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Proudhon, Marx, Picasso: Three Studies in the Sociology of Art by Max Raphael; Inge Marcuse;

John Tagg
Review by: David Craven
Theory and Society, Vol. 12, No. 5 (Sep., 1983), pp. 692-696
Published by: Springer
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692 692
well-documented
changes
in
culture,
in values and
preferences.
We leave it to
pollsters
to
report
in the
newspapers,
and to a
fringe
movement of academic social
indicators
people.
The
question
of Hirschman's
essay
can be formulated as: "Is it sometimes useful to
think of humans as the kinds of animals who
change
their minds a
lot,
often
jointly,
about what is
good, true, beautiful, just,
and
preferable?"
I am convinced that the
answer is
yes, along
with Hirschman and Sorokin and James A. Davis. The
prefer-
ence for
public
versus
private consumption goods
is
probably
one of these
changing
values.
It seems to
me, however,
that mechanisms like
"disappointment"
will not do the
job.
First,
much of the
change
is
by
new cohorts
learning
different values than older
cohorts; they
are not
likely
to be the most
disappointed.
Second,
not all such
changes
are
cyclical
-
for
example
the
proportion
of all economic
activity
done
by govern-
ments has moved
always upward (though irregularly)
in Western
Europe
and the
United States in recent
history. Alternating private
and
public disappointments
cannot
explain public
movement in a
single
direction.
Many
of the other value
changes (e.g.,
on
virginity
or
abortion)
do not seem to
represent only
individual
choices of
behavior;
instead
they represent (mostly) judgments
of the behavior of
others.
Hirschman has shown us
again
that cultural or value
change
is out there in the
world;
but we are
nearly
as
theoretically impoverished
for the
explanation
as we were before
Hirschman's
essay.
Arthur L. Stinchcombe
Northwestern
University
Stanford Graduate School of Business
Proudhon, Marx, Picasso: Three Studies in the
Sociology of
Art
by
Max
Raphael,
translated
by Inge Marcuse, edited, introduced,
and with a
bibliography by
John
Tagg (New Jersey:
Humanities
Press, 1980).
In 1965 John
Berger
dedicated his book on Picasso to Max
Raphael,
whom he called
"a
forgotten
but
great
critic." This characterization was true
during Raphael's
later
years,
when he died in
1952,
as well as in the decade after his death. In the last
ten
years, however, Raphael's
criticism has received
increasing
attention. His
critique
of Picasso's
work,
for
example,
has become more
timely
than ever in
light
of the
extravagant
Picasso
retrospective
in 1980 at the Museum of Modern Art.
Ironically,
many
of the observations now used to
praise
Picasso's art were
insights
earlier made
by Raphael,
but for reasons that were often critical. Not
only
did
Raphael anticipate
much of the continued
acclaim,
he also showed how this acclaim would itself be
related to
contemporary
social
developments.
Raphael's
most
significant
criticism does not
entirely
divorce what art
formally
expresses
from the
way
art is
receptively completed.
In this
respect,
his
essays
are
notable for
methodological
reasons,
as evidenced
by
the recent
emphasis
in art
criticism on
rezeptiongeschichte.
This is not to
say
that
Raphael's writings
are
well-documented
changes
in
culture,
in values and
preferences.
We leave it to
pollsters
to
report
in the
newspapers,
and to a
fringe
movement of academic social
indicators
people.
The
question
of Hirschman's
essay
can be formulated as: "Is it sometimes useful to
think of humans as the kinds of animals who
change
their minds a
lot,
often
jointly,
about what is
good, true, beautiful, just,
and
preferable?"
I am convinced that the
answer is
yes, along
with Hirschman and Sorokin and James A. Davis. The
prefer-
ence for
public
versus
private consumption goods
is
probably
one of these
changing
values.
It seems to
me, however,
that mechanisms like
"disappointment"
will not do the
job.
First,
much of the
change
is
by
new cohorts
learning
different values than older
cohorts; they
are not
likely
to be the most
disappointed.
