You are on page 1of 3

Marxlsm and ArL PlsLory an overvlew of Pauser's meLhod

Arnold Pauser developed hls sLudy of arL hlsLory on Lhe basls of MarxlsL Lhesls LhaL Lhe economlc base
condlLlons Lhe culLural supersLrucLure and LhaL as a resulL sLyles vary accordlng Lo Lhe characLer of Lhe
domlnanL class
1
1hls perspecLlve known as Lhe soclal hlsLory of arL belleves ln Lhe soclologlcal
lnLerpreLaLlon of arL Lhrough Lhe ages whlle dlscounLlng for lLs lnLernal and exLernal llmlLaLlons and Lhe
exlsLence of oLher perspecLlves LhaL are ln pracLlce or may evolve consequenLly
the discipline of art history has grown and diversified remarkably, both in terms of the definition and extent
of its chosen objects of study, and its range of operative theories and methods of description, analyses
and evaluation. Hauser's account, from one reading clear in its affiliation to Marxist principles of historical
and social understandingthe centrality of class and class struggle, the social and cultural role of
ideologies, and the determining influence of modes of economic production on artappeared at a
moment when academic art history was still, in Britain at least, an lite and narrow concern, limited to a
handful of university departments
2
.arriving at the juncture of the cold war when leftist peersectives were
not looked upon with much warmth, hausers work was subjected to undue criticism and was ignored by
most formalist schools of art history. Thus hausers work was often disregarded and his perspective not
well received amongst most in those turbulent times.

Though often naively branded as completely Marxist in approach, one forgets the varied nuances that
hausers work offers. Hauser may have applied Marxism in the sense of basing his study on the concept
of historical materialism but it was in no sense narrow. He was not uncritical of the faults within Marxism
and was open about the limitations of his own perspectives.he said in no uncertain terms that that his was
a work in progress, an expression of his generation which was no more or less apt that others preceding
or following it but instead was to be regarded as range of previous interpretations for the future art
historians.he says that we live in a world of the sociological interpretation of cultural achievements. This
phase too he says has come up through political currents within modern society.as any phase, it offers
new insights and opens up new aspects and will in due course be subjected to criticism of its
inadequacies.the best we may do is to anticipate this criticism and demonstrate the achievements of our
perspective in an understanding light.

He deals with criticism from his peers in a different light. He disregards those who strive to keep spiritual
phenomenon separate from any social or economic context and calls their criticism a defence of a
position of privilege. More important is the opposing concept, he says, that defines art as an independent
entity, a closed and complete system in itself,the elements of which are entirely explained in terms of
interdependence, without any recourse to its origin or to its influence.while allowing this criticism this
importance he alludes to the existaance of a demi autonomy for art. He further remarks that the factors
that are most important in the actual production of art are not equally important in giving it artistic value
and effectiveness.he says that one must not let influences dominate the value of art in itself and thus
reaffirms its autonomy in a a sense.he also states unequivocally that the preconditions of art lie beyond
the alternatives of political freedom or unfreedom and that such quality is not to be compassed by
sociological method. The social or political conditions that give birth to art do not necessarily define it.
There remains an autonomy an inherent self contained character to art that cannot be overshadowed by
this approach and that hauser understands this very scope. Sociology also he states fails to explain the
connection between artistic quality and popularity. Marxist concepts of class struggle, economic pre

1
hllosophy of arL
2
essay
conditions and the subjugation of the working man have often failed to explain trends within this
correlation.







committed to the general
belief that all the elements of human society, including its manifest forms and means of visual and
semantic
communication, necessarily share a commonality and interdependence, at the levels of their material
production and consumption.

Hauser's descriptions and analyses
often depend upon a set of key concepts whose meaning and significance he usually takes for granted.
Notions of 'class' and 'class interests', of 'ideologies' or 'value-systems' and of 'culture' and 'society' are
four of the most important. The ideas of 'class' and 'class struggle' must for Hauser become significant
within the earliest societies because they are an essential component of Marxism's claim to offer the most
profound understanding of the determinants of all human history. By the 'new' Stone Age, then, according
to Hauser, differentiation of society into 'strata and classes, privileged and under-privileged, exploiters
and
exploited' (vol. : p. 9) has already taken place. From the beginning of his first section on the 'old' Stone
Age, however, he also assumes that 'art' is the most applicable and obvious term to use to describe the
kinds of cultural productspaintings on dwelling walls, pots and all other decorative, functional or
'magical'
images or artefactsmade by human beings.

Developments in social class formation and struggle, in contrast, because they ,70so central to
Marxism's understanding of history and
the future of society, are, for Hauser, necessarily 'progressive', leading, he believes, to the creation of the
modern proletariat which has the potential to usher in socialism.

Hauser's reliance on the unexamined term 'art' throughout his study is symptomatic of his belief in a
transcendent and 'spiritual' core to human life. The 'highest' art produced throughout history embodies
and
signifies, he believes, this potential for creativity and depth of expression. Though art is always the
product of particular societies, necessarily conditioned by specific economic and social relations between
classes, its
achievement can symbolize values and meanings true of all people at all times. Though this view would
be
regarded as a mystification by many adherents of New Art History, many earlier Marxists had shared
Hauser's
'humanist' view, though perhaps not expressed it so clearly and often.
Though ancient history for Hauser is the
development of, and oscillation between, styles of art and the related modes of socio-economic
organization


in which they have been produced, he establishes certain features in culture as virtually permanent
elements
of this, and all subsequent history.

The historic significance of Hesiod's work is due to its being the very first literary expression of
social tension and of class antagonism.it is the first time that the voice of the working people is
heard in literature.
(vol. : p. 58)

The category of 'artist' for Hauser also, arguably, attains a submerged symbolic
significance in the first volume, concerned as it is with art and societies so apparently distant from those
of
his own time and place. Although he is actually very attentive to the shifts in the social status and function
of producers in ancient and medieval societies (this aspect of his account is very valuable), at the same
time
he exhibits a tendency to abstract and idealize 'the artist' into a kind of personified proletarian.

f this depiction of the artist as a heroic antagonist of convention by no means typifies his often careful
and differentiated account
of transformations in the personas of producers and their relationship with the institutions in which training
took place, Hauser's investment in the unexamined notion of 'art', the value of which he holds to be
ineffable and transcendent, is romantically idealist, as is the Marxist notion of a single class uniquely
possessing the power to bring social emancipation to all.

Though Hauser's Marxism is centred on the ambitious task of showing the complex links
between style in art and socioeconomic development and change, as well as with pointing out the
potential
difficulties and pitfalls of such analyses, he also develops several other important aspects of art's social
history. The development and significance of social institutions for the training and work of artists, and
their role in the organization of society as a whole, such as the monasteries of the Catholic Church in the
late Middle Ages, is an obvious, and very important, example. t is closely related to another the
development and gradual expansion of a 'public' for art, along with particular fractions of this which
acquired certain expertise, such as the Ancient-Orient's 'experienced and fastidious lite of connoisseurs'
(vol. : p. 23), forerunners, Hauser claims, of the Renaissance humanists.
His attention, as previously noted, to what might be called the 'institution' of the artist as a category