Podcast Episode 5: Romantic Aesthetics, Part Two

AESTHETICS AND TRE RISE OF ROMANTICISM

Emerging in the mid-eighteenth century, Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy which seeks to define “art.” The formulation of aesthetics as a separate aspect of Enlightenment thinking was a project of British and German writers on the arts. One of the new concepts developed by these thinkers was the modern idea of “disinterest,” which meant that art was to be contemplated for itself on its own merits, not for its content or subject matter. With the lessening importance of the patrons, this new mode of looking put the artist and his or her at the center of the art making process.

Now on display in public salons, the artist had to have a recognizable style and a new identity for the modern artist began to take shape. By the end of the eighteenth century, Emmanuel Kant consolidated “aesthetics” into a coherent and influential book, the Critique of Judgment, which would impact the intellectual world of the Romantic artists. Due to this important discourse in aesthetics, the artist was remade into a “genius,” who was independent of the public and who made art for art’s sake.

 

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
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Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

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are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone

Remember to download the iBooks app to your iPad or iPhone

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

The Enlightenment and Artistic Styles

ART AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT

Rococo and Revolution

From the early eighteenth century on, the visual arts, from painting to interior décor, were markers of class and harbingers of the Revolution to come. A late expression of the pompous and grandiose Baroque, the soft Rococo style was the pompous Baroque turned lovely and domestic. The domaine of female patrons and even of women artists, the Rococo style was long given short shrift by art historians, who glossed over the pale pastel colors in favor of the more “masculine” style that supplanted it, Neo-Classicism. But even during the eighteenth century, this split between masculine and feminine and frivolous and sober, immoral and moral existed in the opposition between the aristocratic Rococo style and the genre paintings made for the middle class. The Rococo is a world of mirrored rooms with mirrors that had to be kept clean, of pale paneling trimmed in gilt that needed to be dusted and polished, of embroidered and brocaded fabrics that required careful maintenance–the maintenance of all of which demanded hundreds of servants. The sight of elegantly carved furniture and voluminous shimmering silk gowns and shirts with lace cravats, depicted so appealingly by Jean-Antoine Watteau, makes one understands the rage of a vengeful revolutionary mob rioting in tattered clothes.

The Rococo style is dualistic in that it is both private and aristocratic and public and accessible. The aristocratic Rococo reflects the aimless lives of the privileged elite but had a sense of humor, respecting neither church nor state. Rococo art was an anti-style with a palette and a type of brushwork all its own, rejecting the grandeur of the Baroque and aiming to simply please the wealthy spectators with its fleshy and witty eroticism. With Rococo art, the grandiose didactic Baroque was watered down to an art without serious purpose or, to put it another way, an art for pleasure’s sake only. At the hands of Joseph Marie Vien (1716-1809), antiquity became an excuse not to wear clothes and to exhibit plump and pink female bodies to the male spectators under the disguise of “classicism.” After decades of religious strife and endless preaching of the Reformation, the sheer prettiness of the Rococo was a great relief to weary art patrons. The Rococo was an art of sexual allure rather than solemn instruction as to duty and country, an idyll beautifully imagined by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) who pretended that life is an endless game, a fête galant for lovers who lived on a fantasy island or a Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717).

The world envisioned by the Rococo is a world of the court, where as Madame du Châtelet said, “We must begin by saying to ourselves that we have nothing else to do in the world but to seek pleasant sensations and feelings.” One can almost hear the clock of the Enlightenment ticking as it remorselessly reordered Madame’s world of pleasure into a world of democracy and equality. Today’s interpretations of the pleasures of Rococo art and the pretensions of Baroque art would have been largely lost on the actual audiences at the time, who, like any other art audience were interested in what they liked not in the social and class sub-texts of the art. The more famous of the Rococo paintings would have been private commissions, such as the quartet of paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) done in 1771 for the King’s mistress Madame du Barry. Now in the Frick Collection, the Louveciennes panels, The Pursuit, The Meeting, The Lover Crowned, and Love Letters are almost as famous as earlier 1767 work, The Happy Accidents of the Swing (The Swing). To more discerning eyes, however, both Baroque art, as still alive and well in history paintings, and Rococo art represented outmoded styles of an exhausted art form that would be judged as frivolous in comparison to serious Neo-Classicism.

Enlightenment writer and art critic Denis Diderot (1713-1784), one of the founders of the Encyclopédie, published in thirty two volumes between 1751 and 1765, used his pen to critique his age. Because his job was to observe society, everything caught his eye and he was one of the first art critics, publishing Correspondance littéraire, accounts of the French Salons. As a hardworking journalist, Diderot used art criticism to press the cause of righteous and moral art, as seen in the genre scenes of Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805) and Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779), over the licentious art of François Boucher (1703-1770), such as Leda and the Swan (1741). The Diligent Mother (1740) by Chardin displayed the sober and reasonable life style of the middle class. The Father’s Curse, The Ungrateful Son (1777) by Greuze was an object lesson in didactic morality. In these paintings, the middle class behaved rationally, pursing definite goals through industrious and productive work. “Reason,” Diderot claimed, “must be our judge and guide in everything.” In contrast to the private art of pleasure patronized by aristocrats, the simple human virtues of ordinary people could be compared to the ideals of a past that existed before the current age of decadence.

As opposed to the divine right of the monarchy and the idle lives of the nobles, another alternative morality was to be found in Nature and in Antiquity, the repository of ancient ideals and virtues. The middle class virtues and serious behavior were “natural,” compared to the artificial lifestyles of the court, controlled by arcane rules of etiquette. Even Marie Antoinette sought “nature” in her Versailles retreat, Le Hameau (1783), where she played peasant and the acting out of the natural only underscored its un-naturalness in her highly artificial “farm,” Le Hameau. “Nature” became fashionable. Inspired by Discourse on Inequality (1755) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) criticized modern life (culture) and compared it to the “natural” state of original human beings untainted by civilization. In addition, the world of nature itself was becoming an object of admiration, not of fear. Most importantly, Nature or the Natural, was mobilized as a critique of current social conditions being examined under the pens of the gens de lettres.

Hameau de la Reine

Hameau de la Reine (1782-83)

The kind of art preferred by Diderot the critic was moralizing and didactic that encouraged the public to use reason instead of the senses. As one of the first art critics, his task was twofold, to describe the works of art to the rulers of Europe who would never see them and to use art as a subtle vehicle for his social ideas. Although Diderot learned about art through studio visits with the artists, his audience, European despots, who sported the sobriquet “enlightened,” were informed of French art through an internationally distributed newsletter, Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique, edited by Baron Friedrich-Melchior Grimm. The newsletter was not subject to French censorship and could freely critique the social system. The irony of Diderot extolling middle class virtues to the lusty Czarina of Russia, Catherine, is intriguing and one can only wonder what the great queen thought when she read in his review of the Salon of 1763, “First, I like genre–it is moral painting.”

