Manet, Baudelaire and Photography Book 1 & Manet, Baudelaire and Photography Book 2 by Larry Leroy Ligo (Edwin Mellen Press) Professor Ligo s defense and illustration of his claim that Manet s work represents an intelligent and active attempt to embody the modernist aesthetic of his friend, the poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire, makes for absorbing reading. Well aware of the many reasons why Baudelaire may not have been either willing or able to write a full-length essay on Manet in the years 1863-1866 when he knew him best (hard years for Baudelaire, who would die in 1867 and who had lived in Brussels since 1864, in a desperate search for funds and publishers), Professor Ligo fills in the background details both on the friendship between the two men and the artistic life of the times. There are fascinating parallels between specific works by the two artists (Baudelaire’s essay on Wagner s "Tannhauser", for instance, seen in tandem with Manet s "D’jeuner sur l herbe" and particularly interesting arguments about photography and the place of the crowd for both Baudelaire and Manet. Dr. Ligo makes a strong and well-documented case for his conviction that Manet consciously decided to take up the challenge to contemporary painters that Baudelaire sets down in his famous and influential essay, “The Painter of Modern Life”. There is much here for scholars of both Baudelaire and Manet (the parallels enable us to see each in a different light) and for the general reader interested in impressionism, the influence of photography and/or aesthetics more broadly.
The point [of the interpretive act] is . . . not to add one more
interpretation to the
good-enough pile, but to invite`one to see something which is right there in the text. —Jonathan Lear
In order to appreciate Larry L. Ligo' s monograph we need to see it in the larger context of Manet studies in particular and of the current state of art historical methodology in general. Since the early 1970s, the discipline of art history has been undergoing a number of seismic changes that Manet scholarship, including the book at hand, exemplifies.
Broadly speaking, from its origins in the second quarter of the nineteenth century to the early 1970s, art history was characterized by two competing methodological approaches. The first, grounded in the work of Immanuel Kant and, more particularly, Georg W. F. Hegel, conceived art as a sphere separate from ordinary life, one whose developments, like those in philosophy and the sciences, were essentially internal and teleological, at least in its particular historical episodes. In short, Hegel's "Zeitgeist," the spirit of the entire age, became "Kunstwollen," art's autonomous developmental will. In this conception the artist was not an individual who expressed either his own concerns or those of his patrons but a "genius" capable of channeling larger art historical forces into aesthetically compelling masterpieces. In short, biography, social history, and art history were separate spheres. The major early figures in this "formalist" tradition included Alois Riegel, Heinrich Wolfflin, and Erwin Panofsky.
Panofsky is best known, however, as the father of iconography and iconology, the study of the symbolic features of art. His pioneering work in this field, Studies in
Iconology: Humanist Themes in the Art of the Renaissance (1939), was published four years after his emigration to the United States. Panofsky apparently thought of iconography/iconology as the necessary complement to stylistic analysis.
Although in the post war period Panofsky became the authoritative model for American art historians, the chief spokesperson for the "Hegelian" tradition during those years was Clement Greenberg, an art critic. Greenberg's defense of the Abstract Expressionists and their heirs was grounded in the conviction that the history of modernist art was that of art's teleological evolution away from depiction towards the purity and certainty of its own means, which for Greenberg began with Manet's elimination of half-tones. Greenberg's ideas were embraced by a generation of American modernists, including, Michael Fried, whose considerably reworked 1962 doctoral thesis, Manet's Modernism: or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s (1996) represents the survival of that current. (Fried argues that Manet's work played a pivotal role in art's two-century-long struggle to defeat theatricalization.)
The second approach, which developed in reaction to Hegel, conceived art as a product of a particular socio-political context. Its chief practitioners during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were Jacob Burckhardt, Anton Springer, and Aby Warburg. Its major spokespersons following WWII were Marxists, particularly Arnold Hauser and Frederick Antal.
Until the early 1970s, the social historians of art played only a marginal role in the practice of art history in Britain and the U. S. At the dawn of the decade art history graduate students at the leading English-speaking institutions (with the exception of Columbia, where Meyer Schapiro taught) could choose between style and iconography as their focus.
