Painting against Time: The Decaying Image in the French Enlightenment
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CitationWunsch, Oliver. 2018. Painting against Time: The Decaying Image in the French Enlightenment. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractIn eighteenth-century France, a conflict emerged over art's material decay. On one side of the divide were artists who produced increasingly ephemeral objects using experimental techniques, exploring unstable methods of oil painting and trying fragile materials like pastel. On the other side were those who sought to create enduring pictures, reviving ancient techniques and testing new chemical processes in the hopes of discovering a permanent medium. This dissertation traces the development of this schism, arguing that its origins lie in the Enlightenment public sphere. As art went on display in storefronts, salons, and exhibition halls, its materiality became the subject of intensifying examination and discussion. This new scrutiny had the tendency to push the technical practices of artists in divergent directions. Critics drew increasing awareness to the issue of decay, pressuring artists to consider the longevity of their creations. At the same time, artists competed for the fickle attention of viewers who were often more interested in sensuous surface effects than they were concerned about questions of durability. In response to these conditions, some artists clung to the idea that great work must transcend time, but others embraced impermanence, redefining art as something whose meaning and materiality were specific to their moment.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41127163
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