The Social Production of Art

  • Janet Wolff
Part of the Communications and Culture book series (COMMCU)


Arnold Hauser shows that the social organisation of artistic production before the late fifteenth century is very much along communal lines and based in guild workshops. In the early Renaissance, the work of art is ‘not yet the expression of an independent personality, emphasizing his individuality and excluding himself from all extraneous influence’ (p. 48). According to Hauser, Michelangelo is the first modern artist in this respect, and in ‘the claim independently to shape the whole work from the first stroke to the last and the inability to co-operate with pupils and assistants’ (p. 48). The artistic labour process up to the end of the fifteenth century still took place entirely in collective forms. From that date, the artistic profession began to differentiate itself from craftsmanship, and artists began to become emancipated from the guilds. It has become a commonplace, documented by others since Hauser, to point out that the artist is a relatively modern figure. It is certainly true that the conception of the artist as unique and gifted individual is an historically specific one, and that it dates from the rise of the merchant classes in Italy and France, and from the rise of humanist ideas in philosophy and religious thought. Over the next couple of centuries this concept narrowed and sharpened, and the artist (or writer) was increasingly conceived of as a person with no institutional ties whatsoever. (Even in the seventeenth century it was common, and in no way shameful, to write for commission on political matters, and, moreover, to change one’s allegiance without apology.1)


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© Janet Wolff 1993

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  • Janet Wolff

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