aesthetics to hold itself at arms’ length from the discipline of art history as if to imply that art is best understood in abstract, timeless or atemporal terms, free from the distractions of historical “contingencies”. Explicit appeals to the notion of timelessness are infrequent (though not unknown, as we shall see in a moment) but in its philosophical practice, analytic aesthetics’ affinities with Enlightenment thinking and the assumption that art is timeless are not difficult to discern.
Now and then, the notion of timelessness is, however, given something resembling explicit approval. Comparing analytic aesthetics to other approaches, one prominent contemporary representative of the analytic school writes that the continental school “is more historically oriented” while the analytic approach “tends to examine issues about the nature of art and the aesthetic qualities of objects in an ahistorical manner”. And in a similar vein, though with a puzzling “more” qualifying the term “timeless”, the same writer argues in a recent issue of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism that the value we place on a work of art is due not just to its historical significance but to its capacity “to engage the mind, the imagination, and the senses with some more timeless interest”, these qualities allowing a work to “enter a more timeless canon of literature”. (I say the word “more” is puzzling here because in the proper sense of the word, “timeless” – like “unique” for example – cannot be qualified. Its meaning is outside of, or exempt from, time.) Other philosophers of art occasionally express similar sentiments. One essay in the British Journal of Aesthetics declares, for instance, that “There is a tendency among scholars and non-scholars alike to think that art works, or more specifically, great art works, are in some sense immortal”, the writer adding that he himself sees “some truth in the view”. Another article in the same journal asserts that “Classics are timeless and transcendental, appealing to all historical eras, because they capture what is essential about humanity”, the suggestion apparently being that great art is timeless because it expresses timeless truths. Significant though they are, comments such as these are, nevertheless, the exception rather than the rule: in general, as I’ve indicated, analytic aesthetics simply ignores the question of the temporal nature of art and passes over it in silence. Taken together with the predispositions in philosophical practice I mentioned above, however, comments of this kind clearly suggest that the proposition that art endures timelessly remains very influential, even if that fact is rarely acknowledged.
The question then arises: Can this proposition still be sustained today? Is it still plausible to go on believing – or assuming – that art endures timelessly? When we think about it, it’s not difficult to imagine why it seemed very plausible to Renaissance and Enlightenment minds. Their world of art was much narrower than ours, its boundaries extending no further than European art from the Renaissance onwards and selected works from antiquity. In these circumstances, it was doubtless easy enough to conclude – as in fact it was concluded – that the reason why the “timeless” works of antiquity were despised for so long was simply that there had been an interregnum of cultural barbarism during which the achievements of ancient Greece and Rome had been misunderstood. For us today, however, circumstances are very different. Our world of art is much larger and much more varied, encompassing works from the four corners of the earth and from periods of time stretching back to the Palaeolithic; and we are much less inclined to dismiss the achievements of earlier cultures as barbaric, especially since it is from just these cultures that many of the objects we now regard as major works of art have come. How reasonable is it, then, to endorse the concept of timelessness today?
The problem can be brought into sharp focus if one thinks of examples in visual art where objects have often lasted longer, time scales are lengthier and the effects of the passage of time more obvious. Consider an ancient Egyptian sculpture such as the four-and a half-thousand-year-old statue of the Pharaoh Djoser now in the Cairo museum, a work, which despite its battered state, is now generally regarded as one of the treasures of world art. What did this statue mean to the ancient Egyptians? Doubtless we shall never know exactly given the difficulties of fully understanding the world-views of ancient civilizations even when, as with Egypt, there is substantial written evidence. We can, however, feel quite safe in asserting that the image was not regarded as a “work of art” in any of the senses that idea has had for Western culture – first, because we know that, like many cultures, ancient Egypt had no word or concept “art”, and second, because we know that the statue in question had a purely religious purpose and was placed in the pharaoh’s mortuary temple to receive offerings to aid him in the afterlife.
