Critical Theory
Social History of Art
Arthur Dirks
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The Social History of Art

Passages and content are drawn from Arnold Hauser (1968), The Social History of Art, with additional annotations by Dirks.


Art as a function of history

It is rooted in the moment of its creation.

Artistic values are time bound and historical.
"One thing is certain: every work of art shows clear traces of its own time, and contains the unique, unrepeatable, and unmistakable character of a historical constellation. It represents a stage in the development of style which is precisely definable, in technical accomplishments and in sensual-intellectual sensibility. It depicts people and relationships in situations which arise once and only once and addresses itself to individuals who judge the depictions from a specific historical standpoint and a particular social position." (p. 77)
Art has authorship.

Every work and every reinterpretation has its author. That author responds to cultural influences at his historical moment in creating an art work.

Works of art express ideology.

Ideology is the complex interwoven fabric of assumptions about the world shared among members of a social station or class situation.

Art requires participation.

The work remains incomplete until it is engaged by the recipient. Art is intended to provoke associations and connections to prior experiences of the recipient, so the actual work finally exists only as completed by the recipient.

"However insignificant the contribution may be which the reader, listener, or spectator makes objectively to the received work, the artist's creation is shifted into another sphere or onto another level when it is simultaneously or subsequently supplemented by the recipient." (p. 429)

Historical Development

7th Century BC (600s BC)

First indication of intellectual property: first signed works of art, and first recognition of a lyric poet as creator of his own work.

4th Century BC (300s BC)
Renaissance (1400s-1600s)
Enlightenment (1700s)
Romantic (1790-1860)
Modern era (1860 forward)

All original content protected by copyright © Arthur L. Dirks, Taunton, MA., 2005.