|Sir Joshua Reynolds painted himself as a man of letters, in his robes as a Doctor of Civil Law at Oxford (1776). Note the absolute absence of any paint on that outfit.|
Prior to the middle of the 18th century, fine artists were considered craftsmen. While they may have been very successful and well-paid, they had no particular intellectual pretensions.
The Enlightenment cast artists in the role of communicating the civic virtues. This raised the social status of artists from artisans to gentlemen. Their training moved from the old apprenticeship/atelier model to formal art schools. The Royal Academy of Arts in London is representative. It was founded in 1768. Its mission was to raise the professional status of the artist by establishing a sound system of training and expertise in the arts.
|Portrait of a rather emotional French sculptor, Antoine Denis Chaudet, by miniaturist Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin. I feel like I should give him a cookie.|
The Enlightenment also brought us the Cult of Genius, with its handmaidens, Feeling and Creativity. The artist no longer primarily tried to render beautiful images; he was engaged in profound and creative thought.
Meeting of Artists in Isabey’s Studio, 1798, by Louis-Léopold Boilly, in which a bunch of artists apparently get together and talk about art instead of making it. Not that that ever happens.
As counterintuitive as it seems, this is what has landed us in the modern dilemma of having so much banal, boorish, casual and ultimately meaningless material foisted on us as art. The intellectual mind can always be seduced by the idea of transgressing limits, whereas a craftsman generally seeks to raise his standards to the highest degree possible.
The problem with transgression as one’s sole intellectual concept is that it keeps extending the limits. Thus today’s portrait of the artist has become Kanye West and a topless Kim Kardashian on a motorcycle.
This week I am writing about portrait painting during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These posts are based closely on the Royal Academy of Art’s 2007 show, Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760-1830.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!