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From the cultural

contradictions of
capitalism to the
creative economy:
Reflections on the new
spirit of art and capitalism

Thesis Eleven
110(1) 8397
The Author(s) 2012
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DOI: 10.1177/0725513612444563
the.sagepub.com

David Roberts
Monash University, Australia

Abstract
The geography of contemporary bohemia is integral to Richard Floridas thesis of the rise
of a new creative class in the USA. The strong correlation between the presence of
bohemians and innovative high-tech industries in a number of American cities stands in
sharp contrast to the historical image of a bohemian subculture of artists and intellectuals,
defined by their antagonistic relationship to bourgeois society. Rather than a sign of social
marginality, bohemian life-styles have now become a marker of the new economy, variously labeled the creative, the cultural or the aesthetic economy. In my paper I want to
compare and contrast these two opposed images of bohemia the 19th-century idea
of bohemia as the libertarian other of liberal-bourgeois society and the new, highly topical
economic geography of bohemia with the following questions in mind: How and why
does the 19th-century artistic critique of capitalism mutate into an expression of the new
spirit of capitalism? Does this change from an antagonistic to an affirmative relationship signal the emergence of a new spirit of art that can be related to the new spirit of capitalism?
Keywords
Daniel Bell, boheme, bohemian city, Luc Boltanski, spirit of capitalism, Andy Warhol

Corresponding author:
David Roberts, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University, Clayton 3800, Australia
Email: david.gjandh.roberts@bigpond.com

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The relationship between a civilizations socio-economic structure and its culture is perhaps
the most complicated of all problems for the sociologist. (Daniel Bell)

According to Richard Florida the geography of contemporary bohemia in the USA is


highly concentrated in certain favoured cities, which demonstrates a strong correlation
between the presence of bohemians and innovative high-technology industries. Floridas
bohemian index covers producers of culture and creativity such as authors, designers,
musicians and composers, actors and directors, painters, sculptors, craft-artists, photographers and dancers. They, together with scientists, engineers, university professors,
and opinion-leaders, make up the super-creative core of Floridas creative class, who
produce the new forms or designs for the knowledge-intensive industries, and compose
12 per cent and 30 per cent of the work force respectively (Florida 2002a). John Howkins (2001) lists as the most important sectors of the creative economy in order of
value: research and development, publishing, software, television and radio, design,
music, film, toys, advertising, architecture.
The contemporary bohemian city thus reverses the historical understanding of the
bohemians as an anti-bourgeois counter-culture with unbourgeois life-styles, made up of
artists and intellectuals, defined by their antagonistic relationship to bourgeois society.
Rather than a sign of social marginality, bohemian life-styles have now become a marker
of the new economy, variously labeled the creative, the cultural or the aesthetic economy. In my paper I want to compare and contrast these two opposed images of bohemia
the 19th-century idea of bohemia as the libertarian other of liberal-bourgeois society and
the new, highly topical economic geography of bohemia with the following question in
mind: How and why does the 19th-century artistic critique of capitalism mutate into an
expression of the new spirit of capitalism? My paper falls into three sections. The first
examines the paradox of the antagonistic symbiosis between the 19th-century boheme
and bourgeois society, the second the contemporary paradox of the alliance between
bohemia and capitalism; in the third I ask whether this change from an antagonistic to
an affirmative relationship signals the emergence of a new conception of art, which is
explored in the light of the question whether the changing spirits of capitalism in the
20th century can be related to comparable changing spirits of artistic creativity.

The antagonistic symbiosis of bohemians and bourgeois


A subculture of artists, writers and intellectuals appeared in the metropolitan centres
of Europe in the course of the 19th century in response to the spread of finance capital
and of industrial production with its utilitarian and profit-oriented ethos. Paris was the
prototype of the bohemian city. There the boheme emerged as a recognizable phenomenon at the point during the bourgeois monarchy of Louis Philippe when the postrevolutionary goals of the bourgeoisie had been attained and the alliance between the
bourgeoisie and the Romantic generation of 1830 disintegrated. Paris was the birthplace
of the boheme, of the idea of the avant-garde, of utopian socialism and of Marxs analysis of economic alienation. We may date the classic epoch of the boheme from the 1830
Revolution, immortalized by Delacroixs painting of Liberty on the barricades, through
to the avant-gardes confusion of cultural and political revolution across the decade of

