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Arnold Hauser (1892-1978)

 

Hungarian-born British writer on the history of art and film. Hauser's magnum opus was The Social History of Art. When the work appeared in English in the 1950s, well before the emergence of the New Left, it stirred up great controversy because of its ideological orientation. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that a Marxist approach was accepted as a natural or fashionable part of academic research in Western Europe. However, Marxism started to lose its attraction among intellectuals before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Postmodernist art historians have rarely made references to Hauser's fundamental study.

"Genuine, progressive art can only mean a complicated art today. It will never be possible for everyone to enjoy and appreciate it in equal measure, but the share of the broader masses in it can be increased and deepened, The preconditions of a slackening of the cultural monopoly are above all economic and social. We can do no other than fight for the creation of these preconditions." (from Social History of Art, vol. 4)

Arnold Hauser was born in Temesvar (now Timisoara, Romania), to a family of assimilated Jews. He studied history of art and literature at the universities of Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. In Paris his teacher was Henri Bergson who influenced him deeply. To earn extra income he reported on art, literature and cultural events for the Temesvári Hírlap (Temesvár News). For a period he was a teacher at a Budapest Gymnasium.

In 1916 Hauser became a member of the Budapest Sunday Circle, which was formed around the critic and philosopher György Lukács. The group included Karl Mannheim, a sociologist, the writers Béla Balázs, and the musicians Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. Mannheim, who had at first rejected the idea that sociology could be useful in the understanding of thought, soon became convinced of its utility. Also Frigyes Antal (1887-1954) applied the sociological method to art.

During Bela Kun's short-lived Communist dictatorship in 1919, Hauser was in charge of the reform of art education. After Kun's overthrow, Hauser spent with his bride two years in Italy doing research work on the history of classical and Italian art and earned his Ph.D. in Budapest. His dissertation dealt with the problem of aesthetic systematization. In 1921 he moved to Berlin, where he studied economics and sociology. By that time he had developed his view that the problems of art and literature are fundamentally sociological problems. Three years later, when his wife declared that she wanted to live closer to Hungary, the couple settled down in Vienna, where Hauser supported himself as a freelance writer and as publicity agent of a film company. In between he worked on an unfinished book, entitled Dramaturgie und Soziologie des Films. Later he said, that "For me this was the period of collecting data and experiences which I used much later in the course of my writing my works on the sociology of art."

Fleeing the Nazis after the Anschluss in Austria, Hauser emigrated with his wife to Great Britain; she died of influenze shortly upon their arrival. Alone and without any regular income, Hauser was first helped by his old friend Mannheim, who was editing a book series for Routledge and Kegan Paul. When plans for their work on the sociology of art were abandoned, he then began to research for The Social History of Art. It took ten years to finish the Marxist survey. His magnum opus of more than a thousand pages and 500,000 words in lenght came out when he was 59. Still following what is going on in the film world, Hauser also wrote a number of essays about films for Life and Letters Today and Sight and Sound. From 1951 he was a lecturer on the history of art at the University of Leeds, and in the late 1950s a visiting professor at Brandeis University in the United States. While teaching in Leeds, Hauser's friend Theodor Adorno tried to find an appropiate position for him at a German university. In 1959 Hauser became a teacher at Hornsey College of Art in London. He worked again in the United States in 1963-65 and then returned to London.

When Hungarian Radio aired a Budapest-London conversation between Hauser and Lukács in July 1969, Hauser confessed: "I am not an orthodox Marxist. My life is devoted to scholarship, not politics. My task, I feel, is not political." In 1977 Hauser moved to Hungary, where he became an honorary member of the Academy of Science. He died in Budapest on January 28, 1978, at the age of 86.

Hauser's last book, Soziologie der Kunst (1974, Sociology of Art), which he wrote racing against time and declining health, investigated the social and economic determinants of art. In this pessimistic work he distanced himself from Marxism and historical determinism. "The foreseeable future," he said, "lies in the shadow of the atom bomb, of political dictatorship, of unbridled violence and cynical nihilism. Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin left, as a permanent testament, a feeling of fear and apprehension  which cannot be mastered." Hauser's suggestion that art does not merely reflect but interacts with society is a widely accepted premise. He also saw the art establishment and art reviewers as servers of commercial interests. As in his Social History of Art, Hauser's approach was Euro-centered and did not pay much attention to non-Western art.

