art and market

Image: Elyeser Szturm


The market, by itself, has neither interest nor instruments to take into account the symbolic condensation of the art object.

The conquest of the autonomy of art is historically indisputable. From a social-historical point of view, autonomous is art that is independent of any institution. This process, which began in the Italian Renaissance, would not have been possible without the emergence of a clientele that, little by little, replaced the art that until then had been commissioned by ecclesiastical dignitaries and patrons. The autonomy of art presupposes, therefore, its progressive detachment from the aristocracy, the appearance of a bourgeois milieu and the formation of the market.

This social transformation corresponds to the abandonment of previously legitimized and traced models of the world of things, that is, the renunciation of the model of “imitation”. The autonomous artist becomes the one who dispenses with a guild or, necessarily, with a specific patron and who can now merge his own personal traits to the representation of the greatest figure in the Christian universe, the figure of Christ, as is the case, above all , in Dürer's 1500 self-portrait.

The abandonment of the institutionalized function of art presupposes the extraordinary expansion of its expressive universe. The world is no longer limited to a sacred vision, and portraits are no longer glorifying heroes (princes, saints, generals) to express modest characters or even domestic situations, as in the realism of Dutch painting. In contempt of the standard of "imitation” began, progressively, to correspond to the possibility of a non-representational, non-referential expression. It should be noted by the way: although the expansion of abstract art only became generalized in the XNUMXth century, it was already considered in the XNUMXth century in Germany.

For example, in the novel The Pilgrimages of Franz Sternbald (1798), by Ludwig Tieck, whose protagonist is a painter, there are frequent passages that associate the praise of the subject's autonomy with the autonomy of the pictorial work. This brings with it the possibility of thinking about a painting that would only figure itself: “The highest art can only explain itself; it is a song, whose content is capable of being only in itself”.

In the same way, in the set of fragments that Friedrich Schlegel left unpublished, written around 1800, those numbered 27 and 860 are decisive: “The portrait is exactly as idolatrous with regard to the individuality of man as the landscape is with regard to that of nature. ”. “Pure painting but as an arabesque. One should be able to paint hieroglyphically, without mythology. A philosophical painting.”

These are the indispensable points: (1) the disappearance of service art would not have the known historical extension without the parallel expansion of the market. Hence the question: if it is indisputable that the market favored the autonomy of art, what would one say today about the relationship between both?; (2) to the abandonment of the principle of "imitation”, affirmed with all letters in the third Kantian critique [Faculty of Judgment Review, ed. University Forensics], corresponds to the awareness of the meaning of the vector “referentiality”. Both are related to the legitimation of the psychologically defined subject. It treats them very concisely.

I don't think anyone seriously considers that the presence of the market favors the effective circulation of art. Effective circulation of the work of art means the contact of the receiver with the symbolic character of the work. Now, by its own rules, the market transforms everything it touches into “exchange value”. As “exchange value” is exclusively an economic determination, the market, by itself, has no interest nor would it have instruments to take into account the symbolic condensation of the art object.

To quickly explain what is meant by symbolic condensation, I use Georg Simmel's essay (1916) on Rembrandt. Artistic creation is similar to a “soul germ” that presents “a fully allotropic sequence of developments (…)”.

Starting the work from an “animic germ” means that it arises through “contamination” of the accidents of life that are striking for the artist or author. Such accidents, however, are still not enough for the configuration to take place. And that's because the "soul germ" is just a mere trigger. Which would not be the case if the work of art were the appropriate discourse for confession, for redemptive catharsis. This anti-confessionalism is in the work because it presents a “fully allotropic sequence of developments”.

The decisive term is “allotropy”: the “property that some chemical elements have to present themselves with different forms and physical properties, such as density, spatial organization, electrical conductivity (for example, “graphite and diamond are allotropic forms of carbon ”, “Houaiss Dictionary”). Between the vicissitudes of individual life, which are condensed in the work's “soul germ” and its configuration, there is, therefore, an allotropic and non-genetic process.

With the help of Simmel, the symbolic value of the work of art was made comprehensible: during its making, condensations are consciously and unconsciously introduced – superimpositions of lived or imagined experiences, masks, disguises, jokes, self-enigmas, etc. –, phenomena that are worth less for a psychic explanation (hence the frequent mistake of psychoanalytic approaches to art) than as formal procedures. If these resources provoke the allotropy that occurs between the “soul germ” and the presentation, the result is the work becomes symbolic (remember that, in classical Latin, “symbolus” meant “justifying piece of identity”).

The reason for the extremely serious disagreement between art and the market is therefore immediate: they are based on incomparable variables. How could the determination of market value consider the symbolic compact of art? The concrete situation then becomes: apart from the case of work commissioned by an institution (a museum or the State itself), for art to circulate today, it cannot do without the market.

It is the disparity between the “exchange value” and the symbolic condensation of the work that makes the divorce between art and society commanded by the market inevitable. Hence, fully autonomous art, that is, modern art, begins to cover itself with negative qualifications, that is, to give way to a philosophy of art guided by concepts of negativity. The autonomy of art, paradoxically, created a new servitude of its own. You cannot go back. But how to overcome the impasse?

Luiz Costa Lima is Professor Emeritus at PUC-Rio. Author, among other books, of Mimesis: Challenge to thought (Brazilian Civilization).

Originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulon November 17, 2002.


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