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the First World War. The relation of the bohemian artistic subculture to the host society
in this period is best described as one of antagonistic complementarity (Kreuzer 1968:
45), in the sense that the bourgeoisie and bohemia implied, required, and attracted each
other (Seigel 1986: 5). This complementarity was subject, however, to a fundamental
misreading by the bohemians. Instead of recognizing the structural nature of this complementary division of labour, bohemians tended to grasp this relationship dynamically
as an irreconcilable opposition, in which the bohemian form of life constituted a living
testimony to the incompatibility of art and commerce, aestheticism and utilitarianism. As
a result, the denizens of bohemia could only conceive of their own marginal existence in
alienated form. The accusation and experience of alienation, so central to the 19thcentury revolutionary-romantic critique of bourgeois society, was integral to the selfimage of the various marginal groupings of artists and intellectuals who formulated the
artistic critique of capitalism and tended to identify with the social critique of capitalism.
The paradoxes of bohemian self-understanding and of bohemian politics were tied up
with the personal and social paradoxes of autonomy, which followed from the emancipation
of the intelligentsia from direct social and political control and seemed to point the way, as
Saint-Simon had announced, of the intellectuals to class power. Intellectual and artistic
emancipation since the French Revolution was confronted and confounded, however, by
economic dependence. The conflict between cultural and commercial values determined
the marginal status of the artistic boheme, whose autonomy was simultaneously given and
negated by the market. It must be added, however, that if artists were economically dependent, bourgeois society for its part, despite the patronage of academic art, was culturally
dependent on the artists. Bourgeois society was the first social formation in which the economic hegemony of the dominant classes no longer extended to the cultural sphere: the art
of bourgeois society was anti-bourgeois in nature. The scandals of artistic provocation, the
ideology of the artist as anti-social genius reflected the tensions of this structural antagonism and fed at the same time bohemian political illusions. In retrospect it seems clear that
the antagonistic symbiosis between bohemians and bourgeois corresponds to the intermediary stage between the social function of the arts in hierarchical societies and the arts as a
function of the market in the de-hierarchized cultures of consumer capitalism.
The contradiction between independence and dependence makes the concept of
alienation central to sociological interpretations of the boheme and goes far towards
explaining the bohemes attraction to the dreams of total revolution. Alienation and
revolution acted as mutually reinforcing dimensions of the antagonism between society
and its other, which exploded into the open in 1848 and 1871 in Paris, and was actualized
by the crisis of the European order after 1900. The revolutionary upheavals set in motion
by the Great War mark the end of what we may call the natural history of the boheme.
What followed in Europe was the unnatural history of the tragedy of political
romanticism in the form of the self-destructive alliance of a radicalized cultural intelligentsia with the totalitarian revolutions of the Left and Right a suicidal embrace of
total revolution prefigured and prepared by the avant-gardes radical assault on tradition. Bakunins anarchist maxim, To destroy is to create, is actually applicable to
most of the activities of the twentieth-century avant-garde (Calinescu 1974).
Thus, in a final twist of the paradoxical relation of bohemians to the host society,
revolution formed not only the limiting condition but also the suicidal goal of the

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boheme. Daniel Bell identifies the fratricidal tension between bourgeois society and
modernism as one of the three cultural contradictions of capitalism. In turn, Francois
Furets understanding of the antagonistic complementarity between bohemians and
bourgeois as the expression of bourgeois self-hatred helps to explain the suicidal affinity
to the idea of total revolution. And it is certainly true that as a class the French and
continental bourgeoisie was prone to self-hatred. It was a class without status, lacking the
will to political power and deficient in capitalist spirit, even though it was defined
entirely economically (Furet 1999: 7). The fundamental motif of modern society, according to Furet, is not the struggle of workers against bourgeois; much more important was
the driving force of bourgeois self-hatred. When the monarchic and aristocratic components of the 19th-century political compromise collapsed after the First World War, the
bourgeois anti-bourgeois forces of revolutionary communism and fascism were
unleashed (1999: 1619). The fact that the critique of bourgeois society appeared in its
most radical form in France and Germany before the industrial revolution had even taken
hold indicates a fundamental difference between continental Europe and England and
America. As Furet puts it, the USA never had a bourgeoisie but it did have a bourgeois
people (1999: 7). And just as there was no bourgeoisie, in the French sense of an alliance
with patrimonial landed interests (Boltanski 2002), in either country, so we cannot speak
of a romantic-revolutionary bohemian intelligentsia as a significant presence in England
or America, that is, in neither country was there an internal class war between owners of
capital and owners of creative or educational capital.
In The New Spirit of Capitalism Boltanski and Chiapello draw a useful distinction
between the two components of the 19th-century critique of capitalism, the social and
the artistic. The authors identify a common origin of both critiques in what Bernhard
Yack has called the longing for total revolution, elaborated in the spirit of Rousseau
by German artists and philosophers around 1800 and after (Yack 1986; the term total
revolution comes from Schillers Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man). Their
denunciation of the obstacles placed in the way of the realization of mans full powers
called for a radical transformation of the social order, which by mid-century had come to
be identified with capitalism as the prime source of human and social alienation.
Although the Left embraced both forms of critique, social critique was carried by the
workers movements and the artistic critique by the bohemian subculture. Whereas
social critique emphasized inequalities, poverty, exploitation and the egoism of a world
that encourages individualism as opposed to solidarity, artistic critique, the province of
small artistic and intellectual circles, emphasized oppression in the capitalist world (the
domination of the market, the discipline of the factory), the uniformity of mass society
and the commodification of everything and valorized an ideal of liberation and individual autonomy, of uniqueness and authenticity (Boltanski 2002: 6). Marx combined both
forms of critique by developing the original imaginary of alienation and revolution into a
powerful Promethean critique of the artificial society of liberalism and the dehumanizing
effects of capitalist relations of production, which have destroyed all the creative dimensions of work and stand in the way of humanitys powers of self-creation. In practice,
however, the artistic components of Marxs vision became subordinated after 1848 to
scientific analysis of the laws of capitalism, just as the bohemian and avant-garde dreams
of political and cultural revolution remained wholly marginal to the workers movement.

