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Fine Arts

Fine Arts

I. ART AND SOCIETYFrancis Haskell



Parental attitudes

Preparation for a career in art

Art and advertising



Societies of all kinds and of all periods have given birth to what can today be classified as art, but there exist no significant propositions as to the nature of the relationship between particular social systems and the kinds of art that develop under them. The problem was first seriously posed during the Enlightenment, when philosophers arguing in favor of differing political organizations suggested that desirable art would necessarily follow desirable government. But the view of Shaftesbury and others that freedom was a prerequisite of great art was hardly borne out either by the previous or subsequent history of England, where architecture, sculpture, and painting, although reaching a higher peak than they had for some centuries, were hardly superior to those engendered under despotic regimes in Italy, France, and central Europe.

In more recent years the problem has been raised in more sophisticated terms: quality, it is admitted, may be capricious in its incidence, but style will necessarily be governed by fundamental social laws. E. H. Gombrich has demonstrated the fallacies that usually underlie such reasoning [see STYLE], but it will in any case be impossible to make any authoritative large-scale statements about the relationship of art to society until the very few studies of particular societies and their arts have been greatly increased in number, scope, and depth. History remains our only source of guidance.

The artist in history

Research into the status of artists at different periods, while of interest in itself, does not seem to throw much light on the nature or quality of the art produced, nor does it even give an indication of the esteem in which art has been held. Moreover, for many societies and epochs the data are extremely scanty.

Greece . In Greece between the sixth and third centuries B.C. a flowering of the arts so spectacular that it influenced all subsequent history appears to have been almost totally neglected by the innumerable writers of genius who lived through it. However, outlines of the artists’ lives and a few anecdotes of their personalities must have been recorded, because later historians such as Pliny evidently drew on lost sources of this kind. But nowhere in classical Greek literature is there anything to suggest that individual artists were held in serious consideration, and by inference we can assume that they were considered as being little superior to craftsmen. This, however, certainly does not imply that the Greeks were indifferent to the masterpieces that were produced: indeed, Plutarch points out in a much-quoted phrase (in Pericles) that “no generous youth, from seeing the Zeus at Olympia or the Hera at Argos, longs to be Phidias or Polyclitus, for it does not of necessity follow that if the work delights you with grace, the one who wrought it is worthy of your esteem.” It is noteworthy that in all the discussions that took place during the golden age on the nature of inspiration, examples were never chosen from among sculptors or painters, and it is clear that although artists in classical times could be either slave or free, the mere association of their work with manual labor was enough to prevent their being highly esteemed. For this reason, which was to recur later in the Middle Ages, an architect stood a greater chance of earning renown than a painter or sculptor, for, when successful, he would be considered more as an entrepreneur than a manual laborer. However, as frequently occurs in the social history of the arts, sufficient skill could on occasion enable its possessor to overcome this indifference to the individual artist and defy even the most rigid conventions. There are, for instance, records indicating that as early as the last quarter of the sixth century B.C., “several potters … were able to erect impressive dedications on the Acropolis” (Cook 1960, p. 272), and it is also well known that at much the same time we begin to find frequent examples of signed work.

During the Hellenistic period the social status of the artist certainly improved, and legends about the relations between Alexander the Great and Apelles, which are recorded by Pliny, indicate at the very least an ideal that was no longer held to be absurd—and incidentally set a highly important precedent for subsequent royal patronage. We are, however, still very largely ignorant not only about the status of the artist in antiquity but also about the nature of his training and mode of life generally, although we do find hints of exhibitions, dealers, and other features of the artistic scene that later became commonplace. If we are entitled to assume, as seems probable, that the artist in classical antiquity was considered to be little more than a craftsman, it remains the more surprising that the development of sculpture and painting was so extraordinarily striking. For it is often held that artistic change is encouraged by the notion of the artist’s individuality, whereas, almost by definition, the craftsman is employed exclusively to satisfy public demand.

Rome . For Roman times, too, the evidence is scattered, fragmentary, and conflicting. It seems clear that to Cato and those who thought like him art was something essentially foreign—even degrading—and this view must clearly have been reflected in their opinion of the artists themselves. On the other hand, archeological research and literary references illustrate obviously enough the admiration felt for Greek sculpture, and Pliny’s stories of the Greek artists must surely have suggested to many that the superior ones among them could achieve recognition far higher than that likely to have been granted to mere craftsmen. If, however, we risk the premise that some acknowledgment of the artist as an individual with a will of his own, who does not merely respond to the pressures of the market, is at least a likely prerequisite of adventurous art, then the highly derivative nature of Roman sculpture (and also the extremely conservative tendencies of the ancient Egyptians) might imply that the position of the artist was a very lowly one. But the dangers of such a circular argument are too great to make it worth pursuing. Certainly the Romans never included the visual arts among the artes liberates, and this, together with the physical destruction and chaos that followed the collapse of the Western Empire, proved to be of decisive importance for the Middle Ages.

Middle Ages . The state of our researches into the artist’s position in medieval times must reinforce our skepticism about any broad-based conclusions to be drawn from antiquity. For here too the arts were almost completely ignored by serious writers. However, a considerable number of scattered documents—of the very kind which have not survived from ancient Greece or Rome—can still be traced, and these show us how complex the situation was. Their investigation has recently been undertaken by Andrew Martindale (1966). Since his researches constitute by far the most valuable contribution that has yet been made to the subject, they have been heavily drawn upon in the following discussion.

Enough documentation certainly survives to prove what was only conjecture in any discussion of earlier periods: until the fifteenth century most artists were generally considered superior craftsmen. In 1323, for instance, a Paris scholar listed among “those craftsmen working with their hands” not only “the most ingenious makers of all sorts of image, whether contrived in sculpture or in painting or in relief but also “the most cunning constructors of instruments of war” and the “makers of bread.” Moreover, from tax returns and other sources we can see that artists, like other craftsmen, tended to live together in communities in particular parishes and that they made no distinction between work that would now be considered mechanical, such as decorating saddles (in London the painters’ guild was a branch of the saddlers’), and painting devotional images. The artist was incorporated into a guild, and his training followed the usual practice by which, as a youth of about 12, he would enter a master’s shop as an apprentice. There he would help out and familiarize himself with technical processes, to emerge after some years as a journeyman, before finally becoming an independent master able to engage apprentices of his own. Thus Lorenzo Ghiberti, after winning in 1403 the competition for the second set of bronze doors for the baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence (this was a means of attracting artists which was always to remain popular with committees), was in a position to employ as many as 21 apprentices a few years later. The guilds also served other purposes, some of which, such as the maintenance of a certain status and ritual dignity, have been carried on by the academies into our own day. In general, however, their concern was essentially with more practical matters, above all, to protect both the artist and his client from fraud.

But a too-uniform pattern must not be read into the Middle Ages, and many of the striking developments that occurred in Renaissance Italy were already present in embryo. Then, as later, the law of supply and demand operated powerfully in favor of change. It is true, as Martindale stresses, that a king might bring painters into his household for reasons that had little to do with their professional ability and treat them, once there, with scant respect or reward—he instances a “Jack of St. Albans,” who was required to dance on a table, and Giotto, whose gift of repartee seems to have been at least as highly prized as his art; yet it is hard to believe as he does that such appointments did nothing to raise the status of painting as an occupation (all our experience of psychology surely suggests the contrary). Martindale himself implies that the occasional institution of the post of “town painter” (a practice adopted, above all, in Venice) may well have been inspired by imitation of such royal gestures. Competition between towns was also of the greatest importance. The terms of Giotto’s nomination in 1334 as city architect of Florence (“architect”- though he had made his name as a painter) will serve as an example:

As in the whole world there is to be found none better qualified … than Master Giotto di Bondone, the painter of Florence, he shall therefore be named in his native city as Magnus Magister and publicly regarded as such, so that he may have occasion to abide here; for by his presence many can have the advantage of his wisdom and learning, and the city shall gain no small honour because of him.

