Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I have often in the past made comparative and competitive claims for an individual artist, saying for example that X is the most important European artist since Y. It is a not entirely meaningless formula and it offers a tempting short-cut to the reader’s mind. But I now believe it to be profoundly mistaken: not because there is the danger of the judgement being a wrong one - there are no absolute and eternally right judgements: but because the notion of competition has become alien to the spirit of art.
When the social position of an artist was that of an artisan or a super-craftsman, the spirit of competition acted as a stimulus. Today the position of the artist has changed. He is no longer valued as the producer of his work, but for the quality of his vision and imagination as expressed in his work. He is no longer primarily a maker of art: he is an example of a man and it is his art which exemplifies him. This is true at an appreciative and philosophical level even under capitalism, where works of art are treated on the market like any other commodity. In the artist’s new role there is no place for comparative competition. One cannot properly compete to be a representative of Man. It is the contradiction between this truth and the dominance of the art market over all production which destroys so much talent and creates so much confused desperation among artists in the capitalist countries.

John BergerArt and Revolution, Writers & Readers, London, 1969, page 152.

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