Marx and engels on literature art relationship

Marx and Engels On Literature and Art Preface.

marx and engels on literature art relationship

Marx and Engels on Art and Literature: A Selection of Writings, and: Art and the relationship of art to labour, of art and science, the hostility of capitalism to art. Engels' scattered and casual remarks on art and literature from the context of the case with regard to the relationship of the various art genres within the realm . polemics, in relation to art and literature. It Is Not About Head but About Hand. True to the materialist roots, Marx and Engels' claim is striking. They argue that we.

Marx and Engels made extensive use of the treasures of world literature in their own works. The writings of Marx and Engels are notable not only for profundity of content, but also for their exceptional artistic merits.

Marxism, Art and the Artist | Art History Unstuffed

Style here is the stilus that it was of old in the hand of the Romans, a sharp stiletto, used to write and to stab. Their superb knowledge of world art helped Marx and Engels to elaborate genuinely scientific aesthetic principles. The founders of scientific communism were thus not only able to answer the complex aesthetic questions of the previous age, but also to elaborate a fundamentally new system of aesthetic science.

They did so only as a result of the great revolutionary upheaval they had brought about in philosophy by creating dialectical and historical materialism and laying down the foundations for the materialist conception of history.

Though Marx and Engels have left no major writings on art, their views in this field, when collected together, form a harmonious whole which is a logical extension of their scientific and revolutionary Weltanschauung.

They explained the nature of art and its paths of development, its tasks in society and social aims. Marxist aesthetics, like the whole teaching of Marx and Engels, are subordinated to the struggle for the communist reorganisation of society.

When developing their theory of aesthetics, Marx and Engels naturally based themselves on the achievements of their predecessors. But the main aesthetic problems — and above all the problem of the relationship between art and reality — were solved by them in a fundamentally new way, on the basis of materialist dialectics. Marx and Engels considered it absolutely impossible to understand art and literature proceeding only from their internal laws of development.

In their opinion, the essence, origin, development, and social role of art could only be understood through analysis of the social system as a whole, within which the economic factor — the development, of productive forces in complex interaction with production relations — plays the decisive role. Thus art, as defined by Marx and Engels, is one of the forms of social consciousness and it therefore follows that the reasons for its changes should be sought in the social existence of men.

Marx and Engels gave a materialist explanation of the origin of the aesthetic sense itself. The founders of Marxism extended their dialectical view of the nature of human thought to analysis of artistic creativity. In examining the development of art together with that of the material world and the history of society, they noted that the content and forms of art were not established firmly once and for all, but that they inevitably developed and changed according to definite laws along with the development of the material world and of human society.

Each historical period has inherent aesthetic ideals and produces works of art corresponding to its particular character and unrepeatable under other conditions. The fact that the level of development of society and its social structure determine the content of artistic works and the prevalence of any particular literary or artistic genre was seen by Marx as the main reason that art in different periods never repeats itself and, in particular, that there was no possibility to create the mythology or epic poetry similar to those of the ancient Greeks under the conditions of the nineteenth century.

It goes without saying that Marxism has a far from open-and-shut understanding of the relations between the forms of social consciousness and of art in particular and their economic basis. For Marx and Engels, any social formation constituted a complex and dynamic system of interacting elements, each influencing the other — a system in which the economic factor is the determining one only in the final analysis.

They were in no way inclined to qualify art as a passive product of the economic system. On the contrary, they emphasised that the various forms of social consciousness — including, of course, artistic creation — actively influence the social reality from which they emerge.

As if to forestall sociological vulgarisations of the problems of artistic creation, Marx and Engels drew attention to the fact that social life and the ideology of particular classes are reflected in art in a far from mechanistic manner. Artistic creativity is subordinate to the general laws of social development but, being a special form of consciousness, has its own distinctive features and specific patterns.

The fact that works of art are connected historically with particular social structures does not mean that they lose their significance when these social structures disappear. He also provides a profound explanation for this phenomenon: This example expresses an important Marxist aesthetic principle: Marx and Engels considered as another particular feature of art the fact that its periods of upsurge do not automatically coincide with social progress in other fields, including that of material production.