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There was in fact a deep contradiction between the claims of a self-styled aristocracy of
genius and those of socialist egalitarianism, reflected in the intelligentsias oscillation
between individualist and collective positions, that came to the fore around 1900 as artists and intellectuals under the pervasive influence of Nietzsche started to articulate and
embrace the ideology of proto-fascist movements (Sternhell 1994).
Boltanski posits an intrinsic connection between the European Left and the longing
for total revolution. But does this revolutionary heritage, still evident in the events of
May 1968 in Paris, signify continuity with the 19th-century artistic critique of bourgeoiscapitalist society across the great divide of the totalitarian interregnum of the 20th century, which buried the revolutionary hopes of workers, or rather their leaders, and a bohemian intelligentsia? If we are to speak of continuity, it can only be in terms of a replay in
1968 of the old revolutionary imaginary, which provided the satyr-play to the tragedy of
the centurys total revolutions. In fact the symbolism of the student protests re-enacted
in Surrealistic fashion the characteristic feature of the classic boheme: the dramatization of ambivalence towards their own social identities and destinies (Seigel 1986:
11). And here too we observe a comparable revolutionary misunderstanding of this
ambivalence, which in fact masked a fundamental change in the hitherto tense relations
between artistic critique and capitalism, recognized by Bell only negatively in terms of
the dissolution of the cultural contradiction between bourgeois asceticism and bohemian hedonism. Out of this fundamental change there emerged a new spirit of capitalism but also a new spirit of art.

Artistic critique and the new spirit of capitalism


Boltanski and Chiapello work with a scenography with three key components: capitalism, the spirit of capitalism and critique, the latter divided into social and artistic
critique (Boltanski and Chiapello 2005: 7). Capitalism, understood as the drive for
unlimited accumulation through competition and employment, is confronted with the
constant need to mobilize and motivate large numbers of employees by means of moral
and ideological justification. Boltanski and Chiapello reconstruct the three successive
spirits of capitalism in the 20th century in the light of the emancipatory claims advanced
by capitalism in response to critique. The first, entrepreneurial spirit of capitalism
responded to the critics of the transition from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft, from status
to contract, which had led to a new form of wage slavery and to the dissolution of social
bonds, by highlighting the promise of liberation from traditional society through the
workings of the market, which opened the possibility of choice in regard to occupation,
place of residence, goods and services. The second, managerial spirit of capitalism with
its planning and bureaucracy increased state involvement and welfare provisions,
recognized the force of social critique by promising liberation from subjection to market
forces. The new planning spirit of capitalism was not simply a response to social unrest,
however. It took shape under the impact of the war economy, imposed on the combatants
by the First World War, and its postwar continuations in fascist Italy and Soviet Russia in
the context of the interwar crisis of capitalism. Thus it was not until the return of
prosperity of the 1960s that critiques of mass production and mass consumption gained
traction and the liberation from social insecurity could appear as oppressive. Only at that

