Academic journal article German Quarterly

Prophets, Paupers, or Professionals? A Social History of Everyday Visual Artists in Modern Germany, 1850-Present

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Prophets, Paupers, or Professionals? A Social History of Everyday Visual Artists in Modern Germany, 1850-Present

Article excerpt

McClelland, Charles E. Prophets, Paupers, or Professionals? A Social History of Everyday Visual Artists in Modern Germany, 1850-Present. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2003. 238 pp. $52.95 paperback.

To write a social history of visual artists in Germany from 1850 to the present in slightly more that two-hundred pages is a daunting task. In responding to this challenge, Charles McClelland has succeeded in producing a concise introduction to this broad topic. His goal is to cover the complete range of artists, indicated by his emphasis on the notion of the "everyday" artist. His argument for its significance is that the "masses of everyday artists, such as those working in the industries of advertising and design, have a greater impact on the public than individual celebrities...." (15). Although McClelland speaks of everyday artists, this is not a history of the day-to-day lives of artists. He is concerned chiefly with questions of professionalization, education, social status, the art market, incomes, and organizations, but deals scarcely at all with artists' actual working and living conditions, marriage, family, social networks, and other themes common to social history. McClelland further circumscribes the study with another concept-the Interest Community of Art" -which, as he defines it, includes a wide spectrum of people and associations affiliated with full-time professional artists: amateur and part-time artists, professors of art, curators, dealers, critics, art historians, educated consumers, and Kunstvereine· he refers to the latter as "the organized face of the local Interest Community of Art" (129). On another major theme, McClelland declares that "no profession is so wrapped in myth as the artists" (167) and throughout the book, especially in chapter six, he examines critically the "myths" of artists as heroes, geniuses, visionaries, prophets, outsiders, political radicals, and starving Bohemians.

McClelland's approach to the social history of artists is shaped largely by the methodology that informed his earlier studies of the professions in Germany. The first question therefore is to define who is an artist (chapter two), which he addresses from numerous perspectives-education and training, organizational membership, exhibition participation, peer recognition-but, in the end an unavoidable subjectivity undermines the search for objective standards. As McClelland succinctly explains: "In the most existential sense, 'who is an artist? ' is answered every day, in every generation, by an individual response: 'I am'" (50). …

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