Thus Marx wrote in the Introduction to his Economic Manuscripts of This proposition in no way denies the development of literature and art under capitalism, but means that the very nature of the capitalist system of exploitation is in profound contradiction with the humanist ideals which inspire genuine artists. The more conscious artists are of the contradiction, between their ideals and the capitalist reality, the louder and clearer do their works often despite the class origin of the very author protest against the inhumanity of capitalist relations.

It is for this very reason that bourgeois society has produced Shakespeare, Goethe, Balzac and other writers of genius who were capable of rising above their epoch and class environment and condemning with immense artistic power the vices of the capitalist system of exploitation.

In their works, Marx and, Engels set forth a number of profound ideas on the class nature of art in a society of antagonisms. They showed that even great writers, who were able, often despite their own class positions, to give a true and vivid picture of real life, were, in a class society, pressured by the ideas and interests of the ruling classes and frequently made serious concessions to these in their works.

Taking Goethe, Schiller, Balzac, and other writers as examples, Marx and Engels found that the contradictions peculiar to them were not the result of purely individual features of their psychological make-up, but an ideological reflection of real contradictions in the life of society.

The founders of Marxism emphasised that art was an important weapon in the ideological struggle between classes. It could reinforce just as it could undermine the power of the exploiters, could serve to defend class oppression or, on the contrary, contribute to the education and development of the consciousness of the toiling masses, bringing them closer to victory over their oppressors.

Marx and Engels therefore called for a clear distinction to be made between progressive and reactionary phenomena in feudal and bourgeois culture and put forward the principle of the Party approach to art that it be evaluated from the position of the revolutionary class.

While showing that a link existed between art and the class struggle, Marx and Engels always fought against attempts to schematise this problem. They pointed out that classes were not static and unchangeable but that class interrelationships changed in the course of history, the role of the classes in the life of society undergoing complex metamorphoses.

Thus, in the period of struggle against feudalism, the bourgeoisie was able to create considerable spiritual values, but having come to power as a result of the anti-feudal revolutions, it gradually began to reject the very weapon it had itself forged in the struggle against feudalism. The bourgeoisie accomplishes this break with its revolutionary past when a new force appears on the historical arena — the proletariat. Under these conditions, attempts by individual members of the bourgeois intelligentsia, in particular cultural and artistic figures, to gain a deeper understanding of reality, to go beyond the framework of bourgeois relations and express their protest against these in some art form, inevitably lead them to conflicts with official bourgeois society and to their departure from bourgeois positions.

Marx and Engels apply their dialectical and materialist theory of knowledge to analysis of art and literature. In their opinion, artistic creation is one of the ways of reflecting reality and, at the same time, of perceiving and apprehending it; it is also one of the strongest levers of influencing the spiritual development of humanity.

This approach to art forms the basis of the materialist understanding of its social importance and prominent role in the progress of society.

Naturally enough, when examining literature and art, Marx and Engels concentrated their attention on the problem of realism — the most accurate depiction of reality in an artistic work. They considered realism, as a trend in literature and a method of artistic creation, to be the supreme achievement of world art. Engels formulated what is generally recognised as the classical definition of realism.

Realistic representation, Marx and Engels emphasised, is by no means a mere copy of reality, but a way of penetrating into the very essence of a phenomenon, a method of artistic generalisation that makes it possible to disclose the typical traits of a particular age.

This is what they valued in the work of the great realist writers such as Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe, Balzac, Pushkin and others.

Engels developed a similar line of thought when analysing the works of the great French realist writer Balzac. These two letters are of great. Marx and Engels considered that Lassalle had carried even further some of the weaknesses in the artistic method of the great German poet and playwright Schiller — in particular his penchant for abstract rhetoric, which resulted in his heroes becoming abstract and one-dimensional declaimers of certain ideas.

