You are on page 1of 10

The Politics of Art: The Domination of Style and the Crisis in Contemporary Art Author(s): Marx W.

Wartofsky Source: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 51, No. 2, Aesthetics: Past and Present. A Commemorative Issue Celebrating 50 Years of The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism and the American Society for Aesthetics (Spring, 1993), pp. 217-225 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The American Society for Aesthetics Stable URL: Accessed: 19/11/2009 20:39
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Blackwell Publishing and The American Society for Aesthetics are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.


The Politics of Art: The Dominationof Style andthe Crisis in Contemporary Art

The artworldhas its internalpolitics. These differ from ordinary politics in several regards. Among the mattersat issue are not only those of power, governance, and class interest in some abstract societal sense, but also questions of domination and subordinationin matters aesthetic: in style, influence, creative direction, and aesthetic ideology as well as in the more mundanecontexts of artistic production,artistaudience relations, and in the roles of artworld entrepreneurs(gallery owners, museum directors, collectors, and agents). The ordinary"political" categoriesare transformed and specified by the peculiarfunctionsand interestsof the artcome to appear world,so thataestheticdesiderata as the definingtermsfor "power,""governance," and "interests."The blunterpolitical-economic categories take on the protective coloration of artworldconcepts: "productionand consumption" are mediated as "creation and appreciaof goods"becomes "cultural tion"; "distribution diffusion";"buying"becomes "collecting." The duality is not simply a semantic overlay of aesthetic euphemisms on a ground of stark social realities. Rather,it exhibits a real duality within the artworld itself, both as a world of art-a world of creative and imaginativepraxis defined by aestheticnorms and categories-and as a social andhistoricalartworldwithina larger society or culture-a world of production, exin which goods areprochange, and distribution duced, livelihoodsearned, and profits made. to analyzethe interconnecMy paperattempts tion between these two aspects of the artworld. It does this in order, first, to bring to bear an analysisof the crisis in the aestheticsof contemporary art upon the crisis in the political econartworld;and second, omy of the contemporary to sketchthe political economy of that artworld

so thatI can explain what I taketo be the crucial symptom of the crisis, namely, the domination of style. This analysis will show that the roots of the crisis lie partly in the relatively autonomous dialectic of the internal history of art and of artforms.They lie, on the one hand, on aesthetic grounds-as solutionsto aestheticproblems-in the development, change, and proliferationof styles. On the other, they lie in the social role and organizationof artistic praxis and the productionof artworks,in the development, change, and proliferation of styles, that is to say, on political-economicgrounds, in the very organization and controlof the artists'productionsand their markets. It is this complex relation, of an inner dialectic of creative activity to an outer context of the conditionsunderwhich this activity is carriedout, thatpresentsthe most difficult subjectfor an analysis of the crisis of living art. The separationof these two strandsleads either to a reductive and one-sided formalist aesthetor, on the other andart-history, ics, art-criticism, side, to an equally reductiveeconomisticor vulgar sociology of art. The characteristicfeaturesof the presentcriof style, and proliferation sis-the fragmentation the constantsearchfor new styles, andthe dominance and importanceof novelty in style-have led to the dominationof style in contemporary art. This is not to say that there is a dominant style, for just the contrary is true. Rather,the search for stylistic novelty and innovationhas, perhapsfor the first time in the history of art, become itself a leading motive or dominantimperativeof artisticpraxis. To putthe point somewhat differently: the object of artistic praxisthe subject matteror content of art itself-has predominantlybecome the activity of artistic

