Free Photography As A Social Reflection: The Influence Of Realism On Nineteenth And Twentieth Century Art Research Paper Sample
The invention of photography during the nineteenth century fueled a scientific and artistic conniption because of the epochal preoccupation with capturing the real rather than the romantic and idyllic. The very first portrait makers accentuated the very essence of the human subject they sought to capture. Photography provided many advantages including low costs, immediacy, and realistic representation. Indeed, the profound social and cultural changes that were taking place during the late nineteenth and twentieth century were captured and reflected in photography, thereby showcasing truth rather than idealism. Indeed, all artwork media reflects the social and cultural contexts in which the artists created their works as well as the technology and materials they were able to work with. As a result of the Industrial Revolution during the nineteenth century, artists in Western Europe were able to harness the technological advances in order to cater to a diverse clientele that yearned for more realistic portrayals of the world in which they lived. The influence of photography on the art world is quite clear, as the visual traits of paintings, the subject matter of drawings and paintings as well as the way that artists painted their works demonstrates how the realism of photography influenced artists to try and depict reality while also empowering them to experiment with more abstract art.
In order to fully comprehend how photography influenced art, it is necessary to take into consideration the historical contingencies prior to the creation of photography. Social and political revolutions during the nineteenth and twentieth century profoundly impacted the transformation of artistic sensibilities from idyllic representations to more realistic ones as captured by the photograph. During this epoch, European influences extended to all parts of the globe, as the antecedents of the modern conception of globalization resulted in the syncretism of a litany of philosophies and cosmogonies of the world. Indeed, imperialism drove many European countries to explore foreign places and spread their influence in order to become a world power. The French Revolution had sparked a slew of popular movements and social revolutions during the nineteenth century, quickly tore societies and people’s lives asunder and reconfigured geopolitical configurations. The renowned Spanish artist Goya had lived through these tumultuous years, wanted to capture the human condition as a result of these movements and events that wreaked havoc on their lives. Prior to the invention of the camera, artists, driven by the desire to limn the authentic and real, were the only people that patrons paid to produce portraits, archive significant historical events, or construct an architectural and sculptural form for the purpose of commemoration (Kleiner and Mamiyia 102). The invention of the camera influenced artists to capture the subjects’ likeness through the deployment of different media. However, technological advances were needed because although photography did not replace the medium of painting, but it did force artists to be able to practice their craft in an alternative way in order to make enough money to survive (109). Indeed, artists lost a significant portion of their commissions because the camera essentially rendered painted portraiture moot.
The camera obscura during the eighteenth century and the emergence o the daguerreotypes during the late nineteenth century laid the foundation for photography as a viable artistic medium. Pioneered by the famous artist Caravaggio, the camera obscura technique, a Latin phrase that translates to “room dark” preceded the fixed image captured by photography. Jansen and Jansen define camera obscura as “a darkened enclosurewith a small opening or lens on one wall through which light enters to form an inverted image on the opposite wall” (Janson and Janson 651). Artists would deploy this technique to project desired images on their painting canvases in order to paint with broader strokes while using certain materials and substances that could be visible in dark rooms. This technique, however, lacked permanence in the creation of images and was only useful as a helpful tool for artists when they were practicing for their paintings. Nonetheless, this technique was considered quite innovative for the time in which it was used. It was the precursor to photography as a seminal technological innovation for capturing the real. Created by Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre in 1837, the daguerreotype created a fixed image that provided a corrective to the past obstacle of the so-called impermanent and destabilized image. The daguerreotype is defined as a metal plate that is covered with a silver substance that renders it light sensitive, which enabled a clear image to be recorded but not replicated (Kleiner and Mamiyia 235). Indeed, the definition of photography translates into “drawing with light” because it was initially perceived as an auxiliary to drawing. During the middle of the nineteenth century, photography as an artistic medium combined aesthetics with scientific knowledge emerged and would have a profound impact on the art world.
Photography fomented an artistic environment that soon reconfigured how artists perceived and depicted art as a result of wanting to replicate subject matter with the realism and authenticity that photographs did. Edgar Degas wanted to capture a moment in time in a similar way that the camera did (Arnason and Kalb 15). During the twentieth century, historian and artist John Berger penned an article entitled “Ways of Seeing” which discussed how photography and the invention of the camera altered how artists as well as the masses perceived the world around them. Artists thus broached subjects in their paintings from a new perspective. Indeed, Burger noted that photography became a widely popular fad both within the art world and in the general popular, as everyone wanted to have one (Berger 167).
