When we hear the words “pervert” or “perversion,” we tend to think of them in terms of sexual deviancy. As with most words, “pervert” and “perversion” can convey a variety of senses. You can pervert meaning, for example. In this sense, you’re altering the meaning of a word or phrase to fit your agenda. Or you can pervert the system, changing it to achieve your goals.
Perversion as a concept isn’t limited to sex and sexuality. It can also mean actors or behavior outside cultural norms. We’ll focus on these two meanings of the word and how they’re sometimes, but not always, interconnected.
You could argue that every art movement since the mid-to-late nineteenth century is either predicated on or incorporates some sense of perversion. If we use “perversion” is the sense of an unorthodox approach, then modern art is explicitly founded on it. Institutions dictated what constituted art—and they did so with an iron fist: you could only paint in a studio, not outdoors; you had to hide your brushstrokes; you could only depict historical or didactic scenes or imagery, and so on. Institutions dictated style and form and, to a degree, content. (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…)