Let’s get the point out of the way first, then expand on it: memoirs are works of fiction. Specifically, memoirs as artifacts of “truth” or “reality” are neither true nor real. They are constructions founded in subjectivity and the malleability of human memories; and as products of the written word, they are constructed using techniques similar, if not identical, to works of fiction.
At first glance, memoirs seem to hold a place separate from fiction and non-fiction. Memoirs appear to some as the vehicles through which truth, in some sense objective, travels.
Memoirs are strictly subjective, incapable of anything approaching objectivity. (more…)
In France in the nineteenth century, an elite group dictated art. The Academy, as it’s known in English, held strict ideas about art–all of them derived from the classical world, the Renaissance, and the baroque era. The men who ran the Academy dictated artistic tastes by preserving the past. New artists didn’t stand a chance if the Academy refused to exhibit their work.
Their power constituted a form of cultural totalitarianism–and few people challenged them. If you were an artist in the nineteenth century and you wanted them to consider your work, then you had to follow their rules. Paintings could only depict mythological, historic, or religious scenes or stories. Artists had to conceal brushstrokes. They couldn’t depict modernity. They could stage models or paint modern landscapes, but they had to present them as ancient or historic stories or allegories.
An artist violating these and other rules didn’t stand a chance with the Academy. And if the Academy rejected you, you’d probably never make it. (more…)