Beaux-Arts Tradition


“For me a work of art must be an elevated interpretation of nature. The search for the ideal has been the purpose of my life.”
– William Adolphe Bouguereau –

Not my favorite painter from the Beaux-Arts tradition, but as I have said many times, he and his contemporaries vision of classcism was aligned with the three pillars of the Beaux-Arts …Truth, Beauty, and Virtue.
This is a far cry from the tenets of todays oxymoronic “Classical-Realist’ Ateliers that are multiplying like rabbits.
Drawing, painting, and sculpture in the classical paradigm is about pure design. Working in the grand manner has nothing to do with the mimesis of nature and everything to do with translating the subject into a visual design idiom.

“For me a work of art must be an elevated interpretation of nature. The search for the ideal has been the purpose of my life.”

Classical artistic endeavors are governed by the five levels of intent: Information, Intellect, interpretation, intuition, and imagination.The classical plastic arts i.e. Architecture, Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture deal with intelligent design using the abstract elements of the universal visual language to create works that reflect the materials which produced them.

Duplication or replication came into vogue when Louis Daguerre introduced the camera to the French Academy in 1839. From that point on the French started training engravers and history painters to compete with the camera lens. In the 1850’s there was no color photography or color printers so there was a need, at that time, for the coloring of history by the academic painters. Make no mistake about it these painters were ‘classical trained’ in the ‘Beaux-Arts’ manner. They were not copying nature they were idealizing it, designing it, composing it, and filtering it, they did not draw or paint what they saw. Any claim to the contrary is simply not factual.

Mimetic realism, or point and shoot realism, which really has no ‘CLASSICAL’ linage is a relatively recent aberration beginning in Boston and refining itself to in Minneapolis (so forth and so on) it has done away with the all artistic pretense of translating nature and replaced it with a mechanical photographic imagery relying and relating minimally to historical precedent. Many of these Atelier program use Bargue plates and rigid sight-size methods which stress accuracy above all else. The current realist movement primarily eliminates intelligent design, constructive thinking, and decision making. The theory of course is that the student will acquire those skills at a later date. (This rarely happens) Students that emerge from these programs and become successful painters of sculptors usually had extensive training before they took the Atelier programs. The Atelier system does provide some good basic mimetic skill-sets and students are taught how to make pictures of things that look like things, some teach historical techniques and a few give added insight into the Beaux-Arts traditions for students who want to move past learning to replicate nature appearances.

On the other hand the great art of the great masters was about veritas/truthfulness, subjective rather than objective. Authenticity and the feeling of nature as opposed to a reproduction or reflection of it.

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