Marx and Art: Use, Value, Poetry
Despite Karl Marx’s overwhelming focus on economics and politics – culminating in Capital: Critique of Political Economy – his philosophy has inspired an array of Marxist or Marxian theories regarding the arts. Yet, the key tenet of these theories has not been Marx’s radical emphasis on the foundational role of production in human subjectivity. Marxist theories of art have, generally speaking, either examined the arts’ capacity for signifying social relations and class struggle – as seen in many a Marxists’ penchant for realism – or they have seen the arts as little more than aesthetic legitimations of ruling class ideology, a view which, in its most positive manifestation, can be found in the experimental and modernist tendency to undermine the morals and mores of the bourgeoisie by committed artists. Neither of these approaches, at any rate, sees art as a form and outcome of production in itself. In this article, I wish to present a Marxian theory of art, based on Marx’s entire oeuvre, from his earliest journalistic writings to Capital, which presents art as neither an aesthetic mimesis nor an ideological alibi of production. I would like to propose that for Marx art was, first and foremost, a use-value produced by concrete human labour.
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