Just Sociology

John Berger’s Marxist Theory of Art and Its Influence

John Berger, a renowned art critic and Marxist theorist, significantly impacted the way art is interpreted and understood in cultural studies and art history. Berger’s ideas were revolutionary, as he contended that art was not merely a product of individual expression or skill, but was deeply embedded within the larger social, political, and economic systems of which it was born.

In his work, Berger argued that the intrinsic nature of art was to reflect hidden ideologies present in the economic and political systems, particularly within the context of capitalism. Through his Marxist analysis of art, he hoped to expose the ways in which these ideologies have been perpetuated in art and how they have been used to serve the interests of the ruling class.

This article will explore Berger’s contribution to the theory of art and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of his perspectives. Berger’s Theory of Art Reflecting the Political and Economic System

Berger’s Marxist-inspired theory of art asserts that art is a reflection of the society in which it is created.

In his seminal work, Ways of Seeing, Berger stated that “the relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled” (Berger, 1972). This statement highlighted the ways in which our understanding of art is constantly being shaped by the political and economic systems that surround it.

Berger argued that art reflected the hidden ideologies present in these systems, often perpetuating the interests of the ruling classes. According to him, the economic system was a significant factor in the production of art since artists had to rely on the financial support of wealthy patrons to create their work.

This economic dependence resulted in art being created for the benefit of the elite class rather than for the masses. As a result, art became a tool that was used to reinforce a particular set of values associated with the ruling class’s ideology, whose interest was to maintain their hold on power.

The Suitability of Oil Paintings for Depicting Ruling Class Ideology

Berger argued that oil paintings, which became prevalent during the Renaissance period, were well-suited for depicting the ruling class’s ideology. The Renaissance period was characterized by an increasing focus on individualism, which Berger contended was reflective of the capitalist system.

Oil paintings glorified God, celebrating the wealth and prestige of the ruling classes as proof of God’s favor towards them. The depiction of wealth and success in oil paintings during the period of modernity shifted from the glorification of God to the glorification of individual achievement.

In this period, artists focused on portraying the success of individuals as a result of their hard work, and the acquisition of wealth was viewed as a sign of merit. This change represented the shift in economic systems from feudalism to capitalism.

Changes in the Depiction of Wealth in Oil Paintings During Modernity

During modernity, the depiction of wealth in art underwent significant changes. Berger argued that art became more concerned with an individual’s success rather than the larger system of economic exploitation that made that success possible.

Art became a vehicle for the wealthy to showcase their acquisition of wealth, often at the expense of quality artwork that reflected a deeper understanding of the world around them. As the elitist nature of art reached new heights, artists began to focus on producing art that catered to the interests of the ruling groups, rather than the general public.

Berger’s Analysis of the Portrayal of Ruling and Lower Classes in Art

Berger contended that the ruling class’s ideology was present in the way art depicted the lower classes. In landscape paintings, the lower classes were merely props placed within the larger pictorial landscape.

Still-life paintings also portrayed the lower classes as objects to be consumed by the ruling class. The myth of meritocracy that Berger contended was pervasive in modern art was at odds with the reality of the conditions of the lower classes.

Berger argued that artists could break from the expectations of the ruling class by paying attention to the ways in which they themselves were included or excluded from the ruling class’s ideology. When artists focused on self-portraiture or developed their unique artistic style, they were expressing their own struggles with their place in the world.

In this way, art could be more authentic and reflective of the complexities of the human experience.

Breaks from Ruling Class Ideology in Art

Going even further, Berger argued that the idea of a ‘pure’ or ‘authentic’ art untouched by the ruling class’s ideological influence was impossible. However, he believed that art could be subverted to serve the interest of the proletariat by highlighting their struggles and the exploitative nature of the capitalist system.

According to Berger, artists could break free from the ruling class ideology by representing the struggle of the working class, as exemplified by the work of Rembrandt. Conclusion:

John Berger’s Marxist-inspired theory of art significantly impacted cultural studies and art history by analyzing the relationship between art and its surrounding political and economic systems.

Berger believed that art was deeply embedded within these systems, and he offered a critical analysis of the ideologies present in art that has helped to broaden our understanding of its nature. Despite Berger’s theoretical contributions, his perspectives have been subject to various criticisms and alternative interpretations.

However, his innovative and revolutionary ideas have paved the way for a more critical and nuanced understanding of the role that art plays in society. In conclusion, John Berger’s Marxist-inspired theory of art has contributed significantly to the discourse on the relationship between art and its surrounding political and economic systems.

Berger argued that art reflected the hidden ideologies present in these systems, often perpetuating the interests of the ruling classes. Despite Berger’s contributions to the understanding of the nature of art, his perspectives have also been subject to various criticisms and alternative interpretations.

However, his innovative and revolutionary ideas have paved the way for a more critical and nuanced understanding of the role that art plays in society. FAQs:

Q: What is John Berger’s theory of art?

A: John Berger’s theory of art is that art reflects the hidden ideologies present in the political and economic systems in which it is created. Q: What were the Renaissance oil painting’s portrayal of wealth like?

A: During the Renaissance period, oil paintings depicted wealth and prestige as proof of God’s favor towards the ruling classes. Q: What was the shift in economic systems during modernity?

A: The shift in economic systems during modernity was from feudalism to capitalism. Q: What did Berger argue about the ruling class’s ideology and their portrayal of the lower classes in art?

A: Berger argued that the ruling class’s ideology was present in the way art depicted the lower classes, portraying them as props or objects to be consumed by the ruling class. Q: Can art be entirely free from the ruling class’s ideological influence?

A: According to Berger, it is impossible for art to be entirely free from the ruling class’s ideological influence. Q: What can artists do to break from ruling class ideology in art?

A: Berger believed that artists could break from ruling class ideology in art by representing the struggles of the working class.

Popular Posts