These terms show what lip service burghers were prepared to pay to the arts—and artists—for enhancing their own reputations (and doing down a rival city).

It is true that Italy in general and Florence in particular were exceptional in paying such honors, but the wording of the appointment reminds us that the rivalry between secular and religious communities, towns and courts, and one city and another could play as significant a part in elevating the position of the artist as could the rivalries between individual patrons in later years. Certainly the artists often thought of themselves as much more than mere craftsmen, as can be seen from the very many self-laudatory inscriptions that they put on their own works: we find examples of these as early as 1100.

Renaissance . The Renaissance did, of course, bring great changes in the status of the artist— one could instance a fragment of a letter from Prince Frederico Gonzaga, who was trying to get hold of any example of Michelangelo’s

never-sufficiently-to-be-praised work … sculpture or painting, as he chooses, we do not mind which it is as long as it is by him ... at least a drawing, if it is well done in charcoal. … And you must tell him that his work will be placed in a most honourable position, and that we shall feel eternal gratitude towards him, and that we shall never forget such a special favour, and will always be ready to do anything we possibly can to give him pleasure, (quoted in Luzio 1913, pp. 246-247)

But it must always be remembered that Michelangelo’s position was a wholly exceptional one and that many of the customs of the Middle Ages were carried on well after his death. However, the letter does point up the new role that had been assumed ever since the fifteenth century by secular patrons in Burgundy, Italy, and elsewhere.

The early humanists who did so much to raise the value of art seem themselves to have been more interested in the remains of antiquity than in contemporary painting or sculpture, but by the middle of the fifteenth century a number of rulers were aware of the possibilities of private patronage as distinguished from the traditional construction and decoration of public buildings. And toward the end of the century Lorenzo de’ Medici, whose role as an art lover has been much exaggerated, did anticipate the modern practice of advertising abroad the supremacy of his country’s artists in order to enhance its prestige. Other collectors all over Italy, and soon all over Europe, acquired contemporary works of art, which were then evidently kept accessible to other artists and connoisseurs. From these princely collections sprang most of the great national museums, following the example of Anna Maria Ludovica, the last of the Medici, who in 1743 left the accumulated family treasures to the city of Florence. Elsewhere, beheading or exile usually proved a more effective means of acquiring art treasures.

Nonetheless, appreciation of art, and even admiration for the artist, could go hand in hand with habits formed in earlier ages. Well into the seventeenth century, for example, we come across patrons insisting on the use of specified colors in the canvases painted for them, and the nature of commissions generally shows how little individuality was allowed to the artist and how much he was still treated as a craftsman. It was usual for a patron when ordering a picture to pay for the stretcher and the priming, and frequently also the canvas and some of the more expensive colors. He would then indicate the dimensions, insist on a specific time limit for its completion, and make arrangements about the subject matter. As these specifications must have usually taken the form of spoken agreements, it is difficult for us to gauge how strictly they were enforced; yet the survival of preliminary drawings and, later, of painted oil sketches can occasionally give us an idea of any changes required. Most significant of all in this context is the method of payment. The price of the picture was decided in advance—according to a seventeenth-century Italian author, this could be done by finding out how long the work would take and estimating what the painter’s daily earnings should be “by comparison with the pay of a craftsman engaged in similar work.” A proportion of this was paid at once, and further sums were paid at different stages in its progress, ending, on completion, with the final settlement, to which would be added a bonus. This bonus was the only allowance made for the vagaries of independence. Further indications of the artist’s status (and perhaps of the very nature of artistic creativity) can be deduced from the fact that in certain cities, notably Venice, it was a custom until the end of the eighteenth century for artists to work together in families. All this should be borne in mind when the “individualism” of Renaissance artists is being assessed.

In Italy especially, artists were keenly preoccupied with their place in society throughout the fifteenth century, and innumerable arguments were produced to establish their claim to be considered wholly superior to craftsmen. Particular attention was concentrated on the “intellectual” as opposed to the “manual” aspects of their work. Leonardo, whose respect for antiquity led him to the erroneous conclusion that painting had then been one of the liberal arts, only to be “driven out” at a later date, stressed above all the painter’s need to have a thorough knowledge of mathematics. It is through instances such as this that we can probably see most clearly how a study of social pressures on the artist can sometimes help us to understand the nature of his art. The Renaissance stressed imagination and science at the expense of the faithful portrayal of reality, and categories of subject matter were tentatively drawn up and later codified to put these ideas into effect, with “history painting” at the top of the list and “genre” at the bottom.

The social status of artists was largely determined by their choice of subject matter until well into the nineteenth century. At the same time, the guilds, which had once been of such service to the artist, were now considered degrading to him through their association with other crafts, and their dissolution was gradually achieved not so much by theoretical arguments as by the practice, adopted first by sovereigns and then by private citizens, of employing artists in defiance of all established traditions. But the process was a slow one, and into the seventeenth and even the eighteenth century the guilds continued to play a significant, if increasingly marginal, part in the life of artistic communities in Italy, France, and elsewhere; nor was the distinction between “arts” and “crafts” made final before the French Revolution.

The rise of the modern artist

The decay of the guilds has sometimes been held responsible not only for the “individualism” and enormous increase in the speed of artistic change that characterize the Renaissance but also for the emergence of the “neurotic” artist so much associated with the early and mid-sixteenth century— and indeed with later times. The force of this argument would be much increased were it possible to conduct any serious research into the state of mind of artists in earlier times. What is certain, however, is that as the guilds decayed, new associations arose that took their place and assumed some of the same functions (Pevsner 1940).

Academies . The Accademia dei Virtuosi al Pantheon, founded in Rome in 1543, was concerned with the same sort of charitable works that had been carried out by medieval guilds. The Accademia del Disegno, established in Florence in 1563, had the grand duke of Tuscany and Michelangelo as its first copresidents (the juxtaposition itself is revealing). While it was intended primarily to promote the newly won status of artists, one of its aims was teaching young men to maintain a high standard of art—but significantly, the instruction was more in the realm of general education than in the technical field, which had been the aim of the earlier guilds.

Dealers . Other features of the present situation first began to emerge during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The enormous reputation of Italian art attracted the attention of collectors elsewhere in Europe who, as they were unable to travel themselves, either had to summon particular artists to their courts or mansions or, when this was impossible, to rely on dealers” and international agents. Hitherto, such men, who had been operating ever since the Middle Ages, had included works of art among innumerable other commodities. But now they began to assume much greater importance, as can be seen by studying the career of Jacopo Strada (immortalized in a magnificent portrait by Titian), who supplied pictures and antiques to the German courts.

Venice was the most commercialized of Italian cities, and it is there that we find in the person of Aretino the prototype for so many dubious figures familiar since his day—the man who is at once artistic adviser to the great (he received a gold chain from François i), dealer, and collector (in the pursuit of which activity he tried to blackmail Michelangelo). In general, however, dealers in contemporary art played a relatively small role in Italy and confined their often extortionary attentions to young painters who had as yet had no chance of finding patrons directly or to those who suffered during the many financial crises that upset what was always a precarious economic situation. It was in the north, where both courtly patronage and contempt for trade were of much less importance than in Italy, that art dealing first assumed really significant proportions. In sixteenth-century Antwerp and, much more so, in seventeenth-century Amsterdam artists often dealt with middlemen who sometimes—as is the modern practice—paid them a regular allowance in return for their entire output. This breakup in the direct relationship between patron and artist and the consequent “rationalization” of the market obviously played its part in encouraging that specialization of subject matter—flowers, genre, portraiture, etc.—for which Dutch artists were particularly renowned.

