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The Method of Max Raphael

TheMeIhod of Max Baphael
Art History Set Back on its Feet
John Tagg
a writer’s production must have the
character of a model: it must be able to
instruct other writers in their production
and, secondly, it must be able to place an
improved apparatus at their disposal. This
apparatus will be the better, the more
consumers it brings into contact with the
production process – in short, the more
readers or spectators it tUrns into
collaborators. ,1
– Walter Benjamin

question and ask: could it be othervise? Could
art history assume a more active, constitutive
role in the making of art? Could it deal directly with those concepts, assumptions, theories,
beliefs, of both a general and a particular kind,
that are used in producing works of art, not just
in describing them?

The questions apply wherever art history is
taught but, as I have suggested, they are brought
to their sharpest focus where the theoretical
study is brought daily into confrontation with
concrete studio practice. Here the art historian
It has been the professed aim of Radical Philosophy
is forced into a contact with the process of proto present, from the inside, both a critique of,
duction whose products he consumes yet whose
and a positive alternative to, the narrow specialproximity he finds extremely uncomfortable. Here
isation of academic philosophy courses in this
is a unique academic opportunity for the work of
country. The contents of the magazine have rethe theoretician to be checked by the manufacture
vealed a progressive· departure from the presentalof the objects of his study and, conversely, for
tion of the theoretical struggle in philosophy as
the practice of art to be impelled towards the
divorced from the political struggle within philofull realization of an historically grounded
sophy departments and within the university or
theory. But the chance is usually lost: the incollege structure as a whole. The institutional
variable result is· a reaction on the part of art
barriers which hermetically seal academic discipstudents against what is put before them as the
lines one from another have been crossed, paralhistory of art, and the perpetuation of the illulels have been drawn with other domains and theorsion that the creative process lies beyond the
etical developments absorbed from sociology, psycho- range of theory. Such a reaction is not, however,
logy, economics etc. But where does art history
inevitable. It is not art history as such that
figure in all this? Even the question seems ludiis objected to, that is rejected, but rather the
crous. Yet at one time, art history would have
interpretation of it offered by a certain school.

been sited at the very nodal point of all those
In many ways, What we have to deal with is a
studies I have mentioned. Now – exhibiting as it
malady of English art history whose peculiar
does, in chronic form, all the symptoms described
development has been towards a state of affairs in
in this magazine as belonging to phi~osophy – art
which it is accepted that the purpose of the art
history must se~m to those within and without the
historian is to compile an endless list of names
subject, the least fruitful area of concern for
and dates, peppered with historical anecdotes in which the ultimate form is the ‘catalogue
committed scholarship.

raisonee’: a gazetteer of one artist’s entire
work, though what is ‘reasoned’ a~ut it has yet
to be shown.

Art history, as it is taught in English universiWith this as its ultimate object, art history
ties, has escaped examination for so long that it
in England has been reduced to a collection of
now stands in urgent need of radical surgery.

techniques for authentication: a list of procedEven as it is presented within colleges devoted to
ures for establishing who a work was by, at what
the untidy, unruly, uncultured activity of making
date it was executed, who owned it, who exhibited
art, it still follows the same pqtterns, reflects
it, and so on. One cannot but ask what caused
the same habits of thought, the same orthodoxies,
this narrowing down and, here, I think it is not
the same interests. Because, in general, it cansufficient to point to ‘traditional British empinot confront the issue of whose interests it
ricism’, scoffing at theory. One must also see
serves, it is unable here to address itself to
how English art history grew up not in the unithe most basic question: how can wh~t the art
versities and studios, but in the country homes
historian has to say on the level of theory conwhich housed the great private collections and,
tribute to the practical activity – the involvement
latterly, in the auction rooms wherein art wealth
with making and doing – that is the concern of art
was and is ca$hed. It has been tied first to an
students? Anyone who teaches art history in an
aristocracy and, now, to an art capitalist class.

art school ought to confront this problem every
Thus it has degenerated to a mere service indusworking day. Has art history a role within practry for collectors and investors. It is as if
tical art courses other than as a sop to a bigoted
the teaching of literature had come to be no more
academic world that would otherwise baulk at
than a training in how to search out and authentigranting such studies degree status? The posing
cate first editions.

of the question is unremarkable. It has almost
SUch a debasement of art history has certain
become a clich~. But the fact of its becoming a
definite methodological consequences. The need
clich~ ought not to disguise the uncomfortable
truth that it has not yet been answered. Or
(1) Walter Benjamin, ‘The Author as Producer’, in
rather, the answer implicit in present art histoConversations with Brecht, trans. Anna Bostock,
rical practice is such that, if we are not to be
New Left Books, Lon~n, 1973, p98
entirely negative, we have to reformulate our

The Poverty of Art History


for certain evidence, on the basis of which one
may attribute a work to a particular artist and
to a particular stage in his career, creates a
preference for hard-and-fast written eVidence letters, contracts, receipts, eye-witness accounts
– rather than risky first-hand experience of the
work. Documents take precedence over the works
of art themselves and these latter come to be
looked on as a kind of document too: of course,
the label on the back of the canvas is more interesting than the painting on the front, but this
secondary source can supply some intriguing, if
not totally dependable, clues for solving the art
historical ‘Who Done it?’ There is thus a loss
of contact with the work of art as a concrete object; a contact which few art historians trained
as scholars, historians, literati, have. But this
is a point to which I shall return.

