Edgar Degas and His Way of Critics

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Mary Cassatt was born in 1844. She was born in what is now known as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and died on June 14, 1926 at her French home right outside of Paris. Mary was raised in Philadelphia where she spent her childhood with a social privilege of Pennsylvania’s upper-class stature. Her parents gave her abroad for two years, to Germany and France at a very impressionable, young age, which would serve influential to her Parisian destination for her future to spend her life, and where she flourished her career. The inspiration of this trip would later be evident in her adult life and her manner of art, influence, and style. 

She followed her drive to move to France after her three year attendance at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia where she studied from 1861-1864. She was set after the artistic culture of Paris on her own, separate from the wishes of her family. In concordance with her feminine theme, she was told by her disapproving father of his disappointment. He remark that he’d “rather see her dead,” and yet off to Europe she went. She, when forced evacuate France by the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, traveled to several prominent and influential countries where she observed, studied and experienced culture and art fare in the styles of their respective local movements and influence on the art world.

Upon return to France, which she promptly attended as soon as was allowed after the war, she discovered a pivotal moment when she happened upon. A painting by Degas, in a dealer’s window, where she became enamored and connected, and the impact is no shock upon looking at her life’s work. She was later quoted, “How well I remember seeing for the first time Degas's pastels in the window of a picture dealer on the Boulevard Haussmann. I used to go and flatten my nose against that window and absorb all I could of his art. It changed my life.”

For the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Barbara Weinberg recounts “Edgar Degas saw Cassatt’s work at the Salon, and in 1877 he asked her to exhibit with the Impressionists,” and it was this impressionism style of painting which she is still predominately famous for. Though she was one of the female pioneers in this category, and practically her caliber, she was also a recognized print master and had many cherished accomplishments in printing, particularly in the Japonesque style. This is attributed to the collaborative efforts made by she and several other prominent artists, including Degas, to create a new print journal. 

Though this embarkment halted to an end before production, Weinberg emphasizes its impact stating “… this work became very important to Cassatt in her development as a printmaker and a painter.” Per French fashion at this time, her print style, and in fact her illustrative style, was heavily influenced by”.. the 1890 exhibition of Japanese color woodblocks at the École des Beaux-Arts, responding with a series of color prints of the daily activities of Parisian women of her class.” “Recognized as one of the foremost 19th-century American painters and printmakers, Mary Cassatt is known for her prolific career and Impressionist artwork,” She was also polarizing for her success and being a woman, but also her adamant theme of entanglement in mother to child life, and obvious exclusion of male appearances.

Degas unmatched particularnous, was a compliment far exceeding any other. (Nga.gov) Many love her work, and and find happiness at the core of her works. Many people think she was bold, others think she was boring, but I could not find an opinion claiming that she was anything short of a Master. There is a perspective that attempts to expand on her otherwise overlooked analogy that her work annotates and analogs and drips endlessly of a dreamy, motherly despair. Sheila Heti also points this out saying “Cassatt still largely misunderstood by a culture so enchanted by myths of motherhood that it cannot see or read the faces of the mothers she painted” .

As Sheila continues in a critique of Mary Cassatt’s work she says something I cannot ignore. “One indication of an artist's greatness is her work's ability to absorb multiple and even contradictory readings. Is Cassatt depicting the greatest pleasure and intimacy possible for our species, or patient forbearance in the face of great tedium, and the desperate ache of one's unlived life as the repetitive tasks of nurturance are dutifully performed?” Well, I think that as a great artist, she encompassed not only the life of the subjects in view but also the subjective perspective of the viewer, the range of a master is an inclusion of extremes, she did both at once and neither entirely. I think there is always something that print work in particular seems to always be trying to tell me. 

It is in printmaking that I have come to a conclusion about the painter and it has to do with negative and positive space. Relating to her subjects as if they are portraits of myself, as I have personally done for the last year or so, I notice myself so can feel the same aching heart. I think it rather obvious to only see the compelling argument of a boring life and the redundancy of a woman’s sacrificial role, and I think it is a deterrent to satisfy the small mind, suspending them at bay. But she has a steep slope while hosting her perspective, you either get her, or you obliviously think you do. While her subjects bare no strong resemblance to that of a prideful man, describing her artistic peers, she boldy speaks to entice the woman who knows, someone who sees themselves in th, an exclusive group. 

It is in the negative subject that makes an impact in my mind, sort of like the contrasting color trick, I cant help but to leave her world with a burning red angering man who left his family there and took advantage of their nature, higher than his, and he is too weak. The man, who for selfish endeavors, I imagine, left the woman staring into space and left the child in need of further embrace and double the woman’s support. I imagine that the dismantling of the cornerstone of familial relations is somehow even more deeply relatable to many of her critics and her audience alike. It is true, the somber tranquility noted in Mary Cassatt’s art hints at a distant mundane hopelessness that is inherent with the human condition. The commonplace theme of her subject’s timeless story of mother and child is neither alienating nor shocking, nor is it satisfying to one’s spirit. 

Provoking, yes but satisfying, of course not. Contrastly some who look at art try to find such a glimmer of a devine spectacular, and hold it steadfast as a batton, glorifying what the very artist is infact secretely criticising. These are the ones who claim her art to be only sentimentally beautiful, or glamorized as a mission of purity but yet they are so incomplete that they are completely wrong. The tragedy is championed, the loss is of the loser, alone, yeah, the man- he can be gone and irreplaceable, yet there is still comfort to be found in the ones he left alone, and a new peace is developed and a new self is discovered together of pure human roles, maternal and eternal-forms capable of such reliance that they are lost in comfort alone and that is where the beauty floods in. 

The rip in the seams is where God shines, beaming and flooding in. The the familiar melancholy is on the verge of a breakthrough, the leak left was in the shape of a man’s abscence. I have lived, I and my daughter are living, as a painting of Mary Cassatt’s, and through the embrace of my child and distant gaze I inherited everything true in her father’s abandonment, I am often sad and bewildered and ungrateful. But low and behold, I have gazed so far in search of a wayward sinner that my eyes eventually laid focus on an angel that was fixed on us, over us is the redemption that God has for us and the strength beyond all desire to protect us, no man can compare, but is a stark contrast to God’s reliability and Love. In this I conclude that the” negative is used to contrast again, and of this we are “ positive.” And for my study of Mary Cassatt, art understood as a language, is understood as message so clear, lost are the only ones that can ever experience the be found. I think I might actually be able to one- up Degas and say that her art aims to feel as I do. 

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