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point did the two different meanings of liberation, associated with the social and artistic
critique of capitalism, come to play a socially significant role.
Boltanski and Chiapello attribute the newfound importance of artistic critique in the
1960s to the growth of student numbers and to the growing requirements for highly
skilled engineers and technicians in the production process. The mantra of the 68 revolt
in France was participation, reflecting the push for self-management, individual autonomy and creativity in the work situation, as opposed to the traditional social demands, led
by the communist unions, for pay rises and reductions in inequality. 1968 thus appears as
the symbolic moment of divergence between the hitherto dominant social critique, based
on the class structure of industrial society, and the rise of an artistic critique, which corresponded to the post-industrial needs of capitalism for skilled and self-motivated employees
and prefigured the rise of Floridas new creative class. Previously confined to the bohemian margins of society, the artistic critique of alienation moved to centre stage to become
the driving force of protest and of ongoing social change. A whole series of demands for
liberation came together: the refusal of one-dimensional man and mass society was allied
to calls for personal autonomy and emancipation from the traditional forms of patriarchy,
most notably in Womens Lib. These demands translated the old artistic critique into an
idiom inspired by Marx, Freud and Nietzsche, which had been incubated in the political
and artistic avant-gardes of the 1950s.
Boltanski and Chiapello base their theory of the new artistic spirit of capitalism on a
comparative analysis of the management literature of the 1960s and the 1990s. The
transformation of the planning spirit of industrial mass production into the new paradigm
of the network society is nicely summed up by a French management theorist: from
quantity production to quality production, from pyramid to network, from territory to flow,
from simple delegation to the principle of subsidiarity, from centralized organization to
self-organization . . . from personnel to persons . . . from reduction to order at any cost to
recognition of the dynamic virtues of the paradoxical, the contradictory, the ambiguous,
from regulations to the rule (Boltanski and Chiapello 2005: 159). Boltanski and Chiapellos term for this new spirit of capitalism, which offers liberation from oppressive industrial work practices, is the projective city, the organization and justification of work around
the project: lean firms working as networks in the form of teams or projects, intent on customer satisfaction, and a general mobilization of workers thanks to the leaders vision
(2005: 73). As opposed to the work ethic of the first spirit of capitalism the rational asceticism of the entrepreneur and of the second spirit managerial responsibility and knowledge the third spirit is manifested in activity. The ideal networker thus exhibits the
following capacities: the ability to generate and participate in projects, to make connections and extend networks, to move from project to project, to demonstrate flexibility and
adaptability and arouse enthusiasm, act as innovator and mediator through his/her communicative skills and mastery of communication technologies (2005: 108118). In short, the
ideal networker is the person who can master the three dimensions of networks complexity, communication, and self-organizing chaos. It is worth noting that we have here a complete revision of the whole notion of the network, which had been previously viewed in
relation to human organization in clandestine, illegal or subversive terms (2005: 139, 141).
The theory of networks, driven by the information revolution, was taken over by
management theory from the social and natural sciences. Network society owes nothing

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to artistic critique, even if it is associated with a life-style without a clear division


between private and professional life, akin to that of artists or scientists. The bohemian
city can therefore be seen as an appropriate counterpart to the projective city. Conversely,
the key notion of creativity derives from the sphere of art, even though it amounts to a complete revision of the commonly accepted idea of creativity, rooted in the 19th-century conception of the artist as inspired genius. The transformation of the old artistic critique of
capitalism into the new spirit of capitalism, born of the cooption of artistic critique, gives
rise to a number of new social paradoxes.
1.

2.

3.

Artistic critique becomes the new defining critique of capitalist society. 1968 marks
the symbolic crossover to a socially transformative artistic critique, in which the
bohemian counter-image to bourgeois society becomes a model for a libertarian
renegotiation of human relations, above all in the emancipation of women from the
domestic sphere.
Floridas bohemian city exemplifies the mainstreaming of bohemian marginality.
Urban singles become the role models for a democratization of the old bohemian
subculture in the form of a generalization of formerly marginal life-styles, predicated on the marketing and commodification of difference. The bohemian city now
constitutes the locus of creativity and the magnet for Floridas new creative class or
Boltanskis new class, defined by its sense of self-representation.
Artistic critique, based on the antagonistic complementarity of bourgeois and
bohemian, avant-garde art and the market, is transformed into the affirmative creativity of the new economy.

The new notion of creativity is the key to capitalisms paradoxical embrace of artistic
critique. Boltanski and Chiapello contrast the projective city to the 19th-century inspirational city. Despite their superficial similarities the importance assigned to creativity,
the recognition of difference as a value there is a fundamental difference between the
creativity that has its source in the inner world of subjectivity and the creativity conceived as a function of the number and quality of network connections, where distributed intelligence takes the place of creatio ex nihilo (Boltanski and Chiapello 2005:
1289). Florida likewise insists on the social character of creativity (Florida 2002b:
34), which draws on the Enlightenment idea of progress in alliance with science, technology, and industry, as opposed to the aesthetic model of creativity. Michael A. Peters
(2009) argues that the new forms of capitalism in the creative economy call for a rethinking of the idea of creativity, which he exemplifies through the contrast between the old,
still dominant Romantic irrationalist and individualist paradigm, labeled personal anarcho-aesthetics, and the new paradigm, labeled the design principle, which is a function
of social and networked environments and exhibits the principles of distributed knowledge and collective intelligence.
The insistence on the new spirit of capitalism, the new creative class, the cultural
creatives, the new economy, the creative economy, the cultural economy, the entertainment or the aesthetic economy, the role of the creative and cultural industries in
commercial culture, in the creative age, the creative or the global city combine an
strong emphasis on discontinuity with reference to underlying continuities (capitalism,

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class, creativity, the city) (Cowen 1998; Ray 2000; Seltzer 1999). It is clear that we have
a real paradigm shift in the theorizing of creativity in comparison to older inspirational
models. Does this represent, as Daniel Bell sensed in 1976 and repeated in 1996, a final
exhaustion of modernism, indeed of culture? Or does it signify a fundamentally new conception of the arts beyond modernism in the new economy? This is the question I want to
explore through a comparison between the changing spirits of capitalism and the changing spirits of art in the 20th century.