Panofsky’s Iconology
What I am claiming may be well illustrated by
looking at the highly influential methods of Iconography and Iconology developed by Irwin Panofsky,
or rather, implicit in his work for, in advancing
a thesis about the semantic and syntactic levels
in art and their historical conditioning, Panofsky
may not have imagined himself to be defining a
method. Panofsky conceived of an-hierarchy of
approaches to art, descending from the heights of
Iconology, able to discern the ‘intrinsic meaning’

the ‘essential tendencies of the human mind’, in
the themes or concepts of a work of art; to
Iconography, which made intelligible the intentional meaning of images and allegories by bringing all kinds of literary knowl~dge to bear on
them; and down to the base level of ‘pseudo-formal
analysis’, which merely responded to ‘pure forms’

and their immediate representational and emotional
significance. 2 Aside from its debasement as
merely another means to establish chronology, influences, precedents – as another technique to be
employed where documents fail – the method itself,
while treating art as a profound, historically
determined human and cultural expression, dismisses
the physical, formal features of the work, concentrating on those characteristics which can only
be explained by reference to a literary background, to a whole history of ideas.

It is a
literary approach to the visual arts: the kind of
approach which appeals to scholars and bibliophiLes, but not to artists.

The greater value attached by scholars to
writing shows up in another feature of the art
history I am decrying, ironically, in what may be
said to be its failure to take works of visual
art seriously. Once again, as we may see by contrast if we recall Panofsky, we are dealing with
a peculiarly English failing.

It governs the
English attitude to the visual arts which are seen
as furnishing decoration, distraction, delight for
the senses but never the mind. To this allegedly
down-to-earth English outlook might be contraposed the German art historical tradition which
developed in a very different social and intellectual context and in which we find studies of art
based on a philosophical aesthetic, drawing on
general philosophy, sociology and psychology, and
seeking to unify them in a synthetic art historical method. The concern of such studies is not
with cataloguing, with naked empiricism, but with.

the analysis of individual works or sequences of
them, or with some general thesis about the nature
of history, the conditions of consciousness, the
nature of representation. The writing is highlyevolved, subtle and complex, because i t draws on
a serious philosophical tradition, largely Hegel-


ian in origin, and because the works of visual art
under analysis are themselves conceived of as multifaceted and complex philosophical statements. The
tradition deals with a completely different set
of problems from its English counterpart; if drawing up a list can be said to deal with problems
at all. T J Clark has argued tha~ the current
dilemma of art history is due to a loss of problems, as old ways of posing them have become
redundant and new ways have not been forthcoming. 3
It is my contention that these problems have never
existed in the English conception of the history
of art.

The History of Styles
However, Clark ‘s analysi s does have something to
tell us about the Germanic art historical tradition which has tended to culminate in a history of
styles. Now, this brings me to two further complaints I have still to make about the history of
art. The first is related to a point I have already made: that the history of art as the history
of ‘streams and movements’ loses the complexity
and integrity of individual works of art and
falls into the philosophical error of assuming
that a specific configuration can be explained by
enumerating its elements, sources and influences.

In criticism, this error leads to the presentation
of the history of art as a family tree whose
branches each bear fruit: a sensitive little vignette of an artist’s entire oeuvre.

In the manner
of exhibiting art, the same error leads to the
development of museums where, catalogued in the
manner I have described, works are hung in such a
way, in such surroundings, that they cannot be
studied singly or at length but must be taken in
by the footsore spectator as a total effect: a
seemingly inevitable progression isolated from
the rest of the world. Or else, the works of these
museum collections are to be seen only as marks of
national pride, as a gorgeous, prestigious array
on the walls like medals on a general’s chest.

Whichever i t is, people are physically discouraged
from confronting individual works and, as with
survey introductions to the history of art, they
are prevented from asking questions of the work
before them other than those approved by an establishment art history.

The second aspect of the history of styles
with which I want to take issue is that proponents
of such a history have been in the forefront of
an ‘ideological campaign’ whose possible lack of
awareness of its own goals cannot excuse its
political complicity. By proferring ~ view of
art as an automonous historical process, they
have mystified art’s real origins; they have
separated art from its concrete social setting
and represented it as the result of personalities
and individual whimsy, or as the outcome of superhuman cultural forces, whether the inherent development of the idea or the inexorable laws of stylistic evolution. To answer this, art must be
displayed as an historical and social product but
it will not be enough merely to place it against
some impressionistic background, or within some
millennial historicist plan. Just as I have
(2) See Panofsky, ‘Introductory’ in studies in
Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the
Renaissance, Oxford, 1939, pp3-3l; revised as
‘Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the
Study of Renaissance Art’, in Meaning in the
Visual Arts, Peregrine Books, 1970, ppSl-8l
(3) T J Clark, ‘The Conditions of Artistic
Creation’, Times Literary Supplement, 24 Hay 1974,

suggest9d the need for concentra~ion on particular
works, ~ere is a need to study particular social
contexts and to trace the particular connections
between them and the particular, concrete works
ar ising within them. This cannot be done by
framing generalities. Particular modes of interchange must be discovered and pursued to the very
structure of the work of art concerned: a passage
must be sought from its unique external relations
to its unique internal relations

Demystifying Arl
Let me sum up the type of study that is implied
in these criticisms of English art history: I am
calling for one which will study minutely particular works of art and particular historical sequences of works of art, which will analyse them
yet preserve their integrity, which will set them
in their concrete social and historical context,
revealing the true complexity of artistic creations and their interchange with social and economic factors, indeed, with the whole ‘form of·
life’ of which they are a part and within which
alone they have a meaning. SUch a study would
both demystify art and allow it a real power within
social life. SUch a power would also require that
one treat art with utter seriousness, exploring
fully equivalences with philosophy, social theory
and other contemporary cultural manifestations.

