It is the most unjust condition in the world, narrow, ungrateful to the past, blind to dangers, deaf to warnings, a little living whirlpool in a dead sea of night and forgetting: and yet this condition—unhistorical, contra-historical through and through—is the cradle not only of an unjust, but rather of every just deed; and no artist will paint his picture, no general achieve victory nor any people its freedom without first having desired and striven for it in such an unhistorical condition. As the man of action, according to Goethe’s phrase, is always without conscience, so he is also without knowledge; he forgets a great deal to do one thing, he is unjust to what lies behind him and knows only one right, the right of that which is to become.1
It is obvious that the standpoint of the museum is primarily retrospective—that of maintaining the past in the present. How daunting such a place is for today’s artists. Comparing the grandeur of the works of the Ancients with those of a 21st century art-student is clearly unfair. The entirety of the past is weighing upon the scale in favor of the Ancient, even if we know it too once was new. But now it stands before us, ready to affirm our self-doubts. In hindering today’s student this way, Art History damages the work of the budding artist. And yet the new and the different ought to come about. The student must have the resolve to forget, so that becoming be allowed to come forth into the world through new work.
The sphere of Art History often confuses itself in its perspective, getting lost in its own methodology and the fruits of its investigations. The reified appreciation of art becomes stretched backward in time so that the unique position of today’s artists loses its quality.
It should be noted, of course, that we can’t completely forget history. To do so would be to regress to the level of the animal. Playing with history and one’s own place within it may be another art in itself. When history might affirm your efforts, then look back and pull from it the potential in it.
1 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, trans. Peter Preuss (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1980 ), 11-12.