Beyond modernism: A new spirit of art?


There exists for Bell on the one hand a fundamental tension, a fundamental contradiction
between bourgeois society and modernism: Though both were born in the same womb,
so to speak the rejection of the past, the commitment to ceaseless change, and the idea
that nothing is sacred the fratricide was there . . . from the start (Bell 1996: 283). This
self-hatred (Furet) found its structural expression in the sharp contrast between bohemian life-styles and the ascetic work ethic that epitomized the split between beauty and
utility introduced by industrial production. On the other hand, Bell also discerns an
equally essential affinity between the bourgeois entrepreneur and the independent artist,
each driven by the restless need to search out the new, to rework nature, and to refashion
consciousness (1996: 16). Artist and entrepreneur shared the same revolutionary spirit
of modernism, whose destructive consequences came to the fore after 1900. The perennial gale of creative destruction, in Schumpeters famous formulation, unleashed by
capitalist innovation turned, like the avant-gardes assaults on tradition, against the parent society. In turning against its own, the spirit of creative destruction, in the form of the
artist or entrepreneur as Nietzschean superman, achieved a Pyrrhic victory amid the ruins
of the 19th-century bourgeois world.
The new collectivist ethos, born of the total mobilization of the Great War and
reflected in the rise of mass society, mass politics, Taylorism and five-year plans,
replaced the entrepreneur by bureaucrats as managers of the new planning spirit of (state)
capitalism. The implosion of bourgeois individualism and the self-destruction of
European society was already announced in Marinettis Futurist manifesto of 1909 with
its vision of the man-machine and glorification of war. From Russian Constructivism to
the Bauhaus in Germany, Futurism in Italy and the architecture of Le Corbusier in
France, artists embraced the new collectivism and the cult of the machine and technology
in the 1920s. The mechanical ballets, the machine music of these years, Mondrian and
De Stijls geometric utopianism, Brechts didactic plays for massed choruses, Battleship
Potemkin or Metropolis, all expressed a will to collective reconstruction that took its cue
from the new spirit of industrial production. It was the last productive phase of modernism before it mutated into the sterile and streamlined ideology of the 1950s.
Looking back at the whole period of modernism, it seems to me that we can recognize
a correspondence between the spirit of capitalism and the spirit of art, especially during
the last avant-garde phase with its contrasting impulses of creative destruction and collective reconstruction. The correspondence is most evident in the 1920s but it is also the
most one-sided. In no sense can we speak of a real convergence between art and industry.
The avant-garde mirroring or should we say mimicry? of the collective-constructivist

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spirit of production remained an unreciprocated declaration of love. Their dreams of a


revolutionary fusion of art and industrial technology were rapidly disabused. Can we,
however, see this love affair as an imaginary anticipation of the creative economy of
today? Or is the creative economy something distinct in kind from the correspondence
I am suggesting between the spirit of art and of capitalism in modernism? To put the
question differently: how do we get from the cultural contradictions of capitalism to the
creative economy?
According to Bell, modern culture has triumphed over society and institutionalized
the avant-gardist refusal of limits. According to Boltanski and Chiapello, modern culture
in the form of artistic critique is the bearer of values that challenge the dominant social
practices but is unable of itself to effect social transformation. Where the one sees the
dissolving acid of modernist culture, the other sees capitalisms capacity to co-opt and
neutralize the critical spirit of modernism. By helping to overthrow the conventions
bound up with the domestic world, and also to overcome the inflexibilities of the industrial order bureaucratic hierarchies and standardized production the artistic critique
opened up an opportunity for capitalism to base itself on new forms of control and
commercialization, new, more individualized and authentic goals (Boltanski and
Chiapello 2005: 467). Compared with their clear analysis, Bells cultural pessimism is
more complex and contradictory when he posits the simultaneous exhaustion and triumph of modernism. Moreover, although his audience is American, he views contemporary American developments through the lens of European cultural criticism and its
ambivalence towards the high culture that took the place but could not replace the social
role of religion.
Bell does, however, hint that avant-gardism prefigures coming revolutionary changes
in his 1996 Epilogue to The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, The Death of the
Bourgeois World-View, where he connects the avant-garde movements of the first
decades of the 20th century to the culture of the 1960s. After having carved out bohemian enclaves of a contrary style of life, the avant-garde went over to the offensive
against bourgeois culture between 1910 and 1930, whose outcome is the present radical
disjunction between culture and social structure. This disjunction, he adds somewhat
ominously, has been historically the harbinger of more direct social revolutions, two
aspects of which are already evident: first, the collapse of the distinction between art and
life; second, the spread of bohemian life-styles from a tiny elite to a socially and culturally significant minority. This minority, composed of the new, large stratum of the
intelligentsia in the societys knowledge and information industries (Bell 1996: 34),
which identifies with the culture of modernism and is sufficiently numerous to form a
new class, is Floridas new creative class in all but name. Its emergence testifies to three
extraordinary changes: marginal bohemian life-styles have become the habitus of a
new cultural class; majority bourgeois culture has disappeared as an alternative to that
of the minority; this minority has achieved a hegemonic influence over the institutions
of culture from museums, galleries, and publishers to the mass media and the universities
(1996: 4041).
Stepping back, we can see that Bells narrative of the death of the bourgeoisie, of
modernism and finally culture operates with a scenario of dis/appearance. By dis/
appearance I understand the negative of sublation, that is, the process through which