In relation to the works of Boucher, Diderot wrote in 1765, “Depravity of morals has been closely followed by the debasement of taste, color, composition,” and suggested a year later that an appropriate alternative to aristocratic frivolity would be antiquity: “It seemed to me that we should study the antique in order to learn to see Nature.” But Diderot demanded more than mere stylistic servitude, “First of all, move me, surprise me, rend my heart; make me tremble, weep, shudder, outrage me, delight my eyes, afterwards, if you can…Whatever the art form, it is better to be extravagant than cold.” Although Diderot did not live long enough to witness either Neoclassicism or Romanticism, both of which are anticipated in his writings, he articulated many important concepts in his art writing with his emphasis on naïvité, which led to “primitivism” in the Realist Movement and the grand ideal of Nicholas Poussin, grand manner painting based in classicism. He advocated restraint: “Paint as though in Sparta.”

The re-discovery of Pompeii (1748) and Herculaneum (1709) reignited an interest in ancient life. The towns, buried in a volcanic eruption in 79 CE, were perfectly preserved under layers of ash and lava and consequent (and ongoing) excavations revealed a way of life thought extinct. Fueled by the unearthing of wall paintings, history painting shifted more and more to the moral lessons of antiquity. The example of ancient virtue, especially the Roman virtue of the early days of the Roman Republic, provided an alternative to the current decline in social standards. Roman virtue was more than a dream, for Rome–ancient Rome–had become the climax point of every Grand Tour for every well-to-do European during the eighteenth century. Scholars and tourists inspected the ruins and artists, such as Hubert Robert and Canaletto, responded to the demand for Italian vistas with vedutas. Archaeologists explored and discovered the remains of classical civilizations, and these recoveries were made available to the public and to artists through carefully engraved reproductions. Antiquity, from the reading of Homer to the use of the ancient as a suitable subject for artists, became the order of the day from the mid-eighteenth century on.

Diderot believed that art should teach moral development but at the same time he believed in the idea of genius, a new idea that was beginning to circulate and would be best articulated decades later in the writings of Emmanuel Kant. Although the moral sentiments of the works by Greuze were admirable, Diderot lamented that he was “no longer able to like Greuze,” who occasionally attempted the grand manner, and preferred Chardin, who was not only morally sound but also the superior artist. Reading Diderot, one thinks of Jacques-Louis David as the Messiah of art that the critic was waiting for, but Diderot died too soon and never saw “Spartan” art of David. In fact, the artistic period of the Enlightenment is one of transition, because intellectuals found it hard to either predict the future or to foresee the logical consequences of the newly forming ideals of “reason,” “democracy,” and “equality.” Diderot’s public counterpart, the art writer, La Font de Saint-Yenne, author of Réflexions sur quelques causes de l’état present de la peinture en France, 1757, also took a middle path and equated the aristocrats with the ancients and was typical in his inability to imagine a form of government or society without these hereditary rulers. The aristocrats, in turn, took the prudent course of denouncing their own decadence and corruption and joined in the vogue for the “natural” by praising simplicity and order. The nobles attacked royal despotism of King Louis XVI and the Austrian Queen, Marie Antoinette, in defense of their own privileges and positions, threatened by the wayward behavior of these hapless monarchs.

The repudiation of the monarchy did not save the lives of the French nobility and the stage was set for a new form of art that would more precisely reflect the Enlightenment ideals for a middle class art public.

Also read: “What is Modern?” and “The Enlightenment: Introduction” and “The Enlightenment and Reason” and “The Enlightenment and Society” and “The Enlightenment and the Art Public” and “The Political Revolution in America”

Also listen to: “What is Modern?”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Podcast Episode 4: Romantic Aesthetics, Part One

THE AESTHETICS OF ROMANTICISM

Part One

With the decline of religious commissions and with the end of aristocratic patronage, the modern artist was left dependent upon the State and the new art public. In the past, it had been sufficient to define “art” as that which had been approved by a higher power, but in the nineteenth century, a new definition of art was required. Aesthetics, which provides the epistemology of art, or the ground of “art,” was a new aspect of philosophy that emerged coincidentally with the historical break in the old definition of art. This podcast will examine the social and cultural foundations of Aesthetics and the philosophical development of the definition of “modern art.”  

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you. [email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone

Remember to download the iBooks app to your iPad or iPhone

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

Revolution and Terror in France

UNREASON AND ENLIGHTENMENT

The Revolution and Terror in France

When the American Revolutionary War was waged, the conflict was unpopular both in England and America. Only one third of the colonists supported and participated in the War. And yet the Revolution was won—astonishingly—by the upstart colonists; and suddenly America was on its own, as the “United States,” embarking on one of the most revolutionary governments of all time, a democracy. It cannot be exaggerated how experimental this new nation seemed to the Europeans. America was an unprecedented ideal realized and many observers predicted failure and chaos. It also cannot be exaggerated how much Europeans distrusted the very concept of “democracy,” or rule of the “mob.” “Government by the people, for the people,” as Lincoln said later, was a horrifying concept in Europe. And with good reason, from the perspective of the sober middle class, the “dangerous” lower classes were to be feared. Those fears were manifested in France, only a few years after the formation of the United States of America, when another Revolution erupted in 1789. All fears of the wrath of the lover classes were realized, and, in France, this revolution was bloody and violent, utterly without common sense or reason.

Unlike the American Revolution, as much as it was a revolution against a King ,the French Revolution was a civil war, a war between the classes. For centuries the lower classes had been repressed and kept under the delicate high heels of the aristocracy, which refused to part with any of its age old privileges. Those with titles lived in a world of the past, frozen in amber, clinging to a past, unaware of the dangers of the present. The middle class, literate and educated and ambitious were steeped in the revolutionary ideas of the Enlightenment. The real civil war in France was between the past and the future, with the Revolution as the blood midwife of the present, giving violent birth and presiding over gruesome death. The American Revolution pitted one restive nation against an oppressive parent nation, but the French went war with themselves as class fought class for survival and dominance. The reasons for the French rebelled against King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were quite different and more personal compared the the distant antagonism of the Americans to a far-away King George III, who suddenly tried to tax them. Their political cry–“no taxes without representation”–was a demand for equality, but the slogan fell on deaf ears. It was quite possible that if the Crown had negotiated with the colonists, an agreement might have been reached, but in France there was no possibility of reasoning with the angry proletariat. Although inspired by Enlightenment philosophy, the French Revolution began, not with the middle classes, but with the lower classes. The sans coulottes, or the proletariat, had suffered under the unbending rule of the aristocracy and were struggling with the impact of a change in climate, known as The Little Ice Age, which brought years of crop failure and famine. In addition to the lowering of temperatures, a volcanic eruption in Iceland in 1783 resulted in devastated harvests. After years of dramatically cold winters and devastatingly hot summers, there was a significant shortage of grains and bread riots began in 1789. The starving proletariate demanded that the inert government act to protect its people.

