ARTS & SOCIETIES
 

LETTER OF SEMINAR 14

Centre d’Histoire de Sciences Po

 
 
 

REALISMS


Entourage of Thomas Eakins, Thomas Eakins at
about Age Thirty Five,
1880, print on
albumenized paper, Bryn Mawr College Library.


François Legrand
Life Without the Work, Or the Invention
of Thomas Eakins : Isolationism and
Realism


Jérôme Bazin
A New Look at Socialist Realist


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

PREVIOUS LETTER

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

BODY MORALITY

DANDIES

The Model Child

The beautiful and the useful

New Publics, Between Utopia and Marketing

Photographs by amateurs

the market, at the start

art in the republic

the voyage of the avant-gardes

Major exhibitions

WHAT IS SOCIAL ART ?

PRIMITIVISMS




 

 

EDITORIAL

  
        
        In 1980, the title of a key exhibition held at the French National Museum of Modern Art--Realisms: Between Revolution and Reaction, 1919-1930--announced a program. The project manager for this show, Gérard Régnier (Jean Clair), recalled our common-sense understanding of the term Realism: “the artist’s scrupulous observation of the model being represented, whether it be a figure, a face, or a still life and even if the study in question results in a composition that is allegorical or religious in nature.” The plural emphasized, rather, diversity, and here, the curator was taking up the arguments of the pioneer in the field, Jean Laude, whose writings back then had been forecasting all the right questions for more than twenty years. As early as 1919, Laude said at the time, “a kind of discourse was being worked out and built up across Europe [as we shall see, it would be fitting to add there the United States] whose intention was to put an end to past errors--against which, moreover, it warned. In literature just as much as in music, it rehabilitated national cultural values, a taste for work well done, good craftsmanship, and tradition.”
        Laude recognized the weight of the historical context that influenced works of art. And even if today we know that the much-talked-about return (or call) to order was already underway prior to the onset of the first world war, what seized hold of Western societies thereafter was a sense of melancholy if not feelings of nausea, along with fear of decline and of a renewal of violence as well as destructive impulses. In art as elsewhere, the retreat into nationalism was the symptom of an identity crisis taking place just as culture with a capital “C” was being used as the last rampart. What happened next revealed the historical ineffectiveness of such an approach. Along the way, what appeared was a series of borrowings and citations from Realist models as well as détournements thereof that in no way strayed from the “modern” path--at least from a part of it--and thus this movement extended far beyond the scope of some of its reactionary participants.
        François Legrand retraces the key episodes that have occurred on the America scene since the nineteenth century, when a definition of the criteria for Americanness was worked out in the United States and when a coherent past was invented for artistic Realism so that it might rival modernism and cosmopolitanism. For his part, Jérôme Bazin studies the particular circumstances of Socialist Realism in the postwar German Democratic Republic, where people in their social capacities became the main subject for a kind of painting that was designed above all to educate the masses but that played out in ways that were less conventional than originally foreseen.
        The fact that, in both cases, Realisms would be called upon to support such varying causes proves not only the model’s elasticity but its ambiguous force at the very moment one wished to make art play an eminent social role.

Laurence Bertrand Dorléac




Letter pu/?blished with the support of the Foundation of France

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