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modernism and its socio-aesthetic categories (artist, work, creativity, the avant-garde,
the boheme) disappear in their original adversarial incarnation to reappear in a new
generalized and affirmative form, as in Bells death and posthumous triumph of modernism. Thus the antagonism of capitalism and culture, art and technology, disappears in the
creative economy, just as the antagonism of bourgeois society and bohemian subculture
disappears in the new cultural class. Artistic inspiration and the unique artwork turn into
collective creation and the collaborative project, the avant-garde into institutionalized
innovation. The aesthetic sphere disappears in the aestheticization of everyday life. This
process of generalization, a reflection of the conjoined working of democracy and capitalism, effects a secularization of modern art and culture (which Bell reads as exhaustion
and death), emanating from the USA and spreading to Europe in the wake of the youth
movement and student protests.
We must distinguish Bells sociological scenario of dis/appearance from the revolutionary fury of disappearance that possessed the avant-garde movements between 1910
and 1930 as they acted out in ever more radicalized form the death of art and the demolition
of tradition. This revolutionary moment of the crisis of modernism, confined to tiny
groups, prefigures both the 1960s revival of avant-garde attitudes (cf. the manifestos of
the Situationists) and what Bell describes as the collapse of the distinction between art and
life. It is, however, an ironic prefiguration, in that the posthumous realization of the
avant-gardes dream of the transformation of art into life is condemned in the name of
modernist values. Thus Jeremy Rifkin (2000) remains, like Bell, within the critical frame
of modernism in his dissection of the transformation of the work ethic into the play ethic.
In the age of access, in which creativity has taken the place of industriousness, lived
experience has become the ultimate object of commodity reification and culture has disappeared into entertainment, which has supplanted defence spending to become the motor
of the new economy. Postmodernism likewise remains within the modernist frame in its
endless theoretical deconstructions and decompositions of the spirit of modernism.
Bell and Boltanski register from opposite sides the loss of a productive tension
between art and society, artists and capitalism. For both, the end of modernism results in
the anaestheticization of art and its critical function in the aesthetic economy of ubiquitous consumerism. This process of dis/appearance is, however, also open to an
affirmative reading, which rescues the original idea of the avant-garde launched by
Saint-Simon and his disciples, which foresaw an alliance of artists, scientists and industrialists coming together to form the vanguard of social progress. It finds an unexpected
echo in Herbert Marcuses Essay on Liberation (1969), which combines the Great
Refusal of global capitalism with the romantic-revolutionary longing for the unmediated totality of life through the negation of the entire Establishment, its morality,
culture. It is difficult to disagree with Kolakowskis dismissal of Marcuses dream
of a New World of Happiness, governed by the Pleasure Principle, as a romantic anarchism that has replaced history by unalienated human nature (Kolakowski 2005: 1119).
Kolakowski is right to characterize Marcuses message as Marxism without the proletariat, but this was precisely why Marcuse could become the guru of the student revolt
in the USA and Europe. Moreover, the aesthetic utopia proclaimed by Marcuse turned
out to be prophetic in ways that he had not imagined and would have scarcely recognized in the rise of network society, the bohemian city and the creative class, or

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regarded as the realization of his new Reality Principle, in which beauty is to become
the Form of society itself.
The essentially aesthetic quality of this form would make it a work of art, but in as much as
the Form is to emerge in the social process of production, art would have changed its traditional locus and function in society: it would become a productive force in the material as
well as cultural transformation. . . . This would mean the Aufhebung of art: the end of the
segregation of the aesthetic from the real. (Marcuse 1969: 25, 32)