Exhibitions . It is in the north too that we can find the origins of the modern picture exhibition. During the later Middle Ages these had been frequently associated with religious festivals at which artists and other craftsmen had shown their wares, but such occasions (which continued until a much later period) belong more to the history of commerce than to the history of art. By the mid-sixteenth century, however, exhibitions were organized by the artists’ guilds in Antwerp, and some kinds of formal arrangements had come into being. Meanwhile, another tradition of almost equal importance was slowly beginning to develop in Italy, whereby churches and their cloisters were decorated with pictures on particular saints’ days. At first these occasions had no commercial purpose whatsoever and were designed, for instance, by the Virtuosi al Pantheon, purely as an act of homage to a patron saint. By the early seventeenth century, however, artists had seen the possibilities for self-advancement that were inherent in the custom and were anxious to display their pictures on the various opportunities available each year—even though there was as yet still no question of selling them. Nor were there any catalogues or other regular promotional procedures.

The Paris salon. By far the most important step in the development of the modern exhibition was taken in Paris in 1667, when for the first time, what was intended to be an annual salon was organized for its members in the Louvre by the Academic Royale, the most authoritative of the early academies. Exhibitions took place thereafter at irregular intervals, although they were well established by the second quarter of the eighteenth century, and printed catalogues were sold. For the first time, the general public, as opposed to a highly restricted circle of the rich and powerful, had the opportunity to see current production without having to crane their necks in dark churches or wheedle their way into the palaces of the aristocracy. As an inevitable result the artist could appeal to a wider circle than ever before, the much-debated phenomenon of “bourgeois taste” began to make itself seriously felt, and criticism sprang into being.

Art criticism . Criticism had hitherto been confined to historians and theorists, usually arguing from basic principles, and to amateur poets, who were likely to write laudatory sonnets about works they particularly admired. It had been bedeviled by the problem of whether a person who was not a practicing artist was in a position to make any useful comments, and in any case, it had only rarely dealt with new works. Yet critics could prove to be very influential. Often the critic, who was never in any sense a professional, served as adviser to the more important patrons. Thus G. P. Bellori, the most prominent critic of the seventeenth century, whose idealizing theories profoundly affected his own and all future generations, worked for Queen Christina of Sweden and for the popes; and Winckelmann, his even more important successor in the eighteenth century, was employed by Cardinal Albani.

In any case, such great theorists, historians, and scholars belong to a wholly different class from the pamphleteers who in 1738 began—much to the justified indignation of the artists—to review the salons. Their tone was often low and scurrilous, but the popularity of their work can be gauged from the fact that there were 2 written criticisms in 1738, 10 in 1773, and 28 ten years later. While most of their articles are now forgotten, they are of importance for the historian of art because they anticipate later writers who reached the far larger and more ignorant publics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and because they include one genius, Diderot.

Connoisseurs . One other extremely important phenomenon occurred during the period under consideration: the arrival on the scene of the connoisseur, the “man of taste,” often holding little political power and of relatively small means but deeply concerned with the arts. He was able to exert considerable influence, particularly on artists whose talents were not easily adaptable to official commissions likely to be offered by great princes or clerics. Such a man in seventeenth-century Rome was Cassiano dal Pozzo, who employed Poussin for many years, or Pierre Crozat (admittedly of infinitely greater wealth), who nourished the very unusual genius of Watteau. Indeed, many of the most beautiful houses, pictures, and statues of the eighteenth century were produced for such individuals, who, being far removed from the court or church, proved to be extremely rewarding patrons—and friends.

By the end of the eighteenth century many of the institutions associated with today’s artistic scene were already in being: the private collector, the dealer, the exhibition, the critic, and even the museum of modern art (in the form of state purchases, in France especially, of promising new works). Huge fortunes could be earned—Sir Joshua Reynolds left £100,000 on his death in 1792—and huge reputations gained (Reitlinger 1961).

The ideology of genius . It cannot be denied that the artist’s situation has changed radically since the late eighteenth century. Once again the main cause must be attributed to a new conception of the artist’s status. The idea of wayward “genius” and “inspiration,” which had been confined by the ancients to poets and thinkers, was extended during the Renaissance to artists—at first rather tentatively and then with growing assurance. The towering achievements of Michelangelo and his strange, austere character, notable for its terribilta, were, more than any theoretical writing, responsible for the acceptance of this concept. In the sixteenth century Benvenuto Cellini implied that artists were entitled to live above the law, and in the seventeenth Salvator Rosa claimed to be unable to paint unless “carried away by the transports of enthusiasm.” He refused to accept the traditional advance payment for commissioned pictures, claiming he could not know when a painting would be finished.

By the seventeenth century it was a common place that artists were likely to have difficult characters, at the very least, and that this might even be a prerequisite of their talent—this despite the strenuous efforts of nearly all the leading artists of the day to conform to established patterns of social behavior so as to raise their status.

In the eighteenth century William Blake was only one among many who denied that art could be taught—an assumption underlying the many new academies that had been founded all over Europe to improve standards of design—and soon afterward Goya claimed for the artist the right to look to his own fantasies rather than to the outer world for the subject matter of his art. It is, however, exceedingly important to stress that scarcely one, if any, of the serious artists of the nineteenth century ever put into practice the vast claims that had been made for the rights of genius by their predecessors and encouraged by the German Sturm und Drang.

Nonetheless, nearly all of them did maintain that where artist and public conflicted, it was the artist’s moral duty to be true to himself rather than to his patrons. This was a stand that had hitherto been possible only for the very great, whose reputations were already assured and whose “difficult” works could therefore be taken on trust even when they were not fully understood. But this change of attitude occurred when, because of the increased birth rate and the urbanization that had been stimulated by the industrial revolution, a much bigger and presumably rather different public began to have the opportunities to see, and then to buy, modern art. Unfortunately, not even the minimum basic research into this change of patronage from a “cultivated aristocracy” to a “nouveau-riche, ignorant bourgeoisie” has yet been undertaken. The general validity of this traditional view will merely have to be assumed.

Art and politics . Two other important new developments took place at this time, about which we can be much more certain. First, there was the great politicization of life that occurred as a result of the French Revolution. Artists had occasionally played a part in the important issues of their day —Tilman Riemenschneider had suffered torture for his support of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1525, Lucas Cranach had strongly backed the Reformation, Michelangelo had helped to defend Florence against the Medici in 1527, and so on—but never before had their styles, as opposed to their occasional subject matter, been associated with political views. In the eighteenth century, it is true, some writers—notably Diderot—had tried to identify certain artists with certain social and political causes (again, as in the case of John Baptiste Greuze, usually on the basis of subject matter), but their lack of success had been total. And those who see in the classicism of David some sort of bourgeois opposition to court circles are merely projecting into the past what would never have been suspected—by him or his patrons—before 1789. Nonetheless, David’s career does mark a watershed. Actively engaged in politics himself (and always, until his last years in exile, on the winning side, whichever it was), he initiated a great stylistic revolution that was inevitably confused with political revolution. Thereafter, art and politics became inextricably confused, so that in 1825 we can find the writer Louis Vitet exclaiming, “Le gout en France attend son 14 Juillet” (quoted in Grate 1959, p. 17), although in fact he was calling for an end to Davidian classicism in the name of that painterly romanticism whose leading exponent was Delacroix, soon to become a convinced reactionary!

Public galleries . The other important innovation was the widespread inauguration of public art galleries, above all, the Louvre in 1793 and in 1824 the National Gallery in London. They kept on permanent view collections of old masters, often dimmed by yellowing varnish, as a sort of standing reproach to any artistic change—this danger had been anticipated by Constable, one of the first to suffer in this way, and countless innovators could have echoed his fear that “the manufacturers are made the criterions of perfection, instead of nature.” This was particularly ironic because most public art galleries had been founded not only because of the general belief of the Enlightenment that art could improve the quality of civilization and help to “soften manners,” but above all, because it was hoped that galleries, like the academies, would benefit living artists: the Louvre was at first opened only to artists on seven out of every ten days.