The Journalof Aesthetics and Art Criticism 51:2 Spring 1993


The Journalof Aesthetics and Art Criticism expressionism, minimalism, and to the more exotic and increasinglyless original variantson the earlier Dadaist movement such as anti-art and conceptual art. Inevitably,neo-realismhas reappearedin its second incarnation. (It first appearedas "magic realism" in the twenties in Germanyand elsewhere.) But this time it reappears as a copy of a copy of a copy (in Plato's terms), as in making paintingsof photographs. Surrealismwill also likely find a "new way" to echo its earlier forms-if it hasn'tdone so already. But this is simply a list of names, thoughthe list itself is instructive.My thesis, thatthe innovation of a "new" style has become a dominant imperative in contemporary(Western) art can now be restatedin a more cynical form thus: the object of the artist is to effect a "style" distinctive enough to acquirea name so that it can be addedto the list. The achievementsought for by the artist is the identity of a style. The very identity and existence of the artworkwithin the artworldoften dependson its being in a certain style or associated with a given style. More traditional criteria of judgment pertaining to form, content, expressiveness, and symbolic to the criteria significanceare now subordinated of stylistic innovation,identity,and uniqueness. Even morecynically,thoughmore revealingly,it is not the distinctivenessof the style which earns the new name, but the namingitself which "creates" or "identifies"or "achieves"the goal of distinguishinga style. Thus, there is no more to a "style" than the fact of its being designated by name-its "baptism"-and the relationof the thus-namedstyle to the artwork is often such that the name might have been picked out of a hat. Twodescriptions the crisis: (1) Incharacterize sofar as art has taken itself (or the activity of art) as its own object, it has become narcissistic. (2) Insofar as the naming of a style within the art world has become the goal and achievement of an artist or a school, both art and the artist have becomefetishistic. Let me discuss these in turn. The narcissism is a two-edged sword: It has a dialecticalcharacter. Negatively,it removes art from its critical and creative function of dealing with a contentthatlies beyondart-with life, social reality, and tragedy, suffering, and joy as these are representedand communicated in and throughthe mediumof the artwork.But, at the same time, positively, the narcissism fo-

creation itself. Art is about art: art has taken itself as its own object, and has subordinated both form and content to this object. Artists have become preoccupied with the representation of their own activities as the very object of those activities. The paintingis about painting; it is about the very process of its own production. The musicalworkis aboutthe very production of music, about the way in which music is produced,be it in its compositionalor performative aspects. In this context, art takes itself as its own concreteobject. It representsitself. It presents its own immediacy and its own mode of production in an iconic way. Thus, also, the most concrete, objectivecontentof art becomes its own praxis and, at the same time, in its critical function, art becomes the object of its own "negation": it becomes, ideologically, "anti-art."Artists self-consciously take all previous art as objects to be negated, all previous styles as objects to be destroyed, and even their own presentforms as transient,self-negating,or

Since the ultimate condition of self-negation is silence or the refusal to create, the French painterMarcelDuchamp(perhapsthe most radical of Dadaistsof two generationsago and most self-conscious ideologist of anti-art) followed this imperativeliterally by ceasing his artistic American JohnCage activityaltogether. composer also exemplified the trend towards such negation (thoughonly partially)in his work 4' 33". His work asks for a "performance"at a piano but what the audience hears is an interval of silence through which they can listen to background noises: the traffic outside the concert hall, theirown sneezingandcoughing, the heavy of the critics, etc. Anotherexampleof breathing this mood was the exhibition, put on some years ago at New York'sMuseumof ModernArt,of an -an art object that was in fact a self"event" destroyingmachine. The Fire Departmentintervened during the event before the 'machine' coulddestroyitselfcompletely. (Wasthis a unique instanceof municipalart criticism?) Art's crisis has innumerable exemplifications andproliferation in, say, the rapidfragmentation of styles characteristic of twentieth-century painting-especially in the last threedecades as more traditionalstyles of realist, cubist, abstractionist, impressionist, and expressionist painting have yielded to "Pop" art, "Op" art, abstract

Wartofsky The Politics of Art cuses on the creativepraxis of the artist and the concreterealitiesof form, color, and the expressive qualitiesof the medium itself in such a way as to educateaestheticsensibility to a new level. It achievesthis by abstractingthe practiceof art from all the other contexts of humanpractice in which it is embedded. But while doing so, it presentsthe artworkand artisticpraxisitself in a most vivid form, stripped of all reference to anything which lies beyond it. The severity of this abstractionof creative praxis is such that artists presenttheir own mode of action as isolated, timeless, ahistorical, and asocial. Behind this appearance,however, there hides a painful of and self-conscious realism:the representation the reality of contemporaryartistic praxis itself as isolated, timeless, asocial, and ahistorical, the reality,that is to say, of the alienationof art and the artist from any other social role. This severe abstraction, this self-focussing narcissism, thus becomes a starklyrealist representation of the social fact of the dehumanizationof art: one can begin to readback from the artwork or artifactthe real conditions of its production, its presentsocial role, and the uses to which this has very mode of isolation and dehumanization been put. sees in the very condiSuch an interpretation tion of narcissism, so vividly presented in the artwork,a critical content, a cri de coeur which refuses the sentimentalityof pretense-the pretense thatart still continuesto evoke or represent in some mythic-traditional way the beautiful or noble, or an imaginativeideal of the future. This hard-bitten, anti-utopian, and anti-sentimental content of some contemporaryartworks(think, here, of the bitter color, lines, and texture of Dubuffet'spaintings,or the crude, naive images of PhilipGuston'slate works, or the anguishand energy of the gigantic black and white hieroglyphs of FranzKline) is an explicit rejectionof the heroic image, of the "beautiful"in its classic forms, of the soft, convenient, and accommodating. But contemporaryart achieves this acerbity or this bitterness, not in the older representationalway (which issued in a criticaland social realism, as in Goya, Daumier, and Kollwitz), by expressingcriticalcontentthrough but, rather, distortion,crudity,economy, or emphasison the textural, plastic, and linear elements of the visual surface itself. These techniques make the art inaccessible to the larger audience, whose


