The turn of the 20th century was dominated by drastic changes, from the uprooting of age-old institutions to the rapid evolutions of technology and major social changes that redefined world order. One such age-old institution that has been consistent in its definition and goals that changed, is the art world. Technological inventions such as photography fragmented the art world into multiple different movements. These fragmentations combined with a lack of uniform definition, lead art critics and philosophers — such as Arthur Danto — into concluding that old art is dead. Meaning artists no longer aim for memetic — the real replication of nature in their works — but aims at reforming artistic convention and creating a new nature of art. It is easy to come to such conclusions once one witnesses various art movements — such as ready-mades, abstract expressionism, pop art, and minimalism — in a short amount of time.
However, I believe that Arthur Danto was too soon to call the end of western Imitation art in his book “The Death of Art”. Although the art world is no longer supersaturated with realistic art pieces, a strong strand of Imitation art still exists and remains to be an important part of Western Culture.
In order to understand “the end of art “, one must understand the grand narrative of art, its definition, and how it was expressed by artists throughout history. The definition of Arts is beautifully explained in a short story recorded by art historian, Marilyn Stokstad, in the book Art History: A view of the west.  This 2000-year-old story is about a rivalry between two painters Zeuxis and Parrhasios on whom is a better artist. In the story, Zeuxis challenges Parrhasios to a contest of art. Zeuxis begins by painting “a picture of grapes so accurately that birds flew down to peck at them” (xxix, Stokstad). When it comes to Parrhasios turn, Zeuxis asks him to unveil the curtains from his paintings to which Parrhasios replies by telling Zeuxis that the curtains are his paintings. Zeuxis then proceeds to admit that Parrhasios won the competition because his artwork “deceived a fellow artist” (xxix, Stokstad). This ultra-realistic imitation of the nature of reality is what was considered art for a very long period of time.
A great example of art, before “the end of art”, that aims at memetics is: The school of Athens, by the Italian Renaissance artist Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino.
The painting has been considered a masterpiece for centuries and not merely for its size or skill but also for its ability to accurately display perspective, replicate complex figures, and its visual realism. In the fresco (200 in X 300 in) Raphael managed to paint almost every great ancient Greek philosopher, along with an accurate and detailed architecture of the time.
This imitative art, simply through actions by its figures, demonstrates their philosophy and ideas of life. For example, painted in the center of the fresco is Plato — slightly elevated and pointing his hands upwards- and Aristotle who is firmly on the ground while pointing to the floor. These gestures are symbols of Plato and Aristotle’s philosophies. Plato’s hand gestures represent his attribution of the transformations of the world around us to a higher and truer reality, which is constant and timeless. For Plato, this higher reality is the ideal Reality from which we derive our truth, knowledge, and values.
Aristotle points down because his philosophy excludes the attribution of natural processes to a supernatural reality. To Aristotle, there is only one reality, which can be perceived through our natural sense of sight and touch. To Aristotle, Knowledge is derived from experience and
“theorizes that humans must have concrete evidence to support their ideas and is very much grounded in the physical world” (Stewart).
Furthermore, the painting includes figures like Pythagoras — the famous Greek mathematician credited with vital mathematical theorems — Ptolemy, Euclid, Diogenes, and Heraclitus. All these factors combined make The School of Athens, a masterpiece of imitative art.
Grand Narrative of Art:
To understand the grand narrative of art (before its “ending”), one has to begin with the works of 19th-century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and 20th-century art critic (and philosopher) Arthur Coleman Danto.
George Hegel, considered by some as the father of Art History, gave one of the earliest descriptions of art progression, of its importance, impact on culture, and its aim. In lectures on aesthetics, Hegel states:
consciousness wanders about in this contradiction, and, driven from one side to the other. For on the one side we see man imprisoned in the common world of reality and earthly temporality, borne down by need and poverty… enmeshed in matter… On the other side, he lifts himself to eternal ideas, to a realm of thought and freedom, … strips the world of its enlivened and flowering reality and dissolves it into abstractions…we must maintain that art’s vocation is to unveil the truth in the form of sensuous artistic configuration, to set forth the reconciled opposition just mentioned, and so to have its end and aim in itself, in this very setting forth and unveiling .
