During the times of the 17th century, classic art was at its high—Classic art utilizing heavily engrained technique and perspective. Art was something that was so highly regarded and valued that it not only was a venue where the brief story of politics could be found, it was also something that was highly regarded for its level of aesthetics. Being that art wasn’t just art for the people of the time it was an important piece of culture for the people, much attention was given to it—a fact that directly juxtaposes the value of art today. The governing body of the art of the time was the Academy. The Academy a collection of eighty members that were highly decorated artists, and highly esteemed critics of what was considered aesthetically correct. The academy was essentially the gate keepers and protectors of the standards of the day. Up until this time the standard was a Classical take on art, utilizing the technique taught from a young age and Historical painting: painting that dealt with less abstract ideas but instead focused on reality and its formation. Up until this point Classics painters never experienced real scrutiny for their art but instead were respected.
While the Classics continued to rule the art world as the only genre a political revolution was ensuing. A revolution that would change the way the world looks at art. Due to the political revolution of the time—a shift to Republicanism—a revolution of what was considered good art was beginning. It wasn’t until Delacroix, one of the groundbreaking modernists, showed his piece, The Massacre of Chios at the Salon of 1824. His piece, a very skilled painting, stood in stark juxtaposition to Ingres’s Vow of Louis XIII. Shortly after the Salon a number of other artists showed up on the map of modernity showing pieces we now characterize as Naturalistic, Romantic, and Realistic. While these artists experienced a lack of support from the art community at large and the powers that be, the bricks and mortar were being laid for the future of artists to push the envelope and break free from the rigid structure of the Classics.
One artist that was up and coming in the modern art world of the time was Manet. The appeal to his art was because of his political, emotional, and moral neutrality. But it wasn’t until the International Art Exhibition that he and a number of other artists received the opportunity they needed to change the world. In the preparation and organization of the event Napoleon III was burdened with the responsibility of giving a good show and allowing the world to see and further their understanding that France still was a competitive entity that deserved respect. It was decided that at the exhibition, there to appease everyone involved representatives of every major genre would show their work. The showings would be organized to provide for a retrospective experience for the viewers—essentially giving them and understanding of the artist’s progress.
Connoisseurs and respected critics loved the idea that they could witness the birth and growth of an artist’s particular style. The general public was not much of a fan of the idea. What cemented the presence of Modernism during these times of rebirth and revolution was the recognition (Medal of Honor) given to nine of the artists that showed at the exhibition. It may not have been evident to the artists themselves but supporters of the classics realized that this gesture of awarding the Medal of Honor to these artists would serve to be what ultimately destroyed the hierarchical position of the Classics. At that point instead of their being Classics then Modern pieces, the two were seen as equals, both existing cohesively in the same environment. The only thing that would put any piece above another was individual preference and taste.
It was artists like Manet, Delacroix, and Courbet that pushed the envelope of conservatism. They decided to instead of allow what was considered acceptable, hide the truth of the political reality, play with the various aspects of revolution and its applicability to the advancement of modern life.
Personally I think that this was an amazing thing for our world to experience. I think it is extremely important to make art accessible to not only the wealthy but to the general public. Art to me is an expressive piece used to convey an idea or even a beautiful image to the world. Being that the elite are not the only people in the world that have something to say, I think it was very important to extend this opportunity to others. The way that we live our lives has everything to do with what happened more than a century ago in 1855. Every artificial aspect of our physical world—whether the design of a laptop or the architecture of a building, is the way it is currently because of that event. I’m glad it happened.