Immediately, therefore, the theory of timelessness receives a major blow. Clearly, this sculpted image did not originally have the meaning and importance it has for us today: we are not speaking of the “the same Djoser”, to adapt Hume’s dictum about Homer that I quoted earlier. But that’s not the only difficulty. We today regard the image of Djoser as important because we consider it to be a major work of art. But not so long ago – as recently as the mid-nineteenth century in fact – that judgement would have been universally rejected. Nineteenth century art lovers (for whom “art” meant classical sculptures such as the Apollo Belvedere and works of painters such as Raphael and Titian) excluded Egyptian sculpture from the rubric art as rigorously as they excluded objects from tribal Africa, medieval times, Hindu India, the Pacific Islands and much more. Objects from cultures such as these sometimes found their way into cabinets de curiosités and, later, into archaeological collections, but at no point in European history had they ever been art: they belonged to the obscure realm of idols and fetishes that had nothing to do with art. So, returning to the Egyptian example, not only does the Pharaoh Djoser have a significance for us today quite different from the significance it held in ancient Egypt, but there were also long periods of time when, for Western culture, it had no significance at all – when, like countless objects from other cultures we now regard as art, it dwelt in a cultural limbo.
Where, then, does this leave the notion of timelessness – the idea born with the Renaissance, vital to Enlightenment aesthetics, and, as we’ve seen, still influential in analytic aesthetics today, that works of art are impervious to time and change, their meaning and importance unaffected by history? Clearly, the idea is left in a parlous state since in cases such as the one just considered – and they are legion – time and change have manifestly had a major effect. And changing the focus to literature, let’s look again at Hume’s famous claim. Is it true that the same Homer – the same Homer – who pleased at Athens and Rome two thousand years ago was the Homer admired in eighteenth century Paris and London – or the Homer we admire today? The early history of the Iliad – to take that as our example – is rather obscure but we do know certain things. We know that it was originally sung not recited, and certainly not read silently from the pages of a book. We also know that the gods and heroes of the story were figures in whom the Greeks of the time firmly believed, not personages from “Greek mythology” as the eighteenth century saw them, and as we regard them today. Moreover, there is little doubt that the modern practice of regarding the Iliad as “literature”, to be placed on the same footing as epics of other ancient peoples, such as Gilgamesh or the Bhagavad Gita, would have been unthinkable to Greek communities circa 750 BC when the Iliad was composed – as unthinkable as placing the image of the Pharaoh Djoser in an art museum on the same footing as gods from other cultures would have been in the eyes of ancient Egyptians. How then do we identify a “timeless” Iliad persisting across the millennia unchanged? Where is the immunity from historical change required by the notion of timelessness?
Examples such as Egyptian sculpture and the Iliad provide vivid illustrations of the dilemma facing the notion of timelessness because the time scales are lengthy and the changes dramatic and easy to see. But the same issues arise, even if less obviously, when we consider more recent works. Is “our” Shakespeare – Shakespeare as we respond to him today – the same as the Shakespeare of audiences circa 1600? He certainly seems to differ from the Shakespeare of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when audiences preferred his plays substantially rewritten, often with different endings – something we would undoubtedly balk at today. Closer to our times, how do we square the notion of timelessness with Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses which was attacked for its immorality when first published, sank from sight during the nineteenth century with the advent of Romanticism, and is now prized for its psychological finesse and rated as one of the finest of French novels? And has Dickens’ picture of nineteenth century urban life, bleak though it often is, ever seemed quite as bleak since Dostoevsky described Raskolnikov’s descent into Hell in the streets of St. Petersburg? Examples like this are endless, particularly if one broadens the scope to include visual art and music. Countless mediaeval works, such as the statues and stained glass at Notre-Dame de Chartres, fell into a limbo of indifference for centuries before remerging in the twentieth century as “works of art” – something they had never been. Vermeer faded from view for over two hundred years as did Georges de la Tour. Music has the same tale to tell. The religious compositions of Tallis and Byrd disappeared into near oblivion for centuries and are admired today as art and not solely for religious reasons as they were originally. For nineteenth-century music lovers enamoured of Beethoven and Brahms, Mozart survived principally as the standard-bearer for classical restraint – “perfect grace” to employ a stock phrase still used by some writers in aesthetics. But is this our Mozart today? “Perfect grace” hardly seems to do justice to the poignancy of the slow movements of the piano concertos, the drama and pathos of Don Giovanni, the driving energy of the Prague Symphony, or the haunting grandeur of the Requiem. And as perceptions of Mozart have changed in recent times, so have responses to the music of the Romantics: as Mozart alters, so do Beethoven and Brahms. Music, in short, is as ill-suited to the Procrustean bed of timelessness – of immunity from historical change – as literature and visual art.