Marx criticised Lassalle not for the political tendency of his drama, but for the fact that it was essentially mistaken from the point of view of the materialist conception of history and of the world outlook of the proletarian revolutionaries. It was in this sense that they welcomed tendentiousness in literature, interpreted as ideological and political partisanship.

marx and engels on literature art relationship

Marx and Engels were at the same time resolute opponents of stupid tendentiousness — bare-faced moralising, didacticism instead of artistic method, and abstract impersonations instead of live characters. Engels provides an apt definition of genuine tendentiousness in his letter to Minna Kautsky: Both Marx and Engels were deeply convinced that progressive literature had to reflect truthfully the deep-lying, vital processes of the day, to promulgate progressive ideas, and to defend the interests of the progressive forces in society.

The modern term the Party spirit in literature expresses what they understood by this. In setting out the principles of materialist aesthetics and the fundamental and most general laws governing the development of art, the founders of scientific communism laid the basis of Marxist literary and art criticism and proposed the primary tenets of the materialist interpretation of the history of art and literature.

Marxism, Art and the Artist

In their works and correspondence, they threw new light on the most important questions of the historical and literary process and revealed such aspects in the works of both classical and contemporary writers which were beyond the comprehension of bourgeois literary historians. In addition, the reader will discover the attitude of the founders of Marxist aesthetics towards the main literary and artistic trends in general and their opinions on individual writers and other artists.

Let us now turn to their evaluation of the art of other ages. Artists were, in Marxist terms, producers of commodities and were beholden to the patrons. As pointed out in earlier posts, in the first few decades of the nineteenth century, the artist continued the role played under the aristocracy, producing art approved of by those in power who defined art.

However, both philosophers were also working during a period in which Kantian aesthetics dominated the discourse, especially in France and Germany. However, the ideal was a concept that existed on the printed page. The reality of the artist was an economic one and as Marx and Engels were working through their theories of capitalism, artists were struggling in a micro-economy that was totally opposed to their economic success.

The position of the artist was complicated by the myths and legends of the artist as some kind of mystical maker of an object that rose above the muck and mire of the filthy marketplace. In other words, art defied the laws of capitalist gravity. Because art is part of culture, because art emerges from a larger social, economic, gender, religious, ethnic context and so on, it reflects its own time and place.

If Marxism has been less interested in issues of gender and ethnicity, this economic philosophy is eminently suitable for examining the interaction between art and commerce and the artists and capitalism.

This task of analyzing works of art from an economic perspective was taken up by later art critics and art historians who use art to critique the larger history, its class system, the practices of exploitation, and the process of alienation. There are other analysts, such as Pierre Bourdieu who considered the inverted way in which capitalism works in the so called art world, whether visual or performing. Economic capital or actual money becomes less important than cultural capital, and, unlike other professions, the arts make strange uneconomic demands upon the cultural producer: While mainstream economists and Western Marxists are happy to assert that art is a commodity like another, the pioneers of classical economics and the Marxist economic analysis of art demonstrates not only that art is economically exceptional but, in the case of the latter, it is exceptional to the capitalist mode of production in particular.

Through the mechanisms of ideology, that which is cultural becomes natural. Greenberg was writing during an unprecedented period of the use of art as propaganda in Nazi Germany and the art critic was a living witness to the damage state control could do to artistic production. He ended his essay, pleading for socialism, arguing that within a collectivity, the incentive for artists to work for a reward would be eliminated and the artist would be free from capitalism and its temptation.

marx and engels on literature art relationship

A seemingly neutral Dutch still life from the seventeenth century is also a portrait of the economic dominance of the Dutch in international trade. Men painting women in the nude is an expression of male social and economic domination of women and the subordination of women, revealed in paintings which express male desire.

A work of visual culture expresses the prevailing ideology, not just in terms of what a work of art expresses but also what the work of art does not say. Art bears an imprint of the history of its own time and is not timeless and transcendent. Far from being free or independent, the avant-garde artist is reconstructed, from a Marxist perspective, is an intellectual servant in the pay of the system.

marx and engels on literature art relationship

It has transformed the doctor, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science into its paid wage-laborers… intellectuals live only as long as they find work, and…find work only as long as their labor increases capital. From a socialist perspective, what is the role of the informed and aware artist?

According to Auguste Comte, art rises from the study of nature and should facilitate the contemplation of moral values. The position of Comte, that art is the ideal representation of reality, is essentially the academic perspective that prevailed in his era.