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The Social History of Art, Arnold Hauser

The majestic piece serves as the canon of sociological and historical interpretation of art. It's brain-catching and rather comprehensive than what it is widely and simplistically recognized with a particular label--Marxist.


Vol. 1

"As far as those conditions are concerned in which man is still dependent on providing for his own daily sustenance, the doctrine of the artistic productivity of wealth is perfectly valid; at this stage of development the existence of works of art is in fact the sign of a certain abundance of the means of subsistence and of a relative freedom from immediate anxiety as far as food is concerned." p. 18

"The city, with its concentration of population and the intellectual stimuli produced by close contact between the different levels of society, its fluctuating market and its anti-traditionalist spirit, conditioned by the peculiar nature of the market, its foreign trade and the acquaintance of its merchants with foreign lands and peoples, its money economy, rudimentary as it may be at first, and the displacements of wealth promoted by the nature of money, inevitably had a revolutionary effect in every field of cultural life, and brought about a more free from the influence of traditional forms and types than the geometrism of the New Stone Age." p. 23

"In the frontal representation of the human figure, the forward turning of the upper part of the body is the expression of a definite and direct relationship to the onlooker. Palaeolithic art, in which no kind of notice is taken of the public, also knows nothing of frontality; its illusionism is merely another form of its ignoring of the onlooker. Ancient-Oriental art, on the other hand, makes a direct approach to the receptive subject; it is an art which both demands and shows public respect." p. 35

"Crete not only stimulated 'modernist' art, it even anticipated certain aspects of modern industrial art. The 'modernity' of the Cretans was probably connected with their factory-like pursuit of art and their mass production for an enormous export market." p. 47

"And thus art, originally a mere handmaid of magic and ritual, an instrument of propaganda and panegyric, a means to influence gods, spirits and men, becomes a pure, autonomous, 'disinterested' activity to some extent, practised for its own sake and for the beauty it reveals. (...) The Greeks were the first people to complete this transition from the instrumental to the 'autonomous' form of activity, whether in science, art or morality." p. 69

"The first example of 'iconoclasm' in history--hostility to art is something completely unknown before Plato--these first doubts as to the possible bad effects that art might have, occur along with the first signs of an aesthetizing outlook on life in which art not merely has its place, but grows at the expense of all the other forms of culture and threatens to stifle them." p. 89

"In the Hellenistic age, that is, in the three centuries following Alexander the Great, the center of gravity of artistic development is markedly shifted from Greece eastwards, but reciprocal influences are at work all the time and for the first time in the history of mankind we really have to do with a culture which is an international hybrid." p. 91

"Most of the features which are customarily regarded as being characteristic of medieval art, such as the desire for simplification and stylization, the renunciation of spatial depth and perspective, the arbitrary treatment of bodily proportions and functions, are in reality only characteristic of the early Middle Ages; as soon as the urban money economy and bourgeois way of life come to prevail they no longer hold good." p. 109

"The preference for small-scale art in the Carolingian period has been linked with the still unstable and unsettled life of the time, with its nomadic character, and it has been recalled that nomadic peoples never have any monumental art but produce the smallest possible, easily portable decorative and ornamental objects." p. 141

"The art of the Romanesque period is more simple and homogeneous, less eclectic and differentiated than the art of the Byzantine or Carolingian epoch, because it is no longer a court art and because the cities of the West suffered a further setback after the age of Charlemagne, above all as a result of the penetration of the Arabs into the Mediterranean area and the interruption of trade relationships between East and West." p. 167

"In the thirteenth century, however, the town bourgeoisie, if still not quite respectable, is by no means negligible as a social group. From that time one, it stands as the tiers-etat in the forefront of modern history, and leaves its own characteristic mark on Western civilization. Between the consolidation of the bourgeoisie as a class and the end of the ancien regime there are no important changes of structure in Western society, but all the changes that do occur during this period are due to the bourgeoisie." p. 180

Vol. 2

"The doctrine of the spontaneous naturalism of the Renaissance comes from the same source as the theory that the fight against the spirit of authority and hierarchy, the ideal of freedom of thought and freedome of conscience, the emancipation of the individual and the principle of democracy, are achievements of the fifteenth centry. In all this the light of the modern age is contratsted with the darkness of the Middle Ages." p. 3

"The increased demands for works of art in the Renaissance leads to the ascent of the artist from the level of the petty bourgeois artisan to that of the free intellectual worker, a class which had previously never had any roots but which now began to develop into an economically secure and socially consolidated, even though by no means uniform group." p. 46

"Michelangelo, finally, rises to absolutely unprecedented heights. His supremacy is so obvious that he can afford wholly to forgo all public honours, titles and distinctions. He scorns the friendship of princes and popes; he can dare to be their opponent. He is neither a count, nor a state councillor, nor a papal superintendent, but he is called the 'Divine'. He does not wish to be described as a painter or sculptor in letters addressed to him: he says he is simply Michelangelo Buonarroti, no more and no less; he desires to have young noblemen as his pupils, and, in his case, this must not be ascribed simply to snobbery; he maintains that he paints 'col cervello' and not 'colla mano', and would like best of all to conjure forth the figures from the marble block by the mere magic of his vision." p. 59