By the end of the decade, however, the situation had completely changed. Those committed to the social history of art, which they cleverly called "the New Art History," had completely routed those committed to stylistic or iconographic analysis, which they dismissed as "the Old Art History." Dissatisfaction with the conception of art as something apart from the life of its makers and users, which had been steadily mounting, climaxed during the decade as a result of two symbiotic developments. One was the feminist social movement that found sympathetic voices among women art historians eager to participate in the improvement of women's status by resurrecting ignored or underappreciated female artists and by analyzing art as evidence of how women had been (mis)treated in history. Because of Manet's interest in women as subjects, feminists have found his work a particularly fertile terrain. See, for example, the essay by Griselda Pollock in Bradford Collins’ collection, Twelve Views of Manet's 'Bar' (1996).
The second development was the emergence in England of a less mechanical brand of Marxist analysis, one that conceived the artist as an individual responding to social conditions, not merely reflecting them. This neo-marxism was brought to the United States by a number of British expatriates, including, most prominently, T. J. Clark. His most important study is perhaps The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers (1984), wherein he makes a persuasive case for Manet as the first painter of the particular nexus of problematic experiences, including alienation and estrangement, that have come to characterize life in the modern industrial (i. e., capitalist) city.
During this heady, contentious decade a number of art historians reacted, in turn, to what they perceived as the neo-marxist failure to acknowledge the way artists have used their art to address purely personal concerns. Working on the assumption that the modern artist, at least, works primarily to satisfy him- or herself, one issue that must always be asked with regard to any modern art work is how it may have served the psychological needs of its maker. This question has given rise to another camp of art historians, loosely referred to as Freudians. Despite the absence of the kinds of primary documents on which such practitioners usually depend, Manet has also been the subject of considerable scholarship of this type. Nancy Locke's tantalizing study, Manet and the Family Romance (2001), is perhaps the best-known example.
Because the neo-marxists, Freudians, feminists, and their various offshoots (from the multi-culturalists to those devoted to so-called queer studies) relied so heavily on the theoretical writings of sundry authoritative "father" or "mother" figures, theory itself became a recognized branch of the discipline. The most controversial facet of this new emphasis depended on post-structuralist literary theory, particularly the writings of Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes, which emphasize the impossibility of recovering authorial meaning because all communication is vague and meaning depends not on what was intended by the author/artist but on how his or her statement/image is subjectively interpreted by the viewer.
The combined fashion for "readings" and the tendency of both feminists and neo-marxists to care more about social progress than about historical accuracy have themselves created a growing backlash. An increasing number of art historians are committed to a corrective pendulum swing that would refocus attention on recovering what Umberto Eco calls intentio operis. These reformers insist that knowledge of the past may be imperfect, but it is not impossible. And to say that interpretation is conducted by a subject is not to say that a considerable degree of objectivity is not possible. According to Eco the key to a legitimate objective interpretation of artistic intent
is to check it against the text as a coherent whole . . . Any interpretation given of a certain portion of a text can be accepted if it is confirmed . . . by another portion of the same text. In this sense the internal textual coherence controls the otherwise uncontrollable drives of the reader. (The Limits of Interpretation, Indiana University Press)
Ligo's monograph is an exemplary demonstration of what Eco recommends. His specific controlling device is the consistent iconography to be found throughout Manet's "text", his oeuvre. While much of the "Old Art History" needed to be discarded, Ligo demonstrates that iconography, at least, must remain an essential hermeneutic tool for inviting the viewer "to see something which is right there in the text"—which is undoubtedly the strength of Ligo's work. More specifically, what Ligo persuasively reveals is what Manet himself seems consciously to have intended. By focusing on that aspect of Manet's work Ligo's study nicely complements those of historians such as T. J. Clark, Nancy Locke, and others, who have focused more on what the artist unconsciously achieved.