In particular, it would expose the interpenetration of theory and practice, and avoid that false
distinction which leaves the artist as one who is
merely ‘clever with his hands’. Here, I return to
the point that scholars cannot neglect practice or
that physical contact with art which so few of
them have. However, there is also an absolute
and complementary requirement for artists both to
raise their own practice to the level of theory
and to see how theoretical studies may constitute,
and only be fully realized in, a new art.

The approach to art I am describing would be
analytical, didactic, political. It would seek to
release the energies held in suspension in works
of art but wou~d be of little use to collectors or
to curators of museums of national pride. It
would not fill the catalogues and handbooks with
pages of learned argument to prove, for example,
that the English Natioual Gallery possesses the
authentic version of Leonardo’s ‘Madonna of the
Rocks’, while the French have the dubious copy in
the Louvre. It would judge wOrks on a completely
different basis. It would serve different interests; and here I mean ‘interests’ not only in the
intellectual but also in the economic and class

It ~y seem that I have laid down impossible
requirements but this lengthy preamble is meant
to situate the neglected writings of one who did
try to establish such an approach to art and without whom, indeed, I could not have formulated my
discontent in this way. The writer was the littleknown German art critic Max Raphael, for whom, to
put it briefly, art history neither retraced history nor dealt with art. 4 It is in his writings
that we find the most thorough-going analyses of
.works of visual art yet to have appeared; the
programme they unf~ld and the theory of which they
are the realization, offer the means we need to a
radical critique of the English art historical

The Life and Wxk of Max Raphae1
Who then was Raphael? The best way to introduce
him is probably to describe something of his life
and the gradual refinement of his philosophical
understanding in a series of major critical works.

Raphael was born on the 27 of August, 1889, in
the frontier town of Schanlanke in West Prussia.

His family were textile and cloth merchangs: solid
bourgeoisie, though Raphael seems later to have
cut himself off from their wealth. He completed
his schooling locally, and in the Berlin High
School where he took his equivalent of the
baccalaur~at in 1907.

In the same year, he moved
to Munich, though it was not until 1908 that he
began his university studies there.

Raphael arrived in Munich at a time when” the
city was establishing itself as a centre for
creative innovation in both the study and practice
of the visual arts. Influenced by the painting
of Hans von Marees, the sculpture of Hildebrand
and the theories of FurtwMngler, walfflin and
August Endell, the direction of this innovation:

was towards a renewed emphasis on form. The keynote is given in Hildebrand’s book of 1892# The
Problem of Form: the first in a series
texts which were to dominate discussion ofa·e~the …

tics in Munich. In the year following Rapha~~’s
arrival, in 1908, Wilhelm Worringer first pub- .

lished his highly influential study Abstraction
and Empathy in which he argued the need to recognise periods in history when the ‘general psychology of the age’ can find satisfaction only in the
creation of abstract forms which, fully satisfying the ‘Will to Form’ of Which they are the
expression, ought to be accorded a status equal
to that of works created under a classical cannon. 5
Whatever the validity of his theoretical framework, the freeing effect of Wbrringer’s work
cannot be denied. It was no accident that it became associated with a similar undermining of the
established criteria of aesthetic quality then
taking place in the practice of art.

In the next year, 1909, the painter Wassily
Kandinsky founded the Neue KUnstlervereinigungMUnchen (the New Artists’ Association of Munich),
gathering together the artists, musicians and
writers whose search for the common abstract and
spiritual basis of all the arts led them to form
the Blaue Reiter group in 1911, when aesthetic
differences rent the NKV. Though the most modern
art had been exhibited in Munich at the Secession
and at private galleries such as those of Brackl
Zimmermann and Thannhauser, it now received a

comprehensive presentation on an international
scale in the second exhibition of the New Artists’

Association of September 1910, and the two subsequent Blaue Reiter exhibits of December 1911
and March 1912. New theories, too, added to the
ferment of artistic ideas, for the leading artists
were highly articulate. In 1912, Kandinsky and
Marc published the Blaue Reiter Almanac containing
essays by Marc, Macke, Burliuk, Sbanjer, Schanberg
and by Kandinsky who took up certain themes from
his own Concerning the Spiritual. in Art; a text
crucial ~ the study of contemporary art which
had been prepared in 1910, but which was not published till December 1911.

The artists’ writings were scientific in tone,
mystical in meaning, wide in scope and ambitious
in intent. Kandinksy later wrote: ‘To find the
common root of art and science was then our d~eam
which demanded an immediate realization,.6 Un-


(4) Max Raphael, The Demands of Art, trans.

Norbert Guterman, Routledge and Kegan Paul,
London, 1968, p3
(5) Wilhelm Wbrringer, Abstraction and Empathy.

A,Contribution to the Psychology of Style, trans.

