Arnold Hauser (art historian)

Hungarian art historian (1892-1978)

Arnold Hauser (8 May 1892, Timişoara, Romania – 28 January 1978, Budapest) was a Hungarian art historian and prominent marxist in his field. He wrote on the influence of change in social structures on art.


  • Folk-art signifies the poetical, musical and pictorial activities of those strata of the population which are uneducated and not urbanized or industrialised.
    • Arnold Hauser, cited in: Bihar Tribal Research Institute (1961). Bulletin of the Bihar Tribal Research Institute. Vol. 3-4, p. 144
  • ... "folk art" signifies the poetical, musical, and pictorial activities of those strata of the population which are uneducated and not urbanized or industrialized. It is of the essence of this art that those who keep it in being are not only passively receptive, but normally are creative participants in the artistic activities, and yet do not stand out as individuals or claim any personal authorship of the productions. "Popular art" on the other hand is to be understood as artistic or quasi-artistic production for the demand of a half-educated public, generally urban and inclined to mass-behavior. In folk art, producers and consumers are hardly distinguished, and the boundary between them is always fluid; in the case of popular art, we find on the contrary an artistically uncreative, completely passive public, and professional production of artistic goods strictly in response to the demand for them. It is indeed a striking fact that folk art, especially folk-poetry, emerges from the ranks of those who enjoy it, whereas popular songs—the street-ballads and popular "hits"—derive from professionals belonging to and spiritually dependent upon the upper classes.
    • Arnold Hauser (1985). The philosophy of art history. p. 279

The Social History of Art, Volume I. From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages, 1999


Arnold Hauser. The Social History of Art, Volume I. From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages, 1999

Chapter I. Prehistoric Times

  • We do not exactly know the sociological reason for reverence for the past; it may be rooted in tribal and family solidarity or in the endeavour of the privileged classes to base their privileges on heredity. However that may be, the feeling that what is old must be better is still so strong that art historians and archaeologists do not shrink even from historical falsification when attempting to prove that the style of art which appeals to them most is also the oldest.
  • But the most remarkable thing about prehistoric naturalism is not that it is older than the geometric style, which makes so much more of a primitive impression, but that it already reveals all the typical phases of development through which art has passed in modern times and is not in any sense the merely instinctive, static, a-historical phenomenon which scholars obsessed with geometric and rigorously formal art declare it to be. This is an art which advances from a linear faithfulness to nature, in which individual forms are still shaped somewhat rigidly and laboriously, to a more nimble and sparkling, almost impressionistic technique.
  • The partial absorption of art by domestic industry and by domestic female crafts, that is to say, the fusion of artistic activity with other activities, is a retrogression from the standpoint of the division of labour and professional differentiation.

Chapter II. Ancient Oriental Urban cultures

  • The end of the Neolithic age betokens almost as universal a re-orientation of life, almost as profound a revolution of economy and society, as its beginning. Then the break was marked by the transition from mere consumption to production, from primitive individualism to co-operation, now it is marked by the beginning of independent trade and handicrafts, the rise of cities and markets, and the agglomeration and differentiation of the population.
  • If the resistances in one direction are impossible to overcome, then the artist’s invention and powers of expression turn to a goal the way to which is not obstructed, and it is very unusual for him even to be aware of the fact that his achievement is a substitute for the real thing. Even in the most liberal democracy the artist does not move with perfect freedom and unrestraint; even there he is restricted by innumerable considerations foreign to his art. The different measure of freedom may be of the greatest importance for him personally but in principle there is no difference between the dictates of a despot and the conventions of even the most liberal social order. If force in itself were contrary to the spirit of art, perfect works of art could arise only in a state of complete anarchy. But in reality the presuppositions on which the aesthetic quality of a work depends lie beyond the alternative presented by political freedom and compulsion.
  • The stereotyped style of cultic representations was well known as early as the Neolithic age, but the stiffly ceremonial forms of courtly art are absolutely new and come into prominence here for the first time in the history of human culture. They reflect the rule of a higher, superindividual social order, of a world which owes its greatness and splendour to the favour of the king. They are anti-individualistic, static and conventional... All the good things and the charms of life are connected, for the privileged members of this society, with their separation from the other classes, and all the maxims which they follow assume more or less the character of rules of decorum and etiquette. This decorum and etiquette, the whole self-stylization of the upper class, demand among other things that one does not allow oneself to be portrayed as one really is, but according to how one must appear to conform with certain hallowed conventions, remote from reality and the present time. Etiquette is the highest law not merely for the ordinary mortal, but also for the king, and in the imagination of this society even the gods accept the forms of courtly ceremonial.