Two clear implications flow from all this: first, it seems quite unacceptable to ignore the relationship between art and time as analytic aesthetics has done since its inception, given that the effects of time are both obvious and profound; and second, the traditional explanation of this relationship – that art is timeless – is no longer viable. Ingrained in conventional thinking though it often is, that explanation has ceased to be believable and something new must be found. Analytic aesthetics, regrettably, gives us no help here. Not only, as we have seen, does it pay scant attention to the temporal nature of art, but to the limited extent it deals with the issue, it simply reiterates the Enlightenment belief, which the Enlightenment inherited from the Renaissance, that art endures timelessly. If we remain within the conceptual limits of analytic aesthetics, therefore, we are left with a dilemma – a major, insoluble dilemma.
My own belief is that the dilemma is far from insoluble and that a very persuasive solution has been offered by the much-neglected twentieth century art theorist, André Malraux. I’m not going to attempt to explain Malraux’s account in detail partly because the purpose of my talk is not to proselytize for Malraux’s theory of art – worthy cause though that would be – but also because my main purpose is to explore the general question of the temporal nature of art and evaluate the contribution of analytic aesthetics. It may be useful, nevertheless, to indicate briefly the nature of Malraux solution if only to show that there is at least one serious alternative to the traditional notion of timelessness.
One way of approaching Malraux’s position is as follows: If an object is timeless, it has an essence that is impervious to change – key elements that retain the same meaning and importance across the centuries, even if peripheral aspects are sometimes affected. Empires can rise and fall, customs and beliefs can change radically, but the significance of the work – be it literature, visual art, or music – will always stay the same. The “same Homer” who pleased at Athens and Rome will be admired in eighteenth century Paris and London, and, presumably, endlessly thereafter. If there are any lapses in admiration, that would be due simply to an unfortunate interregnum of barbarism.
But it is possible to think of the essence of a work of art in a quite different way. Suppose one thinks of it as the characteristic that enables a work to endure not by retaining the same meaning and importance across the ages but by assuming different meanings and different kinds of importance – “living on”, as we say, not by being impervious to change but by responding to change, by being reborn with new and different significances.
One can see immediately how effectively this explanation would deal with problems of the kind I have raised. Consider Pharaoh Djoser again. We saw how badly the timelessness explanation – perhaps one might call it the Humean explanation – fared in the face of the fact that the original meaning and importance of the image were so different from the meaning and importance it has assumed today, and the additional fact that there were long periods of time when it had no meaning or importance at all. Transformations of this kind – and this example is only one of hundreds – are impossible to square with the proposition that art is impervious to time. But if art endures through change, by means of change, these problems instantly disappear. For then one can simply say this: In ancient Egypt, the statue was a powerful manifestation of a religious truth. When Egyptian civilization died, so did that significance of the image, and since it had no other, it simply lay gathering dust for four thousand years. But unlike the customs and beliefs of ancient Egypt, which have disappeared forever, the imposing Pharaoh Djoser has returned to life today and taken on a new meaning and importance – as what we call a work of art. Like so many other works of genius from earlier cultures – from Buddhist India to Mesopotamia to Romanesque Europe – it has shed its original significance and, after a period in limbo, re-emerged in modern Western civilization as a work of art, surviving not because it retains its original significance, as Hume and his Enlightenment contemporaries would have it, but because it has a power of metamorphosis (to employ Malraux’s term) – a power of resurrection and transformation that enables it to live again, albeit with a meaning and importance of a different kind. The argument obviously presents a radical challenge to traditional thinking, but it is neither obscure nor far-fetched. As Malraux commented in a television program about visual art in 1975,
For us today, metamorphosis isn’t something arcane; it stares us in the face. To talk about “immortal art” today, faced with the history of art as we know it, is simply empty words. Every work has a power of resurrection or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, end of story; but if it survives it’s by a process of resurrection not by immortality.
