The ten chapters that follow this introduction were first written, over about as many years, as lectures and essays for a variety of audiences and occasions. Assembled to form a book they present at once the problem of disjointedness and a tendency to repetition. I have left the latter alone, for the most part, in the hope of diminishing the effect of the former. Reading them through to revise them for the present publication, I was pleased to discover to what extent they are bound together by the recurrence of a small number of artists and writers on art: Eugène Delacroix, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, Barnett Newman, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Joshua Reynolds, and Andy Warhol; along with Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, Pierre Bourdieu, Clement Greenberg, Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Friedrich Schiller, among others. The fabric created by the warp and woof of the works of these figures displays, if not an overall design, a coherent set of basic themes: the eighteenth-century origin of the modern practice of art; the nature of modernity as a period of social history and the place of art in it; the salience of gender categories in the theory as well as the practice of art; the conceptual opposition of art and commerce; the dynamic character of the social category of art, changing theoretically and practically along with the society in which it has its life.
By emphasizing the intimate relation between art and other historically specific features of modern society, I am violating a fundamental aspect of the idea of art, the contrast with what art writers generally call "everyday" or "ordinary" life (a common variant is exhibited in the title of Arthur Danto's first book-length contribution to aesthetics, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace1). While its underlying conception is seldom made explicit, it is clear that the contrast is meant to signify a radical separation of art from the social (and individual) circumstances in which it is produced and enjoyed, which then can only appear as its historical "context." 2
1 Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990.
2 See P. Mattick, "Context," in Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff (eds), Critical Terms for Art History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).