Chapter III. Greece and Rome

  • The traditional picture of the blind old singer of Chios is largely made up of memories that go back to the time when a poet was a vates— a priestly and God-inspired seer. His blindness is merely the outward sign of the inward light that fills his being and enables him to see things others cannot see. This bodily infirmity expresses— as does the lameness of the divine smith Hephaestus—a second idea that was current in primitive times, that a maker of poems, ornaments and other products of handicraft can only come from the ranks of those who are unfit for war and foray. But apart from this feature, the legendary ‘Homer’ is an almost perfect example of the mythical poet who was still half-divine, a wonder-worker and a prophet. We find the clearest embodiment of this idea in Orpheus, the primeval singer who had his harp from Apollo and instruction in the art of song from the Muse herself; with his music he could move not merely men and beasts but even rocks and could reclaim Eurydice from the bonds of death.
  • In spite of the growing differences of income, the ever-increasing concentration of capital and the steady increase of the proletariat, in a word, in spite of the growing opposition between classes, there is everywhere a certain social levelling that, at last, puts a definite end to the privileges of birth. This is the last stage of the trend towards the abolition of social distinctions which had been going on since the days of hereditary monarchy and authoritarian priesthood. The decisive step was due to the Sophists, who invented the completely new rationalistic conception of areté,independent of birth and breeding, to which every Greek without exception could attain. The next step in this levelling is taken by the Stoics, who first enunciated standards of human value that are free from all tinge of race and nationality. The Stoics’ freedom from national prejudice merely expressed a state of affairs already achieved in the kingdoms of Alexander’s successors, just as the liberalism of the Sophists is merely a reflection of the social conditions due to the rise of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie of the cities.
  • Such specialization and depersonalization of enquiry led inevitably to a taste for mere erudition and a temptation to eclecticism.
  • At last the bourgeois has a theatre of his own in which he really feels at home. In every little town there is a modest building, and in the big cities those new palaces of stone or marble whose remains still survive.
  • The art of representing the human figure in the ancient world begins and ends with ‘frontality’.

Chapter IV. The Middle Ages

  • The unity of the Middle Ages as a historical period is quite artificial. In reality they fall into three entirely distinct cultural periods—the natural economy of the early Middle Ages; the courtly chivalry of the high Middle Ages; and the urban bourgeois culture of the late Middle Ages. At any rate, the divisions between these three epochs go deeper than those which mark the beginning and the end of the Middle Ages as a whole.
  • The ‘spirituality’ of this art, in which scholars have tried to find all the essentials of the later medieval conceptions of art, is in reality only the same indefinite sort of spirituality which inspired the last centuries of paganism.
  • Early Christian art during the first two or three centuries of its existence was merely a development or even a variant of late Roman art. So great is the similarity between late pagan and early Christian work that the decisive change of style must have occurred between the classical and post-classical, not between the pagan and Christian eras.
  • There can be no question that such a gap existed in early Christian art. What has been praised in it as deliberate simplification, masterly concentration or conscious idealizing and intensifying of the actual is in reality often just incapacity and poverty, just a helpless inability to render natural forms correctly, and a primitive bungling of the drawing.

    This clumsiness and ungainliness of early Christian art is not mastered until after the Edict of Toleration, when it became the official art of state and court, of aristocratic and educated circles.

  • The new Christian ideal of life did not at first alter the outward forms of art, but did alter its social function.
  • It would never have been possible for Byzantine court art to become the Christian art par excellence, if the Church itself had not become an absolute authority and had not felt itself to be mistress of the world. In other words, the Byzantine style was only able to gain a footing everywhere where there was a Christian art, because the Catholic Church in the West desired to become the power the Emperor was already in Byzantium.
  • The late Middle Ages not merely has a successful middle class—it is in fact a middle-class period.
  • The structure of the nobility is changed along with that of the state, but it preserves its continuity with the past intact. Knighthood, on the other hand, as the exclusive warrior-class and upholder of secular culture, decays completely. The process is protracted and the ideals of chivalry do not lose their alluring splendour from one day to the next—least of all in the eyes of the middle classes. But behind the scenes everything is set for the fall of Don Quixote.—The decline of the knighthood has been connected with the new methods of warfare introduced in the late Middle Ages, and it has been pointed out that the heavily accoutred cavalry suffered a severe reverse whenever they met the infantry of the new mercenary armies or the foot of the peasant brigades.

The Social History of Art', Volume II. Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, 1999

  • The Renaissance discovery of nature was an invention of nineteenth-century liberalism which played off the Renaissance delight in nature against the Middle Ages, in order to strike a blow at the romantic philosophy of history. For when Burckhardt says that the ‘discovery of the world and of man’was an achievement of the Renaissance, this thesis is, at the same time, an attack on romantic reaction and an attempt to ward off the propaganda designed to spread the romantic view of medieval culture. The doctrine of the spontaneous naturalism of the Renaissance comes from the same source as the theory that the fight against the spirit of authority and hierarchy, the ideal of freedom of thought and freedom of conscience, the emancipation of the individual and the principle of democracy, are achievements of the fifteenth century. In all this the light of the modern age is contrasted with the darkness of the Middle Ages.
    • Chapter 1. The Concept of the Renaissance
  • Mannerism came so late into the foreground of research on the history of art, that the depreciatory verdict implied in its very name is often still taken to be adequate, and the unprejudiced conception of this style as a purely historical category has be.
    • Chapter 5. The Concept of Mannerism
  • As an artistic style, mannerism conformed to a divided outlook on life which was, nevertheless, spread uniformly all over Western Europe; the baroque is the expression of an intrinsically more homogeneous worldview, but one which assumes a variety of shapes in the different European countries. Mannerism, like Gothic, was a universal European phenomenon, even if it was restricted to much narrower circles than the Christian art of the Middle Ages; the baroque, on the other hand, embraces so many ramifications of artistic endeavour, appears in so many different forms in the individual countries and spheres of cultures, that it seems doubtful at first sight whether it is possible to reduce them all to a common denominator.
    • 'Chapter 8. The Concept of Baroque
  • The historical importance of the Carracci is extraordinary; the history of the whole of modern ‘church art’ begins with them.
    • Chapter 9. The Baroque of the Catholic Courts