The lower classes, the peasants, tired, overworked, and hungry, and they spontaneously rose up to protest their hardships. The proletariat was not inspired by ideas of their “natural rights;” they were starving. When the ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers filtered down to them, these modern ideas were rejected by the lower classes, who felt threatened by modernity and its attack on a traditional way of life. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, it was the well-educated aristocrats in France and England supported the Revolution, acting from a moral and philosophical point of view, never thinking they would be in danger. Those of the upper class who were wealthy and prospering from new economic opportunities had everything to gain from establishing a constitutional monarchy along the lines of the arrangement in England. Although the heroes of the American Revolution, Washington and Lafayette, were greatly admired in France, the ultimate model for the French Revolutionaries was Britain, which had a constitutional monarchy and an established aristocracy. America was too democratic for French needs.

By 1788, France was in a crisis of confidence concerning the incompetent rulers, King Louis XVI and his Austrian Queen, Marie Antoinette. As if the bloodline of French royalty and thinned into this indifferent couple which was positively incontinent when it came to spending money. But it was not the extravagant Marie Antoinette and her famous diamond necklace which bankrupted France. The French monarch actually cost the French people half of what the British monarchy cost the English. Ironically, the nation’s financial troubles stemmed from its alliance with the American colonies in the War of Independence. The saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” could have been applied to the unhappy French royal family after America became independent. Not that the French were supporting democracy; the French were fighting England for continental and international dominance. The French had gone into debt to finance the Seven Years’ War with England and the desire for revenge had propelled them into another war, using America as their pawn. All the French wanted to do was to slow the dominance of the British Empire but the law of unintended consequences came into effect: as a result of supporting the American cause and humiliating the British, the nation was bankrupt and there were severe food shortages with no money to pay for imported food.

The war fought for American independence, told from the French perspective, is unrecognizable to an American: the powerful and competent French won the war for the incompetent and stalemated Americans, but great cost financially. The difficulty of recovering from a costly war is a also modern problem, and, even today, recovering from the expense of a war can easily take a decade. For example, it took America some twenty years to recover from the expense of the Vietnam War, hence the prosperity of the 1990s. But France was reeling from the impact of climate change, and the nation was a largely feudal nation faced with the coming of modern capitalism but still lacking the modern financial instruments to solve their problems. Then, as now, no one wanted to be taxed to pay for the war, even a war that was so full of celebrated and adored heroes, such as Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de Layfayette. The war had to be paid for and the King was persuaded to call representatives of the people together to work out a workable tax system to pay for the war.

The philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau had taken such a hold on the imagination of the ruling class that the King was forced to bend to the logic of “natural law” and “natural rights.” An amateur watch maker, Louis XVI seemed to genuinely want to be the kind of good ruler demanded by the Enlightenment and he made he mistake of calling together the Estates General, a representative body with a medieval ancestry. The Estates General, which had not been called since 1616, consisted of the First Estate, the nobles, the Second Estate, the clergy, and the Third Estate, the middle class. The representatives were supposed to solve the problems of France by raising taxes on the people, but the men who gathered together began to imagine a new system of government entirely. The problem was that the three estates had equal votes and the first and second estates aligned themselves against the third estate. After six weeks of contention, the Third Estate pulled out and declared themselves the National Assembly, meeting on a tennis court, jeu de paume, to take an oath to stay together until, like the Americans, they wrote a Constitution. In the end, rather than helping the King solve the problems of the nation, this distaff group eventually deposed the monarchy. Once painter the the aristocrats, Jacques Louis David, depicted the dramatic moment of the oath taking, showing the excitement of runaway emotion and demonstrating his flexibility in the face of a changing client base.

Jacques-Louis David. The Tennis Court Oath (1791)

The word of the hour was “citizen,” which also meant patriot or someone who served the patrie or nation, not the King. Originally intended to be an inclusive term, it would later be an excluding term. While the aristocrats limited their revolutionary gestures to divesting themselves of their titles (not their lands or wealth) and privileges, the sans coulottes (who did not wear breeches and hose but the long trousers of the working class male) desperately needed help. It is one thing to be unhappy with your rulers; it is another thing entirely to be hungry with no prospects for change. The French Revolution began in 1789, the same year the Americans were writing a Constitution, opening dramatically on July 14 with the storming of the Bastille, an infamous but largely empty prison. From the start, the Revolution was an unstable entity, driven by mob anger, which led to the Terror of 1793-94. The transfer of power from the aristocrats to the middle class ended with the execution of the King and Queen and the annihilation of a large portion of the aristocratic class. Thousands of people, the wealthy, the well-born, and their servants died under the new invention, the guillotine, at the hands of a blood thirsty mob. Indeed, many of those titled men who had so passionately supported the Revolution lost their heads to a new invention, the guillotine, because, as aristocrats, they could never be “citizens.”

As though the regicide of the King loosened something in the French people, the year of the execution of Louis XVI opened the Reign of Terror under the auspices of the Revolutionary Tribunal over 30, 000 people perished under the blade of the guillotine. The instrument of Terror was the Committee of Safety, where the major leaders of the Revolution, Robespierre, Danton, and Sainte-Juste, took away all of the rights won by the early years of the Revolution and reinstalled all of the oppressive practices of the monarchy. The reasons for setting up this deadly tribunal were, according to Sophie Wahnich, was to turn the attentions of the French people from unruly vengeance to the task of defending the Revolution against the European powers threatening to invade France and end the Revolution. But there were enemies within as well who much be purged so that the people could see that the leaders were preventing “injustice.” As Wahnich wrote in 2012 In Defense of the Terror: Liberty or Death in the French Revolution,

The Terror presupposed quick action so as to defeat the enemies before they destroyed the Revolution so that the people would not be disgusted by injustice, and wold not have to take up unheeding injury in their exercise of the sovereign exception, and to effectively restrain this founding sovereignty. The exercise of Terror was thus a race against time. It was undoubtedly here that the project became impossible:to give the expected justice a form that was at the same time controlled–and do so at lightening speed.

The French were unfortunate in their leaders, or rather, their lack of real leadership or moral or ethical guidance. This revolution thrust up rabble-rousers and demagogues, ambitious and unscrupulous men, all determined to ride the wave of revolution into greater power. In the end, they all wound up victims of the very rage they had stirred up. Although the notorious Committee of Safety was in charge, no one was in control. There were only those who aroused the mod, like Maximilien Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat, Georges Jacques Danton, and Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Juste. The result was that the Revolution ran wild as the lower classes vented their anger on the aristocrats and ordinary people, during the years known as the Terror from 1793 to 1795. As Robespierre thundered, “Softness to traitors will destroy us all.” Actually Robespierre was involved in an internal struggle among the revolutionaries over who would control the Revolution and he attempted to ride the tiger he set loose. As every demagogue finds out, it is dangerous to unleash the passions of the mod, because the same crowd that lifted him up can cast him down. Marat was assassinated, Robespierre and Saint-Juste, “the archangel of the Revolution,” were executed in the Thermidorian Reaction, Danton created the Committee of Public Safety and then warned that the Revolution was spiraling out of control, only to be executed by the Committee he founded.

