Lecture # 6 – The Changing Role of the Artist in Society
The Classical Artist –
In examining the role of the artist in the Ancient World we have to understand the influence of slavery because:
1. It provided a more or less permanent supply of low cost labor, and it tended to discourage technological innovation – hence changes in the arts and crafts occurred very slowly.
2. Slavery allowed small classes of free citizens to enjoy leisure time, social pleasure, the delights of contemplation and political debate – anything but manual labor.
3. The association of slaves or ex slaves with manual labor becomes a permanent feature of aristocratic culture. Artists are laborers.
·We have to use the term ‘artisan’ to designate painters, sculptors and craftsman in the ancient world because our concept of the artist did not exist. They are skilled laborers
·Before the concept of the Artist could emerge – or the notion of ‘genius’ as applied to certain artists of the Renaissance – it was necessary to regard the artisan as a person whose work develops from inner ideas and self-directed effort.
·Trades were hereditary.
·Formal schooling for the artisan did not exist.
·Artisan training and manufacture emphasized technical excellence.
·Little or no attention was paid to artistic expression. No one, including the artist thought the artisan’s personal feelings were of particular interest.
The Medieval Artist –
·In the Middle Ages we see the Professionalization of the Artist make its greatest strides – under the organized master craftsmen of the Medieval Guilds.
·We would not hesitate to call them artists, but they were stilled considered craftsmen – and therefore socially removed from gentlemen.
·Excellent though they are as weavers, sculptors, carpenters, masons, glassworkers etc… these craftsmen affected Medieval life mainly in their collective capacity – through their ability to manufacture and distribute their essential goods.
·Formal apprenticeship system with exacting standards of quality.
·The master craftsman in Medieval Europe was regarded as a decent, honorable, responsible member of society – much like a banker in the early American Midwest.
·But, as with ancient/classical art, the stamp of the individual artist was seen to be lesser or unimportant. The stamp of the Guild was all – it testified to the training of the person who made it.
·Standards of quality. - i.e. amount of gold leaf in a work.
The Master Craftsman is a freeman, no longer associated with the slave class. They may not be considered gentlemen, but some of them are making enough money to associate with the upper classes, and this will open doors not only for them - but for the Renaissance artist to come in many ways – patrons, education and social status.
The Renaissance Artist –
·Ask most people to name an artist, and they will give you a name from the Renaissance. They may even know a few of their masterpieces.
·Medieval artists are largely anonymous, but there is another reason why we don’t know them. They lived in a time that saw them as craftsmen. Not so those of the Renaissance. Why?
·One reason is due to a Florentine named Giorgio Vasari. In 1546 he wrote a book called The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects. Mostly about his fellow Florentines.
·The book discusses their careers and personalities in a manner that leaves no doubt about the importance of a crucially new idea:
·A great artist is also, and necessarily, a great person.
15th century art is intimately related to wealth.
A merchant had to demonstrate that he had the power (and the judgment) to command the finest talents, afford the most costly materials, and have the highest reaches of the imagination to carry out projects to amaze the multitude. THAT MEANT ART.
Rise of the artist depended on a number of non-aesthetic factors.
The rise of the Critic
The Court Artist –
- Rulers of every country require images of themselves to celebrate their victories, to inspire loyalty, to impress their people, to maintain a sense of presences, and to set an example.
- Even when the images seem decorative, they represent authority.
- The royal image gives a persona to a land and its inhabitants –not abstract like a flag.
- The political function of this type of art seems to be the same regardless of the culture: to unite the prevailing idea of authority with a ruler’s idealized image.
- To create that image, an artist must have access to the ruler. That means physical contact, often for sustained periods of time.
- The Court Artist becomes a courtier – one who belongs, or wants to belong – to the social circle surrounding a monarch.
- The definitive form is the Baroque Court Artist phenomenon that emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries in the places of monarchs ruling by divine right.
- Louis XIV set the example, which was followed by the higher clergy and lesser nobility – all wanted their likeness and deeds recorded by painters and sculptors.
- Consequently, there was a continuous jockeying amongst talented artists seeking court positions and places in the houses of aristocrats and clergy.
- In many ways, the court portrait defines the Baroque style. (Critics opinion.)
- This challenged the court painter to create – with the frequently modest dimensions of a real man or woman – the image of a being that fits the glorious mythology of divine kingship.
- Larger than life personas
- Move ponderously but with irresistible force across the land, and by implication, through the heavens.
- Energy seems to radiate from them as from the sun.
- Their rhythms correspond to the rhythm of the planets.
· Characteristics of Baroque art include: exquisite skill and the illusion of light, space and motion that characterized the style.
- The court artist inspired the political notion that the powers of the state are virtually unlimited.
- Baroque courtly art would filter down to influence the manners, postures and dress of the aristocrats and through them, the lower classes.
The Society Artist –
Closely associated with the Courtly Artist.
- Painting the Merchant Princes – the Nouveau Riche, the class of persons who achieved greatness through achievement rather than lineage.
- By turn of the 20th century, the function of the society painter was to create images that were simultaneously living likenesses; signs of good taste, symbols of fashion, and evidence of wealth.
- While rarely courtiers, these people had to be portrayed as if they belonged at court.
- This, American millionaires were made to look like English Dukes and Duchesses.