response is largely educated to thematic and content, to classic, social realrepresentational ism. The audience, therefore, loses all contact with this plastic realism and is unaffectedby it. The content of the artists' immanentcritiquetheirbitterness,theirrejectionof the suave, their assertionof unease and anguish in the presentis cast in a vocabularyof forms which cannotbe understoodor readby the layperson.The art, in fact, is reduced to the level of merely formal interpretationand appreciationby most of its critics (the late HaroldRosenbergexcepted). Yet even this narcissisticand hieroglyphicart contains a critical content which needs to be understoodin its own terms. Justas Marxsaw in the commoditythe "crystal"or "cell" in which the relations of production and the contradictions of capitalismrevealedthemselves, the conreveals temporaryartwork,properlyunderstood, the social role and the "production-relations" of the artworld in the present, and exhibits in itself the contradictionsnot only withinthe artworld itself but also those betweenthe artworld and the social system within which it exists. We can describethis contentof contemporary art as a hidden or mystified social content. But we can do this only if we understandin what sense the dominanceof style or stylistic identity and innovation representsthe fetishism of the crisis. Insofaras style artist in the contemporary representsa language or a vocabularyof forms of a rangeof artworks,it is the key characteristic to the iconography or to the understandingor readingof these artworks.A style embodies the rules, canons, or modes of representationand expression of an artist or a school. Thus, it establishes a link between audienceand artist, a so to speak,by means dictionaryanda grammar, of which the artist's expression becomes visually comprehensible.Style, therefore,represents a condition of coherence and order in the communicationof a given content through a given form. What happens, however,when style-the "grammar,""vocabulary,"canons or rules of visual formulation-becomes an aesthetic endin-itself? It is as if, in literature,the content or subject matterof the literary artworkwere the process of creating the work itself; as if the novelist took his own act of writing not as a means of communication,but as the what-the sole contentto be communicated.A novel would thenbe aboutthe act of writing. It would present


The Journalof Aesthetics and Art Criticism mode of productionandexchangeof the artwork as a commodity.Thefetishism consists in maskin the guiseof a formaling the commodity-reality aestheticor expressive desideratum. The artist appears to be seeking innovationas a creative aesthetic activity. But, in truth,stylistic innovation is only an economic desideratumof the within of artworks as exchange-values production the peculiar and highly specific political economy of the contemporary market-drivenartworld. Therefore,the crisis is simultaneouslyan aesthetic and a political-economiccrisis. As an internal question of the history of art, it is a crisis in the dialecticof form, of stylisticchanges. As a political-economic matter, it is a crisis in the mode of productionand consumptionof the artwork. Vulgarsociology or sociological historyof art recognizes only one side of this crisis. It sees art simply as a reflectionof the conflicts, contradictions, or determiningconditions of social reality. Formalistart-historyandart-criticismis just as one-sided. It sees only the dialectic of forms or the strugglefor new modes of expression. As HannahDienhardtwrites, in her fine small work of 1967 Bedeutung und Ausdruck-zur Sociologie der Malerei:
If one places the artwork outside of its historical context, whether in its origin, or its effect, one can give no explanationof the facts of the variousarts, the many-sidednessof artworks,and can give no account of the changingjudgmentsaboutthe artwork.On the otherhand, if one sees the artworkexclusively as the expression and result of uniquelydeterminatehistorical conditions, one runs the danger of reducingthe activity of art and the artworkto nothingmore thana mere exemplificationof economic, religious, social, or political forces, and overlooking the specifically artisticor leaving it unexplained(p. 7).

