Certain figures merit special attention from historians of the arts because of their intuitive and prophetic perceptions which--though running counter to the prevailing practices, wishes, or beliefs of their contemporaries--nevertheless turn out to have been right. Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, was for a while unique among architects in sensing the profound influence that the automobile would have upon planning and design. William Morris, the influential nineteenth-century philosopher/craftsman, responded dramatically to the artistic crisis he felt had been generated by the Industrial Revolution and its machine production approach. Morris' feelings and fears about modern methods prompted a reaction in him going significantly beyond sentiments for some lost age. Expressing strong empathy for the working man, Morris--like Wright--believed that social and economic problems were intrinsic to art and architecture; his passionate idealism inspired him to extend these theories of art into social and political action, again like Wright, but both very differently from Duchamp.

In connection with his attempt to revive the medieval guild system, Morris sought to revive handicraft as a means of restoring the wellbeing of the individual worker dehumanized by the machine age. Through handicraft and applied arts, he felt, the workman could become once more a self-respecting personality instead of merely a human tool; and at the same time the products of the worker's hands would themselves be much improved in quality. Besides, the separation between the fine arts and the applied arts, a separation also deplored by Ruskin, would be abolished.

[ Egbert and Parsons, Socialism in American Life, Volume I, p. 651. ]

In our modern money economy, the issue is summed up tersely by the principle of paying fair and just compensation for work well done. This framing of the issue may be viewed as an extension, finally, of struggles by the early guilds and other collective organizations to gain both juridical and economic liberation from slavery. The deep dichotomy of freedom and slavery was tempered in the United States by constitutional guarantees of basic human rights, yet vestiges of the elemental issue stubbornly persist today in disputes-- sometimes subdued, sometimes fiercely controversial--as between workers and bosses, the people and the police, or patrons and artists.

Marcel Duchamp's insight shines like the light-house beacon of André Breton's metaphare, illuminating many of the implications that mass-production would have for making art. The special nature of Duchamp's genius could be seen in his almost Taoist willingness to flow with the consequences of industrial production-line challengesto the ego of the individual artist, and to the preciousness of art as one-of-a-kind, scarcity-commodity stuff. Duchamp's great lesson is an affirmation--or at least an accommodation--permitting the use of machine materials and techniques in the representation of our human mental, emotional and physical (especially sexual) functions through the symbolism of the machine, while seeing in all this no need whatso-ever to sacrifice either artistic dignity or one's sense of humor.

A melodramatic interpretation of Duchamp's With Hidden Noise might see it as Liberty and Freedom in contrast with slavery. The ball of twine--the only component of the piece known to be organic--would symbolize Life, trapped and pressed between the two brass plates, and constrained by the brass bolts (like prison bars) at the four corners. By extension, the twine could be interpreted as the life line of a human being, following an ancient symbolism. Or, it may be seen to represent Freedom Constrained, wound up in a fetal position, as it were, resisting external pressures while protecting its free space within: the safe hiding place for its secret treasure. The resilience of the twine, composed of strands twisted like the double helix of DNA, suggests qualities of flexibility and expansion...but also a potential for being tied in knots; the two machined plates compress the ball of twine like some Kafkesque engine of torture, or foreboding an inward, inexorable crush like the movable walls in Edgar Allen Poe's horror story, "The Pit and the Pendulum."

No matter how fondly Americans talk about liberty and freedom, surprisingly little is taught in our modern school curriculum about how these concepts have interacted with the actual history of slavery. The specter lurks just one step removed from the subject of money and work, that is, of wages or salaries as fair compensation. This issue has NOT been resolved with the mere termination of formal indenture; indeed, the economic exploitation of workers still remains an onerous global problem with manifold implications for international relations, the balance of payments, and trade deficits. True, heinous slavery has all but disappeared, although the widespread abuse of human rights lends a hollow ring to this claim. The maquiladora sweatshops just south of the border perpetuate cruel and exploitative approximations of slavery; while the government of South Africa had, until just recently, cut itself off from respectful humanity with its national policy of apartheid. To some extent, the lack of realistic, fair employment opportunities for minorities, young people, or single mothers, also forces citizens of the United States to admit serious practical limitations on the meanings they give to liberty or freedom.