There is much more to say about Malraux’s concept of metamorphosis but I’m hoping that this brief account will be enough to show that there is certainly a credible alternative to the notion of timelessness and that the dilemma confronting analytic aesthetics is by no means insoluble. But why, we surely need to ask, does analytic aesthetics find itself in this quandary? Why does it find itself shackled to the unworkable assumption that art is timeless, or at least atemporal in some unexplained way?
Evidence of the kind I’ve discussed today suggests, I believe, that the answer lies in analytic aesthetics’ continuing dependence on its eighteenth century origins. Enlightenment aesthetics, as I’ve said, accepted the Renaissance claim that art endures timelessly and when it emerged as a philosophical discipline in the eighteenth century, it framed its agenda on that basis, both in terms of the questions posed and the kinds of answers given. Consciously or not, analytic aesthetics has simply followed suit, choosing many of the same issues for discussion and dealing with them in similar ways. On the specific question of the temporal nature of art, analytic aesthetics has usually been more reticent that its Enlightenment forebears, perhaps because it is uncomfortably aware that the world of art as we know it today poses problems that Hume, Kant and their contemporaries were never required to face; but the general orientation – the static approach discussed earlier, in which art inhabits a realm of inert abstractions – nonetheless remains firmly in place. Analytic aesthetics, in other words, lives essentially in a world without history, a world in which the passage of time is of peripheral importance and where, by consequence, the crucial capacity of art to transcend time – one of its key features as I’ve argued – is rarely mentioned. Discussion is rigorously confined to issues such as the nature of aesthetic pleasure, or the meaning of beauty, or whether the appreciation of art should be disinterested, or others of that ilk, which can be partitioned off from historical change and encased in a tightly sealed world where time stands permanently still and where, just as importantly the question of art’s capacity to transcend time is never raised.
In a very real sense, in other words, analytic aesthetics is, in my view, a prisoner of a its intellectual inheritance. The writings on aesthetics of Kant, Hume and their contemporaries have in many respects assumed the status of quasi-sacred texts – works that one may approach as a humble exegete, and even at times respectfully disagree with, but certainly not challenge in any fundamental way or set aside. This is clearly unsatisfactory. Kant, Hume and their contemporaries did not live in a cultural vacuum, and whatever might be said about their philosophies in general, their thinking about art, including the relationship between art and time, was not immune from the influences of the era in which they lived – far from it, as I have suggested. The Enlightenment took it for granted that art endures timelessly because no one had thought otherwise for at least two hundred years, and because, as I’ve said, that view doubtless seemed believable at a period in European history when the world of art was far narrower than ours. But today the proposition simply makes no sense. As Malraux aptly comments, “To talk about ‘immortal art’ today, faced with the history of art as we know it, is simply empty words.” If analytic aesthetics is to escape the realm of empty words, I believe, it needs to give careful thought to the Enlightenment inheritance that seems to hold it in thrall.
 J.A. Symonds, ed. The Sonnets of Michelangelo (London: Vision Press, 1950). Sonnet XVII.
 Théophile Gautier: L’Art. Émaux et Camées. My translation.
