Academic art 1560 – 1900

Academic art is a style of painting and sculpture produced under the influence of European academies of art Specifically, academic art is the art and artists influenced by the standards of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, which practiced under the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, and the art that followed these two movements in the attempt to synthesize both of their styles, and which is best reflected by the paintings of William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Thomas Couture, and Hans Makart In this context it is often called “academism”, “academicism”, “L’art pompier”, and “eclecticism”, and sometimes linked with “historicism” and “syncretism”

The art influenced by academies in general is also called “academic art” In this context as new styles are embraced by academics, the new styles come to be considered academic, thus what was at one time a rebellion against academic art becomes academic art

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The first academy of art was founded in Florence in Italy by Cosimo I de’ Medici, on 13 January 1563, under the influence of the architect Giorgio Vasari who called it the Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy and Company for the Arts of Drawing) as it was divided in two different operative branches While the Company was a kind of corporation which every working artist in Tuscany could join, the Academy comprised only the most eminent artistic personalities of Cosimo’s court, and had the task of supervising the whole artistic production of the medicean state In this medicean institution students learned the “arti del disegno” (a term coined by Vasari) and heard lectures on anatomy and geometry Another academy, the Accademia di San Luca (named after the patron saint of painters, St Luke), was founded about a decade later in Rome The Accademia di San Luca served an educational function and was more concerned with art theory than the Florentine one In 1582 Annibale Carracci opened his very influential Academy of Desiderosi in Bologna without official support; in some ways this was more like a traditional artist’s workshop, but that he felt the need to label it as an “academy” demonstrates the attraction of the idea at the time

Since the onset of the poussiniste-rubeniste debate, many artists worked between the two styles In the 19th century, in the revived form of the debate, the attention and the aims of the art world became to synthesize the line of Neoclassicism with the color of Romanticism One artist after another was claimed by critics to have achieved the synthesis, among them Théodore Chassériau, Ary Scheffer, Francesco Hayez, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, and Thomas Couture William-Adolphe Bouguereau, a later academic artist, commented that the trick to being a good painter is seeing “color and line as the same thing” Thomas Couture promoted the same idea in a book he authored on art method — arguing that whenever one said a painting had better color or better line it was nonsense, because whenever color appeared brilliant it depended on line to convey it, and vice versa; and that color was really a way to talk about the “value” of form

Academic art was first criticized for its use of idealism, by Realist artists such as Gustave Courbet, as being based on idealistic clichés and representing mythical and legendary motives while contemporary social concerns were being ignored Another criticism by Realists was the “false surface” of paintings—the objects depicted looked smooth, slick, and idealized—showing no real texture The Realist Théodule Ribot worked against this by experimenting with rough, unfinished textures in his painting

Stylistically, the Impressionists, who advocated quickly painting outdoors exactly what the eye sees and the hand puts down, criticized the finished and idealized painting style Although academic painters began a painting by first making drawings and then painting oil sketches of their subject, the high polish they gave to their drawings seemed to the Impressionists tantamount to a lie After the oil sketch, the artist would produce the final painting with the academic “fini,” changing the painting to meet stylistic standards and attempting to idealize the images and add perfect detail Similarly, perspective is constructed geometrically on a flat surface and is not really the product of sight, Impressionists disavowed the devotion to mechanical techniques