One of the main ways in which these concepts about slavery and freedom have come down to us involves the symbolism of Egypt that so moved and inspired America's founders. By the end of the eighteenth century, although fads of belief in Egyptian magic had declined among Europe's upper classes, a widespread interest in non-European civilizations persisted among the intelligentsia. This was sparked by early work on the material associated with Hermes Trismegistos by scholars such as Marsilio Ficino and Giordano Bruno during the Renaissance, which had helped both Egypt and China to gain and enjoy great renown.

Both were seen as having superior writing systems representing ideas, not sounds; and both had profound ancient philosophies. Their most attractive feature, however, seems to have been that they were ruled rationally, without superstition, by a corps of men recruited for their morality and required to undergo rigorous initiation and training.

[ Martin Bernal, Black Athena, I, p. 25. ]

But this esteem for other cultures began to change in late 17th-century England, as Martin Bernal argues in his radical study Black Athena, especially with the development of racism based on skin color

alongside the increasing importance of the American colonies, with their twin policies of extermination of the Native Americans and enslavement of African Blacks.

[ Bernal, Black Athena, I, p. 27. The following passage, summarizing some major points in Professor Bernal's argument, is based on his own forthright account in the "Introduction" to Volume I. ]

At the close of the 18th century, a tide of Judeo-Christian apologists, co-opting doctrines of racism and "the paradigm of progress," were abetted by the establishment of modern disciplinary scholarship, pioneered at Göttingen, founded in 1734 by George II, Elector of Hannover and King of England. Academic institutions then, instead of writing histories of individuals, increasingly gave their cachet to studies of peoples and "races." Eventually this became, for Anglo-Germanic Europeans, the insidious touting of their imagined Greek and Aryan ancestors to the detriment of all others, in the teeth of historical fact, such as the unquestionably authentic ancient Greek affirmations of Egypt's importance. Slavery-justifying Christian zeal at first allowed, through biblical affinities, values in the Semitic tradition, which was "less African" than was Egypt. But these academic rationalizations for the exploitation of non-white or of "less-white" peoples eventually led to a pronounced decline in the previously venerable estimation of the civilizations of China and Egypt,

as the balance of trade between the two turned in Europe's favour and the British and French carried out increasingly large-scale attacks on China. [Bernal argues that] these factors necessitated the image of China from one of a refined and enlightened civilization to one of a society filled with drugs, dirt, corruption and torture. Ancient Egypt, which in the 18th century had been seen as a very close parallel to China, suffered from the same effects of the need to justify the increasing European expansion into other continents and maltreatment of their indigenous peoples. Both were flung into prehistory to serve as a solid and inert basis for the dynamic development of the superior races, the Aryans and the Semites.

[ Bernal, Black Athena, I, p. 29. ]

Academics sought to discredit all records of Egyptian expeditions and colonial ventures across the Mediterranean through the application of a new Aryan Model of history, lauding the conquests of supposedly strong and vital, "superior" peoples over what were now seen as inferior "races." This self- congratulatory theory of human racial classification was grounded on the pseudo-scientific concept of "Caucasians," invented in the 1770s by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a Professor at Göttingen. Together with a racist Christian evangelism, not only was the destruction of any surviving non-European cultures excused, but also the attempt was made to subvert or deny the Ancient Model of history which had come down from antiquity itself, despite some modifications by the Church Fathers, to the eighteenth century.

During the 19th century a number of mathematicians and astronomers were "seduced" by what they saw as the mathematical elegance of the Pyramids into believing that they were the repositories of a higher ancient wisdom. They were classified as cranks for this triple offence against professionalism, racism and the concept of "progress"--the three cardinal beliefs of the 19th century....Another way of looking at these changes is to assume that after the rise of black slavery and racism, European thinkers were concerned to keep black Africans as far as possible from European civilization.

[ Bernal, Black Athena, I, p. 30. The emphasis was given by Bernal. ]


The pyramid complexes at Saqqara and Giza, with the extraordinary quality of their technical craftsmanship, inaugurated the history of monumental, cut stone architecture in the Egypt of five thousand years ago. Scholars frequently wonder just how these vast building projects were accomplished, for contrary to popular misconceptions, institutionalized slavery was probably not practiced in Old Kingdom Egypt. Despite the fanciful illustrations from old National Geographics presuming to show Pharaoh's Overseer a-whuppin' slaves, participation in a great collective opera and theater such as the building of the pyramids may well have been conferred as a mark of social privilege requiring technical training and preliminary spiritual purification.