Second,
not all such
changes
are
cyclical
-
for
example
the
proportion
of all economic
activity
done
by govern-
ments has moved
always upward (though irregularly)
in Western
Europe
and the
United States in recent
history. Alternating private
and
public disappointments
cannot
explain public
movement in a
single
direction.
Many
of the other value
changes (e.g.,
on
virginity
or
abortion)
do not seem to
represent only
individual
choices of
behavior;
instead
they represent (mostly) judgments
of the behavior of
others.
Hirschman has shown us
again
that cultural or value
change
is out there in the
world;
but we are
nearly
as
theoretically impoverished
for the
explanation
as we were before
Hirschman's
essay.
Arthur L. Stinchcombe
Northwestern
University
Stanford Graduate School of Business
Proudhon, Marx, Picasso: Three Studies in the
Sociology of
Art
by
Max
Raphael,
translated
by Inge Marcuse, edited, introduced,
and with a
bibliography by
John
Tagg (New Jersey:
Humanities
Press, 1980).
In 1965 John
Berger
dedicated his book on Picasso to Max
Raphael,
whom he called
"a
forgotten
but
great
critic." This characterization was true
during Raphael's
later
years,
when he died in
1952,
as well as in the decade after his death. In the last
ten
years, however, Raphael's
criticism has received
increasing
attention. His
critique
of Picasso's
work,
for
example,
has become more
timely
than ever in
light
of the
extravagant
Picasso
retrospective
in 1980 at the Museum of Modern Art.
Ironically,
many
of the observations now used to
praise
Picasso's art were
insights
earlier made
by Raphael,
but for reasons that were often critical. Not
only
did
Raphael anticipate
much of the continued
acclaim,
he also showed how this acclaim would itself be
related to
contemporary
social
developments.
Raphael's
most
significant
criticism does not
entirely
divorce what art
formally
expresses
from the
way
art is
receptively completed.
In this
respect,
his
essays
are
notable for
methodological
reasons,
as evidenced
by
the recent
emphasis
in art
criticism on
rezeptiongeschichte.
This is not to
say
that
Raphael's writings
are
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693
without
flaws,
as this review will show.
Nevertheless,
the
shortcomings
of his criticism
often result from a
betrayal
of his own
methodological sophistication.
Raphael begins
his triadic
study,
Proudhon, Marx, Picasso,
with an excellent discus-
sion of Pierre
Joseph
Proudhon's
theory
of art. He starts here because of his view that
much of what is
inadequate
about
early
twentieth
century
art has its historical
precedent
in Proudhon's ideas.
Labeling
most French artists
"Proudhonians,"
Ra-
phael
elucidates both how Proudhon
attempted
to
go beyond
Kantian formalism and
how he
ultimately
failed to do so. Instead of
declaring
art
autonomous,
as did
Kant,
Proudhon did the reverse. He subordinated art to "science" and "moral
conscience,"
which,
as
Raphael notes,
were
obviously
related to Kant's
concepts
of theoretical
reason and
practical
reason.
Having
retained these
abstractions,
Proudhon then
reinstituted
apriorism,
which he was
supposedly disavowing, by proclaiming
all art
to be based on a
principle
inherent to the human
mind, namely,
the
progressive
mission to "reconcile art with the moral and the useful." Proudhon's
recognition
that
Kant's aesthetic was without
any
historical
grounding
led him to
try
to
ground
his
own
position empirically.
By locating
art
empirically, however,
Proudhon had in mind that art works
"express
the ideas of the
age"
as advanced
by
the "collective force."
Raphael
demonstrates that
Proudhon's efforts as an art critic
merely displayed
internal contradictions of his
critical framework. When the art was acclaimed and Proudhon
disproved
of
it, as in
the case of
Vernet,
the art was not
fulfilling
its mission. When the art was not
collectively
acclaimed and Proudhon
approved of
it,
as in the case of
Courbet, the art
was
fulfilling
its mission. In both situations the mission was at odds with the
"collective force" and it was
imposed
a
priori,
not arrived at a
posteriori
as
any
empirical approach
would. In neither situation is the
relationship
of"collective force"
to "inherent"
principles
or that of the "ideas of the
age"
to a universal "mission"
seriously
addressed.
