Larry Shiner

Larry Shiner on Marx in The Invention of Art, pp. 236-7:

For the young Marx of the 1840s, industrial capitalism not only had divided humanity into capitalist and worker and distorted the human experience of production but it had also perverted the senses themselves. The working classes had been reduced to mechanical activity, whereas the capitalist class no longer made and participated in art but spent their time acquiring money to buy things: ‘Your money can eat, drink, go dancing, go to the theatre, appropriate art’. The combination of private property and the division of labour had resulted in an exaggerated polarity of a use-value reduced to mere utility and an exchange-value that turned all the products of human making into commodities. Marx was convinced that society could only overcome these divisions and restore the unity of use and enjoyment through the abolition of private property. After that happened, both need and enjoyment would have ‘lost their egoistic nature’ and use would no longer be ‘mere utility’ but, combined with enjoyment, would ‘become human use’. This would be possible because the abolition of private property would enable a mode of production in which making art was not different in kind from other making. In such a society, the artist would no longer stand apart as the only free creator; everyone would be free to develop his or her powers to the fullest. There will be ‘no painters but, at most, people who engage in painting among other activities’ (Marx and Engels). Art will no longer be divided into fine art versus craft and the artist set above the artisan; there will be only human arts and human creating. Of course, the later Marx turned away from such utopian speculations to build a theory of ‘scientific socialism’ and inevitable revolution, but his fragmentary reflections on art still inspire those who seek a reintegration of art and everyday life in a context of social justice (Rose 1984).

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