Listening to Art

04.05: Gustave Courbet, La Vague

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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume four, number five: La Vague by Gustave Courbet.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

In the last issue we heard a quote from Courbet about his realist approach to art. Now, in contrast, we hear from Marcel Duchamp, the greatest artist of the twentieth century, who thought that Courbet’s realism was the beginning of something profoundly wrong with art. I quote from Calvin Tomkins’s Duchamp: A Biography (p. 55):

Again and again in later years, Duchamp would speak contemptuously of “retinal” art, by which he meant art whose appeal was solely to the visual sense. It was Gustave Courbet, he argued, who had turned art into a retinal affair; until Courbet, art had appealed to the intellect in many different ways, teaching moral or religious truths or leading the mind on imaginative journeys, but the powerful example of Courbet’s realism had ruled all that out—with disastrous consequences. “‘Bête comme une peintre’ was the saying in France all through the last half of the nineteenth century,” Duchamp complained, “and it was true, too. The kind of painter who just puts down what he sees is stupid.” … Duchamp’s disdain for “retinal” art was widely shared among modern artists…. No other artist, however, would adhere to the anti-retinal bias as uncompromisingly as Duchamp did, or carry it to such unexpected lengths.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, of unrecorded dimensions, probably roughly 100 cm wide.

Now let’s listen to La Vague by Gustave Courbet, recorded at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, in Rome, on 01 June 2018.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was La Vague by Gustave Courbet. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea. “Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea.” Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea.

Tomkins, Calvin. Duchamp: A Biography. Rev. ed. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Gustave Courbet,”