In the later history of Egypt, it seems the invading Hyksos of the Middle Kingdom around B.C. 1785 utilized some forced labor, as did subsequent Egyptian dynasties. We must also recall that in Classical times, the "democracy" of Athenian Greece was highly selective in its application of political and economic freedoms, and that slaves were used both to mine silver and to build the Parthenon. Furthermore, such policies of employing slave labor were greatly extended under Rome.

We know that there were in Roman times collegia, guilds of architects; but there existed at that time no necessity for guilds of masons and stonemasons since such work was done by slaves for whom, being without rights, no legal regulations whatsoever were possible. The slaves' revolts were not able to achieve any permanent liberation for these unhappy masses of human beings....The masons' guilds occupy a position in time between the Roman collegia and the lodges.

[ Frankl, The Gothic, p. 110 f. ]

Slavery was the norm for Roman building projects until the year 301 A.D. when a group of heroic stonemasons refused to work on a project for the Emperor Diocletian and retired to the mountaintop security of San Marino to found one of the world's oldest surviving republics. Eventually, practical skills won a certain strategic bargaining power for stonemasons and brickmasons in Northern Italy, inducing the Lombard King Rothari to promulgate laws in 643 AD that defined certain rights for their guild, called the comacini.

This documentation also specified certain responsibilities the guild organization of stonemasons said it would assume in case one of its members were killed on the job, such as care for the fresh widow, and implicitly for the mason's children. This very likely indicates one of the historical roots for ideas that, centuries later, evolved as widows' pensions, children's hospitals, restrictions on child labor, and programs for universal education. The contracting employer (whether the patron represented the church OR the state) was relieved of all such responsibilities, suggesting that the stonemasons also probably assumed the obligation to perform last rites, i.e. that they asserted control over their own destinies in matters of both life AND death. In the most practical and basic terms, this legislation represents the earliest extant record of the efforts by ordinary people to guarantee, by law, their literal freedom to go up or down the road. To this same end--although the issue was argued a bit differently--Martin Luther King, Jr. organized the great Freedom Marches of 1968: he and the many with him courageously demonstrating this fundamental freedom on behalf of all human beings. For, as tradition holds, any true king (or queen) must be able to pass freely throughout the realm.

But the process of eliminating slavery in Europe was very slow, lasting into the tenth century [and, in places, even later]. The freedom of the individual was, moreover, not immediately and for everyone the freedom of modern man in democratic countries; for slavery was followed by serfdom, the juridical attachment of the peasant to the soil, and by the binding tie of the townsman to the city. Only some callings afforded freedom to move from place to place, among them that of the stonemasons, who very early freed themselves from city jurisdiction in order to wander freely to places where ecclesiastical construction attracted experienced workmen. From their associations developed the firmly knit organizations that we call in a narrower sense medieval lodges.

That this Lombard guild was descended from the Roman collegia is possible but has not been proved, and indeed almost everything that has been written further on the comacini lacks historical evidence. The interest shown by the "Freemasons" in the history of the "freemasons" and the literature resulting therefrom make the study of this confused subject difficult.

[ Frankl, The Gothic, p. 111 f. ]

It is important to emphasize that the freedom of stonemasons was not just a figurative concession, but represented explicit relief from geographical constraints. In fact, the wanderjahr was a required year of travel--visiting other sites and working with other masters--before one could earn the title of "journeyman." The guild, and later the lodge, was made up of individual masons; in turn, the locals also interacted to form a larger organization that included all members of the craft. These relationships suggest a poetic analogy between the collective consciousness with its individual members, and the building constructed of different stones, yet with each of them precisely cut and fitted together to form a higher order of the Unity. The Lombard masons did not usually build with stone, but were great masters of architectural construction in brick. And for all that, bricks bring us even closer than stones to the ideas associated with mass-production.


Marcel Duchamp was very clear about the need to protect his creative freedom, and was determined not to leave it to the whimsical munificence or other caprice of patrons. Unwilling to make artistic compromises to appease polite, bourgeois society, Duchamp resolved to reduce his wants to a frugal, almost ascetic minimum. In order to pay incidental bills, he took a succession of humble yet dignified jobs, such as library assistant at the Bibliothque Sainte Genevive, translating or tutoring in French, and occasionally dealing works of art. In actual practice Duchamp all but removed his own art from the world of commerce; some pieces were executed on commission, but many were simply given away to friends. Thus, Duchamp finessed the recurrent "material question" and the problem of "right livelihood," with his studied, scrupulous, unorthodox attitude toward making money: just break even. In an interview with James Johnson Sweeney he once said,

I didn't want to depend on my painting for a living.