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon. Louis Antoine de Saint-Juste (1793)

The French Revolution degenerated into horror. Added to surveillance, spying and denunciation were massacres, mass executions and near genocide of a single class. In the end the leaders of the mob all went to that instrument of a human and “democratic” death, the guillotine. The question is when did the French Revolution end? Unlike the American Revolution, there was no moment of victory or surrender but a slow and disorderly internal struggle with in the new “government” formed in 1795, the Directory, to retain power among themselves and to keep the “mod,” still hungry and still angry and still powerless, under control. The “official” end, if there was one, was the Coup of Brumaire in 1799. Under the leadership of Director Emmanuel Joseph Sieyés, who installed an undefeated general, named Napoléon Bonaparte, he though was controllable and Pierre-Roger Ducos, who had supported him in the Coup. The three formed the Consulate and the military took control.

The rest, as they say, is history. The power vacuum left behind by the killing of the king was to be filled by a new leader, who could bring order out of chaos by protecting the French from the European armies, which were advancing towards the country to put an end to the savage rebellion and restore the monarchy. Napoléon Bonaparte waited politely for three years before he removed his fellow counsels and reinstalled the idea of total power being held by one man, ending the goals and the ideals of a Revolution gone wrong.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.
[email protected]

The Political Revolution in America

AMERICAN REVOLUTION as ENLIGHTENMENT

Social and Political Change

Supported by the revolution in industrialized production, which enriched a new class of entrepreneurs, several important political revolutions cemented the middle class into power. Made by “new men,” new money created new forms of power for the newly educated and newly educated professionals and businessmen who began to chafe under the old-fashioned notion of “the divine right of kings.” Looking back, it is clear that the aristocratic class—an anachronistic class that produced nothing—was doomed to extinction in a new age in which production had become a new value. In some nations, the dinosaur elite faded gently into the good night, but, in other countries, a revolution was necessary to dislodge the ancien régime. The economic revolution of the rise of industrial manufacturing gave impetus to a social revolution which would inevitably be followed by political revolutions, first in America and then in France, and finally in England. While the idea of political revolution differed from nation to nation, the idea of social freedom and political change spread from America to the Old World, the European continent. The purging of the ruling classes continued for over one hundred years, culminating, perhaps, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. All of these revolutions were products of the promise of the Enlightenment.

It is worth noting, however, that these so-called “revolutions” did not include women, people of color, or the poor. Only white men with a certain amount of property and income were eligible for the enormous cultural changes that marked the beginning of the nineteenth century. One of the more profound questions of history is how to judge the founders of America who excluded women and “counted” slaves, for political purposes, as three-fifths of a human being. On one hand these Forefathers were men of their own time, on the other hand they were supposedly “enlightened,” but they failed the nation and refused to face up the meaning and promise of the word “equality.” Allowing women full citizenship could be easily avoided but for the founders of America, slavery was an unsolvable problem. Many of the signers of the Constitution were slave owners who assumed (incorrectly) in an astonishing display of dissembling, that slavery would wither away on its own. That said, those pioneering revolutionaries in Philadelphia set up an “experiment” in democracy, an experiment that is still being tested. As audacious as it was, the first of these political revolutions–power to the people–was in America and had a limited effect at first, perhaps because America was such a great distance from Europe. At first, the American Revolution was an improbable escape from the clutches of the British Empire in its early days of understanding how to manage far away colonial possessions. Later, the revolution of middle class people throwing off the yoke of inherited power was seen as a beacon for other rebellious peoples seeking to determine their own independent fates. The French Revolution of 1789, which was inspired by the War of Independence in America, was far more impactful upon European politics and society. Inspired, by the actuality of the French events–a climate shift that produced bad harvests and starvation for the lower classes and by ideas of natural rights and equality, the French Revolution upended the divine right of kings in a continent full of kings, queens and emperors.

In 1776, the American colonies presented a “Declaration of Independence” from the Mother Country, England, and followed the demand for more autonomy with a successful Revolutionary War. With financial and military help from England’s greatest rival, France, the American Colonies freed themselves from the hereditary monarchy and established an experiment in self-governance called “democracy.” Inspired byEnlightenment ideas of “natural rights” and “the social contract,” the American politicians, from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Hamilton, were well born, well educated, and well bred. However, even wealthy planters such as George Washington, were not European aristocrats and were inherently subservient to their English rulers. As “colonists,” they, like all Americans, were subjects of a King and, as such, could never be the nobility. Because the colonists could be only two classes, middle or lower, regardless of social prominence or income, a certain rough social equality (with the exception of slaves) was established among them. Like the philosophers of England and France, American leaders were socially ambitious middle class (white) men who were sensitive to the winds of change. Influenced by the British Philosopher, John Locke, and the French philosophers, (François-Marie Arouet) Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Americans began to question their subservient roles and to challenge the British right to rule them. Britain was the strongest maritime power in the world, well on its way to becoming a huge colonial empire, but England was far away, the lines of command were impossibly long, and the Americans had become accustomed to taking care of themselves and running their own affairs. The resulting revolution was predictable and inevitable, even if the end, America victorious, was remarkable.

In comparison to the later horrors of the French Revolution, the American Revolution was a civilized affair. Based upon philosophical ideals that, by the end of the eighteenth century, were widely accepted, the Americans fought for their “natural right” to freely determine their own “social contract.” The role of the state was to ensure the happiness of the inhabitants, and, according to Rousseau, had a rather limited role as protector of the people’s rights. The concept of “natural rights,” put forward since the seventeenth century, clashed with the imperial and mercantile desires of the British Empire and this clash between the inalienable and economic imperatives was a bellwether of things to come. Writing in 1776, while Thomas Jefferson was penning the Declaration of Independence, Adam Smith wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and saw capitalism as a juggernaut that cared much for economic imperatives and little for “natural law.” Writing words that could be written today, Smith remarked,

Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.

The British, naturally, felt that the American colonies must play their proscribed role as captive consumers in the mechanism of imperialism. The Americans had other ideas: freedom, independence and the pursuit of happiness through self-governance. The conflict was between philosopphy–Rousseau and the inevitable economic imperatives—Smith. Inspired less by the noble ideas put forward by the beleaguered colonists and more by the opportunity to avenge their failure in the Seven Year’s War, the French lept to the defense of their American ally. Baffled by the unreasonable demands of their restive subjects, the British found themselves in a new kind of war, an unequal war, that any occupying power must confront: insurgency and guerilla (“little war”), complicated by long supply lines across the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the colonial adoptions of Native American style fighting, the Revolutionary War itself was fought according to the traditional rules of warfare and the British were outflanked and outsmarted by the combination of a stubborn native army and its determined French partner. The defeated British withdrew to establish their Empire elsewhere but invaded once more in 1812, attacking America, now an ally of Napoléon, but the young nation held firm against the former masters, even when the new home of the President, the White House burned.