its words, structure,and images as the presented content of itself, to which all else would be subordinated.It would mirror itself, its own process of coming into being as the "reality" which it presents. So, too, in painting. Whatisfetishistic aboutthis? Fetishism,let us remember,is the reification or hypostatization of an image: it mistakes the image of a given reality for the reality itself. In the particular senses in which Feuerbachand, later, Marx use the term, "fetishism" signifies a mystification of a given humanor social reality by taking an ideologicallydistortedand falsifying appearance of that reality for the reality itself. Thus, for the religiousconsciousnessfetishizes Feuerbach, the image of human nature and human relations-of human "species being"-as a divine nature. It takes the Divine image-God-to be ultimatelyreal, and the humanto be a copy-an imago Dei. Thus fetishism reversesthe realityin the imagination,and distorts it (or refractsit in what Feuerbachcalled the dioptrics of religious consciousness). Marx also uses this model, but he interpretsit as a socio-historicaland an ideological process instead of a merely psychological one. In the commodity, Marx says (in his famouspassage on the fetishismof commodities in Capital), the real relationsof production,the relations of exploitation, are distorted in the ideologicalimage which classical political economy gives of an exchange of equivalents (of labor power for wages). This image masks the of exploitation-the creationand appropriation surplus value-and makes it appear as an exchange of equivalentvalues among equals. Exploitative relations among human beings are masked by the appearanceof relations among things-commodities, money-in what appears in the representationas a "fair" exchange of equivalents. of an What, now, is the force of my attribution analogous fetishism in the contemporary artworld?The production of style, in termsof which the value of the artworkhas come to be identified, is the appearancewhich hides or mystifies the reality of aesthetic productionor the artist's praxis. The style appears as if it were a formalaesthetic desideratum,as a "reality"of an aesthetic sort, which confers artistic value upon an artwork.But, in reality, this particular mode of stylistic innovationis not, at root, an aesthetic question, but, rather,a questionconcerning the

The task remainsto show how the dominance of style, which appearsas an aestheticor artistic questionof contemporary art, hides or mystifies the actualconditionswhich determinethis dominance. At the same time, we have to show how contemporaryartworksexpress and reveal the crisis in the artworld,and in social reality,not in directbut in indirectand hiddenways-not, that is to say, in an obvious representational way as explicit thematic 'social' or 'political' content, but in the aesthetic terms of the visual image or


The Politics of Art


in the plastic and formalqualitiesof the artwork itself. This, in turn, leads us to the problemof characterizing the conditions of artistic or creative praxis in the contemporary(Western)artworld, i.e., the real relationswithin which the practice of arttakes place now. I wantto characterizethis subject matteras the "Politics of Art," but by this phrase I do not mean to raise questions regardingthe relationof art to external politics, the thematicpolitical content of this or that artwork,or the relationof politicalor social content to form. These are all importantquestions, but one cannotbegin to resolve them, or to discuss them seriously,unless one has alreadydealt in a detailed way with the internal "politics" of art and of the artworld,with, i.e., the specific historical conditions of the productionof art; the social relationswithin which that productionis carried out; the functions of art critics, audiences, the institutional structures (museums, of art; galleries), andthe patronsandpurchasers how artistsmaketheirliving, what the natureof their products is within an artworldwhere the artworksare not only producedbut also used or consumedand, therefore, have a real existence in the presentas they functionas commoditiesin of exchange. One mightcharacthe marketplace terize this study as the political economy of the artworld as a distinctive and special form of But this alone would igcommodity-production. noreanotherside of the artworld,equally important, and equally a matterof the "politics" of art, namely,the dialecticof formalproblems:of style, art-criticism, and art-history. As noted it is the interweaving of thesetwo strandsearlier, the political-economicand the aesthetic-which is requiredby an appropriatelydialectical approachto the complexity of the problem of the politics of art. A methodologicalpoint is in order. To deal withthepoliticaleconomyof art, one cannotsimply impose upon it a generalmodel of exchange or commodityproduction,and then simply read back, from some classic or contemporaryMarxist economic analysis, an "interpretation"of artisticproductionwhich identifies it with commodity production in general. Just as Marx's political-economic analysisof nineteenth-century has to be reinterpreted andbrought capitalism upto-dateto accountfor the specific changeswhich characterize latetwentieth-century capitalism (and