The Social History of Art was the result of thirty years of scholarly labour. It traced the production of art from Lascaux to the Film Age in the framework of changing socio-historical forces. Adorno's comments on the German version of the book were praising: "I was completely immersed in your book . . . I felt so enthusiastic that I can scarcely find words for it, and I shall try to express that fact. That such a book is still possible in the present situation is almost miraculous and you have set a standard here that no responsible thinker with a respect for truth will be able to ignore."

Hauser opens the work with an attack on the neo-romantic doctrine of the religious origin of art, stating that "the monuments of primitive art . . . clearly suggest . . . that naturalism has the prior claim, so that it is becoming more and more difficult to maintain the theory of the primacy of an art remote from life and nature." Theodor Adorno noted in his Aesthetic Theory (1997) that "the most archaic artistic manifestations are so diffuse that it is as difficult as it is vain to try to decide what once did and did not count as art." Hauser divided magic from religion, and assumed that "the Palaeolithic hunter and painter thought he was in possession of the thing itself in the picture, thought he had won power over the portrayed by the portrayal."

Hauser's thesis was that form and content develop in direct relation both to concrete material conditions and to cultural development. Inevitable the process harboured contradictions – a style could be "classicist and anti-classicist at the same time". In Mannerism: The Crisis of the Renaissance and the Origin of Modern Art (1965) Hauser associated mannerism with spiritual crisis; mannerist art was an expression of the "alienation" of Renaissance man.

Hauser's Marxist-oriented approach was rejected by critics on the right, among them the English art historian E.H. Gombrich, whose one-volume The Story of Art (1950), originally  intended for teen-agers, had been published just before Hauser's study. Gombrich's crushing review of the book was published originally in The Art Bulletin, March 1953, and later in Meditations on a Hobby Horse (1963), a collection of essays. It was a combination of academic arrogance and cheap shots: "If Mr. Hauser finds that he is concerned with entities in history which constantly elude his grasp, if he finds that the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, rationalism and subjectivism constantly seem to change places in his field of vision, he should ask himself whether he is looking though a telescope or a kaleidoscope." Though Gombrich's views reflected the general cold war attitudes to Marxism, they were also peppered with his own hostility to generalizations and "historicism". In this he followed the thoughts of his friend, the philosopher Karl Popper, whose Open Society and its Enemies (1945) attacked totalitarian ideas from Plato to Hegel and Marx. Gombrich rejected "dialectical materialism" and its doctrine of contradictions: "To us non-Hegelians, the term 'contradiction' describes the relations of two 'dictions' or statements such that they cannot both be true . . ." In his own iconological studies Gombrich interpreted Renaissance paintings using forgotten texts, poems, philosophical papers, and letters. This method, developed by Erwin Panofsky, was characterized by the French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu as "a sort of symbolic gymnastics, like the rite or the dance . . ."

However, Hauser's aesthetic judgments were not so radical. He did not regard the relation between a work of art and social forces as a simple one-to-one correspondence, nor did he think that artistic expression could be guided by political doctrines – "But if even in the field of economics and politics planning cannot always be solved by imposing rules of conduct, it is all the less possible in art . . ." A politically conservative artist can break reactionary conventions and dogmas. According to Hauser, "every honest artist who describes reality faithfully and sincerely has an enlightening and emancipating influence on his age." In this Hauser refers to Engel's analysis of Balzac's Comédie humaine. But Dickens is another case: ". . . all the characters of this naturalist are caricatures, all the features of real life are exaggerated . . . everything is transformed into the stylized, simplified and stereotyped relationships and situations of the melodrama."

According to Hauser, the separation of sacred and profane art took place in the Neolithic age. Profane art, which was restricted to craft, probably lay entirely in the hands of women. Heroic and Homeric ages meant a decisive turn towards the social system of monarchy relying on the personal loyalty of vassals to their lord. A new type of man appeared on the scene – the artist with a markedly individual personality, but economic independence was out of the question. In the Middle Ages the emphasis was not on the personal genius of the artist but on the craftsmanship. The impersonal commodity-production dominated the whole of art.