To the astonishment of Europeans, many of whom shuddered at the though of “democracy,”seen as mob rule, the upstart American colonies had not only won their freedom but had also written a very serviceable Constitution by 1789. To the amazement of Europeans who dreamed of equality but seemed unable to achieve it, the “American Experiment” worked. Because the American Revolution was so unique, it was difficult to appreciate how extraordinary the victory of the Thirteen Colonies was. The Thirteen Colonies were fortunate in their leaders and their philosophy. Despite their major faults and moral and ethical failures, their inability to transcend their own narrow interests, the leader so the American Revolution were intellectuals who wrote a thoughtful set of rules based in universal values for the new and fragile nation. The men who composed the Declaration of Independence (re-writing Thomas Jefferson’s original draft) and the Constitution wanted to create an entirely new Social Contract, based upon principles of equality, democracy, and a balance of powers within the government.

trumbull-large1

John Trumbull. Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 (1811)

In contrast to the democratic system devised by the Americans to distribute power as evenly as possible among the inhabitants, most revolutions are fought to replace one power source with another, for a revolution is essentially a “revolving” of power, not a change in the way in which power is distributed. Americans accepted self-governance with equanimity. Although about one third of the population did not care who ruled America and one third were loyal to the English, there was no civil war and no social disorder, only a need to establish a firm legal foundation for the new nation, where all factions, different and indifferent, came together as “Americans.” Using the rational thinking of the Enlightenment, wise and articulate men like John Adams and Benjamin Franklin guided the nation to the concept of a government by consensus and based that agreement upon enduring documents, from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution to the Bill of Rights. Only when the American Revolution is contrasted to other upheavals in power can one appreciate the value of a George Washington, who refused to be King and agreed to be President reluctantly and only temporarily. Power was to be handed off after an election of a legitimately elected successor, a custom that has been followed faithfully to this day.

Rarely in history does a group of good people come together with good intentions and create a good thing. A far-flung colony somehow managed to produce a large number of astute political thinkers guided by Enlightenment philosophy, Christian religion, and something the expatriate Englishman and revolutionary upstart, Thomas Paine, called “Common Sense.” As Paine wrote in December 23, 1776 for his series The American Crisis,

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

The American democracy was far from perfect and was, indeed, incomplete. The rights of democracy—government by the people and for the people—were extended in a limited fashion. The contradictions of eighteenth century America are obvious today, but the conflict between demanding democracy for the few while limiting democracy for the many were not unknown to the Founders. The rights of women and slaves were debated in Europe and America, and yet, despite the existence of the discourse on human rights, the writers of the Constitution decided, deliberately, to leave women out and to postpone the problem of slavery for the next generation to solve. The result was a delayed democracy for women and people of color. But even this limited democracy was a source of wonder for all outsiders who observed the United States with amazement. A social revolution had become a political revolution.

Also read: “What is Modern?” and “The Enlightenment: Introduction” and “The Enlightenment and Reason” and “The Enlightenment and Society” and “The Enlightenment and the Art Public” and “The Enlightenment and Artistic Styles”

Also listen to: “What is Modern?”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.
[email protected]

Podcast Episode 3: Jacques-Louis David

THE NEOCLASSICISM OF JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID (1748-1825)

Jacques-Louis David, the most prominent Neoclassical painter in France, shifted his artistic allegiances from a king to a revolution against that king to an emperor. Was the artist a man without principles or was he a man of his own time, caught up in the tides of history, taking opportunity as he found it? The major works of art by David will be discussed within the context of his turbulent historical times. David developed a heroic and masculine style of Neoclassicism that proved to be well-suited to an era of war and revolution. Through his sheer talent (or effrontery) David managed to move with adroitness through political waters but with the fall of his final master, Napoléon, the luck of the painter ran out and he died in exile in Belgium.

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
[email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone.

Remember that you must download iBooks on your iPad or iPhone.

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

 

The Enlightenment and the Art Public

ART AND THE MODERN PUBLIC

The Birth of Modern Patronage

Spanning the seventeenth and eighteenth Centuries, the Enlightenment produced greater philosophical thinking than it did great works in the fine arts. In other words, new ideas and “progress” did not prevail in an art world dominated by aristocratic patronage and clientele. That said, the Enlightenment was crucial for a new way of thinking about art and art making. For Europe and the fledgling nation of America, “art” was a practice established in France. All other nations follow suit and followed French styles. In the beginning of this period of change and development of new kinds of individuals, newly free and newly equal, the production of visual art was under the protection and sponsorship of the State, under the censorious auspices of the Royal Academy, established in 1648 by the French King Louis XIV. This Academy of arts and letters was a model of central control followed by other major nations, all of which were aware of the need to monopolize the arts and to harness them to the needs of the government. Because the people of France paid for the education of artists, the French government, the major sponsor of art, held Salons, or public exhibitions of state-sponsored art from the eighteenth century. Set up outside on the grounds of the Palais Royale the new home of the Duc d’Orleans, who had an appetite for beauty and pleasure and the visual arts, the Academy showed off the achievements of the leading artists. But after the first show in 1704, this site of balls and fêtes proved unsuitable for large public exhibitions and the later salons were held at the Palace of the Louvre.

Here in the Palace the works of art could be protected from the weather and were displayed to their best advantage, albeit hung from floor to ceiling and packed chock a block on tables crowded in limited floor space. The Salons were held every year or every other year after 1737 on August 25th in the Salon carré of the Louvre. These highly popular events ran ten days to four weeks, attracting the art public and the art critic, both new social entities, which according to Thomas Crow’s Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth Century Paris (1987), where feared and hated by the artists. The Salons were Parisian events that were considered public entertainment on one hand and a display of the will of the state on the other, demonstrating, through works of art, lessons that every good subject should be taught. These exhibitions, which preceded the establishment of museums, were forms of disciplining the people and shaped their behavior in public places, establishing modes of “civilized” behavior. What was less anticipated by the government or the artists, much less by the Academy itself, was the enthusiasm with which the public embraced these events. Suddenly otherwise uneducated people developed opinions and some were bold enough to state their reactions to the art in what rapidly became a two-way conversation between the servants of the State and the public.

salon-1

The concept of a “public” for art was new as was the idea of publicaly exhibiting art, and inevitably, someone from the undifferentiated “public” would emerge with a desire to preserve and publish his or her opinion about art. This opinionated member of the public who dared to speak and write an to publish views about selected works, much to the dismay of the artists, was the “art critic.” By exposing the artists to the public, these annual Salons opened the artists to public scrutiny and public criticism and made the artists vulnerable to this new species, the art critic, who, astonishingly, demanded that the artist be accountable to the public. Artists, previously answerable only to elite groups of collectors and fellow artists, now needed public approval to succeed. The public, then as now, encompassed all levels of social and economic classes and all levels of education and constituted a community of interest, breaking social hierarchies down into the new notion of a “public,” as explored by Crow, who remarked that “the ‘public’ is both everywhere and nowhere in particular.” The creation and existence of this public brought with it new problems for the artist: what to represent in terms of subject matter; how to represent in terms of style; and who should be allowed to represent and who was allowed to speak to and for the public?