Excerpt: Abundant evidence does exist, in the iconographical content of the work itself. The lion's share of the present study, therefore, will be devoted to a systematic, chronological study of Manet's work from the vantage of its iconography. Before beginning, however, I shall introduce, in Part One, the theoretical foundation upon which my iconographical interpretation of Manet's work has been based.
The first chapter examines all the known instances in which Baudelaire directly discussed Manet's work, either in his writing or in statements attributed to him and recorded by others. Although few, they are very informative. Baudelaire said nothing about Manet' s work that would contradict the basic thesis of the present study and, in fact, said much to support it. Although Baudelaire nowhere specifically affirmed that Manet's painting took the same aesthetic position as his poetry (which at the time could have meant the kiss of death for Manet's career), he did acknowledge that Manet's work included a number of features that were essential if it was to be considered modem, in Baudelaire's definition of the word.
The second chapter presents a brief outline of Baudelaire' s aesthetic: in order to recognize the Baudelairien content of Manet's iconography it will be necessary first to recognize such Baudelairien content when we see it.
The third chapter examines those features of the Baudelairien aesthetic that could have led Manet to consider photography as a logical channel through which he could transform Baudelaire's aesthetics of poetry into an aesthetics of painting. This chapter also examines how Manet may have reconciled Baudelaire's well-known antipathy toward photography with his decision to adopt photography as the
fundamental "form" from which to hang the "content" of his work.
Part One concludes with a brief chapter summarizing the many photographic features of Manet's oeuvre as they emerged in the 1860s and continued until his death in 1883.
Part Two is a systematic, chronological examination of the Baudelairien content of Manet's oeuvre as manifested in the form of photography, from 1859 to 1870. Part Two concludes with 1870 for two basic reasons. First, the war between France and Prussia, declared in August of that year, enforced a hiatus in Manet's career and, consequently, an opportunity for summation and evaluation. Second, and more important, a number of events associated with the Salon of 1870 suggest that Manet's long struggle had finally been acknowledged and appreciated.
Part Three is a brief discussion of each of the paintings Manet submitted to the Salon between 1872 (the first Salon to be held following the Franco-Prussian war) and the Salon of 1882 (the last Salon to which Manet submitted work before his death) in light of the central thesis presented in this book. The evidence reveals that in every major painting produced during these years, including his summation painting of 1882 A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (fig. 146), Manet remained faithful to the same aesthetic position he had formulated years earlier in 1859-60. We will see that Manet ended his career as he had begun it twenty-three years before--as a Baudelairien painter-photographer of modern life.
An American Impressionist : The Art and Life of Alson Skinner Clark by Deborah Solon (Hudson Hills Press) is the first in-depth scrutiny of the American Impressionist painter Alson Skinner Clark (1876-1949). Studying museum catalogues can be an entertainment in and of itself. Some blockbuster shows featuring important and controversial artists when distilled into catalogue accompaniment give no hint as to the impact of the works, the artists, or the layout of the exhibitions. Conversely, some museums, especially those involved in a traveling exhibition, create a fine volume, well designed and executed, while the centerpiece artist is not all that impressive. Featuring 77 color plates and 10 halftones of Clark's work, ranging from nude figures to bustling urban centers to panoramic scenes from all over the world, An American Impressionist pairs the raw beauty and gentle imagery of the oil on canvas works with a brief discussion of Clark's life, his marriage, travels abroad, the toll World War I took upon him, his obscure retirement and the recent rediscovery of his contributions, particularly to the Impressionist tradition in California, where Clark made a name and lasting memory for himself among the local art community. This publication coincides with the first full-scale museum retrospective on Clark by the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Clark's life and times mirror Americana and that aspect of the writing is interesting. The problem with the topic is that Clark is a local 'hero' whose works really don't merit a retrospective as far as output is concerned. Yes, there are some nice paintings ...and there are some works better left uncurated were it not for the theme of the exhibition. Clark did not limit himself to American locales but dabbled in en plein air work in Europe and elsewhere. There is not much original thought here: Clark's style was derivative and he was but one of hundreds of painters now termed American Impressionists. Especially recommended for collectors, students, and connoisseurs of the Impressionist style.
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