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The painter is now free to paint anything he chooses. There are scarcely any forbidden subjects, and today everybody is prepared to admit that a painting of some fruit can be as important as a painting of a hero dying. The Impressionists did as much as anybody to win this previously unheard-of freedom for the artist. Yet, by the next generation, painters began to abandon the subject altogether, and began to paint abstract pictures. Today the majority of pictures painted are abstract.

Is there a connection between these two developments? Has art gone abstract because the artist is embarrassed by his freedom? Is it that, because he is free to paint anything, he doesn't know what to paint? Apologists for abstract art often talk of it as the art of maximum freedom. But could this be the freedom of the desert island? It would take too long to answer these questions properly. I believe there is a connection. Many things have encouraged the development of abstract art. Among them has been the artists' wish to avoid the difficulties of finding subjects when all subjects are equally possible.

I raise the matter now because I want to draw attention to the fact that the painter's choice of a subject is a far more complicated question than it would at first seem. A subject does not start with what is put in front of the easel or with something which the painter happens to remember. A subject starts with the painter deciding he would like to paint such-and-such because for some reason or other he finds it meaningful. A subject begins when the artist selects something for special mention. (What makes it special or meaningful may seem to the artist to be purely visual—its colours or its form.) When the subject has been selected, the function of the painting itself is to communicate and justify the significance of that selection.

It is often said today that subject matter is unimportant. But this is only a reaction against the excessively literary and moralistic interpretation of subject matter in the nineteenth century. In truth, the subject is literally the beginning and end of a painting. The painting begins with a selection (I will paint this and not everything else in the world); it is finished when that selection is justified (now you can see all that I saw and felt in this and how it is more than merely itself).

Thus, for a painting to succeed it is essential that the painter and his public agree about what is significant. The subject may have a personal meaning for the painter or individual spectator; but there must also be the possibility of their agreement on its general meaning. It is at this point that the culture of the society and period in question precedes the artist and his art. Renaissance art would have meant nothing to the Aztecs—and vice versa. If, to some extent, a few intellectuals can appreciate them both today, it is because their culture is a historical one: its inspiration is history and therefore it can include within itself, in principle if not in every particular, all known developments to date.

When a culture is secure and certain of its values, it presents its artists with subjects. The general agreement about what is significant is so well established that the significance of a particular subject accrues and becomes traditional. This is true, for instance, of reeds and water in China, of the nude body in Renaissance, of the animal in Africa. Furthermore, in such cultures the artist is unlikely to be a free agent: he will be employed for the sake of particular subjects, and the problem, as we have just described it, will not occur to him.

When a culture is in a state of disintegration or transition, the freedom of the artist increases—but the question of subject matter becomes problematic for him: he, himself, has to choose for society. This was at the basis of all the increasing crises in European art during the nineteenth century. It is too often forgotten how many of the art scandals of that time were provoked by the choice of subject (Gericault, Courbet, Daumier, Degas, Lautrec, Van Gogh, etc.).

By the end of the nineteenth century there were, roughly speaking, two ways in which the painter could meet this challenge of deciding what to paint and so choosing for society. Either he identified himself with the people and so allowed their lives to dictate his subjects to him; or he had to find his subjects within himself as painter. By people I mean everybody except the bourgeoisie. Many painters did of course work for the bourgeoisie according to their copy-book of approved subjects, but all of them, filling the Salon and the Royal Academy year after year, are now forgotten, buried under the hypocrisy of those they served so sincerely.

Which of the following views is taken by the author?

The more insecure a culture, the greater the freedom of the artist.
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The more secure a culture, the greater the freedom of the artist.
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The more secure a culture, more difficult the choice of subject.
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The more insecure a culture, the less significant the choice of the subject.
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The correct option is A The more insecure a culture, the greater the freedom of the artist.
Option (A) is the correct answer. Check the video for the approach.

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Art historians’ approach to French Impressionism has changed significantly in recent years. While a decade ago Rewald’s History of Impressionism, which emphasizes Impressionist painters’ stylistic innovations, was unchallenged, the literature on impressionism has now become a kind of ideological battlefield, in which more attention is paid to the subject matter of the paintings, and to the social and moral issues raised by it, than to their style. Recently, politically charged discussions that address the impressionists’ unequal treatment of men and women and the exclusion of modern industry and labor from their pictures have tended to crowd out the stylistic analysis favored by Rewald and his followers. In a new work illustrating this trend, Robert L. Herbert dissociates himself from formalists whose preoccupation with the stylistic features of impressionist painting has, in Herbert’s view, left the history out of art history; his aim is to restore impressionist paintings “to their socio-cultural context.” However, his arguments are not finally persuasive.

In attempting to place impressionist painting in its proper historical context, Herbert has redrawn the traditional boundaries of impressionism. Limiting himself to the two decades between 1860 and 1880, he assembles under the impressionist banner what can only be described as a somewhat eccentric grouping of painters. Cezanne, Pisarro, and Sisley are almost entirely ignored, largely because their paintings do not suit Herbert’s emphasis on themes of urban life and suburban leisure, while Manet, Degas, and Caillebotte—who paint scenes of urban life but whom many would hardly characterize as impressionists dominate the first half of the book. Although this new description of Impressionist painting provides a more unified conception of nineteenth-century French painting by grouping quite disparate modernist painters together and emphasizing their common concerns rather than their stylistic difference, it also forces Herbert to overlook some of the most important genres of impressionist painting—portraiture, pure landscape, and still-life painting.

Moreover, the rationale for Herbert’s emphasis on the social and political realities that Impressionist paintings can be said to communicate rather than on their style is finally undermined by what even Herbert concedes was the failure of Impressionist painters to serve as particularly conscientious illustrators of their social milieu. They left much ordinary experience—work and poverty, for example—out of their paintings and what they did put in was transformed by a style that had only an indirect relationship to the social realities of the world they depicted. Not only were their pictures inventions rather than photographs, they were inventions in which style to some degree disrupted description. Their painting in effect have two levels of subject: what is represented and how it is represented, and no art historian can afford to emphasize one at the expense of the other.

The author’s statement that impressionist paintings “were inventions in which style to some degree disrupted description” serves to:

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