To start with, my blog is titled “The Electronic Revolution”, but I don’t mean revolution in the traditional sense. A revolution in my opinion is a change in general thinking, in the use of technology, and a change in the way we accept and live in the lawfully governed world. But, Revolution can also apply to things like the French and American Revolutions, and these are periods of time that involve rapid changes in thinking, artwork, and society. Physical, violent revolution is a powerful changing factor when it comes to art and society.
For my topic on the classical arts, I am going to focus on the roles both the French and the American revolution played in changing art, and the other way around: the way that art changed the revolution. I got three pieces of work here from the classical era, and I’m going to take my time explaining how each piece of art contributed to the spirit and overall mood of the revolution.
This is the Prise de la Bastille or the Storming of the Bastille, in English, created by French painter Jean-Pierre Houel in 1789. It depicts the storming of the Bastille in the first, bloody conflict of the French Revolution. Jean-Pierre is known as an Italiante Rococo painter, having received an education in artwork at the French Academy of art. Jean-Pierre uses rich watercolors in his paintings, as well as lots of action and people. The use of bright colors and complicated scenery makes it obvious this is Rococo style artwork, but it seems to have a bit of influence from the humanist and mannerist styles of painting, something with Jean-Pierre no doubt picked up in his travels in Italy.
I don’t think I need to explain much about WHY this painting relates to the revolution and it’s effect on art. Jean Pierre apparently experienced the horrors of the French Revolution in close quarters, and painted what he saw as a documentation of those horros. Look at the aggression of the people in this painting, the violence of the French Militia and the stark, powerful colors which Jean-Pierre uses to color the Bastille, the great prison of France. This type of artwork wasn’t meant to inspire revolutionaries, it was meant to show the common person that was not involved in the war what the horrors of it were really like. In this painting we can see the conflict and the struggle and really understand the hardships that pushed the common people into revolution. War is never a pretty thing, and while this painting is beautifully done and colored, it is not pretty. It is a grim reminder that revolution comes with consequences. But, considering that artwork like this came out of the revolution, I think it was well worth the price.
Incidentally, I read Les Misérables in High school, and this was the artwork on the front cover. It really was an excellent way to express the topic in the book.
Now, onto our second piece. The first piece of art I shared was visual artwork, so lets take a look at musical artwork of the revolutionary era.
As I explained in the last topic, revolution artwork seems to have more than one purpose. On one hand, it can be used to remind us of the hardships of war and revolution and the grim condition of mankind when it is forced to fight and kill for basic human rights. But, the other purpose of revolution artwork is to inspire and bring courage, and determination, to the audiences at which it is directed. In other words, it’s propaganda. Propaganda is a vitally important part of warfare and a sign of the changing times, and we see a lot of American propaganda which is famous and fresh in our minds even today, such as images like this:
Rosie the Riveter (http://nyulocal.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/rosie_the_riveter_poster-r3091783638ae408994a605de333dcf99_wi4_400.jpg) and Uncle Sam (http://www.futureclassx.com/bodypaint/stephanie/UncleSamWantsYou.gif)
These kind of images are meant to be inspiring, and represent the strength of the American people. It may not be classical artwork, mind you, but these aren’t the pieces of art I am going to talk about. What I want to show you is a classic piece of American Revolutionary music. The following piece is “Dixie” or “I Wish I Was In Dixie” depending on who you credit with the creation of the song. Most people credit an Ohio-born man named Daniel Decatur Emmett with the creation of this song in the early 1800’s near 1850. Listen to the patriotism, the style of music, the pride in your country which is just injected into this kind of music. This music was revolutionary, and indeed did serve as stirring propaganda to incite patriotism.
Ironically enough this particular piece of art was done by a Canadian orchestra known as the Canadian Brass, founded in the 1970’s.