 David Hume, Of the Standard of Taste, and other essays, ed. J.W. Lenz (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), 9.
 Sometimes termed “transhistorical” features. See, for example: Paul Crowther, The Transhistorical Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
 As one commentator observes, the disciplines of aesthetics and art history “pass each other like ships in the night”. Keith Moxey, "Aesthetics is Dead: Long Live Aesthetics," in Art History versus Aesthetics, ed. James Elkins (New York: Routledge, 2006), 166-172, 167.
 Peter Lamarque, Analytic Approaches to Aesthetics: Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), Introduction.
 Peter Lamarque, "The Uselessness of Art", The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 68, no. 3 (2010), 205-214. 213.
 Christopher Perricone, "Art and the Metamorphosis of Art into History", British Journal of Aesthetics, 31, no. 4 (1991), 310-321. 310.
 A. Hamilton, "Scruton’s Philosophy of Culture: Elitism, Populism, and Classic Art", British Journal of Aesthetics, 4, no. 49 (2009), 389-404. 403. Analytic aesthetics has a fondness for the idea of timeless truths. Like the related notion of human nature, however, the idea has clearly taken a severe battering over the past century or so. See my discussion in Derek Allan, Art and Time (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), 141, 142.
 Jerrold Levinson, a representative of the analytic school, attempts to escape the ahistorical confines of analytic aesthetics by providing what he terms an “historical definition of art”. For Levinson, art can be “defined historically” via a sequence of “regards-as-art” stretching back into the past, his proposition being that “something is art if and only if it is or was intended or projected for overall regard as some prior art is or was correctly regarded”. The argument quickly collapses in the face of historical evidence, given that the concept “art” in anything resembling its modern sense was unknown as late as medieval times and absent from a wide range of non-Western cultures and early civilizations. The chain of supposed “art regards” would therefore peter out long before one reached many of the cultures from which large numbers of objects that we today term “art” have come. In other words, this “historical” concept of art is essentially unresponsive to history. Jerrold Levinson, "The Irreducible Historicality of the Concept of Art", British Journal of Aesthetics, 42, no. 4 (2002), 367-379; Jerrold Levinson, "Defining Art Historically," in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition ed. Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 35-46.
 I have done so in Allan, Art and Time. Also in Derek Allan, Art and the Human Adventure: André Malraux's Theory of Art (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009), esp. Chapter Six.
 For example, the language of Shakespeare’s plays often seems antiquated today; but the theory of timelessness can accommodate this simply by saying that the essence of each of the plays – their core meaning – is unaffected.
 André Malraux, Promenades imaginaires dans Florence. (Television series: Journal de Voyage avec André Malraux.) (Paris: Interviewer: Jean-Marie Drot 1975).
 It is important to see that Malraux is speaking about metamorphosis as an endless process (so that even the condition “work of art” is not a terminus). Peter Lamarque, one of the few analytic writers who occasionally addresses questions related to the temporal nature of art, argues that a work starts out with “pragmatic” value and gradually takes on “artistic” value, or value “for its own sake”. The terms themselves pose obvious difficulties but, in any case, one is still restricted to the notion of timelessness since the “artistic value” phase is apparently permanent. Peter Lamarque, "Historical Embeddedness and Artistic Autonomy," in Aesthetic and Artistic Autonomy, ed. Owen Hulatt (London: Bloomsbury, 2103), 51-63.
 Hegel, Marx and their successors, who introduced an historical dimension, and who have been influential in continental aesthetics, have been of marginal importance in the analytic context.
 Arguably, other aspects of their thinking were also heavily influenced by the cultural context. The notion of taste and the proposition that art exists simply to afford a certain kind of pleasure were very much “in the air” in the eighteenth century. These issues are beyond the scope of the present essay.
A paper presented to a seminar in the School of Philosophy at the Australian National University, 11 November 2014.Comment 10 on this page is also relevant.