- It was common for the society painter to make everyone look thinner, and paler. New convention of representation.
- Agents of aesthetic and cultural diffusion.
- These ideals are later taken up by Hollywood.
- The modern court artist is no longer a place resident, and not necessarily a painter.
- Society photographers: Cecil Beaton. Portraits may be as stiffly posed as a painting.
- We now want o see our leaders relaxed – we want to see them as real, and less remote.
- There is a quality of informality, because the camera is democratic – it makes us all equal.
- Anyone with a camera can catch a great person unawares.
- Paparazzi is the modern court artist.
The Revolutionary Artist –
Art could be a critical as well as a descriptive representation of life.
- When artists belonged to the artisan class, the themes of their work were controlled by people who wanted to maintain the status quo.
- When it was shown that art is a product of independent thought and inquiry the way was open for society and all of its institutions to become the objects of such inquiry.
- Genuinely revolutionary art only occurred when artists (and thoughtful people in general) realized that they could play a role in the shaping of history. (Before this, art was descriptive – showed everyday scenes).
- The artist could participate in the transformation of society by using visual images as an agent of social progress.
3 Types of Revolutionary Artists –
Tries to make fundamental changes through direct attack of the persons,
legal situation and social institutions that support the status quo.
Sometimes called Propagandists, because the literally illustrate revolutionary dogma. (Kathe Kollwitz and the Mexican Muralist Diego Rivera fit this category).
2. Indirectly revolutionary.
· Do not offer a scheme for political or social change.
· But, their representation of social conditions is so outraged, and so scathing that it makes viewers feel that they cannot support the existing social order. (Goya, Daumier and Munch).
- It incites others to action.
3. Revolutionary purely for artistic reasons.
· Essentially internal developments within the history of art.
· Introduce/originate radical changes in visual form, but it has little or nothing to say about society or politics.
· Marxist would say this is innovative but not revolutionary.
· Art critics argue that fundamental changes in visual representation have deeply unsettling, and therefore revolutionary effects on society.
· It can also be argued that if form and content are inseparable, then changes in artistic form signal underlying changes in society as a whole. (Cezanne, Matisse, Manet, Picasso).
The Bohemian Artist –
The person who can identify the Italian Masters also knows about Bohemianism.
- No regular job
- No regular hours
- Loose living
- Most people make connections between Bohemians, hippies, and dropouts.
- They also suspect – rightly –that some artists spend more time perfecting their lifestyles than they do on making art.
- Many are attracted to the artistic lifestyle – including assorted rebels and poseurs.
- There is tolerance, freedom and camaraderie here.
Many of the major personalities of Modern Art were devotees of the Bohemian spirit – at least, they started out as bohemians.
- Lifestyle appears to be nonconformist in the extreme.
- Actually a code – a highly standardized code – that art students and artists buy into. (A philosophy of art and life).
- It is a style and a profession requiring the fervent dedication of its followers.
The connection between Bohemianism and Romanticism –
Bohemians try to exploit the main discoveries of the Romanticists:
- The central importance of the inner life of the artist. (Individual expression)
- Emotions are the ultimate truth. (Both in the artist and viewer).
- The significance of the intuition in artistic creativity.
- The secret meaning of irrational acts.
- The inseparability of art and life.
These are serious principles around which the bohemian artist tries to build a personal and artistic existence.
Dedication to art as substitute for religion
ART FOR ART’S SAKE IS THE ABSOLUTE.
Rules to prevent the loss to prevent the loss of what is most precious to the Romantic Artist:
- Emotional power
- The ability to excite viewers, to overwhelm ordinary people with the force of the artist’s expression of feelings.
- Romantics have a confidence in the ability of art to change people by appealing directly to their emotions.
- Convinced that logic, reason and science dealt only with superficial matters.
- Believed conscious thought, official knowledge, and established institutions were a thin covering hiding the real truth.
- If artists permit themselves to be guided by ordinary codes of behavior they will never access it.
- Conventional codes of behavior were designed to hide the truth.
- A conviction that social conventions are misleading as well as corrupt.
- It makes sense to avoid the lies and compromises that make up the lives of “respectable” people.
Revolutionary artists are fundamentally Political Radicals.
Bohemian artists are Social Radicals.
- Their lives are a personal protest against the social order and the cultural establishment.
- Protest may not take artistic form – but it does take behavioral form.
- Lack of possessions, contempt for social expectations – their lives must express contempt for everything the middle class holds dear.
- Ironically, almost always a product of the middle class.
- Powerful desire to tear down symbols of society.
- Another factor is drugs/alcohol/sexuality/illness/suicide/early death.
- Self-destruction seems to be an important theme: artist must suffer.
- Those who survived Bohemianism recognized it as a phase appropriate to the student. If you stay there, you end up unproductive and unable to deal with life.
The Modern Artist –
Can be any or all of these types we have discussed.
Also: Illustrator, Graphic Designer, Industrial Designer, Hyphenated Artist or Gallery Idol.
Illustration = art intended to accompany something else.
- They embellish a writer’s work.
- Several stars in the US – esp. WWII – Norman Rockwell.
Graphic Design = Visual communication in printed or electronically printed form.
Industrial Design - the marriage of art and engineering
- They determine the form of objects for machine production.
- Also visual services, product planning, display and environments.