The truly avant-garde artist divides opinion, without intending either to please or
to upset. Criticism can similarly inspire the opposition of professional and public opinion,
and still draw the admiration of any reader. The reproduction of art, and in parallel the
invention of criticism allowed for a readership and a viewership of art. And so not only
did the artist have an audience, but the critics as well. With the passage of art historical
time, certain artists and movements appear nonetheless to have become accepted as being
indisputably classic, seemingly regardless of however avant-garde they once were in their
The philosopher Immanuel Kant, in his aesthetical treatise entitled The Critique of
Judgment, was perhaps the first to acknowledge that the essence of the most advanced or
the most important art was the capacity to generate controversy—something which he
estimates to be the only equal of aesthetic beauty. How then might this quality be
recognized in art, or in the artist? It has certainly since become the subject of philosophy
but of literature: artists have long distinguished themselves not only by their art, but just
as often as figures of fascination. One may only conclude, with any certainty at all, that
they invariably frustrate expectation.
Both may certainly be perceived in those who were the first to write about the art
of Édouard Manet. Some were set against the attention given to this novel painter, and
then there were the others, among them some friends old and new, who defended him.
But what is truly remarkable is that they all did so on the very the same grounds. In short,
his canvases perplexed the eye because of how his subjects, so attractively rendered
despite their appearance, proved to be none other than two-dimensional. The way a hand
was left partially painted delighted and infuriated the most eminent critical voices,
whereas faces were nonetheless favoured over every other thing.
Manet presented a picture that more intimately resembles vision, in that it
valorizes what matters to the mind. The question of how he could so neglect to finish his
paintings properly, drew the response that he alone knew when they were complete. If he
neglected to the consternation of many to include a background, then this achieved for
the foreground an unseen theatrical intensity. In reductive terms, the critical issue was
seen to be one of skill. Yet if some concluded that he had never mastered this or that
academic technique, it was because as others saw they disturbed artistic convention, and
discovered truth within this compelling contradiction to be most beautiful of all.
*All opinions and views stated by the authors here are not necessarily the same as the Art History Students' Association.