The artist and the bourgeoisie

A new conception of the artist, of “ignorant” public opinion, and of the politicization of all culture (so that every new step, previously welcomed, was now looked upon as potentially subversive by a public that dreaded above all else a new social upheaval)—all these factors played a vital and often tragic role in the history of nineteenth-century art, especially as the century drew to a close. In almost every country in Europe, but particularly in France, an “official art,” sponsored by the principal dealers, the academies, and the richer collectors, confronted those painters, sculptors, and, later, architects whom today we look upon as the finest artists of their times. Controversy centered particularly (but not only) on the “lack of finish” characteristic of nearly all that vital art which was trying to break away from the formulas imposed by David and his school—formulas which were clung to with savage and paradoxical obstinacy by those very academies that he had wanted to abolish. There is ample evidence to show that lack of finish was equated with excessive ease and superficiality, and the now familiar charge, usually made in the presence of great and unfamiliar pictures, that “my little daughter aged ten can paint better than that” is first to be found early in the nineteenth century. More damaging to adventurous artists than public scorn was the hostility of their conservative colleagues, for no mechanism for showing their work had yet replaced the salon or academy exhibitions. In France the organization of such exhibitions was until 1880 under the direct control of the government.

In the earlier part of the century royal or other patrons were sometimes sufficiently powerful to ignore the pressures of the academy, and Delacroix received important public commissions long before he was grudgingly admitted to the Institut de France in 1857, after his eighth application. Later this dichotomy tended to disappear, and more and more artists found themselves excluded from the salons(and hence public attention) by restrictive juries. Unsuccessful efforts were made to organize independent exhibitions, and some artists, such as Courbet and Manet, followed an eighteenth-century precedent set by Greuze and others and showed their work privately. The Revolution of 1848 brought a “free” exhibition, Napoleon III organized the Salon des Refuses in 1863, and a group of artists (later to be called the impressionists) showed their works together in 1874 and thereafter at irregular intervals until 1886. Above all, the year 1884 saw the first Salon des Independants—a direct rival at last to the official exhibition—which did away with the jury system altogether.

Meanwhile the salon itself was beginning to break down, at first under the sheer weight of numbers (White & White 1965) and then, in 1890, because of a split due more to personal quarrels than to any conflict of principle. Gradually, independent dealers began to take over the function of sponsoring modern art, although how important official backing remained can be seen from the fact that in 1900, when he was already the most famous artist in France and possibly in the world, Auguste Rodin said that unless he was successful at the Great Exhibition of that year, he would have to enter the Institut, “parce que c’est a eux seuls que vont les grandes commandes.”

Dealers as patrons . The dealers who now came to the fore were very different from any that had been seen hitherto. According to Durand-Ruel, the most conspicuous of them, a mature picture dealer should be at the same time an enlightened patron ready, if necessary, to sacrifice his immediate interests to his artistic convictions and a man who would rather fight against the speculators than associate with their interests (Venturi 1939, vol. 1, p. 17). He himself is of additional interest because, while supporting the impressionists at a time when they were looked upon as dangerous revolutionaries —the potential instigators of a new Commune—he remained a staunch reactionary, bitterly hostile to the republican regime; and there is some reason to believe that he relished this double assault on the values of the triumphant tiers etat. The eventual rewards that came to Durand-Ruel when the impressionists achieved popularity may have played their part in encouraging other dealers, such as Vollard and Kahnweiler, who, like their Dutch predecessors in the seventeenth century, tended to monopolize the output of their favorite artists but whose role in the development of modern painting is analogous to that of Renaissance patrons— as can be seen from their portraits, like those of Pope Leo x or Philip II of Spain, painted by the greatest artists of their times.

Along with a new type of dealer went a new type of critic, concerned not only with reviewing the annual salons but also with interpreting the “misunderstood artist” and explaining him to the public: witness the writings of Baudelaire on Delacroix, Duranty and Duret on the impressionists, Feneon on the neo-impressionists, and so on.

The avant-garde . The concept of the avant-garde, that is, of an art that will by its very nature be in conflict with received opinion, had been aired in passing early in the nineteenth century, but only toward its end became the doctrine that has affected all subsequent thinking on the arts. Manifestoes and apologists began to accompany every new movement, culminating in those of the Italian futurists in 1910, in which for the first time, artists and writers went out of their way to court public hostility: there could be no better indication of how far the situation had changed since 1874, when Degas had asked his friend Giuseppe de Nittis to exhibit with the impressionists, explaining that “puisque vous exposez au Salon, les gens mal documented ne pourront pas dire que nous sommes 1’exposition des refuses” (Nittis 1895, p. 237).

Yet despite all this, the critics (and the public) of the end of the nineteenth century were already chastened by the ridicule that now covered those who had rejected first the romantics and then the realists. Opposition to new developments reached a final paroxysm of fury and then, in Western countries at least, tended to disappear following World War II, so that it is now not unusual for an art that appears to defy the traditional rules to be backed by conservative governments; for ever since the intensification of artistic rivalries induced by the international exhibitions of the nineteenth century, all governments have felt the need to encourage artistic output. Similarly, museum directors, warned by the sad experiences of their predecessors who lost so many vital opportunities of enriching their collections with modern works at accessible prices, now pay increasing attention to contemporary developments. Especially in the United States, such directors have often been indirectly assisted by a national policy of taxation that assists patrons intending to bequeath their collections to public museums—a policy often deplored not only on grounds of social morality but also because it has curtailed the role of the museum as an arbiter of taste.

All these developments, combined with the more cautious attitude of critics, have necessarily robbed the avant-garde of its original significance to the extent that works which are considered the most modern of their day are often rapidly acquired by the very people whom they were originally designed to challenge. Dissatisfaction with “academic art” and a recognition of past misunderstandings, as well as the actual nature of much twentieth-century painting and sculpture, have also led to an obsession with the act of creation itself (sometimes at the expense of the created work), so that universities and other educational bodies have been anxious not only to acquire contemporary art but also to observe the artist at work by incorporating him within their communities—often with no specific duties. The nature of artistic development is as yet too-little understood for it to be clear whether or not this new relationship with society is a beneficial one.


[See alsoCREATIVITY, article onSOCIAL ASPECTS; STYLE. A guide to other relevant material will be found underART.]


Antal, Frederick 1948 Florentine Painting and Its Social Background. London: Routledge.

COOK, R. M. 1960 Greek Painted Pottery. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

Crozet, Rene 1954 La vie artistique au 17in” siecle. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Diderot, Denis (1759-1767)1957-1963 Salons. Edited by Jean Seznec and Jean Adhemar. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon.

Easton, Malcolm 1964 Artists and Writers in Paris: The Bohemian Idea, 1803–1867. London: Arnold.

Francastel, Pierre 1965 La realitt figurative: Elements structured de sociologie de I’art. Paris: Gonthier.

GOMHRICH, E. H. 1960 The Early Medici as Patrons of Art. Pages 279-311 in Italian Renaissance Studies. Edited by E. F. Jacob. London: Faber.

GOMRRICH, E. H. 1963 Meditations on a Hobby Horse, and Other Essays on the Theory of Art. London: Phaidon. → See especially pages 86-94, “The Social History of Art,” for criticism of Arnold Hauser’s Social History of Art. A number of research projects are implied by the criticism.

Grate, Pontus 1959 Deux critiques d’art de I’gpoque romantique: Gustave Planche et Thtophile Thore. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Haskell, Francis 1963 Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations Between Italian Art and Society in the Age of Baroque. New York: Knopf.

Hauser, Arnold 1951 SoczaJ History of Art.2 vols. London: Routledge.

Luzio, Alessandro (editor) 1913 La galleria dei Gon-zaga; venduta all’Inghilterra nel 1627-1628: Docu-menti degli archivi di Mantova a Londra. Milano (Italy): Cogliati. → The translation of the extract in the text was provided by Francis Haskell.

Martin, Alfred Von (1932) 1944 Sociology of the Renaissance. London: Routledge. → First published in German. A paperback edition was published in 1963 by Harper.