Consequently,
Proudhon's
critique
of the art in his own histori-
cal
epoch
is based on a self-contained
concept
of art's
development
-
a
concept
with
little more concrete
grounding
than Kant's
argument
for
autonomy.
The conclusions
Raphael
draws from Proudhon's flaws are
significant, although
for
reasons
Raphael
did not realize. He shows on the one hand that Proudhon's view of
society
as a mere "continuation" of nature
implies
not
only
a
vulgar,
deterministic
materialism in the
guise
of
biological
evolutionism. This view also leads to the
definition of the artistic
faculty
as one of
perceiving
pre-existing
beauty
and a
predetermined mission, whereas a dialectical
approach
would
recognize
the
dynamic
interchange
between
perceiver
and
perceived.
In
addition, Raphael
shows that
Proudhon's evocation of a
uniform, abstract historical consciousness is
hardly plau-
sible,
because there is no
significant
historical consciousness without class conscious-
ness. To achieve the historical
grounding
Proudhon
sought
in vain, we must, Raphael
observes,
"first of all
study
the
relationship
between
ideological
and material
produc-
tion,
with reference to various social
groupings."
In the last
analysis, Proudhon's
eclectic fusion is what
Raphael
terms "historical
syncretism." Not
surprisingly,
this
approach
resulted in what he considered Proudhon's most basic
error, namely,
the
elimination of human needs as a cause of both material and
spiritual production.
Instead of
understanding
art as a means of self-realization
through
historical re-
sponses,
Proudhon reified art as
something
to which human realization was itself
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694
subordinated. In
making
this
criticism,
Raphael parallels
Marx's
critique
of Proud-
hon's
vulgar socialism,
that
is,
his fetishization of
equal
distribution at the
expense
of
reclaiming
the modes of
production
for
greater
human realization
prior
to the
distribution of
any products.
The art to which
Raphael's critique
most
applies, however,
is not the
"utopian"
modernism he had in
mind,
but
Zhdanovism,
the official Stalinist aesthetic from 1935
to
1956,
which was codified
only
two
years
after
Proudhon, Marx, Picasso was
published
in 1933.
Contrary
to what was said about
it,
the "socialist realism" of
Zhdanovist doctrine had no real connection to
Marxism,
as
Maynard
Soloman has
noted. The traits of this aesthetic - its crude
tendentiousness,
its
rejection
of formal
complexity,
its iron-handed
censorship,
its
"revolutionary" myths
-
are as close to
Proudhon's idealist
theory,
with its
imposed
social
message,
as
they
are distant from
Marx's statements
(in The Economic and
Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)
about
art, especially
his
emphasis
on
developing
the
"subjective
human
sensibility."
Both
Zhdanov and Proudhon reified art in the name
of"objective"
social edification and at
the
expense
of
any
dialectical
interchange
between
history
and
art,
art and audience -
all of which assume a one-dimensional
posture
of
passive
transmission or
receptivity
within these two theories. Proudhon's
theory
of art is
analogous
to his reductive
"distributionism,"
while Zhdanovist art is related to what Paul
Sweezy
has termed the
reductive "economism" of Stalinist
society.
The second
essay
in
Raphael's
book is devoted to "The Marxist
Theory
of Art." With
two
epigraphs
from
Engels'
letters on
why
the historical materialist method should be
a
guiding principle,
not a
ready-made pattern, Raphael
seems
prepared
to avoid a
reductivist
approach.
As a basis for his
interpretation, Raphael
takes what he calls
Marx's most
important
statement on the
subject, namely,
the discussion of art in the
Introduction to a
Critique of
Political
Economy (1857).
He notes that in this
passage
Marx disavows
any
unilateral
progression
of art and economic
productivity
-
a view
which
posits
the "relative
autonomy"
of
things
in the
ideological
domain.
Raphael
then adds that when we are content to
assign
a
given
artist "to a
particular ideology
or
a
class,
we fall into mechanical
sterility."