Also new was the expanding group of private art collectors who became the chief patrons of modern artists. Patronage was split between the aristocrats, such as Madame de Pompadour, and the newly rich middle class which preferred genre painting, that is, scenes of everyday middle class life, over the more prestigious and aristocratic history painting, depicting noble heroes of the distant past. As Rochelle Ziskin pointed out in Sheltering Art: Collecting and Social Identity in Early Eighteenth-century Paris (2012), art collecting became a sign of wealth and taste, a site of political and social rivalries and a means of constructing a public image. During this period of art collecting, several important large collections came on the market, such as the works owned by Queen Christina of Sweden, acquired by the French banker and art connoisseur, Pierre Crozet. Through these expanding collections, contemporary French artists were exposed to a historical spectrum of Western art and had a wide range of artistic possibilities to choose from when considering their mode of expression.

Despite the presence in France of the classical Baroque styles, the Baroque was systematically toned down in its dark dramas and was softened into pastel colors for the civilized and essentially domestic style of “Rococo” for an elegant French audience. Although much of Rococo art was produced for the aristocrats and rulers of Europe, the style was paradoxically involved with the concept of the “natural,” a reaction against the formality of aristocratic society and its artificial and unnatural mores and manners. Designed for the interior decoration of the new Parisian hôtels, the pale colors and gentle brushwork of the Rococo artists and the romantic themes made the paintings ideal for the domestic interiors of those who could afford them. But during the same period, the public taste for middle class scenes made genre artists, such as Jean-Baptiste-Simone Chardin (1669-1779) and Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1806), famous for their depictions of everyday life within the newly aspirational middle class in France. By the middle of the Eighteenth Century, a privilege visitor could peruse private art collections and enter the nascent art shops, selling supplies and pictures, and see, with perfect foresight a painted battleground of class and class aspirations.

Fragonard. The Progress of Love (1771–72)

Now in the Frick Collection, the panels of “Love’s Progress” or “The Progress of Love” executed by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) on behalf of Madame du Barry for her chateau at Louveciennes delightfully demonstrated the non-productive pastimes of the privileged. The privilege of leisure time allowed the upper classes to pursue their erotic desires in elaborate ways. It goes without saying that, for the lower classes, such spare time did not exist, linking the idea of romantic love to the upper classes, and thus attaching love to wealth. Sadly, Madame du Berry chose another artist, Joseph-Marie Vien, to do the same theme in the new Neo-Classical style, and the “Progress” was never installed. Thus we do not know its order but the four paintings are lined up as The Pursuit, The Meeting, The Lover Crowned, and The Love Letters.

Greuze. Broken Eggs (1756)

The middle class, growing in numbers and in social prominence, did not stress love and courtship, and indeed, there were didactic scenes aimed towards sober industrious people preaching the perils of indiscriminate delights. One of the most theatrical of lecturers was Jean-Baptiste Greuze whose small paintings of domestic tableaux demonstrated the dangers of bad behavior. Less theatrical and more absorbed, to borrow the lagrange of Michael Fried’s Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (1976) the small quiet interior studies of bourgeoisie life by Chardin were beloved by the Salon crowd and acquired by sophisticated collectors. Eschewing Greuze’s heavy handed didacticism, Chardin scarcely intended to convey a morality tale but the contrast between The Prayer Before the Meal (1740) and Fragonard’s provocative The Swing (1767) could hardly have been clearer. The two paintings, one public and one private, foretold the class conflicts to come and the revolution that would unfold in the next decades. One class was frivolous and irresponsible, the other class was moral and rational. Who deserved to be in power?

Fragonard. The Swing (1767) Chardin. Prayer Before the Meal (1740)

Also read: “What is Modern?” and “The Enlightenment: Introduction” and “The Enlightenment and Reason” and “The Enlightenment and Society” and “The Political Revolution in America” and “The Enlightenment and Artistic Styles”

Also listen to: “What is Modern?”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.
[email protected]

The Enlightenment and Society

THE ENLIGHTENMENT AND SOCIETY

The Moral Order, Part Three

The question faced by the Enlightenment was how to create new world without God? What would be the basis of this new life? Spirituality was replaced with technology; religious laws were replaced by rational virtues, ethics, and morality.“Bon sens”, extolled by René Descartes, could be determined by logical deduction, based upon observation of human psychology and conduct. The Enlightenment sought empirical and pragmatic foundations for society for the material era. The expectation was that peace and harmony would come into being through the minimum use of laws, instead of the heavy-handed tyranny of kings. In the past, the law was the will of the sovereign, in an Age of Reason, law was based upon the will of the people who voluntarily came together under the light hand of the state. The Enlightenment was characterized by this strong sense of humanity and by a belief that all humans are basically good and are deserving of basic rights and freedoms. Humans could come together and rule themselves according to rational principles that all can come to know and live by.

These challenges to the authority of religion and of kings and of a sort of “natural” social contract as a new form of governance were directly related to the rise of nationhood. As early as 1534, Henry VII broke the power of the Catholic Church in England by the Act of Supremacy and made himself the head of the Church of England. Without refuting religion, the King asserted the primacy of a nation to order its own affairs, even to found a new religion under the auspices of the State, not a universal (catholic) religion. The rising tide of the Protestant Reformation allowed European princes to likewise breakaway from the interference of the Vatican and to assert themselves as independent principalities, shaking off the power of a single religion. From the time that MartinLuther nailed his 95 Theses in 1517 to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, the novel idea that the individual human could act independently in his or her own spiritual matters spread quickly. The established Church has discredited itself and was weakened by its own malpractices and internal weaknesses and indulgences. The Protestant idea that each person has a direct line to God and therefore could worship as s/he pleased led to not only a split between the Catholics and the Protestants but also among the Protestants themselves.

The result was the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), which ended in 1648. In no small part the long period of warfare about religious doctrines was a worldly power struggle for nationhood. When the exhausted combatants finally laid down their arms and agreed to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Newly independent nations were established, Austria and the Netherlands, and the power of the Roman Catholic Church was broken, no longer universal. After three decades of conflict, it was clear that religious ideology could never be allowed to disrupt the order of society and the power of religion as a dominant force was at an end. It is perhaps no coincidence that René Descartes who died in 1650 decided that the only point of certainty was the self: “I think, therefore I am.” But Descartes was concerned as to the ground of his thinking—how did he know he wasn’t hallucinating or deluded? For a sure and certain answer, he reverted to his faith in God, that God would be the guarantor of the validity of his thinking. In his appeal to God, Decartes would be the last of his kind. Indeed, one hundred years later, Diderot would assert that “…the philosopher teaches the priest what the gods are.”

