Degas and the Puberty of Modern Painting

Edgar Degas began his career as a Realist, but at some point his Realism took a left turn and transformed into some sort of Impressionism. I don’t really like Degas, but I suppose something has to be said about his paintings because there’s so much of his stuff on display at Musée d’Orsay. His twisted perspectives and colors make my stomach turn. That is not to say I object to his painting somehow; pineapple makes my stomach turn as well and I don’t have anything against pineapple, it’s a physical reaction. His Realist paintings don’t do that to me, only the stuff that goes weird. For instance, his famous absinthe portrait is easy to look at, although it’s a pretty sorry scene with two people who are obviously sick with something.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

As his compositions evolve his attitude towards composition itself seems to get abstracted to the point where the elements of the composition take precedence over the whole scene and become detached entities. That would explain the twisted scenery and distorted perspectives. Much of this movement toward an elemental conception of painting might have come from his experiments with different media, but that can’t explain all the weirdness away. Nor is it the case that he was just a crap painter and compensated this by making things strange. The focus on the figures on the ground’s expense is a clear and informed break from Realism in that Realist painting is very much about making the composition rest in a way that is not jarring to the eye; everything has its place and conforms to our everyday expectations, that’s how we know it’s real. Degas’s point is not, I think, to alert us to the fakeness of it all or to pull us to look at the medium. It seems like he wants us to look at parts of the paintings individually and forget our ideas of what composition should be. Now, why would he want us to do that?

1 Response to “Degas and the Puberty of Modern Painting”



  1. 1 Art in Paris « nonvisedvoce Trackback on January 30, 2012 at 22:39

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