This is a meditation I wrote for Art History and it's not very good, but I am just going to put it here. It's kindof like a review of the book, but is technically just musings. Oh, it is on the first three chapters of The Judgment of Paris by Ross King (Brunelleschi's Dome). Sorry I suppose for not updating, but I've come to hate my writing. Ah, well. P.S. It's also very serious and boring. I apologize.
Art shapes history and history art, there is no question here. But what makes The Judgment of Paris an interesting read rather than a museum pamphlet is the ever-so-detailed consideration to the meta-analysis of art—what makes an artist tick, her life experiences, her relationships and aspirations that all sum to how she perceives the world, an ultimately recreates it. King explicates the relationship between the end product and the process, with care to point out that this rectangular snapshot is not without years or even lifetimes of bias and planning.
Starting with Ernest Meissonier—the Karl Lagerfeld of the nineteenth century—we observe the meticulous regiment and extravagance to which life becomes dedicated completely to art. His eccentricity rivaled even Don Quixote, who too obsessed over times past and chivalric tradition, and perched himself upon a wooden horse, although not in a faux-snowscape. Meissonier shuns the modern, trifling, and erratic world of the ordinary; he favors the lionized “good old days.” But Meissonier embodied contradiction. He wanted to create in himself and his philosophy of art and culture a sense of antiquity, but he reduced his talents to bonshommes (goodfellas, if you will) rather than the epic gentlemen favored by society and his own taste. Meissonier decried this very practice, yet still petitioned against Nieuwerkerke’s reforms to secure his ability to churn out several bonhommes pieces, rather than concentrating his “efforts on a true masterpiece—a large and heroic history painting, for instance—that would take its honored place in pantheon of French art.” He believed and strove for this goal, but wooed by the lifestyle from his profitable bonhommes, Meissonier sided against Nieuwerkerke. Here, Ross emphasizes the impact that money has not only on the painter, but shaping the world of art, the works society deems “acceptable” and thus views. Had it not been for Meissonier’s great fame and fortune, we may not even be discussing his petition, his work, his presence in the book. Ross also makes sure to contrast Meissonier with Manet.
If Meissonier is Karl Lagerfeld, Edourd Manet is Charlie Bartlett, the protagonist from a 2007 film; he fares from the gentry with supportive parents in contrast to Meissonier whose interest in art estranged his father, and could barely support himself before his booming painting career. The two also share almost directly opposing views of art. While Meissonier prefers glorified historical pieces but yields to producing works officers and gentlemen, Manet initially believed in the venerated historical paintings and then willingly depicted indigents and commoners. Critics chided Manet’s style—his technique, subjects, uniqueness. Others celebrated it. Despite the great differences between these two artists, they both represent a single allegory of meta-art.It took only Gautier to praise Manet for his pieces to be considered “good.” The Académie des Beux-Arts, “immortals” determined with one, unified judgment the value of a painting, of the life’s work of artists. This practice still persists, even if not in such identified terms. Arbitrarily selected “elite” vote yay or nay in magazines and museums; proctors pull pieces to show in traveling galleries… And exposure creates profit, conversation and ultimately defines what we as viewers considers to be “worthy art”. If nothing else, The Judgment of Paris provokes critical thought about the art we value. How does that art come about? Why does everyone at the Louvre flock to Mona Lisa with their backs to Le Radeau de la Meduse? When we accept that pure excellence is not the only determinant in answering these questions, we can understand the relationship between history and art.