Date born: 1892
Place born: Temesvár, Hungary (modern Romania)
Date died: 1978
Place died: Budapest, Hungary
Marxist film and art historian. As a student of German and Romance languages in Budapest, Hauser (in 1916) joined the Sonntagskreis, where his friend and colleague Karl Mannheim (1893-1947) and the philosopher George Lukács (1885-1971) were members. In 1918 Hauser received his doctorate in German romantic aesthetics, assumed a professorship at the University in Budapest, and became the Director of the Reformrates (Council on Reform) of art history education. Following the Hungarian Counterrevolution in 1919, Hauser fled to Italy, where he first studied fine art. From 1920-1925 he lived in Berlin, attending the lectures of Adolph Goldschmidt (q.v.) and the historian Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923). Facing the expanding power of national socialism in Germany, Hauser moved to Vienna in 1925, where found employment as the promotions manager of a Viennese film company. During this time, he collected materials for his book, Dramaturgie und Soziologie des Films, which was never completed. He was also a member of the Austrian Film Censorship Advisory Board (Filmzensurbeirat) from 1933-36 and a docent of Film Theory and Technology at the Vienna Volkshochschule (community college). In 1938, Hauser fled to England to avoid Nazi persecution. Hauser wrote essays on film for the periodicals Life and Letters Today and Sight and Sound. At the request of his friend, Mannheim in 1941, he agreed to write an introduction to an anthology of the sociology of art. Over the course of ten years, working almost solely evenings and weekends, Hauser turned the assignment into his famous Sozialgeschichte der Kunst und Literatur, though first published in English The Social History of Art. The publication of the first volume in 1951 marked Hauser’s entry into academics. He became a visiting professor at the University of Leeds (1951-1957) working concurrently on volume two of the Social History and another book, Philosophy of Art History. After the theorist Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) invited him to lecture in Frankfurt, numerous German universities extended him additional invitations for him to lecture. In 1958 Hauser published the second volume of The Social History of Art. While a guest professor at Brandeis University (1957-59) he wrote a history of mannerism. He moved back to London in 1959 to lecture at Hornsey College of Art. His book on mannerism appeared in 1964. He published his third and final volume of The Social History of Art while serving as guest professor at the University of Ohio. Shortly before his death in 1978, Hauser returned to Budapest as an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Science.
Hauser’s Social History of Art opens without a methodological introduction, but rather launches immediately into the prehistory of art. At breakneck pace, Hauser traces the history of art up to the 20th century. He entitles the 20th century as the “Era of Film” and refers to Picasso as the representative artist of the time. Hauser's controversial methodology attracted many critics. He was criticized for paying scant attention to architecture and music, despite his personal attachment to both. The art historian Ernst Gombrich (q.v.) was most critical of Hauser, chiding him for failing to see the works for themselves, but rather observing them through the "myopic lens" of Hauser's theories. Gombrich, a critic of theoretical abstractions on art history in general--especially Hegelian--accused Hauser of a fantasy world that quickly caught one in the “mousetrap of dialectical materialism.” Hauser repeatedly turned to dialectical materialism to investigate the influence of societal and economic relationships on style, especially in respect to the tendency towards Naturalism and Rationalism. Hauser modified his Marxism to fit the humanities--particularly the prevailing history of artistic form and style of Alois Riegl (q.v.) and Heinrich Wölfflin (q.v.)--by examining the function of society and world view in art. His approach was a welcome break for many from the insular idealist and formalist methods. Hauser was forcefully attacked by orthodox Marxists for slighting class warfare. Hauser’s response to this criticism was that, while he employed Marxism as a scientific method and hoped for a socialist society, he chose not to participate in the political struggle and could not identify with the example that the Soviet Union provided.
Hauser first presented his theories on art history in Philosophie der Kunstgeschichte, in particular in the chapter entitled "Kunstgeschichte ohne Namen." Hauser deliberates on Austrian and German scientific directions and their ideological histories with care. A noticeable omission is Aby Warburg (q.v.), who had fled Germany just as Hauser had. Hauser insisted that the main problematic (Hauptproblem) of art history concerned the origin and evolution of style (Stilwandel/Stilbeginn). In opposition to Wölfflin, Hauser identified a period by what he called its "stylistic unity," the forced regularity of form development, and the periodic return of Stilstufen to fiction. In contrast to Alois Riegl (q.v.), Hauser argued that what was held in esteem differed from period to period, and that artists were not always completely autonomous in their renderings. The meaning and value of works were not fixed, Hauser argued, but rather were transformed by the works that followed. Hauser believed that in order to understand the evolution of style, one must turn to sociological rather than psychological and explanations. While holding high regard for the fields of psychology and depth psychology, Hauser chose to approach artistic style from a sociological perspective. He stressed the role of the individual in creation, something that had received growing attention since the Renaissance. Unlike many hard-line Marxist theorists, Hauser emphasized that while artistic forms are the expression of a societal Weltanschauung (world view) they are not a direct reflection of economic and social circumstances. Style, Hauser argued, is not a wholly neutral tool, nor does it fulfill an explicit social function, but rather it could be subordinate to a variety of political and social goals. NP
Home Country: Hungary/ Germany/ United Kingdom
Sources: Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982,pp. 136-7, 154; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, pp. 77, 97; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire de l'art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 190, 342; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 158-61; Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 1, pp. 267-70.
Bibliography: Philosophie der Kunstgeschichte. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1958, English, The Philosophy of Art History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1959; Sozialgeschichte der Kunst und Literatur. 2 vols. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1953, English, The Social History of Art. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1951; Soziologie der Kunst. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1974, English, The Sociology of Art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982; Der Manierismus: Die Krise der Renaissance und der Ursprung der Modern Kunst. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1964, English Mannerism: The Crisis of the Renaissance and the Origin of Modern Art. 2 vols. London: Routledge & Paul, 1965.