chapter  5
10 Pages

Edgar Degas: The psychological edge of modernism

In this short statement Pablo Picasso captures the psychological challenge of the modernist artist. From its beginnings in the late nineteenth century, modernism promoted a revolutionary aesthetic; no longer were artists just members of a guild, or an academic tradition de®ned by and judged by the conventions, values and institutions of traditional culture. Aesthetic life was ``liberated'' under modernism. The artist pursued a direct and often aggressively personal relationship to artistic forms, mediums, subjects and audiences; to do this he or she rejected the ``canon of beauty'' and encountered the world by means of instinct and pure brain power, pursuing art beyond the canon. Aesthetic experience became internal, psychological and idiosyncratic. The new bourgeois artist seeking to ``make it'' in a rapidly changing art world turned inward and away from society (even as he offered his artwork towards it), seeking ever different and provocative forms of selfexpression. Of course what was once avant-garde soon became canon, and the drive for self-realization has required a non-stop push to construct more revolutionary interpretations of self-experience and to break through endless walls erected by society in it's hunger for tradition. Edgar Degas lived his life on the edge of this aesthetic revolution; his artistic career stretched from the age of classicism dominated by Ingre to the worldshaking, cubist revolt of Picasso and Braque. By examining Degas' individual aesthetic development we will glimpse the psychological underpinnings of this fateful cultural transformation.