Unfortunately, Raphael
does not heed his own advice in other
parts
of the
essay.
His
statement that the fundamental task of a Marxist
position
is to illuminate"the concrete
manifestations of the most
general
laws of dialectical materialism in the domain in
question"
is
unacceptable.
As used
by Marx, a dialectical method is a
way
of
understanding
historical
developments;
it is not an immanent set of laws within
history awaiting recognition.
Here
Raphael's position
is flawed
by
an essentialism
which is
firmly
in the tradition of classical
European
rationalism. This
essentialism,
whereby
the dialectic becomes
something
to discover rather than
something
with
which to
discover,
undermines
Raphael's study
in several
places.
When
discussing
the
issue of
ruling
class
ideas,
he
adopts
the untenable view
-
similar to the Lasallian
position
-
of a
pure,
monolithic class
ideology, except
where "the
perverse
need to be
stimulated" leads to influences from other class
ideologies.
When
dealing
with Greek
art,
he
implies
that it has a normative value and that it is
"anti-dogmatic
in an
absolutely
radical sense." Yet the Fascists'
preference
for Greco-Roman art disallows
the
assignment
of normative value to the
forms
of Greek art. As Adolfo Sanchez
Vazquez
has
contended,
a Marxist concern with a normative aesthetics is self-contra-
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695
dictory.
The result would
only
be a Gotha
program
for the arts.
Certainly
Marx
addressed this issue
directly
in a letter
(November 26, 1885),
which
Raphael
does not
cite,
when he said the artist should not be concerned with
showing
"the future
historical solution of the social
conflicts,"
but should be concerned instead with
calling
into
question
the "eternal
validity
of the
existing
order."
Since the Economic and
Philosophical Manuscripts of
1844 were not
published
until
1932
(while Proudhon, Marx, Picasso was
going
to
press), Raphael
can
hardly
be
censured for not
using
the
extremely important
sections on art in them.
Nevertheless,
his
study
would have been enhanced had these
thoughts
of Marx been assimilated.
The
emphasis
in the 1844
Manuscripts
on the
progressive emancipation
of the senses
and on the
development
of the
"subjective
human
sensibility"
counteracts the con-
strictive essentialism and the
overriding objectification
of form to which
Raphael
falls
victim. He
definitely
avoids the historical relativism to which an exclusive concern
with art as a mode of self-conscious realization could
lead, yet
he does so
only by
limiting
his
study
to an antithetical concern with art as a
socially
normative
object
-
a
concern which is much more
a-historical,
than trans-historical. For this
reason,
Raphael's
second
essay,
on
Marx,
in
Proudhon, Marx, Picasso is
by
far the weakest
of the three. The essentialism which
appears only infrequently
in the other two
critiques
is here the dominant characteristic.
Unfortunately,
in some of
Raphael's
later
writings
this
tendency
becomes even more
pronounced,
so
that,
in "Toward an
Empirical Theory
of Art"
(1941)
he advocates an art criticism which will
someday
be
formulated "in mathematical terms." This
position
contradicts the
emphasis
in
Raphael's
best studies on criticism as a constitutive act
involving synthetic
inter-
change,
not
just
"neutral"
description.
A
critique
of
Picasso,
whom
Raphael
met in 1911 and
kept
in touch with until 1913,
forms the
concluding
section in this book. This
essay
about Picasso's work is
probably
the most
important
one of the
three, because of its
contemporary
relevance
and its
methodological sophistication.
The task outlined
by Raphael
is "to
investigate
the material and
ideological
conditions that have influenced him and how he has
reacted to them in his art." Not
only
does he
generally
avoid
any
"art as reflection"
thesis,
he also
carefully
differentiates free
enterprise capitalism from the
monopoly
capital
context within which Picasso's art was made.
Raphael
uses this contextual framework to
explain
a
frequent
trait of Picasso's work
that has
puzzled
mainstream
critics, namely,
the humor which surfaces in his other-
wise serious art.
Normally
seen as
life-enhancing
or connected to
anecdotes, this
aspect
of Picasso's work has been
downplayed
as "affectionate
mockery" by
conven-
tional historians like Gert Schiff.