MARTIN, W. 1907 The Life of a Dutch Artist. Part 6: How the Painter Sold His Works. Burlington Magazine9 : 357–369.

Martindale, Andrew 1966 The Rise of the Artist. Pages 281-314 in Joan Evans (editor), The Flowering of the Middle Ages. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nittis, Giuseppe De 1895 Notes et souvenirs du peintre Joseph de Nittis. Paris: Librairies-imprimeries Reunies.

Pelles, Geraldine 1963 Art, Artists and Society. En-glewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Pevsner, Nikolaus 1940 Academies of Art: Past and Present. New York: Macmillan.

Reitlinger, Gerald 1961 The Economics of Taste: The Rise and Fall of Picture Prices, 1760–1960. London: Barrie & Rockliff.

Salmon, Pierre 1958 De la collection au musee. Brussels: Office de Publicite.

Schlosser, Julius Von 1965 L’arte di corte nel secolo XIV. Milan (Italy): Edizioni di Comunita.

Venturi, Lionello 1939 Les archives de I’impression-nisme.2 vols. Paris and New York: Durand-Ruel. → The translation of the extract in the text was provided by Francis Haskell.

Wackernagel, Martin 1938 Der Lebensraum des Kiinstlers in der ftorentinischen Renaissance. Leipzig: Seemann.

WHITE, HARRISON; and WHITE, CYNTHIA 1965 Canvases and Careers: Institutional Change in the French Painting World. New York: Wiley.

WITTKOWER, RUDOLF; and WITTKOWER, MARGOT 1963 Born Under Saturn; the Character and Conduct of Artists: A Documented History From Antiquity to the French Revolution. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.


“Recruitment” is a term used to refer to the underlying processes for bringing new members into a group. Sociologists are especially interested in understanding those social forces that encourage individuals to join, or repel them from joining, an occupational or professional group and to embark on a particular career within that group.

In many occupations the process of recruitment can be readily understood. For example, consider the military, from whom the word “recruitment” was originally borrowed. We know in clear terms the subjective and objective meaning of the professional soldier. We are aware of the symbols, such as money, glory, social advancement, travel, and adventure, which attract persons to become soldiers. We are equally aware of the symbols that distract, discourage, and repel the individual from this profession—fear, lack of sympathy with the cause, discipline, death, separation from loved ones and from one’s community.

By contrast, there is a great vagueness concerning the recruitment of the artist. It is very difficult, first of all, to define the term “artist”; any attempt at an essential, or even an operational, definition of the artist—an attempt in which many generations of aesthetes have failed—is bound to founder (see Gabor 1963, p. 148, who makes the same point for the definition of “art”). The reasons for this become apparent as soon as several crucial questions are asked. For example, who is an artist, and why is he one? Does it depend on the amount of time spent working as an artist? Then how does one include individuals like Charles Ives, an American composer whose entire working career was spent in an insurance company?

Does working as an artist qualify one to be included in this category? Then we must exclude individuals of high artistic potential whose creative urge is latent or shows itself in activities other than art. Can we rely on contemporary recognition by institutions within the art world, such as galleries, museums, or private collectors? But to do this would exclude practically all the impressionist painters, not to mention Rembrandt at the time that he created some of his most important masterpieces. In view of these difficulties, we must rely on connotative and denotative examples in order to define our term “professional artist,” while keeping in mind the shortcomings of this method.

When speaking of a professional artist, I think of Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Anton Webern, and Arnold Schonberg, to name a few outstanding figures from the first half of the twentieth century. Such men devote their time and psychic energy to creative endeavors or would do so if circumstances permitted. In other words, their primary work is or would be directed toward exploring the “fundamental categories” of human existence, the attempt to exalt or denigrate authority, “to explore or explain the universe, to understand the meaning of events, to enter into contact with the sacred or to commit sacrilege, to affirm the principles of morality and justice and to deny them, to encounter the unknown, ... to stir the senses by the control of and response to words, sounds, shapes, and colors” (Shils 1960a, p. 290).

Control of the arts . In some countries and during some eras there has been fairly tight control of the arts, both in the number of recruits and in the course of their careers. For example, during the guild era in Europe no disciple could change masters unless his first teacher agreed to break his contract, and all disciples had to remain with the master for three years (Tomasini 1953, pp. 135, 140). Furthermore, there was an attempt to establish mastership as a hereditary privilege (Dobb 1947, pp. 116-117). Willetts writes that during the existence of the Sung Academy in China (12th century) “its appointments seem to have been sinecures with promotions through four ranks.” The French Academic Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture had a similar elaborate hierarchy. In both academies “admission and promotion were by competitive examination. In both, the candidate was required to submit his personal version of a set theme, after gaining official approval of his proposed treatment by means of a preliminary sketch” (Willetts 1958, p. 518).

In twentieth-century Europe and the United States the arts are characterized by a relative absence of centralized occupational control, as compared, for example, with the academies mentioned above or with the medical profession in the United States, with its institutional self-awareness, its standards of competence and discipline, and its relatively stabilized recruitment. Moreover, in these countries the demand for the visual arts—and for other arts as well—is rapidly and vastly expanding. This combination of an expanding market and an absence of tight controls suggests that the world of art—fine and commercial—must recruit in a rather generous, if not excessive, fashion. Unlike certain occupations, the world of art need not underrecruit for the purpose of controlling a valuable skill, with its accompanying monetary rewards, prestige, and honor.

Much of the rather “open” recruitment in art is reflected in various gentle practices and policies of many art schools in the United States. Probably few applicants are refused admittance. Students occasionally drop out of school of their own volition but are rarely expelled as from medical or engineering schools. There are few or no crucial tests or other hurdles that a student must pass to remain in school. Grades seem mainly to yield encouragement or prestige and seem not to be utilized to restrict enrollment or to force the repeating of courses. Anyone who has the time and money can go to any number of commercial and fine arts schools. (These data on art schools, as well as the following section on the students’ family background and public school experience, are based on Strauss 1955a; see also Griff 1960; 1964a; 1964b.)

Early socialization of the artist

Because recruitment into the art world is neither tightly limited nor carefully controlled, we should not be led to assume that artists somehow drift into art. There exists a whole social paraphernalia for getting persons committed to their artistic identities; and the fact that the machinery is not usually visible to the person himself does not, of course, make it any less real.

The chief mechanism for pumping a flow of talent into art today is the public-school system— aided by the art schools and often abetted unknowingly and unwillingly by the student’s family. This is true, among other reasons, because nowadays artists do not appear to come from very high or very low social classes. An artistic career is not generally initiated by an education at prep school or an elite college, nor do persons of low economic standing usually become artists by emulating models found in their communities (they are far more likely to emulate athletes). Parents in various strata introduce their offspring to art, stressing humanist, hobbyist, and other values; but not many parents consider the visual arts a propitious locale on which to fight the battle for class and occupational success. As a consequence, few parents directly influence their children to enter the field of art. Moreover, attendance at galleries and museums, with or without parents, plays no discernible part in recruitment; it is, in fact, a rare art student who reports having any art “in his background.” Nor do students entering art school usually know artists of any kind except their public-school teachers; nor are they especially acquainted with art history or with the biographies of famous artists.

Public-school experiences . The public-school art teachers begin to exert their influence quite early in the career of the artist, generally in grammar school. Impoverished or misguided though their teaching may be, they may introduce the youngster to the satisfactions and delights of drawing and painting. These teachers serve to keep interest in art alive throughout the school years by bestowing approval upon the child, singling him out for special honors, placing his work in public view, or assigning him honorific tasks, such as decorating the blackboards. Some students mention that as early as kindergarten, teachers singled them out for praise and isolated them from their classmates so that they could concentrate on their art.

In high school the child who has been recognized for his artistic virtuosity continues to take art courses and often has the opportunity to major in art. Art teachers may begin to suggest that he go on to art school—a step that otherwise might not occur to some—and may procure information and even scholarships for their proteges. The high-school milieu affords additional prestige, for the child may win a school prize, or even a national one, or receive acclaim for decorating a stage set, drawing for the school paper, and other such activities.

