Art, Artists and Society: Origins of a Modern Dilemma ; Painting in England and France, 1750-1850

By Geraldine Pelles | Go to book overview

EIGHT
Conclusion

With a shift to isolated institutions and private buyers as its mainstay, modern art is not, as often lamented, divorced from the social order. It is wedded for better and worse to the same world that nurtures constant change and inconstancy of taste and attachment.

An essential part of that world, for the painter, is the sphere of art. For no matter how original an artist may be, the nature of contemporary art circumscribes the further development of his inventiveness and the dissemination of his style. Even in the more remote past when it had some special purpose as a medium of magic or as a means of recording and teaching religion or history, art had other aspects as well, which were not brought into the center of interest until a later date. For instance, the delightful little figures that scamper in the foliate borders of medieval manuscripts dealing with sacred texts were confined to the borders. Chardin painted his tranquil canvases while the Rococo style of art and life was still in vogue; since he was over fifty at the time, he could not have been influenced by the mid-eighteenth century revival of classicism which promoted a different type of art; but he did not have followers. The spotting of color that characterizes Impressionism was already present, not only in Constable and Delacroix, but almost two hundred years earlier in Velásquez, who used it, however, only in a marginal way, subsidiary to what were believed to be more important aspects of art at that time.

Marginal elements within art do not finally become dominant and coalesce into a style by pure chance or by an ineluctable immanent process. It was not absolutely necessary that those particular styles should have been formed: the complexity of the Western art tradition afforded many alternatives for selection. Since changes occurred even in naturalistic or realistic art long after "realism" had been mastered, it is clear that they were not due to genetic tendencies toward representa

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