Ml.chae.l Bullock, Routledge and Kegan Paul London

(6) Wassily Kandinsky, ‘Franz Marc’, Cahiers D’Art
VII-X, Paris, 1936, pp273-5

doubtedly, this mystical plan had an influence on
the young Raphael whose later work makes concrete
what for Kandinsky was only a dream. There may be
no record in Raphael’s notebooks of his having met
the artists of the Blaue Reiter group, but he had
certainly read Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and
opposed it in print. 7 Furthermore, by 1910, he
had struck up a friendship with Max Pechstein, a
painter and former member of the group of expressionist artists which called itself Die Brficke,
whose facile talent and familiarity with recent
French art led many then to consider him the
leader of the young German painters, and who exhibited thirty-eight works in the second Blaue
Reiter exhibition organised by Kandinsky in the
spring of 1912.

Throughout this period, Raphael was studying
at the universities of both Munich and Berlin,
reading political economy. At Berlin, however,
his studies were broadened to include philosophy
and the history of art and, in both subjects, his
teachers were then at the height of their fame.

Georg Siromel, Raphael’s lecturer in philosophy,
is now regarded as the founder of formal sociology
conceived as a ‘geometry of the social world’.

His influence was, however, much wider and even
at this time had drawn into his orbit philosophers
of the phenomenological circle, art historians
such as Worringer, and literary critics like Georg
Lukacs. The dominance within his own field of
the art historian Heinrich WBlfflin was, if anything, greater than that of Simmel. It was
W8lfflin who first elaborated the idea of the
history of art as a development implicit in art’s
formal features and almost entirely separate from
any other kind of history.8 We qan still see the
residue of ~is ideas in the Formalist criticism
of recent years, but for Raphael, W8lfflin’s
system was to become something against which he
could strongly react.

Raphael’s interest in art itself probably predated the beginning of his art historical studies.

In Italy, in 1909, he had made observations of
paintings by Giotto and Tintoretto and of the
mosaics at Ravenna. But it was in 1910 that a
trip to Holland brought him his first contact with
French painting and fired his interest in contemporary art. It was this experience that persuaded
him to travel to Paris where he settled in 1911.

In Paris, he continued his work in philosophy attending lectures by Bergson – but his central
interest was art. Through persistent appearances
at Khanweiler’s gallery, Raphael made the acquaintance of the Cubists’ dealer and subsequently,
through the privileged circle of the Steins, met
Uhde, the German art dealer, Picasso, f.iatisse and
Rodin. 9 Most importantly, he also saw a large”
collection of works by Cezanne: much of Raphael’s
later technical vocabulary – his use of ‘Realization’ and his central concept of ‘Organic’ or
‘Dialectical’ works of art – still reflects this
initial contact with the art and theories of Paul
Cezanne and later French painters. Though his
philosophical base changed, these early enthusiasms continued to provide the backbone of his
subject~matter, at least until the final phase of
his life.

Raphael completed his philosophical studies in
Germany but in 1912 he was back again in Paris,
this time to begin his research on Flaubert, to
study Poussin and to look at French medieval art, .

especially the sculpture, stained glass and architecture of Chartres. His concern with contemporaryart persisted, hQwever, and in 1913 he both
lectured on Picasso in Munich and, in the same
city, pu~lished his first book, From Monet to

Picasso. lO This exceptionally topical work was
to have been his doctoral thesis but it was rejectedout of hand by WBlfflin who refused to “read
anything that concerned Picasso. It was this
experience which left Raphael completely disenchanted with the universities. As in the case
of Walter’ Benjamin, the rejection was to determine
many of the hardships of his career” outside the
academic system.

It may also have left him with the desire to
escape, to seek out solitude, for he spent the
next few years at various retreats on the German
border with SWitzerland, studying natural history,
sociology, literature and history, writing a long
series of articles and, apparently, trying to
dodge conscription. It was to this same region
that Raphael returned in 1917 after he had served
a Period wi th the army. Here he brought to completion his first real analysis of the genesis of
the work of art, summarizing the ideas of this
early phase.

Marxism and Mysticism
Idea and Structure. A Guide to the Nature of
Ipublished in Berlin in 1921, was
a work Raphael was to turn against and prevent
from being reissued. It belonged, in his own
words, to a period of ‘philosophical destruction
and reconstruction, of empiricism and idealism’,
when ‘judgements and condemnations were made and
points of view taken up Which conformed as nearly
as possible to emotional longings and spiritual
ideals and which for that reason were a priori,.12
As this early outlook receded, it was replaced by
an ‘objective attitude’ in which ‘reality was
registered as on a blank tablet – everything was
accepted before a personal point of vie”, had been
taken up. The material of reality was assembled
and a method of thought prepared’. 1 3 The ‘method
of thought’ was one rooted in the study he now
began of Newton’s rules of reasoning, of ethics
and of phenomenology, from whlch came Raphael’ s
technique of imagining a work of art dissolved
away in order that he might recreate, reconstitute
it again in his mind from its basic parts.

Raphael’s new method was also increasingly Influenced by Marxism and dialectical materialism.

The emotional impact of the death of Lenin in 1924,
the festering political situation of Germany in
the twenties, the politicising of German art; all
these must have contributed to his attraction to
Marxism. But there was also the philosophical
system itself – especially as presented in The
German Ideology – which showed Raphael the way to
integrate his very strong feeling for the concrete
particularity of the work of art and its materiality, with an understanding of the historical conditions which determine the laws of construction
of that concrete particular, and limit the repertoire of ways of working with that material,
offered to the artist. Unlike ,his contemporaries,
it was not the historicism of Marxism – its
alleged revelation of an inevitable historical
pattern – that Raphael built on, but rather its
siting of concrete individuals within a general
historical process.