Saturday morning art classes . Complementing the role of the high school in the recruitment process are the typical Saturday morning classes sponsored by the community art museum. These special classes, which are to be found in Europe as well as in the United States, play a crucial role in encouraging an art career. For school children whose art instruction is limited (especially in the private or parochial schools, where art instruction may be absent), they provide the first exposure to advanced courses and qualified teachers. The Saturday classes provide students not only with material facilities, such as oils, brushes, and models, but also with professional instruction and the encouragement offered by the milieu of a museum. Also, for both children and adolescents, this may be their first (and perhaps only) opportunity to come into contact with peers having similar dispositions toward art.

Another important effect of the Saturday morning classes is that they single out the artistic person: that is, they signify to those in his social milieu, as well as to himself, that he has been socially recognized as having an unusual ability, absent in others, which has certain rewards. In addition, these classes stimulate the nascent attributes of independence and freedom from external restraint that are associated with artists, because they separate the individual from his social milieu perhaps for the first time in his life. This may accelerate for these children the normal personality development from unilateral to autonomous thinking, studied by Piaget (1923). Finally, the experience of the Saturday classes may reinforce a sense of security for some children; in the childhood and adolescent world of comparisons, they can brag about their painting ability, which may, indeed, be the only outstanding skill they have.

Parental attitudes

The portrait that emerges from a study of the childhood and adolescent social experiences of the individual who possesses artistic skills reveals the congruence of encouragement and reward, of aspiration and fulfillment. He learns that his contribution is socially meaningful and constructive, and at the same time he is encouraged to exercise freely that which he most basically feels is himself. Except for the normal tensions of childhood and adolescence all the factors favoring the retention and nourishment of an artist’s career are present.

Discontinuities in this pattern become apparent when the person declares publicly that he wishes to prepare for a career in art. The parents of the would-be artist make two very strenuous objections to his desire. The first is that the painter cannot hope to support himself solely from the sale of his paintings and that this will make it impossible for him to attain many of the symbols of success that families cherish. The second objection is directed at the bohemian stereotype of the artist, which the family wishes to avoid because it violates the professed mores of our culture. (The fact that artists often seem to become bohemians is, of course, closely related to their financial problems.)

When the student’s intention to become an artist is discovered, there is a reversal in the attitude of his parents toward him. Thus, a crisis is engendered, which becomes aggravated during the period beginning with the announcement of his intentions and ending with the termination of his formal education. The entire family makes a determined effort to dissuade him. They remove his paintings from the walls where they were prominently displayed. Artistic achievements and the large remunerations for paintings received by artists become topics to be avoided.

It is at this point that the germ of self-estrangement (commonly referred to as alienation) is first implanted. Going contrary to the wishes of one’s parents causes one’s conscience to suffer. It suffers because of the strong affective relationship between parents and child, because of intensive cultural imperatives emanating from the mores and reinforced by religious institutions—particularly the dogma concerning filial duties—and because of the acute sensitivity and imagination characteristic of the artist qua artist. While the exertion of the individual toward independence is normal during this period, this breaking away may have added significance for the career of the artist. Rank, for example, in discussing the creation of individuality said:

The gradual freeing of the individual from dependence by a self-creative development of personality replaces the one-sided … dependence on the mother. … The person in the third and highest level of development, the creative type, such as the artist or the philosopher, creates a world for himself which he can accept without wanting to force it on others; and he accepts himself. Such a person creates his own inner ideals, which he affirms as his own commandments. At the same time he can live in the world without falling into continual conflict with it. (1932; quoted in Mullahy 1948, pp. 177, 183-184)

There appears to be an inconsistency in parental attitudes toward the child who chooses the artistic career. It has been stated that the young artist is encouraged and rewarded and that his early success in art is a source of gratification for his parents as well as for him. However, the parents’ later disapproval of his career choice becomes understandable if the difference between school success and occupational success is considered. School success is confined largely to the yardstick of the report card (“My daughter gets all A’s in art”), and there is also recognition in the form of prizes, articles in the local newspaper, or acknowledgment on graduation programs. However, when a child graduates from high school new standards and criteria of judgment are applied, which are associated with symbols of financial success and social prestige. Art is not an avenue leading to the attainment of these symbols, and parents know this. Moreover, these reactions reflect some significant attitudes toward the fine artist and toward art in contemporary culture.

Cultural variations. Contemporary industrial culture stresses conformity, respectability, rationality, practicality, and security. These are a few of the essential values incorporated in the cultural complex that Max Weber called “rational bourgeois capitalism.” Art and the life of the artist are antinomies of this. Fine art is nonutilitarian. Moreover, the artist tends to be nonconformist and to violate many of the behavioral patterns prescribed by society. His choice of career opposes the success theme so strongly emphasized and so pervasive in contemporary culture. The parents of artists may themselves have failed to achieve success, and they, with all good intentions of loving parents, want their children to avoid the disappointments that they have experienced. Also, to parents who value success for their children as an affirmation and confirmation of their worthiness as parents, there is little comfort in the notion that the young artist may achieve recognition posthumously. Yet, this is frequently all the young artist can offer as justification for the sacrifices he proposes.

Parental opposition to a career in art is neither recent nor geographically confined; nor, for that matter, is parental encouragement. The way in which a son is forced to struggle against his parents because he suffers from an internal ebullition of artistic desire, which they try to suppress, has become a classic ritual (Fry 1929, p. 6 in the 1958 edition). Yet, instances of the encouragement of artistic careers have also been notable (Haskell 1963, pp. 20-21; Tomasini 1953). The experience of the contemporary composer Gian-Carlo Menotti provides an example:

How well I remember as a child watching the profound sorrow of all Milan as the funeral of Puccini passed through the streets. It was a loss for each of us as well as for our country. No wonder that a young Italian boy’s wanting to be a composer could only be a source of satisfaction and pride to his family and friends. But the family’s regard for music was only a reflection of the general public’s esteem in which the composer was held in Italy. (1953, pp. 42-43)

The explanation for this variation in attitudes is open to debate and awaits further research. Two hypotheses, however, immediately come to mind. One is suggested by Menotti:

It is my contention that the average American has little or no respect for the creative artist and is apt to consider him as an almost useless member of the community. The average American father still views with dismay the fact that one of his sons may choose to become a composer, writer, or painter. He will consider any such pursuit a sign of “softness,” an unmanly and, I venture to say, un-American choice.

I must add in all frankness that this hostility toward the arts is not uncommon in Europe within a certain class of society. But it exists only in a very small percentage of the population, mostly among the nouveaux riches and the very orthodox members of the aristocracy who still feel that it is more noble to patronize than to create. Moreover, even in this latter small moribund class, artistic activity is at least looked upon as an essential element of gracious living rather than the adornment of uneventful Sunday afternoons. (1953, pp. 39-40)

An alternative hypothesis is suggested by an artist turned popular writer: “Art needs a proper climate. The average Frenchman is no more artistic than the average American. . . . But the French climate is good for art, because in France an artist isn’t expected to earn as much as a stockbroker. He is justified in his existence even if he is just a little artist. He doesn’t have to be a Picasso. He counts as a necessary human factor although he hasn’t reached the very top” (King 1958, p. 8).

Preparation for a career in art

After graduating from high school the neophyte artist enrolls in an art school or art institute, where he takes a basic course in the fundamentals of drawing, painting, and illustration. There he is thrown together with a large group of individuals having a variety of talents and backgrounds. For many, the first year is a joy. They work and learn (perhaps for the first time) in a milieu that is permeated with art. The school may be in a museum, or at least very near one, and the students are socially united by their common interest in art.

Specialization ensues during the subsequent years. In the second year, the students are divided into fine arts, commercial or applied arts, and art education sections. Further specialization takes place during the third and fourth years, but the most important specialty, in terms of the recruitment process, is fine arts.

