Art, as understood in Europe-and gradually, under European influence, throughout the world-for the last two centuries or so, is as we have seen not a universal, or even a normal, feature of human cultures. People in all societies that we know about have decorated surfaces, made images of various sorts, organized sound rhythmically and tunefully, engaged in dancing, constructed buildings, put words together with care, and so forth. But-to take the visual arts for example-the thirteenth-century Italian crucifixes that mark the start of the Renaissance in well-appointed museums were not produced as art as we now think of it. They may have been made to be beautiful, or moving in various ways, but they were made for religious, not aesthetic contemplation. When used to describe their making, the word "art" signified the exercise of special skills, without the sense of an autonomous realm of value that it now has.
By the fifteenth century, in Italy especially, various arts became matters for educated gentlemen and ladies to concern themselves with; painters even demanded to have their craft placed among the "liberal" arts, the arts of free men, as opposed to the "mechanical" arts practiced by those who worked with their hands. By the end of the sixteenth century the arti di disegno had acquired the dignity of a history, and one reaching back to classical antiquity; the end of this period saw a flowering of purely instrumental musical composition, that is to say, music that served the pleasure of composer, player, and auditor rather than a text, sacred or secular. Still, it was not until the later eighteenth century that the idea of art, as a distinct domain of activities and objects characterized by "aesthetic" functions, came into something like its modern form.
Essential to this emergence was a shift in focus from the classically sanctioned idea of the imitation of natural beauty to a new conception of artistic creativity, the expression of genius. Artistic labor came to be conceptualized, as Kant famously put it, as "free"-ruled only by the internal compulsions of its creator. It is, of course, no accident that this reconception of the arts emerged in a context that involved the replacement of work for a patron, characteristic of premodern arts, by work for an anonymous market. The premodern artist worked to order, his subject-matter and even formal means controlled to a large
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Publication information: Book title: Art & Its Time: Theories and Practices of Modern Aesthetics. Contributors: Paul Mattick - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 106.
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