the demise of "actuallyexisting socialism"),so, too, the analysisof the politicaleconomy of art to suit the needs to be specific andcontemporary andpresentsocialrealities.It is a presentartworld which has led to specific historicaldevelopment of art. Yet whatone maycall the commodification of the use-valuesof art into the transformation a quitespecificanalysis. exchangevaluesrequires The use-valueshere are the complex ones which haveto do withthe functionof art in the liberation of the imagination, the education andtransformationof sensibility andfeeling,theroleandfunction of aestheticenjoymentin social life, the value of formandits appreciation. A reductive andformalist imitationof Marxismwould view these very use-values of art themselves ahistorically, as basic and unchangingfeaturesof humanlife, as characteristicsof "species-being," or as rooted in unchangingbiological needs for aestheticsatisfaction. However historically transcendentor transhistorical such needs and satisfactionsmay be, theirspecific form is the productof a particular historicalevolution, differentand separated art-historicaldevelopments, differenthistorical evolutions. Marx's well-known passage on the
human sense (from The Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts) is apropos: [T]he senses of the social man are other senses than those of the non-social man. Only throughthe objectively unfoldedrichnessof man'sessentialbeing is the richness of subjective human sensibility (a musical ear, an eye for beauty of form-in short senses capable of humangratifications,senses confirmingthemselves as essential powers of man) eithercultivatedor broughtinto being. For not only the five senses, but also the so-called mentalsenses-the practicalsenses (will, love, etc.)-in a word, human sense-the humanness of the senses-comes to be by virtue of its object, by virtueof humanized nature.The formingof the five senses is a labor of the entire history of the worlddown to the present.

Thus, in this view, the particularforms of sensibility are not simply based on biological needs for sensory-fulfillment or gratification (though this is certainly also true). Rather,the forms of sensibility express culturally-and historically-developedneeds and interests with a specific and variable content. Therefore, the use-values of art themselves, insofar as usevalues are alwaysdeterminedby concretehistor-


The Journalof Aesthetics and Art Criticism in this commodity-the artworldentrepreneurs (dealers,directors,etc.), insofaras they arededicatedto the growthandaccumulation of capitalvalues or profits-is its exchange-valuebecause the profit is realizedonly in the act of exchange. Here, it is the aesthetic use-values for others which constitute the basis for the exchangevalue of the product,but not the aestheticvalue or for the for the entrepreneur as entrepreneur, dealerin art as dealer.Theirskills, ingenuity,or success dependson two things:first, theirability to recognizeand satisfy existing aestheticneeds, even if these are the needs of a limited public; second, their ability to create the needs for the product,where these do not yet exist. tend Concerningexisting needs, entrepreneurs to supportthe traditional.But such an idealized market of unchanging existing needs doesn't exist. Wherea relativelystablemarket does exist, and is alreadycontrolledby one entrepreneur (or group), the competitiveentrepreneur (or group) must either steal the marketor replace it. Here, the specific featureof artistic creationand production creates a special case. The traditional art whatever (classical or modern "traditional") the accepted tradition is-for by "traditional" we mean here only what is alreadyaccepted as aesthetically valuable-is limited either to the originals of tradition,whetherthey be 17thcentury Baroque paintings or 20th century analytical cubism, or to later paintingin that tradition, that is, to copies of the tradition. Usually we assume that a 17th century Rubens is more valuablethan a 20th century paintingdone a la Rubens. But why? Why, in fact, is there a difference in use-valuesif the Rubens-likepainting is as aesthetically pleasing as the original? Of course, it is not as aestheticallypleasing, butthis is so not simply becauseof some timeless objective aesthetic criteria, for, according to these criteria,it may well be just as pleasing. Rather,it is because a constitutive part of the aesthetic (use-) value of the originalRubens(or Braqueor Picasso) is that the painter produced a truly creative work-he posed and solved a problem in its own time and thus created an original object not merely in the materialsense but also in the aestheticsense. He furtheredthe dialectic of aestheticproblemsand solutions in his work. The authenticityof the original, therefore, does not lie in the simple historical fact that Rubens himself painted the work (or even that his ap-

ical needs, are specific kindsof use-valuesin the contemporary artworld. They are created, in part, by the very objects which come to constitutethe objective socio-culturalenvironment, and so represent needsgenerated by thatenvironment. Marx thus writes (in the Grundrisse,A to the Critique Contribution of PoliticalEconomy):
Production not only suppliesthe wantwith material[for its satisfaction (M.W.)]-but supplies the material with a want.... The wantof it which consumption of the prodexperiencesis createdby its appreciation uct. The object of art, as well as any other product, creates an artistic and beauty-enjoyingpublic. Production thus produces not only an object for the individual,but also an individualfor the object.