[ Sanouillet, Salt Seller, p. 133. ]

Duchamp revealed his general attitude toward commerce in a series of interviews with the critic Pierre Cabanne, conducted shortly before the artist's death. The point of departure was, understandably, the status Duchamp had finally achieved. Works such as the Nude Descending a Staircase and Fountain had early supplied feature stories for the popular press in America, bringing Duchamp a great deal of public attention (both fame and notoriety) and recognition by the art world:

[ Cabanne, Dialogues, pp. 57, 63, 75. ]


Artists and architects, because they directly transform the stuff of material reality, have always been more susceptible to the physical constraints and controls associated with bondage and slavery than those working in cerebral media such as poets or philosophers. But the lot of performing artists, since they had to be physically present, was even worse. Although the means of expression for musicians or dancers are even more ethereal than that of the writer or painter--who could at least leave the material record of their work and move on--"professional" entertainers in many societies were often slaves giving command performances in the strict meaning of that phrase, true in a certain sense right down to recent times. Orchestras and the ballet, and much of the theater, survive because of massive underwriting from private patronage and public funds. Only since the 1950s, when the development of high-fidelity sound recording brought into being physical commodities that could be mass-produced and marketed (first records, then tapes and video discs)--only then did performance artists in general--and not only opera stars--make some "real money."

In antiquity, painters, sculptors and architects were regarded as seldom more than menial laborers, only infrequently glorified as when Perikles praised the sculptor Phidias. This hierarchical view was rationalized by a concept of the material in dialectical opposition to the spiritual, derived in part from the philosophy of Plato, and later reiterated by the Neo-Platonists. The production of paintings and sculptures, in fact, was relegated usually to slaves; on the other hand a gentleman could practice those other seemly arts that eschewed gross matter and were held to engage, principally, the higher mind.

The bias surfaced in urbane Renaissance fashion when Benedetto Varchi (1503-1565) originated the Question Man routine. In 1546, he presented two lectures at the Florentine Academy on the subject of the relative excellences of the arts; then Varchi conceived the brilliant notion of expanding the discussion to include a public opinion poll. Exploiting the domain of popular information newly generated by the revolutionary advent of printing, he asked various notable respondents which did they think--painting or sculpture--was the superior art? Leonardo da Vinci took the bait, and proclaiming disdain for the marble chips and dust in the typical sculptor's hair, he pronounced

that sculpture is less intellectual than painting and lacks many characteristics of Nature.

[ This is a translation of the actual wording for one of the headings in Leonardo's Paragone, which term itself was first used as a title for Leonardo's notes in 1817 by G. Manzi in his 1817 edition of Trat-ato della pittura di Leonardo da Vinci. See, Elizabeth Gilmore Holt, Literary Sources of Art History: An Anthology of Texts from Theophilus to Goethe, Princeton University Press (1947), pp. 170, and 178-179. ]

Three years later, Varchi published his lectures together with polemic replies of the opinion poll from the various artists and cognoscenti, including this engaging response from Michelangelo:

It would be an easy matter to establish harmony between them [painting and sculpture], and to let such disputes alone, for they occupy more time than the execution of the figures themselves. As to that man who wrote saying that painting was more noble than sculpture, as though he knew as much about it as he did of the other subjects on which he has written, why, my serving maid would have written better.

[ Holt, Literary Sources, p. 205. ]

The Renaissance struggle to acquire new social dignity for artists was the culmination of a long process devoted to achieving freedom from slavery for people who worked with their hands, and to securing that liberation by the guarantee of law. The charismatic figure of Michelangelo--who was called il divino, the "divine," even while he lived--commanded a social respect for sculptors that was new, anyway, in the Western world. But he also earned fame as a painter, as a very accomplished poet (whose sonnets still rank among the finest in all of Italian literature), and--most importantly perhaps for the intellectual snobbery of the period--he was legitimately qualified as a Neo-Platonic philosopher. Somewhat earlier, with the swiftly increasing influence of scholars and printers in the latter half of the fifteenth century, painters and graphic artists, too, had begun to win commercial as well as social respect. This appeal for prestige has a complex history based upon the desire to gain for the graphic arts, sometimes simply by association, a standing that had been accorded generally to literature and poetry since antiquity.