The philosophers substituted “natural religion,” called Deism, a kind of watered-down theism and reconstructed religion in line with modern science standing in for the mysticism of traditional “superstition.” The abolition of God was also the abolition of social and political hierarchies, and the social theory of the Enlightenment stressed the discussion of social problems from the standpoint of the individual–the “true person,” not from the perspective of the state, which was only an artificial machine. The philosophes were the intellectual (and spiritual) leaders of Europe. Natural Law was at the center of Enlightenment thinking and would be the instrument that severed morality from religion and would establish new bases for morality and ethics. If God was to be found anywhere, it was in “natural law.” Philosophers thought deductively about the origins of human society. In Two Treatises on Government, 1680-90, John Locke projected his mind back in time and imagined a race of humans who were free and equal, their “natural” state” or State of Nature.” The question that bothered Locke was why people had given up their freedom to come together into society, which so clearly curtailed their natural freedoms. He reasoned that the state was the entity that gave surety to these rights and used the words “social compact” or agreement that people made with their government to come together under “natural law.” What made Locke so attractive to the budding American revolutionaries was his stress on the individual making a free decision to live within a state that, in turn, had the obligation to protect “natural rights.”

In his book, The Social Contract, 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau also went back to nature and considered the question of why humans would give up their natural freedoms enjoyed in their natural state. His philosophical deductions led him to also consider the consequences of their decision to create a “Social Contract.” Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Mankind, 1754, asserted that the original human equality had ended due to the creation of private property. The first person, who asserted “this is mine” ended the natural paradise of equality, according to Rousseau, who established the idea that private property was to the root of the Fall of Humanity. The origin of the Fall would be reiterated by Friedrich Engels in 1884, and, indeed, Rousseau made a suggestion that the problem of inequality of wealth could be remedied by the redistribution of wealth. Once again, a logical outcome of an inquiry led to an uncomfortable conclusion and even today the idea of “redistribution” is controversial in some quarters.

But beyond equalizing wealth, there is a general will of the people, which ultimately overrules private interests. In other words, presumably, in some future time, the will of the people will demand equality. On one hand, we can see that this sequence of event has played itself out in the West through the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement, suggesting, on the other hand, that “redistribution” moves in unexpected ways. Those formally oppressed or locked out of a system push their way in, demanding their inalienable rights. In so doing, they eventually gain access to economic and social opportunities and wealth is, if not redistributed, spread out among more people. Clearly, this process is logical and reasonable. Once the mere idea of being equal is introduced–a major achievement of the Enlightenment–all people want to be equal. It is only natural. Equality is natural law and natural law is based upon reason. Rousseau understood the state as a function of the will of the people who look to the state to preserve and respect their “inalienable rights.” Even as Rousseau was writing, Adam Smith was rethinking the role of government, recasting the activities of society, not in terms of “natural rights,” but in terms of the new economic realities of mercantile society.

coffee1668_2171668b

An eighteenth century coffee house

In 1776, Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, proposed that the sole purpose of a state was not to protect the rights of citizens but to safeguard the protect economic activities and property. Like Locke and Rousseau, Smith was being perfectly rational. Starting with a founding assumption that wealth was served the greater good, he gave priority to commerce, assuming that the wealthier the population, the wealthier the nation. In separating the state from the economy and giving the economy free rein so that the “invisible hand” could enrich everyone, Smith also released the state from its moral obligation to protect people and gave voice to a new kind of political economy based upon the interest of capitalism. Writing in Glasgow, one of the largest slave ports in Europe, Smith produced ideas that were eminently reasonable and rational, but his writings also give pride of place to impersonal forces—science, technology, and industry—that will change the face of Western society and reorder how people would interact with one another. Smith himself was sympathetic to the plight of the poor and concerned over how the factory system dehumanized people but the logic of the “invisible hand” of capitalism gave rise to a ruthless exploitation of human capital in the name of economic prosperity of the nation. As sad as slavery might be, as exploitive as lower class labor could be, the profits were too sweet to allow for moral judgments to intervene with the joy of making money.

Also read: “What is Modern?” and “The Enlightenment: Introduction” and “The Enlightenment and Reason” and “The Enlightenment and the Art Public” and “The Political Revolution in America” and “The Enlightenment and Artistic Styles”

Also listen to: “What is Modern?”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.
[email protected]

Podcast Episode 2: Neoclassicism

THE RISE OF NEOCLASSICISM

The origins of Neoclassicism in art, architecture and interior décor was the excavation of long buried Roman cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum in the mid-eighteenth century. A popular correction of the late Baroque style and the ornamental Rococo style, Neoclassicism became an international style. As the name indicates, this “new” “classicism” was based upon the art of the early Roman empire. Classical art had long been available but what was notable about this particular iteration of classicism is the discovery of painting—murals on the walls—in the resort towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Authentic classical painting now joined authentic classical sculpture as an inspiration for an important shift in European academic styles.

For the second half of the eighteenth century, the Neoclassical reform of Baroque art brought a new seriousness to academic art and impacted architectural styles, particularly in England. Despite its antique sources, this style proved to be surprisingly versatile, suiting the needs of English aristocracy and American revolutionaries and French aristocracy and French revolutionaries. An imperial style from the past was appropriated for a variety of purposes from political messages to decorative needs.

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
[email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone.

Remember, you must download the free iBooks app onto your iPad or iPhone.

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

 

The Enlightenment and Reason

THE ENLIGHTENMENT

AGE OF REASON, PART TWO

The Enlightenment is also referred to as The Age of Reason, a time period that stems from the awakening of European interest in science in the seventeenth century and ends with the unreason of the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. The importance of individual scientists, such as Copernicus and Galileo and Newton, who sought to explain the heavens, not in terms of God but in terms of mechanics, and the significance of the voyages of world explorers, such as Christopher Columbus and Captain Cook, indicated a cultural shift away from spiritual interests and toward worldly interests and a desire to expand knowledge. The need for worldly answers to cosmic questions overtook the spiritual dogmas, and the desire to search the real world for commercial purposes proved to be more compelling than religious revelations. Certainly it needs to be pointed out that the Enlightenment followed a long period–centuries in fact–of religious wars, from the Crusades to the struggle between Christian sects in Europe. Unlike Asia or the Middle East, Europe had been torn apart by these religious disputes over fairly minor issues of doctrine and the trauma of these struggles cannot be underestimated in the revulsion against spiritual dogma.

Over time, it became impossible for educated persons to accept theological limitations of Church dogma and more difficult to explain the world as “God’s will,” while remaining faithful to the idea of a deity. Somehow, religion and science had to be reconciled. Although it does not acknowledge itself as a substitute belief system, philosophy would take the place of established religion as a way to explain the world, and, by the Eighteenth Century, philosophy was tasked with the problem of establishing a new system of ontology (a theory of being) and epistemology (the ground of knowledge) to replace God’s plan for the world. Faced with the apparently irrefutable findings of scientific discoveries, philosophers developed a contempt for religion and welcomed the new light into a world long shrouded in the darkness of misguided belief in a Deity. As Voltaire (1694-1778) remarked, “Of all religions, the Christian should of course inspire the most tolerance, but until now Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.”