This is not yet a critical butonly a descriptive account. Whethersuch createdneeds are "real" or "false" needs, whether it is beauty that is being enjoyedby the public ratherthankitschor (forone may generatea "need"for pornography these as well!) are all questions not yet raised here. But the specific historical use-value of contemporary art, of 'crisis'-art, is nevertheless a use-value, for, without it, contemporaryart wouldhave no exchange-value,and could not be a commodity. The needs for art as they have become specifically andhistoricallyconditioned in a given society at a particulartime constitute art'suse-values.And these needs, howevertransformed,are still relatedto the exercise and liberation of sensibility and the imagination,insofar as suchartworks havean aestheticcontentwhich both satisfies and generates such needs. Contemporaryartworkscontinueto have such a usevalue even if the appreciativeaudience for them is limited. In fact, in the politicaleconomy of the artworld, it is precisely this limitation of the audiencewhich creates the specific appreciative conditionsfor the exchange-valueof the artwork as a commodity. What, now, is the exchange-valueof the artworkin the particular of contempomarketplace rary art? What kind of a commodity is the artwork?It is only in this context that the specific exchange-valueof style, stylistic innovation, or stylistic identitycan be established;and only by such an analysis that my own thesis about the dominationof style can be supported. Thus, insofar as the artworkis a commodity like any commodity,its use-value for the dealer

Wartofsky The Politics of Art prenticesdid underhis supervision),or even that it bearshis (literal)signature.Rather,its authenticity lies in the creativefact that Rubensexhibited his creativegenius in solving a problem, in extending the range of the visual and technical imaginationin his color, brushwork,composiforms of expressiveness. tion, and particular Thus, the use-value of the original (traditional) work, as against the use-value of later copies of that style, or later Rubens-likepaintings, is greater precisely because its aesthetic authenticityis greater. Its embodiment of creative praxis is greater; it is a humanly greater achievement. If we establish that the originals of a traditional style are of greatervalue, or satisfy certain aesthetic needs in a way in which epigonic or derivativecopies do not, then the differential basis for their exchange-valueconstitutes such originalsof a traditional(established,accepted) commodities style as a domainof irreproducible of limited number.Unlike ordinarycommodity productionon a mass scale, of indifferentand reproducible exchange-values,such artisticcommodities have the specific features of irreproducibilityand hence rarity. (That is, of course, art forms why in allographic[i.e., reproducible] such as graphic arts where several "strikes"of an etching or a lithograph may be made, the edition is limited and numberedand the plate destroyed.)This contrastswith autographicarts such as painting where we have signed "originals." This meansthatentrepreneurs musteither have access to the limited originals, or must change the market to replace one set of usevalues with another, or enlarge the domain of use-values on the basis of which exchangevalues can be generated. The first move requiresestablishingone traditional art-formas more marketableor competithananother.Here, the changtively marketable ing marketvalues of differenttraditionalstyles representthe competitive ebb and flow, where fads andfashions in the contemporaryappreciation of traditionalalternativessupply a dynamic element. These fads and fashionsare themselves reflectionsof both criticaland art-historicalfactors, as well as of pure and deliberate marketmanipulationto which some art-critics, museums, and taste-making journals lend themselves as purveyors,hucksters,and pimps. Yet because the authentictraditionalis irre-


