Jacques Ranciére's writings on aesthetics and politics are currently provoking much interest in international art-world circles and art-historical scholarship. A large part of the appeal of his work may be attributed to his novel articulation of links between art and democratic politics, which, in turn, revises established narratives of modernism and postmodernism. Ranciére's summation of his contribution to art theory speaks of “reframing the temporal categories by means of which modern and contemporary artistic practices are generally grasped” (PtA 19). The specific orientation of this reframing emerges as a concern to “construct a paradigm of ‘historicity’ equally opposed to the symmetrical one-way narratives of progress or decadence” (PtA 21). As such claims suggest, the deconstructive approach adopted by Ranciére seeks to modify essentialist or teleological premises regarding modern art's identity or destiny. Moreover, he combines attentiveness to the philosophical implications of specific art practices with a sense of the historical contingency of what have been accepted as the central premises of artistic modernity. Considering the abject condition of aesthetic theory in art history and criticism of recent decades, Ranciére's weaving together of post-Kantian continental aesthetics with analyses of historical developments in modern art offers those working in the visual arts much food for thought.
The following explication of Ranciérean concepts of visual art examines how they overlap with and differ from conventional theories and historical accounts of artistic modernity.