Raphael, however, contends that this
rending
ambivalence in Picasso's art is
directly
connected to a caricatural dimension central to
much modern art. Far from
being
a
topical addition, as is often
assumed, this
caricatural thrust is
deeply
rooted in a
response
to the
contradictory way humanity
has been defined in modern western
society.
The tension in Picasso's art, between
creative involvement and
disengaging irony,
is an aesthetic
expression
of these
contradictions. Such tension entails an internal distance from the
general ideological
context out of which the art
grew. Thus,
Picasso's
art,
in
Raphael's view,
is
important
to the extent that it
expresses equivocation
about its own existence.
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696
Concerning
Picasso's art as a
whole,
Raphael
makes
very perceptive
remarks about
how Picasso's oeuvre has come to
signify
several
things
in
contemporary society.
He
considers Picasso's
extremely
multifarious
development
and
competing styles
to be a
signifier
of the various counter-forces
necessarily
at work now. He notes that Picas-
so's voracious
eclecticism,
his continuous use of different traditions and
contempor-
ary trends, signifies
the
rapacity
of
monopoly capitalism (now
we should add the
relentlessness with which
monopoly capital appropriates
almost
everything
to create
legitimacy
for
itself).
He further
argues,
in a
way
that recalls his essentialism from the
preceding study,
that Picasso was
incapable
of
creating
an art "based on materialist
dialectics." In
light
of these
aspects
of
meaning
in Picasso's
art,
Raphael
concludes
that Picasso is the most
important "symbol
of
contemporary bourgeois society."
Raphael's attempt
to
explain
Picasso's
unparalleled
fame in the
history
of art still
accounts for a
good
deal. One of the most
frequently
cited and
highly regarded
reasons
for Picasso's
position
is,
to
quote
Elizabeth
Murray,
a
contemporary
American
artist,
that "He
truly says you
can do
anything."
This
emphasis
on
creativity
as an end in
itself, coupled
with an
appreciation
of Picasso's
subjective
eclecticism and his multi-
faceted
talent,
have made his art
extremely important
to the "culture of
narcissism,"
with its concomitant
pluralism.
In this
respect,
Picasso's oeuvre has come to
signify
an "absolute"
individuality
free of
any ordering interchange
with
society.
His art has
been exalted for its
"freedom,"
as if this freedom itself were not related to a self-defeat-
ing groundlessness
or what Donald
Kuspit
has termed the immanent
anti-harmony
of
contemporary
life. In a brilliant extension of
Raphael's argument, Kuspit
has noted
(Parachute:
revue d'art
contemporain,
Winter
1980)
that Picasso's art is so
imperious
in its
creativity
that it has erased the rules which
formerly prevented
it from
ruling
arbitrarily. Consequently,
in Picasso's
work,
as in late
capitalism, unending
"free-
dom" has
necessarily
resulted in an endless eclecticism
-
an eclecticism which is the
answer to a dissolution of
any totality,
a
dissipation
of all
givens.
While a
legitimation
crisis awaits the
contradictory arrangements
of
monopoly capital,
Picasso's oeuvre is
being legitimated
in the name of an "absolute"
creativity
whose essence is a
supposed
transcendence of all contradictions.
Many
of the other observations in
Raphael's study
are far less fecund and
penetrat-
ing.
His insistence that Picasso should have "based" his art on dialectical materialism
is an unfortunate
lapse
into Cartesian "laws."
Nevertheless,
when
Raphael
shifted the
discourse from
dealing
with Picasso's art as a "reflection" of
society
to
considering
it
as
being
in a
complex interchange
with
society
-
whereby
new
signification
is
continually
accrued
-
he did
something very significant
for art criticism. As John
Berger
once
noted, Raphael
shows that the
revolutionary meaning
of an artwork is
not
self-contained,
but is a
meaning continually awaiting discovery
and release.
David Craven
SUNY,
Cortland
Theory
and
Society
12
(1983)
681-696
Elsevier Science Publishers
B.V.,
Amsterdam
-
Printed in The Netherlands
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