The search for emotional impact. Classicism and romanticism are only tenuously compatible. Like Cain and Abel, its a contrapuntal piece of music, that if played often enough, like Glenn Gould with Bach, can create some some odd exposures to the stark dualities in human nature. A yearning to be mad and liberated bound up with a fear of sanity; the imposition of suffocating reason and common sense magically producing a mastering of the inner and outer. As about as compelling as the evolution of rocks. The classic academics had the right idea. A least in theory, but the chasm between theory and behavior exposes contradictions in reason not particularly obvious. Civilized control is a best stifling and the antithesis of the creative. Romantic madness is a replacement of the ego control of classicism, an obliteration, a vaporizing into delirium. A formlessness that would achieve its pinnacle in abstract expressionism. At the least, its a nominal conformity exposed to the risk of madness…
Kuspit:The child, Benoit Agnes Trioson, was the son of Girodet’s mentor and stepfather. The boy died young, making him all the more “romantic.” Putting his book aside, he gazes off into the distance, thinking his own thoughts, his face radiant with consciousness. He is shown in the traditional pose of melancholy, his head resting on one hand. It is an astonishing psychological portrait, pre-dating Gericault’s portraits of the insane, which attempt to convey their mental state, but are much less convincing than Girodet’s singular portrait. All the more so because Girodet shows the boy as an individual, not as a type. It is rare enough to treat children as serious persons — Goya and Velazquez do so — and even rarer to realize they have a serious mental life. Girodet was able to convey it, perhaps because he projected his own melancholy into the child, as Bellenger suggests, but also because he had genuine respect and love for his stepbrother. His art has the quality of intimacy that David’s art lacks.
Gericault’s most modern works, then, combine overcontrol and lunacy, brilliantly integrating them into romantic hyberbole. Lunacy is more charismatic than classical control, because the lunatic has clearly been traumatized, that is, has lost his reason and self-control, and thus lives in the impulsive present, which is where, unconsciously, we would all like to live, just like children. (Is Benoit Agnes Trioson haunted by time, depressed by the long time it takes to become an adult, and all the things it takes time to learn in order to be one, to take one’s independent place in society? The more grown up one is, the more aware of time, and with it death — a recurrent theme in Girodet’s pictures . The impulsive light in The Sleep of Endymion gives Endymion’s classical body its charismatic presence and immediacy. Classical form has no charisma — reason has no charisma. (Which is perhaps why it has little appeal.) Without the supplement of irrational moonlight — lunatic light, as it were — Endymion’s classical form lacks immediacy and poignancy, expressive power and passion, that is, emotional impact, and thus instant appeal. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit8-16-06.aspa
But, Girodet’s artistic revolt was the epitomy of the champagne socialist. A gilded dissent without any feeling or empathy for the sufferings and deprivations for the commoner. An elitist with a profound and pronounced individualism that was extreme. An early star of celebrity culture, but also thoroughly modern and a sense of the heroic in creating the conditions, the aesthetic bases of modern consumer culture whose romanticism would later be corrupted into pop culture. Girodet’s radical individualism would fit into Thomas Frank’s discussion today of the Rebel Cool.
…The French Revolution was not only a revolution against an oppressive government, but also against a way of thinking — thinking that regarded some human beings as inferior by nature to other innately superior human beings. It was a revolution for humanity as a whole.
It was initially a bourgeois revolution against aristocratic authority — Bellenger regards Girodet as a “bourgeois revolutionary” — that briefly became a populist revolution during the Terror. However short-lived and anarchical, this historical moment of populist rebellion became the model for future humanistic revolutions. Supposedly, the social destructiveness and terror they let lose are for the good of humanity as a whole — clearly a very abstract humanity. Nonetheless, humanistic revolutions insist that all human beings have the same rights. This is the point of Girodet’s Portrait of Citizen Belley, Ex-Representative of the Colonies (1797), “the first example of a black man represented in the official position of a Western political legislator,” as Bellenger says. It is clearly a statement of liberty, equality and fraternity. Humanistic revolutions also imply that high socioeconomic class and influence does not necessarily mean “natural” superiority to those of lesser socioeconomic class. And that all human beings can rise into positions of sociopolitical importance, assuming they have the merit to do so and the ability to function in them…
…This is why the French Revolution in its most populist phase inevitably led to the ideal of a classless society. Little did Girodet realize that when he attacked David, his artistic super-ego, he would be opening the floodgates of modern lunatic creativity — modern artistic chaos (more politely, “democratic diversity,” which means diversity without an “aristocratic” hierarchy of value, and thus with no “classical” standards of excellence) — while at the same time carrying the banner of liberty, equality and fraternity into an imaginary socialist future. And also into sensationalist mass culture, where everyone has the same right to be entertained. Girodet’s romantic paintings are, after all, still good entertainment, much more so than most movies. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit8-16-06.aspa
It was not important for white people to recognize their superiority to black people, what was important was that black people recognized their inferiority to white people. In a nation that praised “liberté, égalité et fraternité” it became apparent to both white and black people that the idea of slavery was a contradiction. This was problematic for France, as the country‟s economy relied heavily on its five hundred thousand slaves cultivating sugar and coffee in Saint-Dominigue. Thus, the term “race” became much more salient in France‟s debate on equality. As Antoine Barnave pointed out, “in order to provide a moral means for thirty five thousand whites to control five hundred thousand blacks, it is necessary to uphold the immoral prejudice of colour.” Without a moral basis for colonial rule, a fabricated one had to suffice….
…Girodet, then, had to represent Belley as a responsible French leader due to the uncertainty of France‟s position in Saint-Dominigue while sustaining a condescending tone in his work. Similar to the position of France in the colony, he had to elevate Belley to a certain status without making him an equal. He appears to be a civilized French gentleman, yet still presented in such a way that coveys barbarianism or a lack of civilization. As Homi Bhabha, post-colonial theorist, has pointed out, it is as if Belley is represented as a “mimic man… almost the same but not white.” His bright and overly polished clothing alludes to indulgence, referring to the new bourgeoisie, often called the Merveilleuses and
the Incroyables, who were seen as social pretenders and sexually debauched. Though his face is lined with age, referring to wisdom, and his expression is one of thoughtful seriousness, there is a sharp contrast when comparing him to other portraits done of white Revolutionary figures in the same era. Read More:http://art-history.concordia.ca/cujah/issue04/pelletier.pdf