have an producible and rare, art-entrepreneurs alternative-to makethe innovation of new styles, of the untraditional andanti-traditional itself, an aesthetic use-value. Here they stand on solid ground:insofaras authenticcreativityembodies itself in the new, in the break with tradition, in the posing and solving of new aesthetic problems, innovativeartists do create new instances of an ongoing aestheticneed. They both enlarge the horizon of aestheticsensibility, and produce objects to satisfy these new needs of sensibility. In this sense, the only way to reproduce the authenticityof the traditionaloriginal is to create somethingdifferentfrom it and not to repeat canit. Therefore,art-capitalists or entrepreneurs not indulge in a creatio ex nihilo. They need artistsand the latter'sinnovationsof style. This need is being described here only from the aesthetic side and not yet from the side of For them, such authenticitysimentrepreneurs. ply representsthe basis for an expanded set of aesthetic use-values beyond the limits of the and which, therefore,servesto found traditional, a new and expandedmarket,a competitivemarket, through the generation of new exchangevalues. Hence the emphasis on innovation, on new style, becomes not simply an aesthetic imperative, but also a political-economic imperative of the capitalistartworld.The commodificationof art does not takeplace in a vacuumbut, rather,on the basis of a deformationand utilization of aestheticneeds-both the aestheticneeds of artists, to create authenticallyandnot merely to repeat already established formulae, as well as the aestheticneeds of a public whose enlargement of sensibility is served by such creative work. Butthereis a flaw in this argument.Fornow it seems that no one does more to further the whose advancement of artthanthe entrepreneur, interest lies not in aesthetic progress, but in profit. Here Adam Smith's"invisiblehand"and of reason"seeminglyarejoined Hegel's "cunning in a conspiracy to generate and produce aesthetic valuesout of the crassestmaterialmotives. The greatestbeneficence to art becomes the artentrepreneur's greed. Of course, the origins of modernart, its very possibility,did emerge prefrom guild-art and cisely in the transformation church-controlled art in the Middle Ages to the relative freedom of innovationwhich the bourgeois artworldafforded.Even the commissioned


The Journalof Aesthetics and Art Criticism Worksare takenon consignment, and when the artists are not yet establishedor in demand,they have to pay the dealer both to use the market facility, and receive, for what is sold, only a part of the selling price in return.The artists have to deliver a "commission" to the dealer as a percentage of the sale price-often from 30% to as high as 50%. In this competitivesituation, dealers very efor brought fectively controlwhatwill be exhibited to market.What they need, as serious entrepreneurs in the haute-mondeof collectors and museums, and among the select private clientele who buy originalartworksfor theirpleasure,is a way to compete both with the traditionaland with the new; hence the great pressureto generate new styles as marksof identity.But the effect on artists is that these are no longer marks of identity which denote their creative originality and authenticity.Rather,they are marksof identity which denote only the artists' competitive marketabilityor relative exchange-value. Artists thus begin to createfor exchange:theiroriginal mode of productionof aestheticuse-values, which were the basis for exchange-values,now becomes increasinglya fully alienatedform of activity. The artists themselves produce, for the sake of exchange, not artworksbut commodities-not aesthetic use-values but rather the use-valueof exchangeitself. entrepreneurial then becomes itself an exchange-value Style producedas such. And so too does the domination of style as an abstracted,alienated,andnonaesthetic featureof art; it becomes the hallmark of the crisis in contemporary(Western)art. of WhatI have sketchedis the transformation an aesthetic category into a political-economic category. But the consequence has not yet been fully drawn.Once artistshavebeen consignedto the productionof stylistic innovationitself as a commodity, the very characterof style as an aestheticcategory is ended, since "style" in this new sense connotessomethingvery different.If, in the past, style may be characterizedas the identifying mode of a particularaesthetic solution to an aestheticproblem-to a characteristic palette, compositionalstructure,mode or canon of representation, to a particular visualgestalt or vision of the world, to a particularform of the imagination-then stylistic innovation may be characterizednot simply as differentfrom what precededit, but differentin an aestheticallyim-

and self-exaltinghistoricalandgenre portraiture painting bought and paid for by the newly-rich burghers,or by newly powerful nationalmonarchies, affordedthe artist a freedom to innovate, and even a requirementto innovate which advancedthe aestheticdimensionof art. But nowadays we havea differentscene. The artists'mode of productionis no longer held within the confines of patronage; they are now competitive producers in a market whose dominant usevalue is no longer the symbolic enhancement and embodimentof wealth and social position, the profitablenessof an artworkto the but rather In the artworld, the entrepreneur entrepreneur. has replaced the patronas the free markethas replacedthe privateone. Certainlythere is still commissionedwork, but it is a negligible partof contemporary artistic production. Therefore, the means or instrumentalityof profitableness becomes the constantcreationof a new market, new exchange-values,and of new needs. This process itself creates the demand for stylistic innovationas the hallmarkof what is competitive. But why isn't this still a motive for aestheticadvanceas it was in the past? Because now the matterof stylistic innovationhas itself become divorced from its aesthetic functionthe posing and solving of new aesthetic problems. Instead, it has become fetishized, as an end-in-itself, whose motive is the competitive marketabilityof the product. Thus the original motive of creativeauthenticityis replacedin the artist'sproductionitself by a reified and alienfor its own sake ated motive-stylistic innovation The or, rather,for the sake of its marketability. of style as an alienatedandabstracted domination featureof the artworkis thus symptomaticof the very mode of productionof art, and of the very relationsof productionwithin the artworld. How do contemporaryartists make a living? It seems that they do so as individualentrepreneurs, as traditional craftspersons producing theirgoods and bringingthem to the art-market to sell. But this is a deceptively false model. Artists themselves cannot bring their own work to the market:they have to have a broker who has access to the marketand who does the buying and selling. Moreover, artists do not even sell to the broker, who then resells. Ratherthe brokerprovides only the access to the market, the gallery exhibit, the dealer's studio, and the private contact with collectors, museums, etc.