Marcuses utopia belongs to the Californian dreaming, whose actual, effective expression is
the creative economy, half Hollywood, half Silicon Valley, which has broken with the old
unproductive opposition of art and technology, art and science, art and industry, and left the
modernist distinction between high and low culture, aura and mechanical reproduction
behind. The Romantic dream of the Aufhebung of art found a more practical realization in
the resurrection of the Bauhaus in Chicago in the late 1930s under the directorship of Laszlo
Moholy-Nagy. It was, says James Allen, a last attempt to give aesthetic form to the modern
spirit and unity to modern culture (Allen 1983: 295). Moholy-Nagy brought the Bauhaus
ideas of industrial and graphic design, art education, and cultural reform to Chicago and,
backed by Walter Paepcke as friend and sponsor, made them live again in the New Bauhaus
(later the Institute of Design) (Allen 1983: xiii). The industrialist Paepcke, President of the
Container Corporation of America, was the driving force of the Chicago crusade for cultural
reform, which aimed to overcome the alienation between high culture and capitalism
through the introduction of European modernist design into advertising and packaging.
Who better than Moholy-Nagy to implement this programme: in The New Vision (1928),
which described the first year curriculum at the Bauhaus, Moholy-Nagy had argued that
modern art and design would express the true character of contemporary culture, thereby
bridging the split between art and industry, aesthetics and technology. In Vision in Motion
(1947) he delivered a final statement of his theory of cultural leadership, carried by a SaintSimonian avant-garde of scientists, sociologists, artists, writers, musicians, technicians and
craftsmen (Allen 1983: 74), dedicated to the Bauhauss vision of a reunified culture. He
found kindred spirits at the University of Chicago among the philosophers: John Dewey was
a strong supporter, Charles Morris joined the new Bauhaus. Morriss idea of the need to integrate the activities of artists, scientists, and technologists was shared in turn by the Unity of
Science movement, founded by members of the Viennese circle of logical positivists Otto
Neurath, Rudolf Carnap, and Philip Frank (Allen 1983: 60).
Did this romance of commerce and culture attain its goals? Allen suggests that it is
open to two readings: on the one hand it can be understood as the mutually beneficial end
of the antagonism of the two cultures, and on the other as the capitalist co-option of high
culture for its own purposes. Allen opts himself for an ironic reading of the romance: By
so successfully allying their cultural aspirations with commercial techniques, artists and
intellectuals helped unify modern culture, but at the risk of turning art and ideas into
commodities (Allen 1983: 294).
The artist who consummated this mutually beneficial but ironic romance was appropriately a product of the American, technologically-oriented version of the Bauhaus curriculum. Andy Warhol studied commercial art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in

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Pittsburgh, graduating in 1949. After working in fashion illustration and advertising in New
York, he achieved fame in the 1960s through his paintings and readymades of commodity
icons Campbells Soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, Brillo boxes. The works of this period up
to the assassination attempt in 1968 define the moment of Warhol, who has come to personify like no other artist the truth of the cultural revolution of the 60s: the transformation of
the cultural contradictions of capitalism into the new capitalist spirit of culture. If Warhol
started in the department store and ended in the museum, it is perhaps above all because
he recognized that department stores are kind of like museums, thereby anticipating the
merging of the two worlds into the one culture of marketing, display, and installation (the
fetishized concept of high art, celebrated in the blockbuster exhibition, now has the same
auratic glamour as the commodity).
If the typical instance of Richard Floridas bohemian city is San Francisco, Los Angeles,
the capital of the culture industry, has become the site of the marriage between Adornos old
culture industry and what we might call the neo-culture industry. Hollywood, the unspectacular home of the spectacle, has found its complement in the spectacular architecture of the
contemporary cathedrals of culture. Los Angeles now boasts Richard Meiers Getty Centre,
Frank Gehrys Disney Concert Hall, Rafael Moneos Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels,
along with planned rebuilding of the County Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural
History. The spectacularization of culture across the spectrum of the culture industry encompasses Disneyland and the Getty Centre.
Warhols genius lay in his extrapolation of the new Bauhauss goal of reconciling
high art and mass culture to the point of their total indifferentiation. In one stroke Warhol
dismissed the political illusions of the 1920s avant-garde and invalidated the formalist
ideology of the postwar avant-garde. He thus embodied the moment when culture industry and spectacle massively invade the once relatively autonomous spaces, institutions,
and practices of the avant-garde culture and begin to control them (Buchloh 2000: xxii).
Benjamin Buchloh suggests that Warhol seems to have lived through every stage of the
mass culture/high art paradox, from its division through its eventual fusion. In his work
as a commercial artist he delivered a certain notion of creativity in an exhausted artistic
vein. But as a high artist, his impact and success sprang from his elimination of the
exhausted categories of artistry, creativity, and expression. He thus came closer than
anyone since Duchamp, says Buchloh, to destroying the auratic dimension of aesthetic
experience (Buchloh 2000: 470482). The charisma of genius was replaced by the social
cachet of the outsider as insider; the aura of the unique artwork by what Richard Polsky
(2005: 106) aptly terms the overwhelming star quality of his portraits of Marilyn Monroe
(not to mention the stellar auction prices). The outmoded ideas of originality and authorship had no place in the age of mechanical reproduction. The serial production of artworks
became the responsibility of the Factory (Warhols ironic tribute to the two driving forces
of the bourgeois age artistic creation and industrial production). As Warhol put it:
Mechanical means are today, and using them I can get more art to more people. Art should
be for everybody (quoted in Buchloh 2000: 465). Just as mass culture is the inevitable
outcome of the conjunction of democracy and the market, so the serial artwork not only
reflects the aesthetic of the commodity, it becomes indistinguishable from the commodity.
The avant-garde dream of the reunion of art and life reaches its terminus in Warhols business art business: Business is the step that comes after Art. . . . After I did a thing called