In short, Hegel makes an almost spiritual claim for the purpose of art. He argues that the narrative of art — its overarching goal — is to assist a collective principle of self-consciousness that holds up human life and civilization, to which he refers to as Geist (mind or spirit), in its task of advancement and refinement until it achieves-freedom and self-awareness. Furthermore, he argues that this can be done through imitation of nature because it is only then when one can uptake the meaning of art clearly and refine their Geist.
To Arthur Danto, the grand narrative of art was similar to that of Hegel, however, it was more focused on the logistics of art rather than the mind or spirit. Danto claims the grand narrative of art for a long time was to perfect imitation to the point where the work of art is almost the same as the object being imitated. Danto explains that the narrative of verisimilitude began in Ancient Greek, evident by their attention to minute details in creating realistic sculptures, continued and cumulatively improved with the renaissance (illustrated by paintings like The School of Athens) and ended in the 19th century with the invention of photography. Finally, Danto claims that the 19th century was the last time this imitation narrative existed because photography was able to surpass art in replicating nature more accurately. In After the End of Art, he states,
“A story was over. It was not my view that there would be no more art, which “death” certainly implies, but that whatever art there was to be would be made without the benefit of a reassuring sort of narrative (verisimilitude) in which it was seen as the appropriate next stage in the story”(2).
Danto is explaining that in the target of imitating natural exactness, artists slowly refined their techniques and progressed until they invented camera obscura, which later paved the path toward photography and cinematography. Danto argues that this caused, the imitation narrative to be completely over and therefore led the art world to pivot the narrative to self-realization and what makes art Art.
The “End” of the Narrative:
As a philosopher and Art critic, Danto had suspected for a while that something about contemporary art was different. Danto was intrigued by this relatively sudden and short uprising of completely different artistic movements like Cubism, Expressionism, Constructivism, Fauvism, Futurism, and so on. However, it was not until 1964, when Danto visited an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes at the Stable Gallery, New York when he declared the end of art and the change of its grand narrative.
Warhol’s Brillo boxes were almost an exact replica of actual Brillo boxes. Danto states
“ What in the end makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo Box is a certain theory of art. It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is (in a sense of is other than that of artistic identification)” (581).
To Danto, Warhol’s Brillo boxes clarified that art is now investigating the meaning of art itself and breaking new boundaries in order to discover the limits of what makes something a work of art.
Danto further elucidates, “the objects approach zero as their theory approaches infinity, so that virtually all there is at the end is a theory, art having finally become vaporized in a dazzle of pure thought about itself, and remaining, as it were, solely as the object of its own theoretical Consciousness”. This, again also, proves to Danto that imitative art Is over, and art’s new grand narrative is to refine itself until it achieves a clearer “Artistic Theory” that is able to distinguish between a work of art and not-art.
Importance of Imitative Art:
Before we dive into the continuation of the Imitation narrative, I believe it is important briefly to discuss why the narrative of art as imitation has survived for so long and what makes imitation art important in the first place.
One of the primary reasons, that Imitative art has survived for so long is because it is a highly challenging endeavor that requires a great degree of skill, time, patience, and knowledge. This increases the social value and influence of the artwork even beyond the art world, making it an incentive for artists to continue creating imitative art because it displays that they possess such qualities.
Furthermore, the field provides artists with tremendous room for improvement, which can be expressed in their works. It took Leonardo Da Vinci 4 years to paint the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo two years to sculpt a single sculpture: David.
On the other hand, Andy Warhol Brillo boxes took 6 weeks to create, and the famous Marcel Dutchman porcelain urinal was purchased from a supplier. It is also difficult to argue that it took a lot of technical skills for the artists to create the last two famous artworks.
Another reason for its survival is its accessibility. 20th Century Non-Imitative art requires a great depth of knowledge in art philosophy and aesthetics from its viewer, in order to be fully appreciated.
For example, when one walks into the Sistine Chapel and sees The Creation of Adam (1512) or Luncheon of the Boating Party(1881), it is easy to take away that the first has a religious theme(it is also easy to identify Adam and God) and the other is about people having lunch in a summer evening.