This kind of music I feel is meant to inspire pride and wholesomeness in the American community, because it was in support of the revolution and shows the progression of American culture. The song is sort of like a testament, like other classical revolution songs like the national anthem and Yankee Doodle. It shows that Americans had their own style of music, and were developing something they could call their very own, just like how they wanted to call their country their very own. It’s interesting however that this type of music adapts many styles seen in classic British marching anthems, so it was relatable to the British Colonists who would soon come to call themselves Americans.
Onto my final piece of work to talk about, since we are on the topic of revolution I would like to continue with the controversial change in theatre style into entertaining and provocative satire. Satire was popular in the revolution era, and likely contributed greatly to the growing feeling of dissent against the government. Satires liked to poke fun at anything and everything, and government was very easy to satirize. The revolution played a big part in the theatre satire because of the mood that it set, that things couldn’t be taken seriously, especially the inter-workings of the government. Governmental corruption in the classical era was obvious and flagrant, and theatres no doubt took advantage of this.
Voltaire was a controversial and powerful playwright in this era. He produced many satirical works and dramas, but one of his most famous works was Oedipus. Since Voltaire’s work is so old and likely controversial for it’s time, I couldn’t find any live productions of the play on youtube or anything similar. However, I was able to find an online PDF of his play. You can read Oedipus by Voltaire HERE.
Voltaire’s work is philosophical and witty, and he constantly pokes fun at the king and aristocracy in general. In fact, Voltaire was jailed twice, and many of his works were banned, but that only made it more popular with people who felt dissent for the government. It’s interesting to see the way plays operated at this time, because playwrights were generally starting to learn they could ignore the rules. In this era, there were only two legally operated theatres in London, but many backwater, underground theatres started to pop up due to the popularity of satire. It’s interesting how the revolutionary mood of this era made it so easy to hate the government and make your own rules, or at least look for loopholes in the rules that were. Underground theatres were able to operate because they claimed they did their shows for no profit, or they were making money on only the refreshments.
Revolution against the aristocracy can be seen in lots of contemporary art forms as well. To wrap up my discussion about the classical era, I want to bring in a few examples of rebellion in it’s modern forms.
As far as I see it, we have two types of people who operate against the law; we have Anarchists, and we have Gangsters.
Now, living in Alaska, which has a lot of interesting radical people to speak of, I saw a lot of the anarchistic side of art rather than the gang based side. The Anarchistic side of art uses a lot of emotion in their music, usually being anger, and chaos. Anarchistic music is chaotic and hard to follow, sometimes almost being a little dissonant, because they want to spread the idea that things don’t need to be controlled, especially people, who CAN’T be controlled. Here I have an example of what I am talking about, when I mean Anarchistic music. It could be labelled as garage, or grunge, or skaa, or whatever term you want to use, but the basic concept of this art is that it’s angry, in your face, and more often than not written by and enjoyed by the youth crowd of America.
This kind of wave of thinking is also pretty satirical, but it’s a little grim. Look in the video the graffiti that says “We kill people who kill people because killing people is wrong”. This is clearly satirical and anti-governmental.
On the other side, we have the Gangsters. Anarchists are pretty different because they want to have their own system where their is no system, no rules that restrict people, where might makes right and generally people try to be good to each-other. The gang mentality is a little similar, but still relies heavily on rules and customs. You look out for your homies, you don’t cross bigger people, you try to carve out your slice of the American pie without hurting anybody, or by screwing over as many people as you possibly can. Gang mentality is less about rebellion against the government and more about looking out for yourself. It is also very big about power. When you listen to anarchist music as I call it, you don’t get the sense that the artist is trying to prove he’s better than you, but you can really get that sense from modern hip-hop music. Modern hip-hop music is completely, and utterly about being more powerful. It’s about having faster cars, hotter women, more money, better houses, bigger guns, anything you can think of. Here’s an example of this kind of mentality.
What connects these two types of art is the general sensation of disrespect for authority. It’s probably a topic to be discussed by someone with more qualifications than me, but I can theorize that the difference in these cultures probably arose from poverty, specifically the difference between the poor Irish immigrants and white southerners, and the Harlem and ghetto style influence of the newly escaped and freed black slaves. That’s only a theory, though.