Approach: The Social History of Art

The relatively newly developed twentieth-century approach, the social history of art, can trace its roots back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Griederick Hegel (1770-1831.) It is essentially from the ideas of Hegel that the revolutionary Karl Marx (1818-1883) was able to formulate his theory on human behavior. It was from this theory, which came to be known as Marxism, that Marxist art historians began to emerge and develop the social history of art. It is important to note in what historical conditions this approach came into development. Three articles written by respectively by three prominent social art historians, Arnold Hauser (1888-1966), T.J. Clark (1943-??) and Theodore Hartt (1914-1991) collectively explain how approach was able to both defined and redefined itself. Sociological art history, is frequently described as, the subject matter, the means and process of production—including the structure, style and composition—as tools to reveal the basic economic condition of in which the artwork was produced in.

There are three initial limitations to this approach. Firstly, art has a dual nature, in that; it is a product of an individual’s inner logic. Sociology is unable to analyze artworks independence. Secondly, it does not address a works quality. Lastly, it does not explain the connection, or lack of connection, between an artistic quality and its popularity. There are positive aspects that other approaches either do not address or are insufficient in addressing them. For example, the history of styles is preoccupied with the formal elements of art and hardly touches upon historical explanation. A phenomenon, which sociological history of art, easily explains is the coexistence of styles. A population, in the most part, fails to be homologous; thus, an explanation for the lack of homogenous artwork that is produced within a particular culture. Lastly, this approach allows art historians to ask more questions about art.