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art . . . I went into business art. . . . Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of
art . . . good business is good art (Warhol 1975: 92).
Andy Warhol exemplifies and stages the dis/appearance of all of Bells cultural
contradictions through his demonstrations of the collapse of the distinctions between art
and non-art and art and commerce. His genius across the decade of the 1960s was to
translate the tension between art and the market into a total affirmation and a total critique of capitalist consumerism. He celebrated the marriage of high art and mass culture
that integrated art into the culture industry and in the process mocked the idols of
Modernism: the unique work of art is replaced by mechanical reproduction (Campbells
Soup tins); the unique genius by instant but fleeting fame (everybody will be famous for
15 minutes); the boheme by the rebel as trend-setting celebrity; the avant-garde dream of
the reunion of art and life by the fusion of creativity and commerce in what he famously
called the business art business.
And yet if we think of Warhol simply as the artist who made greed and fame
respectable, we miss precisely the irony of Warhols self-extinction. Hal Foster characterizes Warhols work as traumatic realism: simultaneously connected and disconnected, affective and affectless, critical and complacent. Part of his fascination lies in
the wish to become a machine is anyone home inside the automaton? (Foster,
1996: 130). Buchloh sees in him not only the victor but also the victim, the mirror of the
all-round reduced personality of the consumer, who can contemplate in Warhols
work his own erasure as subject (Buchloh 2001: 36).
But what might the Aufhebung of art mean? Oliver Grau, a theorist and practitioner of
virtual art, proposes a far more modest utopia than that of Marcuse. He argues that
advances in real time interactive computing power are opening up the possibility of a
collective art, in which artist, work, and observer begin to converge in a virtual image
space: A collective art, which results from the multifarious combinatory talents of its
participants and the inspired, virtuoso processing of found elements, stands before further development of media art as a utopia that is within reach (Grau 2004: 344). If
Benjamins The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility belonged to
the age of industrial capitalism, then the work of art in the age of digital production
belongs to the emerging knowledge economy. The epigraph from Valery that heads
Benjamins Work of Art essay remains as challenging as ever, however.
Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from
the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with
ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have
obtained, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the
Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or
treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. . . . We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby
affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very
notion of art. (Valery 1964: 125)

Grau corrects Valerys bow to technological determinism by insisting that realization of


technical innovations was, and is, always preceded by the envisionings of artists. The

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imagination of artists, often inspired by the art of the past, now functions as a driving
force of media development, and it is reinforced by the coalescence of the various media
into one digital hyper-medium. And that means that art is now closely connected with
technological development: It is only logical that art is making its way into the centres
of high-tech research (Grau 2004: 34950). Are these developments in virtual art to be
regarded simply as a new stage in the age-old quest for more powerful media of illusion
(for purposes of political power or capitalist profit)? Or can we say that the medium is
more than the message, that just as print led to the novel and the moving image to film
(the two most important genres of western and now global modernity), so virtual art presages the emergence of a new generic mutation in art, based on a productive alliance
between art and technology and art and the economy? Or does it mean that we can no
longer look for a new spirit of art corresponding to the new spirit of capitalism, now that
the creative economy has co-opted artistic critique and the creative ethos has become the
fundamental spirit of our age? Has the avant-garde dream of the Aufhebung of art in fact
been realized through the simultaneous contemporary inflation and depotentiation of the
concepts of culture, art, and creativity? What we can say is that the end of modernism
and the emergence of the new affirmative spirit of the culture industry signal the end
of a European-centred conception of art in a new global culture, in which the European
legacy may well play its role as the new antiquity of world civilization.
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Biographical note
David Roberts is Emeritus Professor of German at Monash University and a co-editor of
Thesis Eleven. His most recent publication is The Total Work of Art in European Modernism (Cornell University Press, 2011).

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