Ruckstull's view of the fall

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Ruckstull's view of the fall

From Kimbal Welch

Published before 2005

If you’ve been wondering why I’ve suddenly started posting Ruckstull’s comments again, it’s because I’ve finally gotten around to reading more articles from his book. So, my head is currently filled with digested bits of his aesthetics and historical view of Modernism’s rise, so full in fact that I need to dump some of it out for your perusal. Ruckstull wrote around the turn of the century, and at that time Modernism as a coherent (well semi-coherent) movement was less than fifty years old. I think he was sitting right at ringside when the fight began. In his book, he gives a history of the rise of Modernism, and the fall of the Academy with some details I’ve never heard before.

Ruckstull blames the successful rise of Modernism on economics and politics in France. The economics was an increase in international trade. Part of the French economy at the time was based on trade in arts and crafts. However, as other countries became enamored of the French crafts they began to imitate them thus increasing the supply and reducing the price. In order to stay ahead of the competition the French craftsmen began a kind of arms race with their arts. They constantly changed their styles and patterns to keep their wares fresh. This created a force that drove the arts and crafts industry to constantly look for new styles. The Modernists who were constantly changing styles became the economic allies of this industry.

On the political side, the academy was founded by the deposed Kings, and was still staffed by old monarchists. This put them at odds with the Republican government, which tolerated them for a time. Unfortunately, there was a failed coup d’etat in which some of the academy officials sided with the loosing (i.e. monarchist) side. After that, the Republican government started plotting against it’s own arts institution. Thus, the rise of Modernism was not due to any advantage in the art or artists, but because they were a convenient tool in intra-government power politics.

For me this explains a lot. I’ve always wondered why the academy caved in so easily. Now I can see it was not just under attack by penniless artists, but it was under a concerted attack by high-powered politicians from inside their own government. The Academy never had a chance.

It’s interesting the twist Ruckstull gives to events of the time. According to Ruskstull, when Rodin sued the Academy to prove that he hadn’t caste his sculpture The Age of Brass from a live model nobody really thought he had. One Academy official made a stupid statement about the sculpture’s hyper-realistic modeling, and Rodin seized the opportunity not once but twice to force his name into the public eye. In like manner, Whistler sued Ruskin not because he really took offence at Ruskin’s comments about Whistler’s art, but in order to grab news headlines for himself and his paintings.