François-Marie Arouet known as “Voltaire”

If God, Voltaire declared, did not exist, we, the people, would have found it necessary to invent a supreme being. Voltaire’s cynical statement comes very close to the Modernist concept that all aspects of culture are constructed. Most of the Enlightenment philosophers and political thinkers were Deists in that they believed in a God but rejected organized religion as superstition. Severing themselves from the comforts of certainty that religion brings caused pain. “I grieve,” Denis Diderot (1713-1784) mourned, “that I can no longer believe in God.” The philosophers were at the beginning of a process that moved Western civilizations away from the received wisdom of religion to the relativism of philosophical systems. Because the Enlightenment was based upon the scientific model, there were earthly answers for everything. One conceived of a hypothesis and then tested the theory by employing empirical methods. Reflecting the coming of machines and modern technology, the eighteenth century universe was conceived of as, not a heavenly realm, but a simple clock, a logical and rational mechanism, neutral but dedicated to its purpose. Human beings were mere cogs in this vast system, and insignificant cogs at that, in this vast impersonal, soulless, uncaring machine without a god to appeal to.

The notion of the universe as a gigantic machine reflected the new concern with the new technologies that were connected to the Industrial Revolution. Human beings, who had invented this revolutionary machines increasing found in factories, not God, were in the center of this new universe. The philosophers were confident that God’s mercy, capricious as it was, could be replaced by human reason and rationality. The Enlightenment, in its own way, was based upon a faith, every bit as powerful as the Christian system that was being phased out. The “faith” of the philosophers was based in human Reason. “Dare to reason…Have the courage to use your own minds…is the motto of the Enlightenment,” Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804) declared in 1784 in response to a question asked by a Russian official Johann Friedrich Zöllner. The question was circulated to European philosophers who answered the famous question in the Berlinische Monatsschrift. There were two elements of Reason. First, the Enlightenment proposed a thinking individual self-actualized human being, existing independently of faith and powered, as it were, by his and her own intellectual powers. Second, Reason was the basis of science: one made logical deductions and accepted the inevitable conclusion. If the universe was rational, a machine, then society could also be rational and human beings could come to logical and orderly decisions on their own by reasoning like scientists. So began centuries of assumptions based upon what was really myth–the people could be rational.

Philosophers assumed that there was a rational order of eternal truths and philosophy in the Age of Reason and would seek to ground their deductions in universality and transcendence. They also assumed that human beings were perfectly able of recognizing the validity of these truths and that people would act according to these obvious truths. Reason was a certain kind of thinking based upon a logical progression from hypothesis to conclusion. It was “self-evident,” a favorite term of the philosophers, that humans would not only accept truths derived from the mechanism of Reason but would also act according to these truths in their everyday lives. The idea that people might act irrationally or counter to their best interests or that they might oppose “self-evident” truths was not an option. The Enlightenment philosophers, even those who owned slaves, such as Thomas Jefferson, never questioned the powers of Reason, even when (self)aware of the contradictions embedded in their thinking. Kant brushed aside any claims of women and non-white, non-Europeans despite claims of universality in his Critiques. For Jefferson and Kant, for example, rational thinking led inextricably to the humanity of slaves and of women but accepting such conclusions, much less to act upon the “natural rights” of these humans, would lead to an upset of the order to things.” We see the same lacunae in the minds of many of the Enlightenment thinkers. In 1776 Adam Smith wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which, for European nations, was built on the slave trade, with as little discussion of the inhumanity of human trafficking as possible.

The philosophically blind eyes that were turned away from the plight of the oppressed reveal in the silences or in the intellectual elisions the concealed political texts embedded in supposedly abstract philosophy concerned with universal laws. In fact the function of Reason in the Enlightenment was to critique, to examine existing belief systems and institutions and to analyze them through rational thinking and logic or, in other words, to deconstruct the current loci of power. Indeed as Jean de Rond d’Alembert (17171-1783) noted in 1753 An Essay upon the Alliance betwixt Learned Men, and the Great that the intellectuals, the gens de lettres, of Europe lived and wrote in repressive regimes that were at odds with the very treatises being penned on individual freedom and natural rights. Not only were their ideas at variance with their rulers, these philosophers, presumably autonomous humans, had no power to change their contradictory conditions. Indeed d’Alembert, mathematician and editor of Diderot’s Encyclopédia, challenged his fellow intellectuals who quarreled among themselves and slavishly sought the favor of les grands, the aristocrats. Unfortunately, for many of these philosophes, it was the patronage of those in power that supported the radical writings of the house intellectuals. As Dana Goodman pointed out in The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (1994), the ideal of the “republic” of which the philosophers dreamed was an unbearable contradiction to the monarchies in which they lived. These kinds of unresolvable differences brought to light through critique would result in revolutions.

Secular intellectuals believed that the time of Christianity had come and gone and that religion would be replaced by scientific, social and economic Progress. Progress, social, political, scientific, was the logical outcome of the forces of Reason. Progress, the philosophers and scientists assumed, had been impossible when timeless spiritual values dominated society. The notion of “timeless” surely prevented progressing to new ideas and novel concepts, considered unnecessary if all one needed was spiritual belief in powers beyond this world. From the seventeenth century, progress was the inevitable product of unstoppable technological advances fueled by scientific discoveries and inventions. The Age of Reason was grounded in an optimism that Progress would improve humanity, which now cleansed of superstition, could rise as rational and reasonable human beings elevated by scientific practices. Rational thinking could create a regularized system for living, a system that was logical and produced a new enlightened social order that would be self-regulated. Rather than explained as a sudden strike from an angry God, natural events were understood as having a scientific explanation. A flood was too much rain, not a punishment from God. Order or disorder came from laws that arose from Nature, not God. These laws were inevitable and irrefutable, or “self-evident” because they were a priori and logical, that is pre-existing human contemplation. Swiss philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) based his ideas about the human condition upon a Natural Law that could be utilized to resolve social conflicts. Humans could come together as “natural” equals and freely negotiate a Social Contract of mutual benefit. In The Social Contract of 1762 he wrote,

Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains. This man believes that he is the master of others, and still he is more of a slave than they are. How did that transformation take place? I don’t know. How may the restraints on man become legitimate? I do believe I can answer that question..This question might be rephrased: “How is a method of associating to be found which will defend and protect-using the power of all-the person and property of each member and still enable each member of the group to obey only himself and to remain as free as before?” This is the fundamental problem; the social contract offers a solution to it.

The Social Contract is the Age of Reason’s answer to its critique of the existing systems. An intellectual critique of the kind championed by Diderot, the editor of the twelve volume Encyclopédia, has a certain transcendence in that within salons and coffee houses and universities a social and political critique is disembodied from the real world. And yet these Enlightenment critiques that placed reason before religion and the social contract above authoritarianism spread beyond the philosophical confines and became part of the body politic of the Western world, with long-term consequences.

Also read: “What is Modern?” and “The Enlightenment: Introduction” and “The Enlightenment and Society” and “The Enlightenment and the Art Public” and “The Political Revolution in America” and “The Enlightenment and Artistic Styles”

Also listen to: “What is Modern?”

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.
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