On the other hand, it is impossible to look at Helen Frankenthaler — Mountains and Sea (1952) and conclude that the painting is depicting the beautiful landscape the artist saw during one of her trips. Not everyone has the access or time needed in order to attain an education in art and fully appreciate contemporary art, which in most cases restricts the artwork’s audience and memory. Imitative art, however, does not have these requirements making it more accessible to a wider audience, and hence increasing its life span and importance.
Continuation of the Narrative:
Arthur Danto is correct when he states that art changed with the invention of photography, however, I believe that he is incorrect when he stated that imitation narrative ended because it no longer served a purpose. Photography merely opened up and expanded the art world to new artistic narratives, it did not kill the Grand Narrative of imitation. For example, for almost 8000 years, ships were the only way to travel around the world, their Grand Narrative was to carry humans from one location to a different, previously inaccessible. When planes were invented 100 years ago, however, it did not make sea travel obsolete, even though it was much better and faster at achieving that Grand Narrative than ships, it only increased the speed at which humans exchanged knowledge with one another, further assisting the development of ships. Just like ships are not going away anytime soon, nor is imitation Art, because both serve a Grand Narrative that is continuous. The purpose of Imitation art is not a pure mechanical replication of nature, its purpose is to assist a never-ending need of Humans to view the world more clearly. The invention of photography pushing art to question its purpose-made imitation art only stronger, because it introduced philosophy as a tool into the arts, which was previously not strongly present.
A great example of imitation art existing today and intertwining with philosophy is the artwork of Mark Quinn titled Self.
Its descriptive title states,” Self is a self-portrait of the artist, but one that literally uses his body as material since the cast of Quinn’s head, immersed in frozen silicone, is created from ten pints of his own blood. In this way, the materiality of the sculpture has both a symbolic and real function”. Mark Quinn Self proves the that narrative of Imitation has not ended. Quinn literary shows the progressions of human development, by imitating his head, and the extent to which we are dependent on external forces out of our control.
This feat can only be achieved with imitation because photography will place an invisible barrier between the sculpture and the viewer making it seem far away, pixelated and abstract. While an alternative form of art, like abstractionism, will make it hard to comprehend and not achieve the immediate impact it has on viewers when they are shown the reality depicted in self.
Another great example is the painting of David Kassan, titled Modern Life (2014).
In this photorealistic painting, Kassan conveys multiple messages about contemporary human life. The young person in this painting appears as if his body is on earth, but his mind and attention somewhere else. His gaze is looking down and his eyes appear timid. With this imitative art, Kassan is highlighting the current epidemic of lack of social skills, confidence, and high level of sadness, prevalent in contemporary society. Kassan Painting accomplishes two goals at the same time. One, an impressive feat that he is able to deploy his knowledge of human anatomy to realistically replicate a human being on a canvas, and the other, a philosophical statement on the road that humans, living in cities, are heading towards. When an artist realistically imitates figure(s) or landscape(s), every single centimeter of that canvas has a purpose that the author feels is important to convey.
Whereas as photos, many times are filled with useless noises, are different depending on the lighting, and do not really let the audience know where to focus.
Finally, David Kassan and Mark Quin are drops in the pool of imitative artists today. If imitative art had ended with the 19th century, then there would be no need for artists to continue expanding it in new ways. The invention of photography merely introduced philosophy to the art world and sort of upgraded imitative art into also thinking about realities artists can depict in their artwork.
A Hundred and fifty years from today Mark Quin's self would have been considered the work of a sadist, and probably condemn for using human blood in imitating reality because pure imitation could have been achieved in alternative ways. Today, with the help of philosophy, this new form of imitative art is successful because it can also have conceptual themes.
 Arthur Danto, “The End of Art,” in The Death of Art. (New York: Haven Publications, 1984), 5- 35
Stokstad, Marilyn, and Michael Watt Cothren. Art History. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2005.
 A fresco painted between 1509 and 1511.
This quote is from an article by Jessica Stewart titled “The Story Behind Raphael’s Masterpiece ‘The School of Athens’”
Refer to Hegel’s Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, Vol. 1
 The quote is from Arthur Danto's article. “The Artworld.”
 Arthur, Danto “The End of Art” (78).
 Fresco by Italian artist Michelangelo painted between (1508–1512)
 Painting by French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir completed in 1801
 Portrait of Mark Quinn, which requires constant electricity for survival. Dated 1991 — Today.