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?

(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

Peer Review? Or Fear Review?

“The … problem is that peer review as we currently practice it isn’t simply a mechanism for bringing relevant, useful work into circulation; it’s also the hook upon which all of our employment practices hang, as we in the US academy have utterly conflated peer review and credentialing. “(Fitzpatrick, 2010).

This quote from Fitzpatrick’s blog entry pretty much sums up my feelings about the peer review process in a nutshell.

While I have never had my work peer reviewed or published, I often wonder whether the peer review process has gone the way of other rites of passage that are now more hindrance than help.  The first example that always springs to mind for me is the unpaid internship.

In its purest form, I think it’s a good idea.  The intern receives experience in a relevant field, learns new skills, makes connections and gets to experience “real-world” work.  However, the idea’s popularity has become its downfall.  Organizations create unpaid internships and students trip over themselves to get a foot in the door.  The number of internships goes up while the quality goes down and now it’s just considered a rite of passage to spend summers doing thankless free labour in order to be considered suitable for a paying job (one day, maybe).

The peer review and publication process strikes a similar note with me (and I welcome criticisms of this point from people who have actually undergone the peer review and publishing process).  But from friends doing PhDs and friends who already have them, I get this sense that the need to publish in quantity or to publish for a higher power (such as a corporation funding your work) has superseded the need to publish material that is true to the heart of one’s research.  In my Foundations of Library and Information Science class last semester, we were shown an example of a study was that rushed ahead in the publication process.  As a result, a reviewer completely missed a major flaw in the study and was subsequently lambasted for it.  I wonder how often this scenario occurs: what are the odds of an academic twisting their material for a better chance at publication?  Or submitting unfinished research in the desperate hope that they can get their foot in the door?

In addition to this, academia is often labelled an “old boy’s club,” so younger academics need to load up on publications in order to be considered on the same level as established figures.  They’re the ones doing the research of tomorrow, and they’re the ones who risk undercutting their own research in order to get the numbers they need.  As a result, it seems that academia suffers as a whole and nobody wins.

I really like Mike O’Malley’s idea of crowdsourcing peer review via online forums (O’Malley, 2010).  An “elbow-less” space might be more productive and help to enhance the spirit of collegiality in academia.  The problem that arises with this, however, is the same problem that continues to ensure that unpaid internships will be a “thing” for the next few decades.  Unless all academics and all unpaid interns agree as a body to partaking in a system that is less than ideal, the system will continue to thrive.  Unfortunately, our society is such that when called upon for a unanimous act that will assist everyone equally, there are always people who choose instead to climb over the backs of their peers.

If I had more time to write an entire paper on this subject, I’d actually love to go into detail about the perils of crowdsourcing peer review (trolling, anyone?), the regional differences in academic publishing culture, and whether or not we should approach “fixing the system” from a different angle.

Yours in research,


Fitzpatrick, K. (2010, October 25). Peer-to-Peer Review and Its Aporias [Weblog post]. Retrieved from http://www.plannedobsolescence.net/blog/peer-to-peer-review-and-its-aporias

O’Malley, M. (2010, October 19). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://theaporetic.com/?p=446