In The Necessity of Art Ernst Fischer develops a Marxist aesthetics in the humanist tradition, arguing art’s necessity as both a vehicle of social criticism and as an essential element of humanity. These twin themes place Fischer’s work, then, at the centre of issues in Marxist aesthetics that have traditionally proved contentious: firstly, about the function of art, both under capitalism and universally; and about the relationship – causal or otherwise – between economic conditions and art. Fischer’s aesthetics overemphasises the humanising possibilities of great works of art to the neglect of an everyday aesthetics that argues the possibilities for aesthetic lives based on good work under communism. But he provides a theoretic start to effectively countering structuralist Marxism, and he was in his lifetime – as John Berger’s Introduction movingly conveys – a powerful opponent of the bureaucratisation of art under Zhdanov’s Socialist-Realist creed.
ZhdanovAndrei Alexandrovich‘Soviet Literature – The Richest in Ideas: The Most Advanced Literature’Soviet Writers’ Congress 1934: The Debate on Socialist Realism and Modernism1977LondonLawrence and Wishart
Graham1997p. 109 distinguishes between essentialist theories of art that he calls ‘philosophical’ and ‘sociological’ accounts interested only in art as a social phenomenon that he equates with Marxism – I challenge that latter equation in what follows.
Lethaby1922p. 167 proposes a ‘philosophy of right labour’ to replace ‘narrow vague and betraying theories of aesthetics’ that ignore conditions of production in accounting for beauty in made things.
Marx and Engels1974‘Introduction’ by Stefan Morawski.
Gropius1919. Revealingly Fischer makes no mention of any design (or crafts) movements in his account of art.
Benjamin1955. Note again that Fischer’s text does not provide detailed references so I have surmised the exact source of Benjamin’s argument.