I shall return again to the question of
Raphael’s relation with Marxism when I discuss
his theory of knowledge. For the present, let me
stop at this brief sketch of some of the constituents of the immensely sophisticated way of thinkin~Raphael began to develop in the period he
described as one of ‘scientific destruction and
reconstruction, of the concrete manifold, or
nirvana,.14 ‘Of nirvana’, because, as a counterbalance to the’ impersonal approach he was evolArt, 11


ving, Raphael turned to skepticiSl1! and to the
of Meister Eckhardt. His own later
theories furnish ~n explanation of the dangerous
attraction of these twin modes of thought ‘my~ticism is emotional skepticism, skepticism
is rational mysticism,lS – but, as in the writings
of Walter Benjamin, the mystic and the tradition
of German Romantic criticism were to remain crucial, if contradictory, elements in Raphael’s
Marxist approach to art.

The early twenties were, then, a period of
renewed study. It was in the second half of the
decade, when,Raphael began to “apply his methodology, that he produced those intense analyses with
which he is associated, following the publication
” of The Demands of Art in 1968. The essays in
this book, in which he sought to address ‘all who
aspire to culture in the broadest sense, and
especially ••• young people who must work for a
living’,16 grew out of what were originally
lectures at the Berlin Volkshochschule. The
volkshoahschule was a kind of People’s College
where working men and women could study. Raphael’s
teaching there ranged through studies of Rembrandt,
Aristotle, Eckhardt, Thomas Aquinas, Hegel, ~1arx,
Lenin and Husserl. It was because of his involvement with teaching, because of his dedication
to an educationally deprived class, that his
writings, for all their difficulty, preserved a
didactic air. As he himself described, the
essays of The Demands of Art were worked out in
the context of a study group wh~ch demanded intensive co-operation and concentration on the part
of every member. His aim, he said, was ‘to teach
them to understand art through the work of art
itself,.17 That is, by discussing a sequence of
problems in relation to specific works of art,
he sought to furnish his students with a certain
conceptual equipment that could then be applied
in releasing the creative energies stored in every
true work of art. In short, Raphael’s attitude
to art criticism might be said to parallel that
prescribed by waIter Benjamin for the truly revolutionary writer: he was not content merely to
manufacture more art criticism but broke down
‘the separate spheres of competence to Which,
according to the bourgeois view, the process of
intellectual production owes its order,.18 He
transformed himself from ‘a supplier of the production apparatus, into an engineer who sees his
task as adapting that apparatus to the ends of
the proletarian revolution,.19

Many other of Raphael’s writings from this
period originated in his lecture material: his
survey of Doric temples, for example, published
in 1928;20 or his critical study of Pyrrhonian
Skepticism. 21 This critique, published in German
in 1931, dealt with the ancient doctrine in its
formulation by sextus Empiricus, but it did so in
a way that, it seems to me, is essential to the
understanding of Raphael’s attack on Liberalism
and of his closely related criticism of Picasso.

~he notion of ataraxia, which is central to
Raphael’s analysis of ‘Guernica’ in The Demands
of Art,22 is fully explained here as part of the
‘positionless position’ whose modern descendants
are only too clear.

Raphael’s work at the Berlin People’s High
School was not his only comnitment at this time.

He was also teaching in SWitzerland, at Davos, the
centre for convalescence he had been visiting since
the onset of lung disease and severe mental depression in 1926. Raphael continued to teach at
“Berlin in the winter and at Davos in the summer
until the autumn of 1932, when the refusal of the

directorate of the Volkshochschule to allow him
to proceed with the seminars he had planned on the
history of dialectical materialism in Greece
forced him to resign. The incident prompted him
to take his final leave of a Germany terrorized
by Nazism. He travelled to Zurich, where he lectured on Picasso, and then on to Paris which he
was to make his home for the next nine years.

Despite recurring illness, it was duri~g this
second long sojourn in Paris that Raphael produced
the works which were to make a considerable impression on continental philosophy and bring him
to the attention of writers like Sartre and Georg
Lukacs. In 1933, Raphael published Proudhon Marx – Picasso. Three Studies in the Sociology
of Art. 23 It was followed by a monograph on the
construction of a group of schools in the newly
elected communist municipality of Villejuif – a
kind of Clay Cross of its day – by the architect
Andre Lurgat. 24 Raphael described his monograph
as a crit1que of ‘functional idealism’ in architecture from a point of view of dialectical materialism, and among its many remarkable’ features
was a complete list of all the workers engaged
in producing the buildings, including the name of
every labourer. The work on Proudhon, Marx and
Picasso was more clearly of general theoretical
significance. It contained a marxist critique of
the theory of art of the nineteenth century
French social thinker, Pierre Joseph Proudhon; a
forceful apologetic for a sociology as opposed to
a history of art; and an exemplar of what such an
approach to art might entail, in the form of an
examination of the phases of Picasso’s artistic
development within the framework of a general
theory of the role of the artist in bourgeois

(7) Raphael, Von Monet zu Picasso. Grundz6ge
einer ~sthetik und Entwicklung der modernen
Malerei, Delphin Verlag, Munich, 1913, p44
(8) See Heinrich W8lfflin, Principles of Art
History. The Problem of the Development of Style
in Later Art, trans. M D Hottinger, Dover, New
York, 1932
(9) Raphael, ‘Grosse Kfinstler: II Erinnerungen urn
Picasso’, Davoser Revue, 1932, pp32S-9
(10) Von Monet zu Picasso
(11) Raphael, Idee und Gestalt. Ein F6hrer zum
Wesen del.’ Kunst, Delphin Verlag, Uunich, 1921
(12) From Raphael’s unpublished notebooks.