[ See, Rensselaer W. Lee, Ut Pictura Poesis: The Humanistic Theory of Painting, Norton, New York (1967). ]

Participating in a commercial economy allowed some favored artists to achieve real freedom and independence as a sort of social bounty from the expanded commercial enterprise of the Renaissance.

As Duchamp knew, however, artists who purvey their work in the market- place are subject to the vagaries of the purchasing public or to the inordinate influences of patrons. We mentioned the tragic example of Mozart, who replaced Christof Willibald von Gluck as Court Chamber Musician in Vienna for the Emperor Joseph II. Gluck's salary had been 2000 florins a year, but Mozart was offered only 800, amounting to a venal saving to the empire of 1200 florins per year. This delighted the Emperor, who kept asking the composer for dances, more dances.

Even sadder to say, when Joseph II died, his successor Leopold II ignored Mozart altogether. Who can miss seeing in this an example of the most stunning, arrogant insouciance? Among the most poignant letters of this period are those of the dying Mozart to his friend and fellow Freemason, the Viennese merchant, Michael Puchberg.

Fate is so much against me, though only in Vienna, that even when I want to, I cannot make any money. In a week or a fortnight I shall be better off--for certain--but at present I am in want. Could you not assist me with a trifle? It would make all the difference at the moment. You would, at least for the moment, bring peace of mind to

your true friend, servant and brother,

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

[ Emily Anderson, The Letters of Mozart and his Family, Macmillan, London (1938), Volume 3, No. 567, pp. 1383-1385; and No. 583, p. 1400. See also, Wilhelm A. Bauer and Otto Erich Deutsch, Mozart: Briefe und Aufzeichnungen {Herausgegeben von der Internationalen Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg}, Brenreiter, Kassel (1963), Band IV, No. 1105 (July 12-14, 1787), p. 92 f.; and No. 1132 (August 14, 1790), p. 111. Mozart's prose phrasing, as with his melodic lines, is always moving: "Könnten Sie mir denn nicht mit einer Kleinigkeit an die Hand gehen?" Noted on the letter was: "Sent, on August 14th, 1790, 10 gulden (florins)." ]

The economic pressures upon artists and architects are the continuation of the same old squeeze: the people with money still have it BECAUSE THEY DON'T GIVE IT to the people without money. They delay payments, make promises, and egregiously extend (their own) credit, asking others first to perform work and then to wait, if only until the end of the week, for payday. Nevertheless, as the writer and watercolorist Henry Miller observed in a prime Duchampian spirit:

Men imagine they need money, that if they had it they could satisfy their desires, cure their ills, insure their old age, and so on. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For if it were so that money could accomplish all these miracles, then the happiest man on earth would be the millionaire, which is obviously an untruth. Naturally those who have neither enough to eat nor a place to sleep are just as miserable as the millionaire, perhaps even more miserable, though it is difficult at times to say with certainty. As always, the golden mean obtains. He is sure to be more happy who has eaten well and slept well and has besides a little money in his jeans. Such men are rare to find for the simple reason that most men are incapable of appreciating the wisdom of such a simple truth.

[ Henry Miller, "Money and How it Gets That Way," Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, New Directions, New York (1962), p. 153. ]

Marcel Duchamp appears to have been one of those rare individuals who was both capable of appreciating such wisdom, and also successful in applying it to his real life situation. By maintaing his balance on this high-principled, low-budget economic tightrope, Duchamp was able to preserve intact a certain artistic liberty so compromised with lamentable frequency by other spirits, less deeply dedicated or simply less well-favored by fortune.


A natural integration of Art with Life typifies the balanced cultures and whole, healthy societies of most traditional peoples, such as the South African Hottentots and other tribes of the Kalahari region, the Hopi of the American Southwest, the Huichols of the Sierra Madre in Mexico, as well as the sophisticated Balinese. Wherever people have managed to hold together a traditional way of life, integrating patterns of art and ritual along with day-to-day activities, there is obviously no need to construct artificial bridges between Art and Life, because an artificial distinction has not been drawn between them to begin with. The pattern of Duchamp's own integrated art and life would represent common practice in a traditional society. Even so, an artist-shaman member of the tribe could sometimes have visions which transgressed conventional notions of the Beautiful or the Appropriate. Creative individuals like Duchamp might very well prefer--constitutionally--to work alone, insulating the freedom of their intellectual or visionary processes, since an inward psychic or aesthetic integration of Art and Life does not automatically transfer outwardly to maintaining good relations in the social domain.

