History is never direct or clear, it is a construction, a process of argumentation and in depth study of sources. It is based on dialogue and it is generally accepted that new developments in society, new visions can lead to a re-evaluation, a shift of accents and a new definition of certain issues.
What I am seriously worried about is the shameless presence of the lie in the public sphere, the political use of un-truth, the machinations of undemocratic power, the spin and the role of media-corporations. And the huge effect all this has on the lives of people on factual information and on science.
And right at the start of my blog I experience the complexity of what I accepted as being ‘the truth’.
The title of my blog ‘L’art historique est par essence contemporain’ quotes Gustave Courbet, anyway I assumed it did. The line is from a letter Courbet wrote as a reaction to a request of a group of young artists who asked him to start a painting studio under his direction. The letter is titled ‘Lettre aux jeunes artistes de Paris’. But I was proven wrong.
In ‘Letters of Courbet’ ( University of Chicago Press, 1992) Petra ten- Doeschate Chu writes: ‘This letter, one of the most complete statements of Courbet’s ideas about art and art education, was published in the Courrier du dimanche of December 29, 1861. It is generally believed that the letter was composed by Jules Castagnary rather than by Courbet himself. Indeed the only manuscript version of the letter that is known is in Castagnary’s handwriting, with nothing but a signature by Courbet’.
The manuscript is being kept in the Musée départemental de la maison natale de Gustave Courbet, Ornans. I decide to look up the original.
On this site you can read the French text of the letter, but the exact quote is nowhere to be found; C’est en ce sens que je nie l’art historique appliqué au passé. ( …) What do these three dots stand for?
And where does the sentence l’art historique est par essence contemporain come from?
I find C’est en ce sens que je nie l’art historique appliqué au passé in several texts , followed by L’art historique est, par essence , contemporain. ( www.deslettres.fr, Michele Haddad, ‘Courbet’, editions Jean Paul Gisserrot, 2002, in Georges Lanoë,’ L´histoire de L´ecole Francaise de Paysage’ and others)
The two connected sentences appear also in three English translations of the letter I read ( ten-Doeschate Chu, Joshua Taylor and a digital version on Indiana.edu)
What is striking though are the different interpretations of the same text source.
Let’s read Joshua Taylor’s translation in ‘Nineteenth Century Theories Of Art’, (University of California Press, 1987).
‘Especially, the art of painting must consist only in the representation of objects that are visible and tangible to the artist. No period can be reproduced except by its own artists, by the artists who have lived in it. I maintain that an artist of one century is entirely incapable of reproducing things of a previous or future century, that is, of painting the past or the future. It is in this sense that I repudiate historical art directed to the past. Historical art is essentially contemporary.... ‘ ( Taylor)
Then Petra ten-Doeschate Chu, ‘Letters of Gustave Courbet’, (University of Chicago Press, 1992)
‘Every age should be represented only by its own artists, that is to say, by the artists who have lived in it. I hold that the artists of one century are totally incapable of representing the things of a preceding or subsequent century, in other words of painting the past or the future. It is in this sense that I deny the possibility of historical art applied to the past. Historical art is by nature contemporary. Every age must have its artists, who give expression to it and reproduce it for the future. An age that has not managed to find expression in the work of its own artists has no right to be expressed by later artists. That would be falsifying history’ ( Petra ten-Doeschate Chu)
And a third version found on the site of Indiana University, Bloomington, USA
‘It is in this sense that I deny the possibility of historical art applied to the past. Historical art is by nature contemporary. Each epoch must have its artists who express it and reproduce it for the future. An age which has not been capable of expressing itself through its own artists has no right to be represented by subsequent artists. This would be a falsification of history’. (Indiana Edu)
All three interpretations of the original are done with the best intentions.
Things change when pseudo science comes into play, when assertions and claims are presented as scientifically sound material. Very problematic is fake science, fact free counter-research financed by partisan interest groups. The most extreme is of course trolling, creating smokescreens and diversion to give evil free reign.
The big question is where do the three dots in the original manuscript stand for? Why is the quote (and title of my blog) missing? At what time did it emerge? Could it be that there is a difference between manuscript and newspaper item?