The fine arts student searches for a teacher compatible to his temperament both as an artist and as an individual. Some seek and readily accept technical instruction; others expect to get instruction only upon request; still others are hostile to any instruction, asseverating that it is a violation of artistic mores for an instructor even to touch their canvases.

Competition for grades is discouraged because of the inherent difficulty in judging art; both talented and untalented students, as well as instructors, mention this. Usually, the only institutionally fostered competition that is meaningful is the rivalry for the traveling fellowships, which takes place during the senior year. Both students and instructors have suggested that some students deliberately alter their natural style during the fellowship competition in order to cater to the known tastes of the judges. However, in general, we can say that the art school does not constitute a disruptive force, in terms of the unity of the self, as other types of schools frequently do. In other words, the intensive competition that tempts or forces students to engage in subterfuge or parroting their mentors in order to receive passing or superior grades is not present in the art school. What emerges in the art school is a consistency between self and fulfillment. Thus, the self-estrangement that for the average person begins with formal schooling and continues indefinitely does not, for the most part, affect the art student.

Vocational choices . As the student nears the end of his academic training he becomes anxious over what he will do when he graduates. Some may succumb to the prodding of their parents (or fiancées or wives) and take a few commercial art courses before they graduate. For the same reasons, others may take courses in art education or may return for a year after they graduate to take courses in art education. Still others pass through four years of training and delay their decisions until they graduate. A very few will win traveling fellowships lasting for a year or two and thereby postpone their decisions temporarily. A few, both those who have completed their fellowships and those who did not win one, will find galleries that will give them small subsidies. Eventually, however, each must find a source of steady income. Some will find work in the post office or in stores and will paint in the evenings or on weekends. A prolonged siege of this work is disheartening, especially when the individual realizes that he may have to do this for many years—that is, until he is recognized—or that he may have to work at whatever he is doing for the rest of his life. In the end, most return to art in secondary ways—some as art educators and many as commercial artists.

Whichever alternative is chosen, it will be a secondary choice and one that implies taking a job which the person feels is not his basic calling. It is at this point in the recruitment process of the artist that the state commonly referred to as alienation begins to be seriously experienced. As mentioned above, the first signs of alienation appear in connection with the students’ conflict with their parents, as they finish high school, but in art school this parental opposition is usually overcome or disregarded. However, there is this important difference between finishing formal art school and finishing high school. While parents will strenuously object to their child’s going to art school, they will, in most cases, continue to support their child because the mores demand it. After graduation, however, there are no moral imperatives necessitating continued support and certainly none that would obligate the parents to support the child indefinitely. It must also be pointed out that it is at this point in the student’s life that the philosophies to which he has been exposed in his intellectual quest as artist—no matter how ingenuous they may appear—begin to fructify.

These circumstances raise a number of important questions concerning the artist. One of the most important of these is, What happens to one’s artistic identity when one enters various types of employment? Griff (1960; 1964b) has sought the answer to this question in a study of commercial (i.e., advertising) artists. Commercial artists were selected for study because it was believed that these people had chosen the extreme alternative among the possibilities available to the artist. It was felt that the role of the commercial artist differs in so many fundamental ways from that of the fine artist that a study of it could serve as a paradigm for what happens in the case of less extreme vocational choices.

Art and advertising

There are few institutions whose basic values are more opposed to one another in all fundamental respects than are those of art and advertising—their vocabularies, their traditions, their standards and rules, beliefs and symbols, criteria for the selection of subject matter and problems, modes of presentation, canons for the assessment of excellence—are all antithetical.

The traditions of art seem by their very nature to entail a measure of tension with the traditions of advertising and its close allies, commerce and industry. The very intensity and concentration of commitment to these value orientations reflect the distance that separates the two. Art, like genuine religion, continues to be vitally concerned with the sacred or the ultimate ground of thought and experience and the aspiration to enter into intimate contact with it. Thus, art involves the search for truth, for the principles embedded in events and actions, or for the establishment of a relationship between the self and the essential, whether the relationship be cognitive, appreciative, or expressive (Shils 1960b ).

In contrast, the traditions of advertising emphasize the selection of the mundane as subject matter; its presentation in terms of immediate perception as well as by the use of standardization, classification, and cliches; the necessity for certainty of cognition and direction; the deliberate attempts to manipulate through the use of visual stimuli based upon emulation, fear, and sex; and the assessment of excellence in terms of attention value, consumption, and fidelity (called brand loyalty) to the product of one’s client.

In addition, there are innumerable technical differences between advertising and the fine arts, based upon the problems of graphic reproduction. The commercial artist must consider the different qualities of papers and printing inks and the effect these will have on the final version of his work. He must consider that the painting as seen in the original and then on the printed page will be different, because the flat surface of the paper eliminates the third dimension together with the brush strokes and canvas pores. Since it is necessary to make the product and accompanying message stand out (known technically as highlighting), a sharp linear style is used; a firm principle of advertising art is recognition through a silhouette.

The differences in compositional techniques are also readily apparent. For example, in many automobile ads there appears to be an illusion of deep space, but upon careful analysis it can be seen that the eye does not move from the front plane to deep space; compare this to a painting by a Dutch master, where the eye moves into the interior from the front of the room and then into the distance through an open door or window. In the advertisement the automobile covers the horizon, extends along most of the composition, and blocks the eye from easy recession into the background. Even the space in the background is indeterminate and has the function of forcing the nearer objects toward the eye, thus forcing the viewer to concentrate on the advertised product (Parker 1937, pp. 119-122).

Role identification and artistic values . Commercial artists range in type from those who remain symbolically attached to the role of the fine artist to those who reject this role completely. Between these two extremes lies a third group that identifies with both roles (see Griff 1960, pp. 219-241, for an extended account of the three roles mentioned here).

The traditional role. Some artists work as commercial artists, but subjectively identify themselves as fine artists “temporarily” engaged in the commercial field. In other words, they identify with what they regard as the artist’s traditional role; their rationalization for working in the commercial field is that the normative standards of contemporary society preclude any economically feasible alternative. Underlying this assumption is the belief that society will give lip service to, but in reality will not support, the artist’s primary identity—that of the fine artist as he emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. In supporting their premise they cite numerous examples, both past and present, of other individuals who have tried, without success, to live exclusively from their paintings. In addition, there is the actual attempt by many of them to live from the sale of their paintings. Finding this to be an impossibility, they may have turned to commercial art. Also, there is the further realization that other aspects of the reward system of society are absent (i.e., prestige, praise, or admiration of others for their dedication to their ideals). Instead, in many cases, negative sanctions have been applied against them in the form of derision and questions concerning the practicality of their labors, as well as their “sanity.”

The commercial role. Artists who assume the “commercial role” see art (both fine and commercial) as a utilitarian product, and they conceive of themselves as instruments for the transformation of verbal symbols (dictated by a client) into visual ones. Consequently, their ideological orientation is directed toward pleasing and satisfying their clients. Conceiving their roles in this manner the commercial-role artists refrain from interjecting or altering in any way the intent of their clients unless specifically directed to do so. Thus, they accept a norm that is not only upheld by their occupational group but also sanctioned by the larger society: The customer is always right. In carrying out this belief, they define their roles as having been successfully fulfilled when the requirements of their clients have been met as parsimoniously as possible. This means the creation of illustrations in the quickest and cheapest fashion.

In contrast to the attitudes held by the traditional-role artists, the commercial-role artists reject the notion that they are artists working in the commercial field because of extenuating circumstances. On the contrary, they believe that the traditional role is a nineteenth-century anachronism and therefore should be discarded by the contemporary artist.

The compromise role. The “compromise role” is a mixture of both the traditional and the commercial roles. Like the commercial-role artists, those who assume the compromise role believe that they are instruments of the clients; however, they conceive of themselves as active, rather than as passive, agents. In carrying out this conception of themselves, they translate the demands of the client but at the same time attempt to persuade him to accept innovations, specifically the interjection of fine arts symbols into their illustrations. Thus, many feel that they are involved in a crusade for better art. They believe that by raising the standards of their clients’ art, they are at the same time raising the level of taste of the public.

