Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Edgar Degas                                    

Rain Morehouse    9.9.12

     On July 19th, in the year 1834; Edgar Germain-Hilaire de Gas was born.  He was born to a wealthy Franco-Italian family, and he was the eldest of his four siblings. He was birthed and raised in Paris, France, and was strongly encouraged at an early age to pursue the arts; although not as a long-term career.  Edgar’s father pressured him into studying law, and so for a brief period of time he attended law school.  But in 1855, Degas decided to enroll in a highly praised art school in Paris, called ‘Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts).  While training at the Art school, he studied drawing under the academic artist Louis Lamothe.  Degas graduated in 1853, and received a baccalaureate in literature at his graduation.  Shortly after, Edgar registered at the Louvre as a copyist at the young age of 18.  This was a very significant part of his career in art, and he claimed later in life that it was the foundation for any true artist.  A few years later, Degas moved to Italy to pursue the arts, and settled down in Rome for three years. 

    Degas was significantly influenced by Japanese prints, where they suggested novel approaches to composition.  Japanese prints had bold, linear designs and expressed a sense of flatness that intrigued Degas; this was very different from traditional Western art and its perspective view of the world.  Degas was regarded as one of the founders of the Impressionist art movement, even though his style was quite differing; but he rejected the term of being an Impressionist.  He preferred to be called a Realist, because Edgar often depicted his subjects in his pictures within the third person.  Realism believed in the ideology of objective reality, and was against Romanticism.  Degas identified himself with this term instead.  Edgar was a superb draftsman, and is highly identified with the subject of dance; and over half of his artistic works are of dancers.  His interest was in the human form, and the athletic physicality of dancers and ballerinas especially caught his attention.  His studies addressed the movement of the body, exploring the physical strength and discipline of the dancers through contorted postures and unexpected vantage points; the strange vantage points he used was also very specific to Degas, and he was known for these third-person viewpoints.  But he also studied and drew jockeys and horse races for the interesting movement performed within it, as well as a number of nudes and working women; such as laundresses and milliners.  The performing arts were a huge part of Degas’ artistic career.  Being that is he famously known for his dancers and ballerinas, even though he is associated with painting dancers for all the wrong reasons.  “They called me the painter of dancers,” Edgar said, “without understanding that for me the dancer has been the pretext for painting beautiful fabrics and rendering movements.”  But along with painting dancers, he has also painted other factors of the performing arts; such as orchestra scenes, musicians, theatre, operas, and cabaret performances. 

    Edgar Degas was very experimental with his mediums in art, often drawing with chalk, painting with oil on canvas, and sketching dancers in pencil and charcoal.  But Degas was most known for his pastel drawings, and was once called the “Pastel Master”.  He enjoyed using different pastel art techniques and his innovative drawings on differently colored bases, experiments of shapes and textures of pastel strokes.  And with the element of “unfinished” pastel works, Degas truly redefined drawing with soft pastels.  Edgar was also quite wealthy, coming from a rich family, and so he was able to view dancers in rehearsal; before and after shows, and just stretching in the back studio; because it cost a fee to have access to the back stage where the ballerinas resided before and after shows, only the wealthier men could afford to do so.  This impacted Degas’ artwork and style by showing him who the dancers really were, that they were just as human as any one of us.  Because behind the scenes he was able to view the dancers in their stretches, their contorted poses, and watch them massage their aching feet.  Degas wanted to paint ballerinas in their natural state, and the pressures they faced being dancers, not just the perfect ballerinas they are on stage; he wanted something deeper.  This however was quite new to the world to see paintings and sketches of ballerinas not perfectly poised and elegantly twirling, and sometimes controversial to those who were conventional.  But before Degas, no one had ever viewed and recorded what it really meant to be a dancer, and so Degas showed the world the real life of a dancer. 

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