Monday, May 19, 2008

Social Media: 19th Century Style

In this Age of the Internet, when information is being disseminated at the speed of a "zillion" words per minute and crises and scandals can start with the click of a mouse, we understandably forget the 1800's, when social commentators used the medium of paintings to communicate societal concerns... making art among the "social media" of its day.

I was reminded of this when viewing "The Sleeping Spinner" (1853), among other paintings at the outstanding Gustave Courbet exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The painting depicts a well-dressed, plump, middle class woman, yarn in hand, with a spinning wheel nearby, having fallen asleep in the midst of her work. A middle class woman spinning was against the conventions of the day, when such work traditionally was done by the rural poor. Falling asleep in the midst of your labors was a revolt against the work ethic of the day.

Another Courbet painting, "The Peasants of Flagey Returning From the Fair" (1850-55), which caused a scandal because of its huge size (almost 7'X9'), depicts commoners walking through a park, when previously paintings of such size were reserved for historical events. Treating such subject matter in a painting that monumental gave new stature to commoners.

In fact, Courbet became recognized for using paintings to challenge social conventions. Were he alive today, he might well have been a pioneer with a blog or a podcast, as well as a brush.

Technorati Tags: social media, social commentators, painting, Gustave Courbet, Metropolitan Museum of Art, work ethic, social conventions, business, communications, public relations


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