The Social History of Art, Volume III. Rococo, Classicism and Romanticism, 1999

  • Intellectual leadership in the eighteenth century passes from France to economically, socially and politically more progressive England. The great romantic movement starts here about the middle of the century, but the enlightenment also receives its decisive impulse from this country. The French writers of the period see in English institutions the quintessence of progress and build up a legend around English liberalism—a legend which only partly corresponds to reality. The displacement of France as the upholder of culture by England proceeds hand in hand with the decadence of the French royal house as the leading European power and, hence, the eighteenth century sees the ascent of England both in politics and in the arts and sciences.
    • Chapter 2. The New Reading Public
  • There is, as Tocqueville remarks, almost no political question which is not connected in some way with the imposition or the granting of taxes. At any rate, problems of taxation dominated public life in England from the end of the Middle Ages and became in the seventeenth century the immediate cause of the revolutionary movements.
    • Chapter 2. The New Reading Public
  • Rousseau’s ideas were in the air; he only expressed what many of his contemporaries knew, namely that they were faced with a choice and had to decide either for Voltairianism, with its reasonableness and respectability, or for the surrender of historical traditions and a completely new beginning. There is no personal relationship in the whole history of European culture with more profound symbolic significance than that between Voltaire and Rousseau.
    • Chapter 2. The New Reading Public
  • The mania for self-observation and self-admiration in literature and the view that a work is the more true and the more convincing, the more directly the author reveals himself in it, are part of the intellectual inheritance of Rousseau. In the next hundred to hundred and fifty years everything of importance in European literature is stamped with this subjectivism. Not only Werther, René, Obermann, Adolphe, Jacopo Ortis, are among the successors of Saint-Preux, but also the heroes in later novels— from Balzac’s Lucien de Rubempré, Stendhal’s Julien Sorel, Flaubert’s Frédéric Moreau and Emma Bovary to Tolstoy’s Pierre, Proust’s Marcel and Thomas Mann’s Hans Castorp—are derived from it. They all suffer from the discrepancy between dream and reality and are the victim of the conflict between their illusions and practical, commonplace, middle-class life.
    • Chapter 2. The New Reading Public
  • The fundamental difference between composing for a nobleman or a personal patron in general and working for the anonymous concert public is that the commissioned work is usually intended for a single performance, whereas the concert piece is written for as many repeats as possible. That explains not only the greater degree of care with which such a work is often composed but also the more exacting way in which the composer presents it. Now that it is possible to create works which would not be consigned to oblivion so quickly as commissioned works, he 76 sets out to create ‘immortal’ works. Haydn already composes much more cautiously and slowly than his predecessors. But even he writes over a hundred symphonies; Mozart writes only half as many and Beethoven only nine.
    • Chapter 2. The New Reading Public
  • The eighteenth century is full of contradictions. It is not only that its philosophical attitude wavers between rationalism and anti-rationalism, but its artistic aims are also dominated by two 122 opposite tendencies and at some times approach a strictly classicistic, at others a more unrestrained pictorial conception. And like the rationalism of the period, its classicism is also difficult to define and open to various sociological interpretations, since it is sustained alternately by courtly-aristocratic and middle-class strata of society and ends by developing into the representative artistic style of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.
    • Chapter 5. Revolution and Art
  • The extraordinary significance that music holds for Delacroix, and which contributes most to his admiration for Chopin, is a symptom of the new hierarchy of the arts and the prominent position which music occupies in it. It is the romantic art par excellence and Chopin the most romantic of all the romantics. In his relation to Chopin, Delacroix’s intimate connection with romanticism is brought most clearly to light.
    • Chapter 6. German and Western Romanticism

The Social History of Art, Volume IV. Naturalism, impressionism, the film age, 1999

  • We read the works of the older literature differently from those of our own age; we enjoy them purely aesthetically, that is, indirectly, disinterestedly, perfectly aware of their fictitiousness and of our self-deception.
    • Chapter 1. Naturalism and Impressionism
  • The contrast between Tolstoy’s discretion and Dostoevsky’s exhibitionism, between the restraint of the one and the ‘dancing about naked in public’ of the other—as someone says in The Possessed—is attributable to the same social gap as separated Voltaire from Rousseau.
    • ' Chapter 1. Naturalism and Impressionism