Barbizon School

The Gleaners (1857) by Jean-François Millet

Should selfies be paintings rather than photos?

According to the Barbizon School, a mid-19th-century French school of painting, the answer might be yes.

Barbizon painters were the first to paint landscape in realistic terms and for its own sake (EB). Natural scenes became the subjects of their paintings rather than mere backdrops to dramatic events (Wikipedia, “Barbizon School”).

According to EB:

All of these artists, in spite of their Romantic inspiration, emphasized the simple and ordinary rather than the terrifying and monumental aspects of nature. Unlike their English contemporaries, they had little interest in the surface effects of light and colour or in atmospheric variations. Instead, they emphasized permanent features, painting solid, detailed forms in a limited range of colours. They were also concerned with mood, and they altered physical appearances to express what they saw as the objective “character” of the landscape.

It is this last sentence that caught my eye.  I have heard similar thing about portait painters–that their job is not to capture your likeness exactly, as a photograph would, but to portray your character.  To me, that’s a fascinating idea.

Finally, Wikipedia (“Barbizon School”) points out that

Jean-François Millet extended the idea from landscape to figures — peasant figures, scenes of peasant life, and work in the fields. In The Gleaners (1857), for example, Millet shifted the focus and the subject matter from the rich and prominent to those at the bottom of the social ladders.

And so we see Realism applied to painting, which reminds me of another question I had when reading a poem by Walt Whitman about compost:  Is there any subject that is simply not appropriate for art?

I’ve also noticed that big movements in art tend to come from these causes:

  1. A reaction to dogmatic critical theories, such as those of Plato/Aristotle.  Platonic critics thought that it is more skillful to portray the Ideal than the Real, which meant that Barbizon landscapes were considered less skillful than landscapes that were backdrops for historical scenes.
  2. A reaction to church doctrines (e.g., iconoclastic art).
  3. A cross-fertilization with current cultural trends, particularly in science (e.g., surrealism arose from applying Freud to art).
  4. A cross-fertilization within the arts (e.g., drama and music resulting in opera).

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