El Lissitzky, Neuer [New Man], litograph from the series Figurines: The Three-Dimensional Design of the Electro-Mechanical Show “Victory over the Sun”. Lissitzky worked to adapt the 1913 opera Victory over the Sun for a cast of mechanical puppets. Copies of the prints are held in Canberra at the National Gallery of Australia.

Theodor Adorno writes:

Beauty, as single, true and liberated from appearance and individuation, manifests itself not in the synthesis of all works, in the unity of the arts and art, but only as a physical reality: in the downfall of art itself. This downfall is the goal of every work of art, in that it seeks to bring death to all others. That all art aims to end art, is another way of saying the same thing. It is this impulse to self-destruction inherent in works of art, their innermost striving towards an image of beauty free of appearance, that is constantly stirring up the aesthetic disputes that are apparently so futile. While obstinately seeking to establish aesthetic truth, and trapping themselves thereby in an irresoluble dialectic, they stumble on the real truth… (extract from section 47 of Minima Moralia (London: Verso, 2005)).

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915 (State Russian Museum, St.Petersburg). Malevich presented his first black square painting in 1913 at the premiere of the futurist opera Victory over the Sun.

Theodor Adorno writes:

De gustibis est disputandum. – Even someone believing himself convinced of the non-comparability of works of art will find himself repeatedly involved in debates where works of art, and precisely those of highest and therefore incommensurable rank, are compared and evaluated one against the other. The objection that such considerations, which come about in a peculiarly compulsive way, have their source in mercenary instincts that would measure everything by the ell, usually signifies no more than that solid citizens, for whom art can never be irrational enough, want to keep serious reflection and the claims of truth far from the works. This compulsion to evaluate is located, however, in the works of art themselves. So much is true: they refuse to be compared. They want to annihilate one another. Not without cause did the ancients reserve the pantheon of the compatible to Gods or Ideas, but obliged works of art to enter the agon, each the mortal enemy of each (extract from section 47 of Minima Moralia (London: Verso, 2005)).

Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles, 1952 (National Gallery of Australia).

Extract from section 72 of Adorno’s Minima Moralia:

Talent is perhaps nothing other than successfully sublimated rage, the capacity to convert energies once intensified beyond measure to destroy recalcitrant objects, into the concentration of patient observation, so keeping as tight a hold on the secret of things, as one had earlier when finding no peace until the quavering voice had been wrenched from the mutilated toy. Who has not seen on the face of a man sunk in thought, far removed from practical objects, traits of the same aggression which is otherwise exerted practically? Does not the artists feel himself, amid the transports of creation, brutalized, ‘working furiously’? Indeed, is not such fury necessary to free oneself from confinement and the fury of confinement? Might not the very concilatoriness of art have been only bullied out of its destructiveness?

Every work of art is an uncommited crime.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Still Life: A Butcher’s Counter, 1811-12 (The Louvre).

Theodor Adorno writes:

[T]he holiness of life… shines forth precisely in what is ugliest and most distorted. However, this light does not come to us directly, but only refracted: something that must be thought beautiful solely because it exists, is for that very reason ugly. The concept of life in its abstraction that is resorted to here, is inseparable from what is repressive and ruthless, truly deadly and destructive. The cult of life for its own sake always boiled down to the cult of these powers. Things commonly called expressions of life, from burgeoning fertility and the boisterous activity of children to the industry of those who achieve something worthwhile, and the impulsiveness of woman, who is idolized because appetite shows in her so unalloyed; all this, understood absolutely, takes away the light from the other possibility in blind self-assertion. Exuberant health is always, as such, sickness also. Beauty is such a curative sickness. It arrests life, and therefore its decay. If, however, sickness is rejected for the sake of life, then hypostasized life, in its blind separation from its other moment, becomes the latter, destructiveness and evil, insolence and braggadocio. To hate destructiveness, one must hate life as well: only death is an image of undisorted life. Anatole France, in his enlightened way, was well aware of this contradiction. ‘No’, says none other than the mild M. Bergeret, 'I would rather think that organic life is an illness peculiar to our unlovely planet. It would be intolerable to believe that throughout the infinite universe there was nothing but eating and being eaten.’ The nihilistic revulsion in his words is not merely the psychological, but the objective condition of humanism as utopia (section 48 of Minima Moralia (London: Verso, 2005)).