19th Century painting at the Salon in Paris and the rise of Impressionism: a peer review case study.

A) Art is my background and my benchmark.
B) I also really only understand things when I can relate something new to something I know.
If you are following my deductive reasoning up till now you could rightly infer C:
C) that I learn best when I relate things I learn to my background in art.

Now that I have presented my researcher/how-i-understand biases, I would like to present my two-part blog post on how I am coming to terms with peer review. I should also say the Sokal affair and the ‘scandalousness’ of the event regarding peer review has informed my two case study choices.
In this first post I wanna discuss the salon culture found in Paris throughout the 19th Century and how the artists dealt with state sponsored jury selection (read: peer review).

In 1791, the newly formed republic abolished the Academy and made the Louvre open to all artists and also decreed all artists had inalienable right to show their art, granted the work was not offensive to public standards (Hauptman 1985, 96).
The salons from that point on had a jury select the work that was to be exhibited*. The nature and tastes of the subsequent juries however seemed to change like the weather. “Jean Gigoux, for example, who was decorated in the Salon of 1835, had his painting of Antoine et Cleopatre rejected in the Salon of 1837, only to have the same painting accepted in 1838, although there was no change in the composition of the jury” (Hauptman, 1985). This lead to criticism of the entire jury by critics (100) and even petitions sent to the King in 1843 (105). As a result of the growing discontent with the salons, private galleries began to present competing shows of the artists that had been rejected by the salon (99). And, in 1863 the Emperor gave the rejected works an official salon alongside the official Salon (Wilson-Bareau 2007, 309) where Manet’s infamous Luncehon on the Grass was exhibited after being rejected by the salon that year**.
Manet’s work soon became a rallying point for up and coming artists who would latter become known as impressionists and develop the leading style in French painting at the end of the 19th Century. They even put on an annual Salon that was held the same day as direct competition to the original Salon. (Delacour and Leca 2011) While the State sponsored Salon continued to influence public approval of the artists, a quote from Renoir shows how those subjected to the scrutiny of the jury truly felt: “My submission to the Salon is just commercial” (Delacour and Leca).
Using Luker’s (2008) idea that the peer review is the “gold standard” (69) for scholarly research I would like to make a claim that a similar idea presided over the Salon. Wiliam Hauptman (1985) writes: “the nineteenth-century Salon was the only viable avenue for public exhibition […] the acceptance of a work of art by an established and reputable jury signified a tacit measure of quality. Refusal by the jury, on the other hand, was often equated with critical denunciation, the results of which might severely limit the artist’s means of earning his livelihood” (95-96).
With the ability to act as a filter for public approval and consumption of art, I would make the case that the jury for the salons had similar if not parallel legitimizing power found in the peer review system in the academic journal world Luker describes. Both systems rely on their ability to maintain approval of their filter capabilities.
The example of Manet’s Lunceon on the Grass is a great example of when filtering restricted the approval of innovative thinking. Years of seemingly unpredictable jury criteria lead to artist and public unrest and evolved into private exhibitions of the refused art and culminated in petitions to the Emperor that lead to the the Salon des Refusés of 1863. On the other hand, the Sokal affair is just as exemplary for two few filters in the review process. His hoax was able to pass the minimal screening provided by the editors because they were optimistic that the article would benefit the readership of the publication, regardless of the credibility of his claims. Social Text as an agent of legitimization of the theories it published, at the very least feared losing its perceived authority and now has a peer review process.
I know some may argue that an art jury and a scholarly journal are two very different things, that said in light of Renoir’s comment earlier, I ask you to consider this: when the review process fails to contribute to your peer’s work or understanding of their work, is it really peer review, or has it changed into something else?

-Richard
(next post – Duchamp and R. Mutt’s Fountain rejection from The Big Show)

***Arguably the beginning of Western European Fine Art’s transition into its ‘early modern’ period and the age of impressionism. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DnQRsS276Q a BBC Series “The Private Life of a Masterpiece” *WARNING* art-based nudity)

**except for the years 1799 & 1848

Wilson-Bareau, J. 2007. “The Salon des Refusés of 1863: a new view.” The Burlington Magazine, 149 (1250) : 309-319.

Luker, K. 2008. Salsa Dancing into the Sciences: research in an age of info-glut. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hauptman, W. 1985. “Juries, Protests and Counter-Exhibitions before 1850.” The Art Bulletin. 67 (1) : 95-109.

Délacour, H. and B. Leca. 2011. “The Decline and Fall of the Paris Salon: A Study of the Deinstitutionalization process of a field Configuring Event in the Cultural Activities.” Accessed March 12, 2013. http://search.proquest.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/docview/926417472

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One thought on “19th Century painting at the Salon in Paris and the rise of Impressionism: a peer review case study.

  1. Hey Richard! Very interesting post that links two fascinating subjects. I think the question you pose at the end is also sort of making a point as well. I think ultimately peer review is about providing useful criticsm, and as the guidelines for our latest assignment suggest, a bad peer review attacks the author personally, while a good one focuses on making constructive suggestions to help improve the paper, and ultimately to see it published. To answer your question, I think if a peer review is not being helpful, it may have changed into an exercise of egoism on the part of the reviewer, or perhaps even cruelty – to a certain extent. I’ll counter with another question to stew over, to what extent does professionalism have a role to play in the peer review process? Is what happened with the Sokal affair professional, and from whose perspective?

    I have been keeping this in mind while I write my own review. I’d also like to consider the peer review in the context of sports, specifically martial arts. I myself practice jiu jitsu, and the peer review is a very common assessment and learning tool for martial arts. Not only is a formal peer review conducted for belt tests, but it is often employed more generally. For example, at the end of every class we must each demonstrate one of the skills we have learned that day, usually with the help of a partner. The class offers encouragement and constructive pointers for improvement as well. To me, martial arts are proof that one of the best ways to learn anything is to be helped by one’s peers, and I believe that this is also the way peer review in academic circles ought to operate.

    Best of luck with your next assignments!

    -Katherine Laite

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