|"Blue Dancers" ~ Edgar Degas, c.1889|
Degas was trained in the style of the old masters and never lost his deep affinity for them...how it must have surprised and disturbed him when he found himself morphing into a different sort of artist. Though he was accomplished at painting the elite--the structured portraits and formal still lifes filled with deep colors and chirascuro--he found himself haunting cafés and parks and salons, observing and sketching the ordinary. Those sketches blossomed into a body of work seldom produced by any artist--sculptures, oils on canvas, and pastels of his subjects--fill museums and galleries around the world today.
And yet, he was...well, opinionated. Witty and handsome, he could have been the toast of Paris had it not been for his argumentative and prejudicial nature. A fundamental Roman Catholic, he was extremely anti-semitic, and once fired a model upon learning that she was a Protestant. His friend and fellow painter, Auguste Renoir, was quoted as saying, "What a creature he was, that Degas! All his friends had to leave him; I was one of the last to go, but even I couldn't stay till the end." He never married and reportedly spent the last ten years of his life nearly blind, wandering the streets of Paris alone.
Degas' largest body of work was his focus (some would say 'obsession') with ballet dancers. He sketched them in class, on the stage, and in the wings. Acknowledging the athleticism of ballet, Degas was one of the first painters to capture the quality of real movement in his work. In his quest to portray the real qualities, in addition to the ethereal qualities, of ballet, he haunted the studios, the stages, and the theatre wings of the Paris Opera House. Can you imagine the dancers standing together, preparing to go on stage, and seeing that guy "over there" stalking them, staring at them...yet again?
Yes, Degas was...controversial.
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding (or in this case, the painting), and his work stands as a testament to the beauty and hard work and dedication of a life in the ballet world.
There is a resurgence today of that testament. Long viewed in recent times as simply a 'girly' and 'pretty' endeavor, ballet is receiving new acknowledgement as an artistic endeavor which is also an athletic endeavor. Or an athletic endeavor which is also an artistic endeavor. Either way, ballet is receiving the attention of stage (Billy Eliot), screen (Black Swan), and now, song (Runaway), and I say "high time!".
The old with the new. A classical twist on a contemporary gentre. By an artist that many deem to be strange, opinionated, and controversial. Where have I heard that story before?
The video below is an excerpt from Kanye West's newest endeavor, a "full length" movie (or a very long music video) called "Runaway". WARNING: This excerpt is considered the "clean" version, but the subject matter and the lyrics are explicit. You decide if you want to share it with anyone under, oh, say...thirty. ;-)
The best thing about the movie is West's decision to devote nearly ten minutes of ballet to his thirty-five minute video . The moment I saw it, images of Degas' blue dancers (there is a whole series of them) came to mind. There is scant difference between the images of Degas' art, and those of West's dancers. While I was never a big fan of Kanye West (who can forget the Taylor Swift debacle?), I can now see him as an artist...albeit a different sort, probably not one I'd want to hang out with. That's okay. Art isn't always made by 'nice' guys...and he just may be viewed as a classic someday.What a wonderful tapestry can be woven when we dare to twist the new with the old. Enjoy!
Today, dare to be unconventional.