London, New York, Berlin, Seoul, Buenos Aires, Beijing, etc, are all known as artistic centres but you can make music in your basement, paint in a tent, or post your photography from the comfort of your cubicle. In today’s ever more connected world, artists can live anywhere with a decent internet connection and still create, collaborate and even earn an income from their art. I know a lot of writers are introverted but I can speak for the extroverts when I say that it can be fun to make art in a creative environment, surrounded by other artists and inspiration. Artistic opportunity can be found the world over and I really believe there has never been a better time to be a creator.
Things were very different in the 18th and 19th centuries when for over 150 years the Académie des Beaux-Arts Salon ensured Paris was the centre of the art world. Great for those who fit the bill, for anyone outside of the accepted style, not so much. I believe that the rigid adherence to accepted style became a stumbling block for the art world because the problem with being the last word on art is that when Manet started showing his controversial canvases at the Salon, the establishment lost their collective minds. The wholesale rejection of any change in technique or genre would have had a stultifying effect on the work being made in Paris. If an artist couldn’t show their work, they couldn’t sell their work. While this oppression forced the artists to hold their own shows and forge their own path, the #indieartists of their era, imagine if their experimentation had been accepted. Imagine the work they could have made! It breaks my heart that poor Edouard, like Vincent after him, died before seeing the true extent of his artistic legacy. (For a fascinating insight into this era, read Ross King’s The Judgement of Paris.)
As much as I love art and believe in its power to uplift and elucidate, if visitors to Paris don’t want to wander the museums, wondering what all the fuss is about, why the Mona Lisa is so small, and why people queue for hours, the city has plenty of contemporary art, international recording artists and the latest blockbusters showing at the cinemas. The FIAC show that takes over the city every October keeps Paris in the art headlines and many artists still work in the city. Attending FIAC in 2012 I bounced on a jumping-castle version of Stonehenge, made my way through countless tents and marquees that dotted the city and saw my dream retrospective at the Grand Palais. I even saw a woman with the eye of horus tattooed under her own eye.
I long held a dream to stay at the Cité Internationale des arts (two locations; the Marais and Montmartre) for a residency. It has studios available for artists from all over the world, usually granted after an extensive application process upon completion of a degree. One day, perhaps, I will take up a writing residence… The architecture is a little brutal for my taste, but there is always something happening in the auditorium and the galleries, from painting shows to performances. Perhaps in my next lifetime…
The city has so much to offer in contemporary art and performance, and as much as I love new music, cinema, performance and visual art, I am just a sucker for the old Masters (let’s face it, I’m talking about the old dead guys.) Imagine, to once again borrow a line from Midnight in Paris, living in Paris’ most beautiful time, the Belle Époque or those almost magical years between the fin de siecle and the Great War. To see those artists who set Paris alight with their bright palettes, mixed right there on the canvas, their depictions of everyday working people, dancing, working and occasionally lunching naked in the forest, to visit the music halls and live among the brilliant and the brilliantly broken…
Perhaps I am falling into that old trap, of romanticising the lives of the now famous artists in Paris. Modigliani, Manet, Matisse…I am almost certain there was nothing romantic about oppression, poverty or early death that befell most of the artists we know about now. The archetype of the starving artist was no myth in the 19th century. Not to mention the almost blanket suppression of women’s artistic expression, with the exception of those women like Rosa Bonheur or Collette who had/created the resources to gladly live outside a ‘polite’ society that rejected them. The life of an artist in Paris was certainly not for the faint of heart but I for one am so grateful to the hardy souls that came before.
My favourite artworks in Paris –
Olympia by Edouard Manet in the Musee d’Orsay
The Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre
Les Nymphéas de Claude Monet in the Musee l’Orangerie, and Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota by Modigliani. This painting reminds me of dear friends that I don’t see nearly enough.
Liberty leading the People in the Louvre, plus a little joke from the internet.
Hokusai’s Great Wave (see main image) in the Musée national des arts Asiatiques Guimet. For some reason, I am deeply in love with this artwork. You can even buy your own copy straight from Paris.
I’d love to know your favourites or those on your must-see list.