Marxist aesthetics  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Marxist aesthetics is a theory of aesthetics based on, or derived from, the theories of Karl Marx. It involves a dialectical approach to the application of Marxism to the cultural sphere, specifically areas related to taste such as art, beauty, etc. Marxists believe that economic and social conditions affect every aspect of an individual's life, from religious beliefs to legal systems to cultural frameworks. The role of art is not only to represent such conditions truthfully, but also to seek to improve them.

Some well-known Marxist aestheticians include Theodor W. Adorno, Bertolt Brecht, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, Antonio Gramsci, Georg Lukács, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson and Raymond Williams.

Background

During the mid-20th century art historians embraced social history by using critical approaches. The goal is to show how art interacts with power structures in society. One critical approach that art historians used was Marxism. Marxist art history attempted to show how art was tied to specific classes, how images contain information about the economy, and how images can make the status quo seem natural (ideology). Perhaps the best-known Marxist was Clement Greenberg, who came to prominence during the late 1930s with his essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch". In the essay Greenberg claimed that the avant-garde arose in order to defend aesthetic standards from the decline of taste involved in consumer society, and seeing kitsch and art as opposites. Greenberg further claimed that avant-garde and Modernist art was a means to resist the leveling of culture produced by capitalist propaganda. Greenberg appropriated the German word 'kitsch' to describe this consumerism, though its connotations have since changed to a more affirmative notion of left-over materials of capitalist culture. Greenberg later became well-known for examining the formal properties of modern art.

Meyer Schapiro is one of the best-remembered Marxist art historians of the mid-20th century. Although he wrote about numerous time periods and themes in art, he is best remembered for his commentary on sculpture from the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, at which time he saw evidence of capitalism emerging and feudalism declining. Arnold Hauser wrote the first Marxist survey of Western Art, titled The Social History of Art. In this book he attempted to show how class consciousness was reflected in major art periods. His book was controversial when published during the 1950s because it makes generalizations about entire eras, a strategy now called "vulgar Marxism". T.J. Clark was the first art historian writing from a Marxist perspective to abandon vulgar Marxism. He wrote Marxist art histories of several impressionist and realist artists, including Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet. These books focused closely on the political and economic climates in which the art was created.

Marxist Art History

Meyer Schapiro was, at points in his career, criticized for his approach to style because of its politically radical connotations. Schapiro himself wrote scholarly articles for a variety of socialist publications and endeavored to apply a novel Marxist method to the study of art history. In his most famous essay on Medieval Spanish art, 'From Mozarabic to Romanesque in Silos,' Schapiro demonstrated how the concurrent existence of two historical styles in one monastery was indicative of economic upheaval and class conflict.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Marxist aesthetics" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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