The cleaving--or separation--of Art from Life begins whenever any society tries to tame or constrain the personal, magical, ecstatic, or shamanic visions of its members. Indeed, authentic spiritual and artistic activity may be disturbing, unpredictably idiosyncratic, and not necessarily dedicated to perpetuating respect for the status quo or the majority's collective peace of mind. Historically, social institutions have sought to render the primordial Aesthetic Event less potentially disruptive and psychically threatening to law-abiding citizens, through the agency of political intimidation and outright forceful repression: controlling priesthoods and censors of whatever self-righteous stripe, or simply through a system of economics, insuring a financially compromised class of artisans and "fine" artists.

Official art, now as always, illustrates images and beliefs chosen for their support of the prevailing--often imposed--political, social and religious institutions. The stylistic character of such art is usually representational since that is the easiest, most readily apparent way in which the image-manipulators can imagine art actually working. Modern governments, always a bit anxious about the mysterious power of art, still eagerly call it to debased service as a vehicle of propaganda, pushing ideal images of doctrinally catechized life: just as likely so far from real life as it is from genuine magic. That is to say, real art once functioned as the power and expressive magic of a vision embodied by the individual piece or performance, but from the very beginning of the generic socializing process, the prevailing criterion for Art involved judgments about the effectiveness with which it represented, not necessarily the spirit of Life itself, but only that image of life promoted by controlling social interests--and by the spiritual and economic ideologies--of powerful patrons.

A symptomatic account of this transformation is contained in the Jicarilla Apache story of Black Hactcin who, like the Kachinas in Hopi and Pueblo communities, personifies the powers and energies at work and play in the spectacle of nature. After the extended drama of creation, the Hactcin challenge the power of individual shamans to bring back the sun during an eclipse, selecting the best performers (by ritually painting them blue and white, or with stripes) to be the founding members of the Tsanati dance society and priestly clowns. Yet it was essential to incorporate the shamans in the ceremonial system, since they had power and could not be left out.

It would be difficult to find a clearer statement of the process by which the individualistic shamans, in their paleolithic style of magical practice, were discredited by the guardians of the group-oriented, comparatively complex organization of a seed-planting, food-growing community. Lined up, fitted into uniform, they were given a place in the liturgical structure of a larger whole. The episode thus represents the victory of a socially annointed priesthood over the highly dangerous and unpredictable force of individual endowment.

The highest concern of all the mythologies, ceremonials, ethical systems, and social organizations of the agriculturally based societies has been that of suppressing the manifestations of individualism; and this has been generally achieved by compelling or persuading people to identify themselves not with their own interests, intuitions, or modes of experience, but with the archetypes of behavior and systems of sentiment developed and maintained in the public domain.

But, on the other hand, there have always been those who have very much wished to remain alone, and have done so, achieving sometimes, indeed, even that solitude in which the Great Spirit, the Power, the Great Mystery that is hidden from the group in its concerns is intuited with the inner impact of an immediate force.

The dragon "Thou shalt," as Nietzsche terms the social fiction of the moral law, has been slain by the lion of self-discovery; and the master roars--as the Buddhists phrase it--the lion roar: the roar of the great Shaman of the mountain peaks, of the void beyond all horizons, and of the bottomless abyss.

[ Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, Volume I, pp. 238-240. ]

In the West, both church and state patronized artists so long as their work proved useful in supporting or extending respective estab-lished institutional advantages. During the Renaissance, a significant new body of middle-class patrons emerged, joining both evangelism and empire in seeking--through patronage and the acquisition of art--to legitimize their share of the spoils from commerce and conquest. The practice of collecting art as a trophy of sanctity, power, or glory by bishop, prince or general, became for the bourgeois businessman, rather, a simple-minded token for celebrating wealth and appealing for social acceptance. Artists then used stylistic realism in satire, parody, and caricature as the natural means for a subversive revenge.

