by Taro Kimura
The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode
of production prevails, presents itself as "an immense
accumulation of art works," its unit being a single
art work. Our investigation must therefore begin with the
analysis of an art work.
An art work is, in the first place, an object outside us, a
thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort
or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance,
they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no differ-
ence. Neither are we here concerned to know how the object
satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence,
or indirectly as means of production.
Every useful thing, as iron, paper, &c., may be looked at
from the two points of view of quality and quantity. It is
an assemblage of many properties, and may therefore be of
use in various ways. To discover the various use of things is
the work of history. So also is the establishment of socially-
recognized standards of measure for the quantities of these
useful objects. The diversity of these measures has its origin
partly in the diverse nature of the objects to be measured,
partly in convention.
The utility of a thing makes it a use-value. But this
utility is not a thing of air. Being limited by the physical
properties of art, such as iron, corn, or a diamond, is therefore,
so far as it is a material thing, a use-value, something useful.
This property of art is independent of the amount or labour
required to appropriate its useful qualities. When treating of
use-value, we always assume to be dealing with definite
quantities, such as dozens of watches, yards of linen, or tons
of iron. The use-values of art works furnish the material for
a special study, Aesthetics. Use-values become a reality only
by use or consumption: they also constitute the substance of
all wealth, whatever may be the social from of that wealth.
In the form of society we are about to consider, they are,
in addition, the material depositories of exchange value.
Exchange value, at first sight, presents itself as a quantitative
relation, as the proportion in which values in use of one sort
are exchanged for those of another sort, a relation constantly
changing with time and place. Hence exchange value appears
to be something accidental and purely relative, and conse-
quently an intrinsic value, i.e., and exchange value that is
inseparably connected with, inherent in art works, seems a
contradiction in terms. Let us consider the matter a little
A given art work, e.g., Marcel Duchamp's ready-made is exchanged
for x blacking, y silk, or z gold, &c.-in short, for other com-
modities in the most different proportions. Instead of one
exchange value, Duchamp's ready-made has, therefore, a great many.
But since x blacking, y silk, or z gold, &c., each represent the
exchange value of Duchamp's ready-made, x blacking, y silk,
z gold, &c., must as exchange values be replaceable by each
other, or equal to each other. Therefore, first: the valid
exchange values of a given art work express something
equal; secondly, exchange value, generally, is only the mode
of expression, the phenomenal form, of something contained
in it, yet distinguishable from it.
Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The pro-
portions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those pro-
portions may be, can always be represented by an equation in
which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of
iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn=x cwt. iron. What does this equa-
tion tell us? It tells us that in two different things-in 1
quarter of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quan-
tities something common to both. The two things must there-
fore be equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor
the other. Each of them, so far as it is exchange value, must
therefore be reducible to this third.
A simple geometrical illustration will make this clear. In
order to calculate and compare the areas of rectilinear figures,
we decompose them into triangles. But the areas of the tri-
angle itself is expressed by something totally different from its
visible figure, namely, by half the product of the base into
the altitude. In the same way the exchange values of art works
must be capable of being expressed in terms of something common
to them all, of which thing they represent a greater or less
This common "something" cannot be either a geometrical,
a chemical, or any other natural property of art works.
Such properties claim our attention only in so far as they
affect the utility of those art works, make them use-values.
But the exchange of art works is evidently an act character-
ised by a total abstraction from use-value. Then one use-
value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in
sufficient quantity. Or, as old Barbon says, "one sort of
wares are as good as another, if the values be equal. There is
no difference or distinction in things of equal value ....
An hundred pounds' worth of silver or gold." As use-
values, art works are, above all, of different qualities, but as
exchange values they are merely different quantities, and con-
sequently do not contain an atom of use-value.
An art work appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and
easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a
very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and
theological niceties. So far as it is a value in use, there is
nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the
point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying
human wants, or from the point that those properties are the
product of artists' labour. It is as clear as noon-day, that man,
by his industry, transforms the forms of the materials furnished
by nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The
form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out
of it. Yet, for all that the table continues to be that common,
every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as an
art work, it is transformed into something transcendent. It not
only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all
other ready-made, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its
wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than "table-
turning" ever was.
The mystical character of art works does not originate,
therefore, in their use-value. Just as little does it proceed
from the nature of the determining factors of value. For, in
the first place, however varies the useful kinds of labour, or
productive activities, may be, it is a physiological fact, that
they are functions of the art organism, and that each such
function, whatever may be its nature or form, is essentially the
expenditure of artist's brain, nerves, muscles, &c. Secondly,
with regard to that which forms the ground-work for the quan-
titative determination of value, namely, the duration of that
expenditure, or the quantity of labour, it is quite clear that
there is a palpable difference between its quantity and quality.
In all states of society, the labour-time that it costs to produce
the means of subsistence must necessarily be an object of inter-
est to artists, though not of equal interest in different stages
of development. And lastly, from the moment that artists in
any way work for one another, their labour assumes a social
Whence, then, arises the enigmatical character of the product
of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities?
Clearly from this form itself. The equality of all sorts of
human labour is expressed objectively by their products all
being equally values; the measure of the expenditure of labour-
power by the duration of that expenditure, takes the form of
the quantity of value of the products of labour; and finally,
the mutual relations of artists, within which the social
character of their labour affirms itself, take the form of a
social relation between the products.
An art work is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because
in it the social character of artists' labour appears to them as an
objective character stamped upon the product of that labour;
because the relation of the artists to the sum total of their
labour. This is the reason why art works become commodities,
social things whose qualities are at the same time
perceptible and imperceptible by the senses. In the same way
the light from an object is perceived by us not as the subjective
excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of
something outside the eye itself. But, in the act of seeing.
there is at all events, an actual passage of light from one thing
to another, from the external object to the eye. There is a
physical relation between physical things. But it is different
with art works. There, the existence of the things qua
art works, and the value relation between the products of
labour which stamps them as art works, have absolutely no
connection with their physical properties and with the material
relations arising there from. There it is a definite social rela-
tion between artists, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic
form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find
an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped re-
gions of the religious world, In that world the productions of
the artist's brain appear as independent beings endowed with
life, and entering into relation both with one another and the
human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the
products of artists' hands. This I call the Fetishism which at-
taches itself to art works, so soon as they are produced as
commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the
production of commodities.
This Fetishism of art works has its origin, as the fore-
going analysis has already shown, in the peculiar social
character of the labour that produces them.