Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Realism (pt. 2)

In 1839, something happened that would change art forever.  If you ask me, the invention of the camera probably marks the key turning point in the history of art.  When considering in our culture today more contemporary art forms, such as Modern Art, it's often difficult to understand how such a style could have evolved from the long line of artistic traditions seen in a study of Western art history.  One simple answer is that photography made painting obsolete; but that's not the full picture, is it.  In 1839, when Louis J. M. Daguerre devised a method of exposing light to a silver coated copper plate to make a photographic image, the art world did not immediately change.  Realism, though affected by the camera, was already in progress before the invention of the Daguerrotype; however, this landmark discovery would definitely have a most direct and primary effect on later art movements.
It's kind of funny and sad at the same time, but it wasn't long after the camera was invented that one of its major functions became the production of pornography; however, this invention carried far greater potential in areas less squalid.  The importance of such a discovery seemed to alter the historical flow of time.  News could be spread faster; images could capture scenes in more accurate ways than art.  Photography meant someone could "live" forever.  But as honest an image as the camera could provide, much of early photographic images were used for propaganda, very little different from art.  Photographs, among other things, were used to make careers, even political careers.
Matthew Brady was hired as Abraham Lincoln's official photographer similar to the way in which artists had been hired in the past as court painters.  Brady's objectives were the same as those earlier artists: to make his subject look good.  In this photograph of President Lincoln we see similar artistic techniques to Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Napoleon in His Study.  You will recall that, in that painting, Napoleon was made to look tall through use of vertical line.  This image does the same.  We have to look up and down across the entire height of the picture to completely appreciate the man's full stature.  A column in the background (placed in the same location as in David's painting) adds to this sense of vertical loftiness.  (And of course Honest Abe was rather a bit taller than Napoleon—haha, I just had an image of Lincoln on the basketball court with Bonaparte, making slam dunks over the little dictator and blocking every one of his shots—hehe…okay, back to the photograph).  Also in this portrait we see President Lincoln with a small stack of books on a table beside him, much as David painted Bonaparte in his study with a bunch of pamphlets and documents.  Lincoln's left hand rests on a Bible, demonstrating him to be a man of moral principles and honorable character.  You can see how even early photography was used for propaganda purposes.

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