From an analytical or theoretical approach, we could describe the increasing divergence of Art from Life since the fifteenth century when, more by accretion than by the genius of a single vision, Art gradually erected about itself its own world. Renaissance architecture is set dramatically against the landscape; Renaissance sculpture contemplates man almost always isolated from nature; even the picture frame of Alberti's perspective system implies an objective, removed point of view. Hardly anyone--not even in the period of the High Renaissance, still less so in antiquity--used a word quite like "aesthetics"; nor had the idea of treating theories of Beauty as a subset of philosophy much occurred to anyone before the eighteenth century. When Art became a blatant collectible commodity, its divorce from magical acts of inherent spirituality was virtually complete.

For most of the conquered peoples of the New Worlds, what was once an integral practice of art, by and of the tribe, simply ceased to exist. Almost all the art of these peoples was stolen, consumed by fire or slashed by the sword; and the peoples themselves--or those who survived the cataclysms and sword-edge--were ravaged unspeakably by disease, emotionally devastated, and cruelly, inexorably, spiritually subjugated: whether under the sign of the Cross or under those of the pound sterling, the guilder, franc, mark, real, escudo, or the dollar.

Only marginal societies survived reasonably intact, living in areas where exploitable natural wealth was not immediately obvious. Among those European peasants newly amalgamated into urban masses, once-authentic folk expressions, dislocated from native circumstances, took on a canned and sentimental quality. Finally, bizarre mutations of aesthetic sensibility and entrepreneurial permutations of venality coupled to beget the bastard commodies of modern-day mass culture.


Both the lever and the leaven in all this was lucre. In contrast with mass tastes, a pervasive but fickle market mentality came to define the fine arts as scarcity commodities: if chic and rare, then expensive. Though they produced works now valued as very great art, for example, latter-day visionary shamans like Van Gogh and Cézanne, while they lived, couldn't sell a handful of paintings between them.

The material question (i.e. money) aside, the dialectic between Art and Life fluctuates wildly according to changing tastes and styles in art. The same vulgar criticism directed at Duchamp's art by half a century of ordinary citizens with strong opinions was endured earlier by Caravaggio and Courbet, and has been suffered since by Andy Warhol. A recurrent objection from obstreperous contempories is that the Beautiful is not kept distinct ENOUGH from the Real. Nevertheless, most art historians agree these painters each made significant contri-butions toward bridging an aesthetic ginnandgo gap: that peculiar Western penchant for separating Art from Life, or Life from Art.

The French Church in Rome refused to pay Michelangelo de Merisi, called Caravaggio, for his altarpiece of Saint Matthew because of the indiscreet depiction of the Evangelist with bare feet, and the explicitly offensive illusory projection of one big toe toward the often-fancied eye of the hypothetical viewer. Unscrupulous fellow painters of the age borrowed Caravaggio's dramatic innovations in composition and the use of chiaroscuro, while many of the very same artists were denouncing him vociferously as the antichrist of painting. Caravaggio's naturalism had much in common with the spirit of lay Christianity; but hypocically it was the aesthetic judgement of early modern mass man that branded Caravaggio as "unacceptable." The Italian artist mysteriously disappeared in 1610, after having been charged with murder; even so, as most beginning art history students are expected to learn, his direct portrayal of life exerted a

profound--though indirect--influence on Rembrandt, the greatest religious artist of the Protestant North.

In Italy, Caravaggio fared less well. His work was acclaimed by [some] artists and connoisseurs, but to the man in the street, for whom it was intended, it lacked propriety and reverence. He resented meeting his likes in these paintings, preferring religious imagery of a more idealized and rhetorical sort.

[ Janson, History of Art, p. 500. ]

The nineteenth-century painter Gustave Courbet was in the same realist tradition as Caravaggio, and was denounced, like him, for a purported lack of spiritual content. In 1849 the official Academy and the art-judging public both heaped disparagement upon Courbet for his daring to depict the Stonebreakers, a class of artisans held to be unworthy as subjects for the noble and morally uplifting, fine art of oil painting. The canvas, among the treasures of pre-war Dresden, no longer exists, having been incinerated--along with one hundred and thirty-five thousand people and most of the physical city--in the deliberate 1945 firestorm caused by Allied bombing, as described by Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five). So much for nobility and moral uplift. Two of Courbet's other major works including the monumental L'Atelier were rejected by the 1855 Paris International Exhibition,

on the grounds that his subjects and figures were too coarsely materialistic (so much so as to be plainly "socialistic") and too large. Plain people of the kind he had shown in the Stonebreakers ...were considered (by the public) unsuitable for artistic representation and were linked in the middle-class mind with the dangerous, newly defined working class, which was finding outspoken champions in men like Marx, Engels, and [Courbet's friend] Proudhon. Courbet, rejected by the exhibition jury, set up his own gallery outside the grounds, calling it the Pavilion of Realism.