Quoted by Herbert Read in his Introduction to
The Demands of Art, ppxvi-xvii
(13) ibid, pxvi
(14) ibid, pxvii
(15) Raphael, Pyrrhonian Skepticism, an unpublished
translation by R S Cohen, pSl
(16) The Demands of Art, p3
(17) idem
(18) Benjamin., op cit, p9St
(19) ibid, pl02
(20) Raphael Del.’ Dorische Tempel. Dargestellt
am Foseidon Tempel von Paestum, Dr Benno Filser
Verlag, Augsburg, 1930
(21) Raphael, ‘Die pyrrhoneische Skepsis’, Philosophische Hefte vol 3, nos 1/2, pp47-70
(22) Raphael, ‘Discord Between Form and Content’,
Chapter V of The Demands of Art, pp135-l79
(23) Raphael, Proudhon – Marx – Picasso. Trois
etudes sur la sociologie de l’art, Editions
Excelsior, Paris, 1933
(24) Raphael, ‘Introduction a une architecture en
beton arme’, introductory text of Group Scolaire
de L’Avenue Karl Marx a Villejuif, Realise pour
La Municipalite par Andre Lur~at, Architecte … ”
Editions de l’Architecture d’Auj~urd’hui, Paris,

Raphael’s analysis of Picasso in no way corresponded to that type of art history which, in his
view, while deriving from art, could never be
more than an auxiliary hypothesis. 25 In his
Marxist Theory of Art,26 Raphael showed that this
so-called art history lost sight of its subject
because it dealt with the artist’s will and not
his ability, with his style not his art; and it
further neglected to show how both these aspects
were conditioned historically. Art historical
problems were problems of variation and fluctuation in artistic creation but the influences,
dependencies, variations and changes in form which
art history described were merely accidental and
temporary modifications of the structural constants. The true sources of modifications in art,
whose action might be expressed in the form of
laws, were changes in the means of production,
the spiritual relationship of man and his world,
and the formal principles corresponding to these

Dialectical Theory of Knowledge
.In the year following the appearance of
Proudhon – Marx – Picasso, in 1934, Raphael’s
most important philosophical and psychological
analYSis of the artistic process was published,
in German, as The Concrete Dialectical Theory of
Knowledge. 27 Raphael always considered this
text the main work of his lifetime and the general
base of his theory of art. The most effective
summary of it is his own. Attempting to have the
work republished in English translation, he wrote
to American publishers:

This book was written to give a new solution
to an old problem: if the world outside the
human consciousness is real or only an appearance of the human senses and reason. Altogether taking the side of the realists against
the idealists, it seemed to me that the proof
can be given only by a complete analysis of
the human mind. Thus the task was to create
a new theory of intellectual creation broad
enough to encompass all fields of human
activity: art, science, religion etc. After
thirty years of studying history of philosophy, it seemed to me that this problem,
how the human mind works during its creative
process, can b9 solved only with the help
of the philosophy of Hegel and Marx. starting from this historic point I tried to
continue and complete the most progressive
philosophical development of the nineteenth
century. 28
In the work itself, Raphael outlines the history
of dialectical materialism and identifies three
completely different systems of logic. He analyses
the main faculties of the human mind, isolating
four faculties through which we have our knowledge
of the world: the body, the senses, the intellect
and the reason, of which the first three are based
in real experience and the last is a speculative
process. He then seeks to prove that the method
of the natural sciences which has come to replace
that of philosophy falls~ like that of the
historical sciences, within materialist dialectics.

It is thus dialectical materialism which alone can
solve the riddle of the outside world.

Before his death, Raphael revised this major
work, giving it the new title of The Theory of
Intellectual Creation on a Marxist Basis. So far,
it has only been published in a Serbo-Croat translation. 29 The fact that it has not appeared in
English is at once a condemnation of the English
and American publishers to whom it was offered,
and one more confirmation of the narrowness of
the anglo-saxon philosophical tradition.


But I have not yet exhausted the lis~ of
Raphael’s outstanding writings of this period.

His prolificacy is daunting and it has not yet
been possible to produce a comprehensive bibliography of his achievement~ There are works on
the architects Perret and Corbusier, and on what
he called the reactionary architecture of the
Palace of the Soviets; there are studies of
German eighteenth-century art and of French literature, of Racine, Flaubert and Val~ry; there is a
weighty study of the aesthetic of Romanesque
churches in France; and, above all, there is
Worker, Art and Artist: A Contribution to a
Marxist science of Art. 30 In this study Raphael
confronts’ the main problems of marxist aesthetics
and formulates the task of modern artists, to
produce an art that is both materialist and dialectical. He was still revising the text when
war broke out. Forty-five years later, the very
copy that he sent from Paris to Herbert Read in
England, for safe-keeping at a time when he, not
unreasonably, thought he might never escape from
France, – that copy – still lies unpublished in a
university archive.

