ARTS & SOCIETIES
 

LETTER OF SEMINAR 1

Centre d’Histoire de Sciences Po

 
 
 

THE INFLUENCE OF THE SAINT-SIMONIANS
AND THE IDEA OF ART IN THE VANGUARD OF SOCIAL REFORM



Neil McWilliam
A Revolutionary Aesthetic ? The Politics of Social Art in France c. 1820-1850


Eric Michaud
The authoritarian socialism of the Saint-Simonian


Editorial Director: Laurence Bertrand Dorléac
Editorial Assistant: Elodie Antoine
Translator: David Ames Curtis




 
EDITORIAL



        If one takes an interest in the function of art in society, one is bound to speak of the Saint-Simonians. And often one does so without knowing it. The English art historian Neil McWilliam deserves credit for having taken stock of the origins of a French line of thought that is far from dead and that has been renewed under other forms, in the past as well as today.
        While artists now no longer see themselves as an “avant-garde” that would be spreading new ideas by appealing “to the imagination and to the sentiments,” this is more a matter of a change in vocabulary than of a shift in foundations. As Neil McWilliam concludes in his talk, the cultural system of modern society still contains, one hundred and fifty years later, quite a few elements of “Saint-Simonianism.” Art has expanded into new spheres that express the metamorphoses and adaptations of these elements, sometimes to the point of suffocation.
        Nothing that was being thought at the beginning of the nineteenth century is to be laughed at today when examined in light of what we now know about art’s ability to fit into a postmodern culture. While the old utopian dreams have been abandoned, the function of art is really in the process of being redefined within the inflexible framework of the imperatives of consumer society and of the society of the spectacle.
        The ambition of this Letter, which we shall publish every two months, is to be a site of discussion. The discussion will center around the condition of art, which is henceforth to be viewed in the light of history. While the debate is already underway, it can also gain by imagining its historical depth.
        Our seminar sessions at the French National Political Science Foundation’s Center for History will precede each publication of this Letter. At least two lectures will be included every time. And this time, the second talk, in echo of the first, comes from Eric Michaud of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Michaud is well known for his work on art and totalitarianism. We are in his debt for his investigation into a line of thought that sought salvation through images and that tended to make art the docile servant of a unitary and authoritarian world view.

Laurence Bertrand Dorléac



       
       

Letter published with the support of the Foundation of France

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