[ Helen Gardner's Art Through the Ages, revised by Horst de la Croix and Richard G. Tansey, Harcourt Brace, New York (Fifth edition, 1970), p. 664. ]

A century after Courbet, the disarmingly facile but fecund talent of Andy Warhol--not surprisingly first disciplined by producing commercial art--then shocked the fixated focus of fine art fanciers by offering images of automobile accidents and of the electric chair. Along with these perhaps all-too-real glimpses of life in the modern industrialized nation-state also came the iconic treatment of Campbell's Soup cans, Brillo Box sculptures, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, innovative movies, the world of fashion, silver hair and the phenomenon of the Interview.

All of these expressions induced viewers to cross Warhol's aesthetic bridge linking the rich real world to the farther shore of fine art. Correspondingly, Andy never discounted out-of-hand whatever was genuinely popular, thereby performing a grand artistic T'ai Chi move, trenchantly choosing and using with aplomb the products of mass-taste itself. Whereas Duchamp kept standard sensibilies at the rapier point of his elite art--both artists operating with a similar cunning humor and intelligence--Warhol SEEMED to remain the more lightly engaged. Andy Warhol's use of the ready-made principle typically started with an already powerful visual image. This is very different from Duchamp's casual attitude toward taste; Warhol's choices were precise and impeccable, the products of a brilliantly selective eye, astute editorial sensibilities, and an unerring talent to choose the perfect, quintessential, iconic representation. As a refined point of creative departure, he used the already attentively produced and painstakingly directed star images of Marilyn or Liz, carefully designed commercial labels, or the polished work of photojournalists. Warhol reminds us not only that Art follows Life, and Life follows Art, but that Art also (and most particularly) follows Art itself.

Work from each of these three exemplary artists helps to erect a bridge spanning the artificial chasm that cleaves European culture, otherwise so neurotically disposed to separate the notion of what Art is (or what it "should" be) from what is taken to be Life, or Reality. One very telling index of this syndrome can be seen in the art history textbooks from which a nationwide legion of culturally conditioned students derive their beliefs about Art. Above we cited two of the more popular studies of general art history in discussing Caravaggio and Courbet, on whom the academic party line is well-established. But how much have we really learned from the examples of their slow and spotty acceptance by society's would-be experts? The latest editions of both popular art history surveys (by Janson and Gardner as of 1990) still failed, scandalously, even to mention Andy Warhol. Marcel Duchamp, at any rate, has finally made it into these indices of pictorial posterity!

All the same, we should be cautious about reading too much into any purported associations of Duchamp's art with populist sentiments. Pierre Cabanne approached this issue in his Duchamp interviews with a reference to Guillaume Apollinaire's book, The Cubist Painters,

in which there is this amazing sentence: "It will perhaps be reserved for an artist as disengaged from aesthetic preoccupations, as occupied with energy as Marcel Duchamp, to reconcile Art and the People."

Duchamp: I told you: he would say anything. Nothing could have given him the basis for writing such a sentence. Let's say that he sometimes guessed what I was going to do, but "to reconcile Art and the People," what a joke! That's all Apollinaire! At the time I wasn't very important in the group, so he said to himself, "I have to write a little about him, about his friendship with Picabia." He wrote whatever came to him. It was no doubt poetic, in his opinion, but neither truthful nor exactly analytical. Apollinaire had guts, he saw things, he imagined others which were very good, but that assertion is his, not mine.

Cabanne: Especially since, at that time, you hardly bothered with communication with the public.

Duchamp: I couldn't have cared less.

[ Cabanne, Dialogues, p. 37 f. See also p. 80: Duchamp relates how, under the title of "benevolent technician," he exhibited his Rotoreliefs (1935) at a Paris industrial fair, the Concours Lepine. After a month he had sold one example for 30 francs.]