After his arrival in the USA in 1941, Raphael,
realizing that the temper of reaction in that
country left little chance of Worker, Art and
Artist being accepted for publication, cut out the
sections on the relationship of workers to the art
of the past and present, and the discussion of the
question whether a marxist theory of art is
possible, and prepared chapters three to five of
part one for separate publication under the title
Art in the Epoch of Liberalism. A Monography of
a Painting by Corot. 31
This work parallels The Demands of Art but was
written in a more expanded style. It is undoubtedly an important step towards the formulation of
his later philosophy of art. Chapter one 32 is an
equivalent of the opening chapter of The Demands
of Art – a place which Raphael’s notes show it to
have once occupied – interwoven with a shortened
version of the Empirical Theory of Art. 33 It
treats of the work of art and its source in nature,
in a clearer, more didactic, style than the later
analysis of Cezanne’s Mont st. Victoirs. Corot’s
view of the island of San Bartolommeo in Rome is
us”ed as a constant illustration, just as the
expanded impir ical Theory would have used the
Cezanne, Degas, Giotto, Rembrandt and Picasso
which are the subjects of the studies in The
Demands of Art. In addition to providing a clue
to some of the unknowns of the Empirical Theory
in this way, the essay on Corot also includes a
full section on Realization, which is missing
-from the later, incomplete manuscript. Indeed,
the second and third chapters of Art in the Epoch
of Liberalism might be further construed as
supplying the two sections missing from the
Empirical Theory of Art, on history and on criticism. In the earlier work, chapter two is a social,
economic and political history of France;
chapter three
furnishes a general theory of
Capitalist art in the age of Liberalism, in which
Werner Sombart’s seven characteristics of Capitalism are applied to art. 36
The study of art in the age of Liberalism is
not, however, of interest only as an earlier and
fuller statement of Raphael’s theories. It is a
major advance in the study of nineteenth century
art, anticipating the approach of very recent
scholars such as T J Clark. 37 Raphael gives us
a complete artistic analysis of the single, chosen
painting while at the same time expounding his
descriptive theory which had not at that time been
published. He goes on to disclose the relation
between the artist and his era in h.istory, finally

formulating a ‘sociologic-aesthetic theory of all
the arts of this epoch’. He achieved what he
called a ‘Monography’ of a work of art, explained
through the social base of its time and set in
relation to all the other arts. SUch a ‘Monography’ he rightly believe to be an absolutely
new type of explanation: ‘completely individual
in respect to the work and completely concrete
and general in its historical and theoretical
background,.38 As he wrote:

]M£< J1./G7( : LA. SfAl&.

The analysis presented here differs essentially
from the bourgeois theory of art, which is an
aesthetics either of content or form, whereas
ours is an aesthetic of -method. •• The evil
can be remedied only if to the individual~s
method of artistic creation is contrasteB the
society~s method (or methods) of making history. Here society includes al~the classes
in opposition, and the question to be answered
is to what extent the form and content of the
work of art gives expression to them. 39
This summary of his aims would clearly also
apply to Raphael’s essays in The Demands of Art.

I ao not have space to discuss this work now but
let me reiterate what I have said about the de. pendence of Raphael’s approach to art on his wider
philosophical theory. What Raphael set out to
elaborate in The Demands Of Art was a ‘Science of
Art’. But, whilst the scientific nature of his
enterprise may be doubted, what he did in fact
achieve was a complete reversal of the positivistic
emphasis in philosophy since the early nineteenth
century: instead of putting science at the centre,
he took the work of art as his model for an epistemology or, more exactly, a theory of intellectual
creation. Thus he provided the foundation for a
unified understanding of both the arts and the
sciences from- a revolutionary point of view which,

without lapsing into anti-rationalism, saw the
artist’s concrete creation, in all its complexity,
as the basis of a new, dialectical, human and
socialist world view.

I have mentioned WaIter Benjamin several times
during this essay and that is because not only
the philosophical but also the personal lives of
Raphael and Benjamin ran strangly parallel. They
shared a notion of criticism as a recreative
activity; as an exhaustive, complex and systematic

rkrstructural f& (1
analysis in which the critical

‘translation’ is often more impenetrable than the
original work. Yet, paradoxically, for them both,
the existential completeness of the work of art
remained beyond the reach of analysis and could
only be realized by an intuitive leap. What was
common to Raphael and Benjamin was an elaborate
scholarly, philosophical and mystical heritage
which seemed to run counter to their political
commitment to make their work serve a new, nonspecialist mass audience. Both adopted radical
and unconventional approaches to their subjects,
and both were rejected by the German academic
establishment. Both were persecuted for political
and racial reasons in Hitler’s Germany and both
fled to France in 1933, only to find themselves
trapped as that country was itself occupied. Both
were incarcerated in prison camps and both tried
to make good their escape through the Pyrenees to
Lisbon and on to the USA. But here the parallel
ends for, while Benjamin brought his life to an
end in the tragic misbelief that he would not be
allowed to pass over the Spanish border, Raphael
did reach New York in 1941. There he was able to
embark on a new phase of his working life.

As on previous occasions, a change in domicile
heralded a change in Raphael’s way or working.

