Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

By Francis Frascina; Charles Harrison et al. | Go to book overview

36 The Sociological Approach: The
Concept of Ideology in the History of
Art

Arnold Hauser

[...] The problem of ideology takes on a different form in the field of art from that in the sciences, the concept of truth in art being so strikingly different from that of theoretical truth. A work of art is not 'correct' or 'incorrect' in the way a scientific theory is; it cannot properly speaking be termed either true or false. The concept of changeless, superhistorical validity can be applied to art only with very special reservations, and here all talk of'false consciousness', as of correct consciousness, is out of place. In other words: when truth is not what is aimed at, it is idle to speak of conformity to it or evasion of it. Art is partisan through and through, and because a view of reality which did not reflect any particular standpoint would be devoid of all artistic quality, the problem of relativity simply does not arise in art. Every aspect of art is a perspective; only one that involves an inner contradiction can rightly be termed 'false'.

And yet it would be wrong to deny to art all claim of achieving truth, to deny that it can make a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the world and of man. [...] The sociologist can only feel uneasy about any too radical separation of art and science. For after all, the world-view of a generation or, more exactly, of a group that is historically and socially self-contained is an indivisible whole. Attempts to demarcate the different fields in which this world-view manifests itself may be very promising from the epistemological point of view, but to the sociologist they appear as violent dissections of the reality he studies. To him, philosophy, science, law, custom and art are different aspects of one unitary attitude to reality: in all these forms men are searching for an answer to the same question, for a solution to one and the same problem of how to live. They are not ultimately concerned with formulating scientific truths, producing works of art, or even laying down moral precepts, but with achieving a workable world-view, a reliable guiding principle for life. [...]

Art can express social aims in two different ways. Its social content can be clothed in the form of explicit avowal confessions of belief, express doctrines, direct propaganda or in that of mere implication, that is, in terms of the outlook tacitly presupposed in works which seem devoid of social reference. It can be frankly tendentious or a vehicle of an unconscious and unacknowledged ideology. The social content of a definite creed or an explicit message is consciously realized by the speaker and consciously accepted or rejected by the hearer; on the other hand, the social motive behind a personal manifesto can be unconscious, and can operate

____________________
Source: Arnold Hauser, The Philosophy of Art History (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959), pp. 21-40. Footnotes have been omitted. Copyright © 1958 by Arnold Hauser. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf Inc. and Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited.

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