Realism is considered the first major movement in modernism. It’s important to note that the term Realism does not necessarily refer to a realistic style of painting or drawing (though many artists at this time did portray their subject matter realistically), it refers to showing life as it really was. No longer was the only fitting subject matter for artwork royalty, gods, or epic heroes; now artists were focused on showing us the peasants, the farmers, the prostitutes, and all the real working humans that made up most of the population. This movement overlapped both romanticism and impressionism, and many artists are claimed by multiple movements (i.e. Manet, who is categorized under both Realism and Impressionism). The defining feature of Modernism is known as “avant-garde,” meaning artists were really looking to break the mold and continually reinvent themselves.
For part one, I’d like you to revert to a more creative writing tone again, as you did for the Grand Tour assignment. Once again you’ll be writing a letter to a friend, this time from the point of view of an aspiring artist in 1863 who has seen the show at the Salon des Refuses (don’t worry, this will make sense after you read and view the material at the links below!). Tell your friend what it’s like to be an artist in Paris at this time, how your own work is coming along, and what it was like to see these brand-new works from these amazing avant-garde artists. How did it feel to see Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe? Were you as scandalized by it as all of the critics, or did you see something new and incredible in it? Remember, you’re a late-19th-century Parisian artist! No one, including you, has ever seen anything like this before!
After describing your life, the Salon des Refuses, and some of the works in general (2 paragraphs, at least 5 sentences for each paragraph), focus on one particular work that really caught your eye. For the purposes of this assignment, it does not matter if it actually appeared in the 1863 exhibition, just choose a work of realism that you’d like to do a detailed visual analysis on, describing it and telling your friend how it made you feel. Does it have the potential to influence your own work? Do you believe this movement will last, perhaps lead to something else, or will those ancient classical values keep their hold on the art world? Conclude your letter by describing your plans for your next painting, and briefly explain why you are either choosing to jump on board with this new trend of realism, or sticking with traditional styles. Be sure to INCLUDE AN IMAGE of the main work that you choose to focus on.
Start by reading and viewing the material below, and then get to writing your letters. And have fun!
http://www.theartstory.org/movement-realism.htm (be sure to click on “Read More” in the blue box titled “Most Important Art” and read about each of the paintings on that page so you get a sense of the visual progression of realism)
For part two, you will choose one of your classmates’ letters and respond as their friend, who lives in a small town in Southern France (you grew up together before your friend moved to Paris to make their way) and has never heard of all this excitement happening in Paris. You are, however, just as talented an artist as your friend, and this idea of Realism has you pretty excited. Describe to your friend something that you’re going to paint, some scene or activity or person, etc., from your everyday life that you think would make a wonderful subject for a painting. Remember, this idea of painting subjects from real, everyday life is very new! Write at least two paragraphs (5 sentences for each paragraph) to your friend…who knows, maybe he or she will help you get to Paris and you can work and hang out in those cafes together?