ARTS & SOCIETIES
 

LETTER OF SEMINAR 5

Centre d’Histoire de Sciences Po

 
 
 

THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE USEFUL



Rossella Froissart
The Decorative Arts in the Service of the Nation, 1880-1918


Jean-Yves Andrieux
Arts and Crafts vs. Art Nouveau ?
Art and the Turn-of-Centuries Debate of Nations.


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 VANGUARD OF THE SOCIAL REFORM

BODY MORALITY

DANDIES

The Model Child

New Publics, Between Utopia and Marketing




 
EDITORIAL



 
        In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo had the revolutionary student Enjolras say that the nineteenth century was great but that the twentieth would be happy. At any rate, the nineteenth century did identify with the tremendous upsurge of progressivism that was making itself felt at the time in the name of a social ideal and through a series of reforms, of which the reform of the fine arts seemed increasingly inevitable.
        Progress was envisaged, on the one hand, as growth or development, on the other as a process of “equalization of conditions.” Alexis de Tocqueville identified the latter as the very mark of the modern sociological and anthropological process, a process he examined under the new heading of democracy.
        In the world of art, this growth, “and above all that of well-being,” passed by way of a will to reconcile the beautiful and the useful, artisans and artists, architects and interior decorators, builders and painters, political thinkers and artists, as well as by way of a thorough revision of an outmoded way of teaching the fine arts that foresaw no point of passage between the arts, on the one hand, and the role and duty of the artist, on the other, in a society that, it was hoped, would become better, more harmonious, less inegalitarian.
        In actuality, the world of art was going to have to be brought down to earth and be made to take note of the long-standing failure to effect a reconciliation of the arts. In France more than in England or in Germany, this effort was undermined by a series of factors : the backwardness of entrepreneurs and their lack of imagination as well as an overly timid defense of an ethic of political, social, and culture change.

        “That art might flourish, that the nation might prosper, and that the worker might earn a living, we need perfect prototypes suitable for faultless mass production, with the confidence an ever better disciplined and ever more flexible scientific knowledge guarantees to industry.”

        The artist therefore had to position himself upstream from the production process and offer models that would beautify the interiors of homes, lighting the way with his functionalist good sense. The resulting eclecticism did not truly bode well for the much longer history of the still ongoing project of allying art with everyday life.

Laurence Bertrand Dorléac




Letter published with the support of the Foundation of France

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