"The Quattrocento represented the world as in a state of never-ending flux, as an uncontrollable, never completable process of growth; the individual person felt himself small and powerless in this world and surrendered himself to it willingly and thankfully. The Cinquecento experiences the world as a totality with definite boundaries; the world is as much as, but no more than man can grasp; and every perfect work of art expresses in its own way the whole of the reality that man can comprehend." p. 84

"Before Cervantes there had only been good and bad characters, delivers and traitors, saints and blasphemers, in literature; here the hero is saint and fool in on and the same person. If a sense of humour is the ability to see two opposite sides of a thing at the same time, then the discovery of this double-sidedness of a character signifies the discovery of humour in the world of literature--of the kind of humour that was unknown before the age of mannerism." p. 134

"Shakespeare certainly does not approve of Coriolanus' prejudices, but the regrettable delusions of the aristocrat do not spoil his delight in the sight of the 'fine fellow'. He looks down on the broad masses of the people with a feeling of superiority in which--as Coleridge already remarked--there is a mixture of disdain and patient benevolence. On the whole, his approach corresponds to the attitude of the humanists, whose catchwords referring to the 'uncultured', 'politically immature', 'fickle' crowd he guilelessly repeats." p. 139

"But in the Elizabethan age people went to the theatre as we go to the cinema, and agreed in the main in their expectations concerning the performance, however different their intellectual needs were in other respects. The common criterion of the entertaining and the moving, which was current in the various strata of society, made Shakespeare's art possible, though it in no sense created it, and it conditioned its particularity though not its quality." p. 150

"There is no 'climax' in the development; a summit is reached and a change takes place, when the general historical, that is, social, economic and political, conditions carry their development in a particular direction to an end and change their course. A change of style can only be conditioned from outside--it does not become due for purely internal reasons." p. 165

"But if Caravaggio really is the first master of the modern age to be slighted by reason of his artistic worth, then the baroque signifies an important turning point in the relationship between art and the public, namely the end of the 'aesthetic culture' which begins with the Renaissance and the beginning of that more rigid distinction between content and form in which formal perfection no longer serves as an excuse for any ideological lapse." p. 170

"There are artists who only feel safe when they are free, but there are also such as can breathe freely only when they are secure. The seventeenth century was, at any rate, one of the periods farthest removed from the ideal of a synthesis of freedom and security." p. 208

Vol. 3

"The novel, which, despite its popularity, represents an inferior and in some respects still backward form in the seventeenth century, becomes the leading literary genre in the eighteenth, to which belong not only the most important literary works, but in which the most important and really progressive literary development takes place." p. 24

"The rococo actually represents the final phase in a culture of taste, in which the principle of beauty still holds unrestricted sway, the last style in which 'beautiful' and 'artistic' are synonymous. In the work of Watteau, Rameau and Marivaux, and even in that of Fragonard, Chardin and Mozart, everything is ' beautiful' and melodious; in Beethoven, Stendhal and Delacroix this is by no means any longer the case--art becomes active, combative, and the striving for expression violates the formal structure." p. 31

"Rousseau is the first to speak as one of the common people himself, and to speak for himself when he is speaking for the people; the first to induce others to rebellion, because he is a rebel himself." p. 71

"What the Germans lacked was not Sunday cake but daily bread. They lacked that healthy, alert, universally acknowledged public opinion, which in the Western European countries set a limit on individual aspirations from the very beginning and created a common trend of thought. Mme de Staël already recognized that the individual freedom, or as Goethe called it, the 'literary sansculottism', of the German poets was nothing more than a compensation for their exclusion from active political life." p. 107

"The yearning for the pure, clear-cut, uncomplicated line, for regularity and discipline, harmony and rest, for Winckelmann's 'noble simplicity and calm greatness', is above all a protest against the insincerity and sophistication, the empty virtuosity and brilliance, of the rococo, qualities that now begin to be regarded as depraved and degenerate, diseased and unnatural." p. 132

"The Goethean problem of the artist continued to torment them; art was looked upon, on the one hand, as an instrument of higher knowledge, of religious ecsasy, of divine revelation, but on the other, its value in the practice of daily life was questioned." p. 168

"Romanticism is the culmination of the development which began in the second half of the eighteenth century: music becomes the exclusive property of the middle class. Not only the orchestras move from the banqueting-halls of the castles and palaces into the concert-halls filled by the middle class, but chamber music also finds a home, not in aristocratic salons but in bourgeois drawing-rooms." p. 211

Vol. 4

"It is not until the eighteenth century that the public divides into two different camps and art into two opposing orders, between the world of the conservative aristocracy and that of the progressive bourgeoisie, between a group that holds fast to the old, tradidional, allegedly absolute values and one based on the view that even, and above all , these values are historically conditioned and that there are other, more up-to-date values, more in accordance with the general good." p. 4

"The greatest literary creations of the nineteenth century, the works of Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Dickens, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, are social novels, whatever other category the may belong to. The social definition of the characters becomes the criterion of their reality and credibility and the social problems of their life first make them suitable subjects for the new naturalistic novel. It is this sociological conception of man that the writers of the 1830 generation discovered for the novel and which was what most interested a thinker like Marx in the works of Balzac." p. 26

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