The increased demand for works of art in the Renaissance led to the ascent of the artist from the level of the petty bourgeois artisan to that of the free intellectual worker. The concept of genius appears. Shakespeare looked down on the broad masses of the people with a feeling of superiority and made clear in his dramas the struggle between the Crown, the middle class and the aristocracy. Gradually the bourgeoisie took possession of all the instruments of culture. Rousseau was the first to speak as one of the common people himself. He turned against reason because he saw in the process of intellectualization also that of social segregation.

After the French Revolution artists and writers created their own standards, and their work brought them into a constant state of tension and opposition towards the public. Through Byron restlessness and aimlessness became a plague. The theory of 'l'art pour l'art' gave expression to romantic opposition to the bourgeois world; that is before Flaubert and Baudelaire shut themselves in their ivory towers, and the theory started to reflect a conservative attitude. The estrangement of the intellectuals from practical affairs was seen as the belief in the absoluteness of truth and beauty. Bohemians emerged as caricatures of the intelligentsia. In Russia the intellectual leadership passed into the hands of the cultural elite and remained there up to the Bolshevist revolution. Film signifies the attempt to produce art for the masses and give fulfilment to social romanticism.

For further reading: American Journal of Sociology, January (1960); 'Social History of Art,' in Meditations on a Hobby Horse by E.H. Gombrich (1963); 'Kunst, Kunswissenschaft und Soziologie' by E. Mai, in Kunstwerk, 29 (1976); 'Arnold Hausers Theorie der Kunst' by P. Klein, in Kritische Berichte 6, 1978); 'Arnold Hauser' by J. Scharfschwerdt, in Klassiker der Kunstsoziologie, ed. by A. Silbermann (1979); Sozialgeschichte und Kunstgeschichte: Kunstgeschichtsschreibung von Arnold Hauser by Hans U. Beyer (1984); Science and Society, Spring (1985); 'Critical Discourse in the Formation of a Social History of Art: Anglo-American Response to Arnold Hauser' by Michael Orwicz, in Oxford Art Journal 8 (1985); 'Arnold Hauser und Theodor W. Adorno: Zeugnisse einer Freundschaft' by Günter Schiwy, in Der Aquädukt 1763-1988: Ein Almanach aus dem Verlag C. H. Beck im 225. Jahr seines Bestehens (1988); 'Zum Kunstkonzept Arnold Hausers' by Klaus-Jürgen Lebus, in Weimarer Beiträge 36 (1990); 'Marx, Weber, and the Crisis of Reality in Arnold Hauser's Sociology of Art' by G.W. Swanson, in The European Legacy 1 (1996); 'Art, Autonomy and Heteronomy: The Provocation of Arnold Hauser's The Social History of Art' by David Wallace, in Thesis Eleven, No. 44 (1996); World Authors 1900-1950, V ol. 2, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); 'Arnold Hauser and the Retreat from Marxism', by Lee Congdon, in Essays on Wittgenstein and Austrian Philosophy: In Honour of J.C. Nyíri, ed. Tamás Demeter (2004)

Selected works:

  • Sozialgeschichte der Kunst und Literatur, 1953 ( vols.) - The Social History of Art (2 vols., tr. in collaboration with the author by Stanley Godman, 1951; 2nd. ed. published in four volumes, 1962; 3rd. ed., with a general introduction by Jonathan Harris, 1999)
  • Philosophie der Kunstgeschichte, 1958 - The Philosophy of Art History (tr. 1959)
  • Der Manierismus: Die Krise der Renaissance und der Ursprung der Modernen Kunst, 1964 / Der Ursprung der M odernen Kunst und Literatur: Die Entwicklung des Manierismus seit der Krise der Renaissance, 1973 - Mannerism: The Crisis of the Renaissance and the Origin of Modern Art (2 vols., tr. in collaboration with the author by Eric Mosbacher, 1965)
  • Soziologie der Kunst, 1974 - The Sociology of Art (translated by Kenneth J. Northcott, 1982)
  • Találkozásaim Lukács Györggyel, 1978 - Im Gespräch mit Georg Lukács (afterword by Peter Christian Ludz, 1978)


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