Wartofsky The Politics of Art portantway.If, however,stylistic innovationbecomes an end, then aestheticcreativitydegenerates into ingenuity, and aesthetic imagination
into commercial imagination.


This may be too harsh, for artistshave always faced the problemof what will catch the eye and the imaginationof viewers-what will enhance sensibility and attract it to newer and original forms, what will liberate and extend the imaginationfrom its presentconstraints.Stylistic innovation has always (legitimately) faced such questionsin a positive way,andthe historyof art is a historyof courageousinnovation. But in the contemporarycrisis artists do not havethatfunction. Rather,they haveto establish a stylistic innovation in order to exist in the comartworld,in orderto producea marketable modity.The innovationhas been ironic. Finally, there is no more "style" in the older sense; in fact, thereis no more "art"in the older sense. In desperation,artistspropose "anti-art,""theend of art," art'sdevisualizationor self-destruction. But theirvery irony,theirvery protestof despair against the commodification of style is itself
transformed into the latest of the marketable

commodities. The refusal of painters to paint, theirattackson art, their reductionof art to the imitationof itself, theirfragmentation of artistic creation into a series of negations (by turning attentionto non-art, machine-productions, technical tricks, anonymous art, theatricality,and self-promotion)-all are turned to profitable account by the dealer, who exhibits the selfdestructive irony of artists, their theatricality, their refusal itself as objets d'art. The artists' actions, their gestures, their antics become the newest artworks, as art becomes a parody of itself, and even its self-criticismbecomes a saleable item. (See, for example, Harold Rosenberg's brilliant review of the retrospectiveexhibit of Andy Warhol'swork at the Whitney Museum in New York published in the New over a decade ago.) Yorker All this is made possible by the creationof a new commodity-the artworlditself-which becomes publicly available through mass media:

film, TV, popular journals, and newspapers. Just as the so-called "private"(really "public") lives of movie stars constituted a mass-media industry in the 1930s and 40s (and continue to do so today), so the acts and gestures of artists such as Oldenburg,Christo,andWarhol become themselvescommoditiesof a new popularindustry. The artworkexists in an intentionalspace, as somethingtalkedabout, gossiped about, constituted as an "object" in the literary, conceptual, and journalistic space of the mass-media, and it is sold there as well by publicity-persons and advertisers.The artwork,in its more traditional sense, depends increasinglyfor its viabilestablishednot ity on this "spaceof reputation," by the artworkitself, nor even by its style but, rather,by its being conceivedandtalkedaboutin a certainway. Thus, it is the namingof a style which creates it, and makes it an intentionalentity not necessarily exhibited or instantiatedin any object or artworkas such. In this sense, too, the domination of style, in the way I have describedit, leads to the negationof the very conceptof style in the older sense as a characteristicof artworks.The artworkitself becomes the bruteand indifferent entity which can take any attributionwhatever; it becomes the dead bearerof a stylistic identity not its own, or no more its own thanany other.It becomes a passive object upon which is played out whatever fantasy is required by the constantly shifting marketplaceof the artworld, in orderto turn a profit. The effect is that creative work loses its significance, criticism loses its bearings (since almost anythingcan be said, and usually is). And the function of art in the enlargementof sensibility and of the imaginationis forgotten. Yet, for all this, creative artistic energy exists and emergesin frustrated or isolatedforms of praxis, even in striking aesthetic forms. The entrepreneur cannot exist without the producer. And even when the productionis distorted, its continuity somehow perseveressince the necessity of art (to use ErnstFischer'sphrase)-the human need for art-remains.