What became increasingly visible in his writings

from 1941 onwards was a transition from the·
‘scientific’ to the historical: having concentrated on the minute examination of individual
works of art, and having sought to translate their
forms and methods into abstract concepts and social
ideologies without the aid of literary texts,
Raphae”l now felt free to write their history. If
his previously practised method had sought “to
discover in the internal relations of works of art
correlates for external social and historical
relations, his new method explored the complementary dimension: it began with the history and, in
some way, sought to ‘deduce’ the art works. 40
Thus, while he continued to extend the range of
his individual analyses – taking in primitive and
Greek sculpture, and the wealth of paintings now
available to him in the museums of New York,
Philadelphia and Boston – Raphael began to research the earliest epochs of art history. He
now produced great studies of prehistoric civilisation in Egypt and the pottery it produced,41
of prehistoric cave painting 42 and the culture,
customs, religion and iconography of the stone
Age. 43 He added to these further essays on
classical Greece. 44 Yet he never forgot his
political and philosophical perspective. A·passage from his great unpublished work Classical Man
in Greek Art makes the point with sufficient clarity and leaves us in no doubt about his final
We hope that, in addition to contributing
towards the solution of the problem of classical man, this book will serve as a weapon
against the reactionary irrationalism of the
phenomenologists, existential philosophers,
Expressionists and Surrealists, no less than
against the pseudo-classics from Raphael to
Ingres and contemporary abstract artists. The
heart of genuine classical art is dialectics;
and it is one of the more astonishing ironies
of history that this most dialectical art has
come to be regarded as the most d~tic, as
the mother of all academies. Dialectical art
is inimitable, academic art is by definition
imitative. 45
A mass of material – much more than I have
listed here – was left unpublished when Raphael
died on 14 July 1952, in New York City, aged
sixty-two. No one could pretend that he had not
become bitter in his last years. You can hear
the pain of his past life in the tone of the introduction to his History of German Industrial
Capitalism;46 you can see the scars it left in
the way he cut himself off even from his former
friends. He hated America as the epitome of allhe had fought against in writing. Fearing to be
contaminated by the very place in which he sought
refuge, he chose to live in penury on the lower
east side of New York, in a tiny apartment, surviving on the pittance his wife earned as an
office cleaner. All his life he had struggled
for the self-realization of all people, yet he
seemed to be denying it to himself and her.

There are contradictions in the man and in his
work, as there are in all of us and in what we
create. By taking a little of his courage and a
great deal of his method, we may be able to resolve them and to use his works as he would have
wished: as tools of progress to a further stage
of social development.

(25) Proudhon – M~rx – Picasso, p137
(26) Raphael, ‘La Theorie Marxiste de L’Art in
Proudhon – Marx – P~casso, pp123-185
(27) Raphael, Zur Erkennetnistheorie der konkreten
Dialektik, Editions Excelsior, Paris, 1934; trans.

into French by L Gara as La Theorie Marxiste de

la Connaissance, Gallimard, Paris, 1938
(28) Unpublished notes in the archive of Raphael’s
papers at Boston University
(29) Raphael, Teorija Duhovnov Stvaranja Na Osnovi
Marksisma, Veselin Maslesa, Sarajevo, 1960. The
German text, ‘Theorie des geistigen schaffens auf
marxistischer grundiage’ has recently been published by S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt/M, who are
also to publish ‘Arbeiter, Kunst und KUnstler in


does modern art really stand for? “What can
one deduce from it about the Slate of our society and
its beliefs? J n this fascinatiug study, Hans Hess
assumes a necessary link between social events and
their symbolization in the work of art.



(30) Raphael, Arbeiter, Kunst und Kfinst1er,
BeitrMge zu einer marxistischer Kunstwissenschaft
unpublished, though an excerpt has been translated
by Anna Bostock as ‘Workers and the Historical
Heritage of Art’ in ‘On Art and Society’, special
supplement to Women and Art, New York, summer/fall
1972, ppl-8, 20

(31) Raphael, Corot. Kunst unter dem Liberalismus.

Monographie eines Bildes, unpublished.

(32) ‘Ein Bild von Corot. Ktlnstlerische Analyse’

(33) Raphael, ‘Empirische Kunsttheorie’, trans. as
‘Towards an Empirical Theory of Art’ and published
as an appendix to The Demands of ~rt, pp20S-238
(34) ‘Allgemeine Frankreichs von 1800-1860’.

(35) ‘Allgemeine Kunsttheorie zur Zeit des
Liberalismus’ •
(36) Cf. Werner Sombart, Der moderne Kapitalismus,
Leipzig, 1902; see also Talcott Parsons ”’Capitalism” in Recent German Literature: Sombart and
Weber’, Part One, T~ Journal of Political Economy
vol 36, no 6, December 1928
(37) T J Clark, The Absolute Bourgeois. Artists
and Politics in France 1848-1851, Thames & Hudson,
London, 1973; and The Image of the People.

Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution, Thames
& Hudson, London, 1973
(38) Unpublished draft of a letter to prospective
publishers, in the Boston archive.

(39) Corot~ Kunst unter dem Liberalismus. Mongraphie eines Bildes, p68
(40) The most masterful example of this is his
unpublished essay on the Easter Island statues,
A Head from Easter Island, dated 1948
(41) Raphael, Prehistoric Pottery and Civilization
in Egypt, trans. Norbert Guterman, Pantheon Books,
New York, 1947
(42) Raphael, Prehistoric Cave Paintings, ·trans.

Norbert Guterman, Pantheon Books, New York, 1945
(43) The three most lengthy and comprehensive
works of a series of unpublished writings are
Die Altsteinzeitliche Jagdkultur; Wiedergeburtsmagie in der Altsteinzeit. Beitrag zur
Geschichte”der Religion und religi~sen Symbole;
Ikbnographie der quaternaren Kunst.

(44) The Classical Man in Greek Art (Illustrated
by Edith Kramer), unpublished.

(45) ibid, pp3-4
(46) Raphael, Portrait Deutschlands. Geschichte
des deutschen Industriekapita1ismus, unpublished.

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