Schiller v Marx, on the Social Function and Historical Location of Art (Bite-Sized Study Guide)

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HOW DOES SCHILLER’S ACCOUNT OF ART’S HISTORICAL LOCATION & SOCIAL FUNCTION COMPARE WITH THAT OF MARX?

Schiller sees art as paramount to a successful society, possessing the power to ‘civilise and bring compassion to mankind’[1]. According to Schiller, art is an active element of any civilisation. It should be used to address the state of moral affairs and to aid the ‘construction of true political freedom’[2]. The artist has the power to guide their fellow man in all aspects of life. He charges them with the responsibility of moral inspiration.

Moreover, he sees art as the solution to politics. Schiller states that the problem of ‘politics in practice’[3] should be approached ‘through the problem of the aesthetic, because it is only through Beauty that man makes his way to Freedom’[4]. Schiller acknowledges politics as the greatest problem of all, as it dictates to a large extent ‘the very fate of mankind’[5].

This implies that art serves another social function: by shaping the consciousness of individuals, art has the power to influence society as a whole, ‘[shaping] things to come’[6]. This directly contrasts with the views of Marx, who believed that a man’s ‘social being… determines [his] consciousness’[7].

Schiller’s ‘freedom’ requires proper education. However, Schiller’s concept of education is very different to that of our modern society. Schiller shies away from our ‘all-dividing Intellect’[8]; that is, our tendency to compartmentalise areas of knowledge and to specialise. He believes that static categories encourage intellectuals to take up ‘hostile positions in their respective fields… [guarded] with jealous mistrust’[9].

His idea of an education is freer and more elusive. Schiller states that the key to education is ‘the experience of beauty’[10], and the ‘elevation of mind and soul’[11] is possible through art. He associates the production of art with playful, unrestricted impulse; a complete artistic freedom.

Schiller is willing to concede that the ‘fragmentation of [man’s] being’[12] was inevitable, but thinks we should aim to defy it. He promotes the idea that all things are worth knowing; an approach reminiscent of the Classical thinkers. Indeed, Schiller expressed his reverie of the Greeks’ civilization in particular.


[1] ‘Friedrich Von Schiller’, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg571

[2] Friedrich Von Schiller, from ‘Second Letter’ in On The Aesthetic Education of Man, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg573

[3] Schiller, ‘Second Letter’, On The Aesthetic Education of Man, pg574

[4] Schiller, ‘Second Letter’, On The Aesthetic Education of Man, pg574

[5] Schiller, ‘Second Letter’, On The Aesthetic Education of Man, pg574

[6] Leitch, ‘Friedrich Von Schiller’, pg572

[7] Karl Marx, from ‘Preface’ to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg775

[8] Friedrich Von Schiller, from ‘Sixth Letter’ in On The Aesthetic Education of Man, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg575

[9] Schiller, ‘Second Letter’, On The Aesthetic Education of Man, pg576

[10] Leitch, ‘Friedrich Von Schiller’, pg571

[11] Leitch, ‘Friedrich Von Schiller’, pg572

[12] Schiller, ‘Second Letter’, On The Aesthetic Education of Man, pg578

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8 thoughts on “Schiller v Marx, on the Social Function and Historical Location of Art (Bite-Sized Study Guide)

  1. Really like this post, especially as it sounds like Schiller would like the subtitle of my blog. 🙂 Too bad that Marx did not write more on art. When he allowed himself to drift into that field, he had some interesting insights, as in his speculating about ancient Greek art. “Why should not the historical childhood of mankind, where mankind is displayed at its most beautiful, exercise an eternal charm as a never-recurring stage?”

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  2. I can only say Schiller would annoy me. He sounds too optimistic, not realistic enough for his ideas to apply to the public at large, and potentially as difficult to pin down as Rousseau. I haven’t read Marx, but I am not inclined to think art can be a functional aspect of political dynamics. We don’t all “get” art, and the same certainly holds with politics–but art can be unpopular, and that kind of creativity is no more a solution in political discourse than difficult legislation in Congress… or Parliament, in your case?…

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    • I agree – he has a tendency towards making big claims which fall down when you try to practically apply his ideas. There’s too many exceptions and discrepancies in his ideas for them to actually be applicable to society at large. I seem to find a lot of philosophers from his era Making this same mistake.

      I do think that art can have political functions – as both a sign of conformity, and also of resistance – but I agree that it does not necessarily operate as a functional aspect of the political dynamic. I think politics is all about control, and I don’t think art is necessarily a force which can be tempered to meet politicians’ requirements… there’s a fine line, after all, between art and marketing/propaganda. It’s all about intention.

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  3. Reblogged this on Spirit in Politics and commented:
    I thought this was a fresh look at art and politics, so I’m reblogging. Thanks, J M Weselby!

    “Schiller states that the problem of ‘politics in practice’[3] should be approached ‘through the problem of the aesthetic, because it is only through Beauty that man makes his way to Freedom’”

    Like

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