The visual traits seen in paintings shifted as a result of the introduction of the camera ad the photograph. In Edgar Degas’ Ballerina and Lady with a Fan, it is evident that Degas selected to depict only a portion of his subject in the image plane in order to establish a sense of intimacy by placing the viewer in the depicted scene. The viewer is situated from a certain vantage point next to a woman painted in the foreground who sits in the audience. The advent of the photography also required photographers to use long exposures in order to capture an image, which resulted in “shutter-drag.” Many artists attempted to create a similar effect in their works. Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket, an oil painting, captures a sense of fluidity through the fireworks. He wanted to show the multiple explosions cascade in an awesome downpour until they hit the ground. Finally, the ability of the photograph to capture a moment in time where all action ceased was considered by many artists to be the most intriguing element of photography. This newfound capability enabled the artist to capture the strain in people’s faces and muscles as well as the gait of a runner during a race. Indeed, Degas did a series of paintings in which, after studying photographs of horses, he painted the jockeys pulling on the reins of the horses while the horse was mid stride (Kleiner and Mamiyia 204).
Beyond the visual characteristics, photography also influenced the subject matter that the artists chose to depict. While traditionally artists favored religious iconography and biblical scenes, photography propelled artists to depict the ordinary and mundane as a result of the ability to take a snapshot that froze a moment in a person’s life while they were engaged in something trivial. Indeed, artists began to view the quotidian scenes as important to be documented and painted because such images were appealing to the ordinary viewer. One example of such paintings in Auguste Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette in which he depicted a scene in France of what people typically do on an afternoon on a weekend. The subjects are clearly frozen mid-step rather than posing as models. The nature of the brushstrokes further accentuate this frozen moment in time, as they seem to indicate that the artist himself was frozen mid-stroke while painting his work (Rooseboom and Rudge 305). Indeed, it is unequivocal that photography influenced Renoir, who seemingly paid careful attention to the effects of light, color schema, and the way that mass and form were portrayed. photography had the ability to capture visual imagery in a more mechanical fashion that superseded the abilities of a painter. As a result, painters were always engaged in a sustained dialogue with photographers, which resulted in both influencing each others’ artistic vision and view of the world.
One of the most profound impacts of photography on art was that it empowered artists with a sense of liberation and artistic license to experiment with their creativity and artistic vision, thereby, paving the way for abstract art movements. Because of how realistic images appeared in photography, some artists “took the scrupulous fidelity of the photographic image as a good reason to work imaginativelyand thus liberated their art from the requirement of pictorial verisimilitude” (Arnanson and Kalb 15). Photography during the twentieth century reveals that it became influenced by the art movements that defined the epoch, as it emerged as a dialectic form of art, or art done for the sake of pleasing the viewer. During the nineteenth century, art historians studying the influence of photography on art look at the interplay between photography as a burgeoning business and photography as an artistic medium. Indeed, this interaction was at the core of the dialectic of the history and development of photography (Cutrone). Within it, more attention was paid to the rational, factual, and scientific aspects of photography and its documentary capabilities on one hand and the symbolic and aesthetic components on the other hand. During the twentieth century, photography became much more accessible, which led to changes within this dialectic. Photography emerged as vehicle for popular culture while it also increasingly became identified as a fruitful artistic medium. This interplay between photography as an art medium and photography as a tool of popular culture profoundly impacted painting and sculpture while concurrency advancing the possibilities of photography in itself. While paintings and artistic styles such as cubism, surrealism, and futurism developed in response to the invention of the photograph as a representation that eschewed the real, photography as an artistic medium in turn incorporated elements of these movements while also rejecting the assumption that photographers wanted their photographs to mimic painting. This refusal to juxtapose photography with painting rendered photography antithetical to the traditional art forms (Cutrone).
The concept of photography has been present in the tradition of Western art far earlier than it was invented. The camera obscura and the daguerreotype were forerunners to the camera and photography as a widely accepted form of art. Artists were fascinated by the camera because of its ability to reproduce “a special kind of optical reality” that had never been seen in the world of art (Arnason and Kalb 15). The shift away from romantic and idealized depictions of the world towards the authentic and the real marks the profound impact that photography had on art during the nineteenth and twentieth century. Photography unequivocally influence the function and content of drawing and painting and vice versa, paving the way for abstract art movements to become popularized.
Arnason, H.H.H., and Peter Kalb. History of Modern Art. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003. Print.
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. New York: Penguin, 1983. Print.
Cutrone, Christopher. "Photography as Art: Art as Photography." University of Chicago. 1998. Web. 25 Jan. 2015. <http://home.uchicago.edu/~ccutrone/benjamin
Janson, Anthony F., and H.W. Janson. A Basic History of Western Art 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2006. Print.
Kleiner, Fred S., and Christon J. Mamiyia. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. Belmont, California: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2005. Print.
Rooseboom, Hans and John Rudge. “Myths and Misconceptions: Photography and Painting in the Nineteenth Century.” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 32.4(2006): 291-313. Print.
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