The resemblance between the compromise role and the traditional role lies in the fact that both are concerned with fine arts. However, the artists who choose the compromise role do not consider the commercial field onerous or harmful to fine arts or believe that their status should be independent of the secular realm. They believe, as do the commercial-role artists, that their legitimate position in society lies in the commercial field. They reflect to a great extent the Bauhaus definition of the artist. This definition stresses the importance of the artist’s working in a society rather than being isolated from it. The definition also stresses that the artist, while working in a society, should exert all his technical, moral, and aesthetic skills to influence the products of mass production (Moholy-Nagy 1929).

The study of the recruitment of the artist is part of a broader field called the sociology of art. This field is still in its infancy, and much fundamental work must be done before its outlines, contributions, and limitations will be known and understood. Griff’s study (1964a) of art students in Chicago is a step in that direction; further research will confirm, invalidate, or suggest revisions of it. Meanwhile, what is needed now are similar data from the other fine arts and from those areas that are emerging as new fine arts, such as photography and the film. In this connection, important research could be accomplished by studying how an area emerges as a fine art. Other important questions and areas of needed research are: What are the career patterns of successful and unsuccessful artists? What are the social conditions responsible for the fame of an artist, the capriciousness of fame, and immortality; the social conditions hindering or encouraging creative endeavors; the relationship between contemporary patrons and styles of art; the social and psychological conditions impeding artists or aiding them to break with traditional and acceptable styles of art, thus innovating new styles; and the social roles of critics and patrons? Once research on these questions has been undertaken, it will be possible to clarify the more significant and elusive questions, such as whether the artist is a reflection of his society, or whether art is a reflection of the age.


[Directly related are the entries CREATIVITY and PROFESSIONS. Other relevant material may be found in ARCHITECTURE; CRAFTS; FASHION; LITERATURE; STYLE; and in the biographies of LUKACS and RANK.]


CLARK, KENNETH 1956 The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form. New York: Pantheon. ⇒ A paperback edition was published in 1959 by Doubleday.

COOMARASWAMY, ANANDA K. 1946 The Religious Basis of the Forms of Indian Society. New York: Orientalia. ⇒ A social-psychological analysis of Indian art.

COWAN, LOUISE 1959 The Fugitive Group: A Literary History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press. ⇒ An excellent study of the effect that face-to-face interaction has upon the emergence of an original poetical style.

DOBB, MAURICE (1947) 1964 Studies in the Development of Capitalism. Rev. ed. New York: International Publishers.

DUDEK, Louis 1960 Literature and the Press. Toronto (Canada): Ryerson. ⇒ This study parallels in many important ways Griff’s studies of painters; however it concentrates on the literary artist. Contains a wealth of material and a source of innumerable research possibilities, as well as insights into the problem of contemporary literature being overwhelmed by mass society. It also explores the effects of mass society on the creative product of literary authors.

FRY, ROGER (1929) 1952 Cezanne: A Study of His Development. 2d ed. New York: Macmillan; London: Hogarth. ⇒ A paperback edition was published in 1958 by Noonday.

GABOH, DENNIS (1963)1964 Inventing the Future. New York: Knopf. ⇒ A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Penguin.

GIMPEL, JEAN (1958) 1961 The Cathedral Builders. New York: Grove. ⇒ First published in French. A technical, historical, and sociological account of the building of cathedrals in Europe from 1050-1350.

GRIFF, MASON 1959 Alienation and the Artist. Arts in Society [1959], Fall: 43-54. ⇒ A social and historical study of the alienation of the artist during the nineteenth century.

GRIFF, MASON 1960 The Commercial Artist: A Study in Changing and Consistent Identities. Pages 219-241 in Maurice Stein, A. Vidich, and D. White (editors), Identity and Anxiety. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

GRIFF, MASON 1961 Creativity and Syrenes. Unpublished manuscript. ⇒ Suggests the relationships between creativity and social factors; also contains a number of specific research suggestions.

GRIFF, MASON 1964a The Recruitment of the Artist. Pages 61-94 in Robert N. Wilson (editor), The Arts in Society. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. ⇒ A discussion of the problems of the neophyte artist; based on a study of students attending a large art school in Chicago.

GRIFF, MASON 1964b Conflicts of the Artist in Mass Society. Diogenes 46:54-68. ⇒ A report based on a social-psychological study of the artist who, unable to earn a living from his paintings, becomes a commercial (advertising) artist.

HARRISON, JANE E. (1913)1927 Ancient Art and Ritual. London: Butterworth. ⇒ An important sociological study of dramatic art. See especially pages 119-169 on ’The Transition From Ritual to Art.”

HASKELL, FRANCIS 1963 Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations Between Italian Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque. New York: Knopf; London: Chatto & Windus. ⇒ Contains innumerable suggestions for further research in the sociology of art; also serves as an example of scholarship in this area.

KING, ALEXANDER 1958 Mine Enemy Grows Older. New York: Simon & Schuster.

MACK, GERSTLE 1935 Paul Cezanne. New York: Knopf. ⇒ A less technical and more sociological account of Cezanne than Fry 1929.

MENOTTI, GIAN-CARLO 1953 A Plea for the Creative Artist. Pages 37-45 in Fernando Puma (editor), The 7 Arts. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

MOHOLY-NAGY, LÁSZLÓ (1929) 1946 The New Vision. New York: Wittenborn. ⇒ First published in German.

MULLAHY, PATRICK 1948 Oedipus: Myth and Complex. New York: Hermitage. ⇒ See especially pages 162-207 for the section entitled ’The Theories of Otto Rank.”

MUMFORD, LEWIS (1952) 1960 Art and Technics. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

PARKER, PAUL 1937 The Analysis of the Style of Advertising Art. Master’s thesis, Univ. of Chicago, Department of Art. ⇒ A technical and social analysis of advertising art compared with fine art; written by a commercial artist.

PARKER, PAUL 1938 The Iconography of Advertising Art. Harper’s 177:80-84.

PEVSNER, NIKOLAUS 1940 Academies of Art: Past and Present. Cambridge Univ. Press; New York: Mac-millan.

PIAGET, JEAN (1923) 1959 The Language and Thought of the Child. 3d ed., rev. New York: Humanities Press. ⇒ First published as Le langage et la pensee chez I’enfant.

RANK, OTTO 1932 Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development. New York: Knopf.

SHILS, EDWARD 1958 Ideology and Civility: On the Politics of the Intellectual. Sewanee Review 66:450-480.

SHILS, EDWARD 1960a Mass Society and Its Culture. Dxdalus 89:288-314.

SHILS, EDWARD 1960b The Traditions of Intellectuals. Pages 55-61 in George B. de Huszar (editor), The Intellectuals. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. ⇒ Discusses the tension between intellectuals and the business class.

STERN, L. 1958 George Lukacs: An Intellectual Portrait. Dissent 5:162-173. ⇒ Includes discussion of Lukács’ theories concerning art and mass society.

STRAUSS, ANSELM 1955a The Art School and Its Students: A Study and Interpretation. Unpublished manuscript. ⇒ A report based on the same research as that discussed in Griff 1964a.

STRAUSS, ANSELM 1955b Some Aspects of Recruitment Into the Visual Arts. Unpublished manuscript. ⇒ Derived from the same study as that described in Griff 1964a.

TOMASINI, WALLACE J. 1953 The Social and Economic Position of the Florentine Artist in the 15th Century. Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Michigan.

WILLETTS, WILLIAM 1958 Chinese Art. 2 vols in 1. New York: Braziller. ⇒ See especially pages 501-652 on “Painting and Calligraphy,” and within that chapter, the section “Status of the Artist.” A paperback edition was published in 1958 by Penguin.

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