The Salon Of Newcomers

Lady Liberty, we neglect thee

What is it with the damn 60s, or maybe its just the eights?

Back in ole’ ’68, by which I mean 1868, specifically France, something was happening.  Burned out by the finicky exactitude of realistic painters like Meissonier and  Courbet art judges began loosening their judging criteria for Salons and jury selection processes culminating in what would be considered “The Salon Of Newcomers”.  The night before a certain Salon opened, The Emperor of France repealed a number of censorship laws and restrictions pertaining to newspapers  declaring “Liberty has never helped to found a lasting political edifice…Liberty crowns the edifice when time has consolidated it.”  Which basically means, the individual creates while the masses select. Oh yeah, and good things take time.

Before you go thinking this is a political hit piece comparing Obama or Bush to the Emperer, relax.  Louis-Napoelon also believed that these tyrannical methods had been necessary to forge the modern France.  It was time to “unchain the press”, so stamp taxes and licenses for journals were 86’d, which meant anyone could publish a newspaper without a beat down.

A Ride For Liberty by Eastman Jackson (American in the 1860s no less)

Kiosks were jammed full of new writers, journalists and publications, all clammoring to voice their opinions, cover major events leaving newspaper dealers overwelmed, not knowing where to tuck the latest arrivals.   And of course the first to complain were the established critics, those who’s careers were built on the exclusivity brought by the limited variety of opinions which inflated the value of their opinion, when mere technology and legislation had been the root cause of their success.

I deleted a previous post I had published last night, which I now regret (I’ve got to trust my iterations rather than feign deliberate perfection here!).  But the gyst was that a friend of a friends, who happens to be a well established writer, author, professor and “idea merchant” had complained that bloggers were simply hustlers, shelling out nothing more than frivolity and outbursts, and that what was now needed were “ideas”.  So when I recently read the account above provided in a beautiful book titled “The Judgement of Paris” by Ross King, I then proceeded to read it again, and again and again.

The Campaign of France (Ernest Meissonier)

napcampfranceAu Cafe by ManetAu Cafe (Edouard Manet)

With the “lax” judging of the 1868 Salon, in came Courbet, Manet and Monet, offering a style that tricked the eye and provided a puckish drubbing of the precision and perfection provided by the technically well known masters.  These captains of the craft glanced upon the beauties created by “Young France” with even Gautier admitting that he was “incapable of understanding the audacities of this new generation”.  Ross writes the quality was “apparent to young people in short jackets and top hats” – the sort of conformist dress that Gautier despised – “but which escape the rest of us old Romantic greybeards.”

Again, this isnt to slight the greybeards, not in the least.  But I found this educational as it seemed to offer context to what we are experiencing now.  The utlitization of digital photography, Photoshop, blogging, Kinkos, or email has made creativity so accessible, so quick on the draw, that anyone can do it.  The introduction of these messy “impressionists” was unsettling to the world that rested on the shoulders of creative giants, but even they had grown weary and seemed all but ready (albeit reluctant) to pass the torch along to a new generation who’s style seemed lazy, too accessible or bourgoisie.

And so it happens with us, we generation Facebook, Blogger, iPhone and “app”.  We have stuffed the kiosks full of our ideas, experiments and opinions, all created with a multitude of tools never utilized by the previous greybeards (who also used the new tools of their time).   I’ve been pondering my friend’s colleagues remarks about “ideas” for some time now and my answer is this:

“There is something else in painting besides exactitude and precise rendering from the model”. – Delacriox


Our work is accessible, it is stripped down, it is not high on theory (not yet at least) nor does it attempt to market or brand a specific idea, but many ideas that reward the observant and those patient enough to appreciate nuance.  But there is a conversation that is happening, that I hope continues to happen between generations with mutual respect.  This conversation, and the continued “kiosk stuffing” will yield and has yielded ideas.  As Ross states of Bazille, Renoir and Degas, “they were painters, who ignored the traditional bourgeois tastes in favor of a courageous pursuit of the modern, the original and the true.”

People have purchased prints of Monet, Manet and the like, and hung them as decoration, or because they are “pretty to look at”.  While this is certainly the case, what these works represented was far more than just aesthetic beauty or visual appeal.  They were showing the viewer other way to receive their world, how light did not have to be a series of white brushstrokes gleaming down, but perhaps a light shade of pink on a red dress or deliberately course blue oar on a grey boat.  But not only was the technique itself new, but the subject matter as well.  Boats, bathers, waiters, drinkers, all these instead of perfectly portrayed Napoleon at a battle.

Bathers by Monet

Painters prior to the Impressionists were basically making what we would consider digitally perfected images of their surroundings, icons and events.  Mind you, these served and important purpose whose importance and talent should never be diminished.  However, it took the attention starved- often literally starving- work of newcomers to reach the public and offer their imaginations a different perspective on even the most mundane subject.  When the visual arts can do this, it provokes thought, not just admiration, and such stimulation greases the rusty wheels of the soul to which the intellect is directly routed.  Then we get ideas.

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