The Thing From Bloggy Swamp

"Music is real--the rest is scenery." Fats Waller

Con Chapman

Con Chapman
Boston, Massachusetts, US of A
September 28
. . . is the author of over fifty books--some with paper!--available on and elsewhere.

JUNE 1, 2012 9:46AM

The Dancers of Degas

Rate: 19 Flag

Edgar Degas is known for his paintings of dancers, the best of which depict the female form doing everything but dancing; stretching, relaxing, tying on toe shoes, primping, aching from the rigors of the ballet.  It is as if he was more interested in the idle moments of women who turned themselves into vehicles for the expression of beauty than their actual aesthetic product.

In Degas' time the ballet was not yet the high art form that it is today.  It was in fact somewhat disreputable, a near occasion of sin as the Act of Contrition of the Roman Catholic church would put it; with so much of dancers' flesh exposed to public view, they were popular objects of affection for stagedoor Pierres--both unwed and married--who courted and kept dancers as mistresses. 

Ballet and horseracing--another of his favorite subjects--were associated with the sporting life and the demimonde and not the high-minded classical arts and diversions, but he was conservative politically and not ambitious professionally; he refused to allow many of his works to be displayed during his lifetime, saying that he preferred to be "illustrious but obscure."  He came to detest the notoriety that large-scale exhibitions produced, and thus was no model for the publicity-hungry visual artists of the 20th century.  

An exhibit of his works this summer in Portland, Maine thus referred to him as "The Private Impressionist," but he rejected the term "impressionism" for "realism."  Just as some men are described in England as "unclubbable" because you wouldn't want to have them as a fellow member, Degas was "unschoolable" among artists, who stand to benefit if they can create a critical mass of fellow travelers that will attract more critical and popular attention the way a school of fish will draw more boats than a single sea bass. 

While his paintings are filled with images of women, his life was not, at least on the surface; he was a lifelong bachelor who cultivated his well-deserved reputation as a curmudgeon.  If his interest in the ponies and ballerinas is any indication, he inhabited a world of sensuality that probably made domestic life seem dull by comparison.

If there is a lesson in the sidelong glances that Degas cast at dancers as they labored at the raw material of ballet and not the finished product, it is perhaps that art can be found in the homeliest exercise, or back stage, or in those idle moments when a woman stares off into the middle distance, wondering why she's going to so much trouble to create a thing of beauty that will exist for a moment, then disappear forever.

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that all critique be as euphonious and tactile as pastel

You know me--hopeless aesthetic voluptuary.
What an artistic eye he had and you do too! I like that he just did his thing and stayed out of the limelight that is so seductive. In the back stage area is where he enjoyed his unique visions and that makes me understand the desire of an artist to just get at the core of what he sees and not be trampled by mass hallucinations. Great post. Thanks.
So well depicted it has painterly quality to it. Brushstrokes of words. Thanks for that angle.
"Wherever a dancer stands ready, that spot is holy ground." That's what Martha Graham said. Degas knew that.

And your post, very nicely said. /R
The final paragraph, a frozen sculpture
that moment even Ozymandias' sculptor
could never capture: beauty is fleeting
much like glory. Well written.
This was more enjoyable than a book I recently read, called "Dancing For Degas", which is supposedly historical fiction, and tells the story of a ballerina who became Degas' muse and fell in love with him. The writing was absolutely atrocious, and it basically depicted the ballet master as a pimp, with dancers passing the age of 25 being forced to prostitute themselves for any ballet patron who had the money (which, of course, is different than being kept as a mistress).
I'd recommend it to my wife, who's the real ballet fan in the house, but she hates stories of mean men.
Degas was a great artist and known for his caustic wit. He, like Mary Cassatt, had the wealth to practice "pure" art although they were known for their disdain of the working classes. The "rats' of the ballet were poor girls and virtual slaves to the company, his "little dancer of fourteen" is a beautiful sculpture but perhaps not a beautiful story of a poor girl of fourteen posing nude on multiple occasions in the private studio of a wealthy bachelor.
His family seems to have lost whatever wealth they had in two separate incidents, one the failure of a bank and the other when his brother ran up debts secured by family assets. After the second loss he apparently became more productive, and more open to publicity and pushing his product, out of necessity.
Absolutely enlightening, thanks, Con!
oh i never knew any of this!
i am glad i had the courage to come to yr blog.
most days i do not, cuzza yer erudite sophistication.

"Art can be found in the homeliest exercise...

or in those idle moments where a woman stares
off into the middle distance,
wondering why she's going
to so much trouble

to create a thing of beauty

that will exist for a moment,

then disappear forever."

cuz that is what women do!
sorry to be facetious.
women grace my life with their incomprehensible words
and wondrous movements. i dunno why i was
so blessed to learn from them.

not only that, though.

encouraged to be male, too. whatever that could be, eh?
I'm afraid to go out for lunch once the tough guys in class read this.
What a lovely post. Degas has been a great influence on my art. He advised artists to "paint falsely then add the accent of nature." That is exactly what I do.
Thank you for this ...
Ballet is a kind of love, for women. Perhaps his art concentrated on what the dancers did, off the stage, because it shows their complete involvement in this lifestyle. The tawdry sideshow of Pierres and mistresses, etc. isn't really all that relevant to that. Its not just the dance itself, but also the passion of the women who perform it, that is so beautiful.
Gorgeous. Thank you for the history behind such beautiful art.
Con C.
You and James M. E. etcetera help convince me that the world's people . . .
Help me be Certain that the world is okay and good. I mean some folk are Beautiful.
Gracie Harmon Belief comes to Mind . . . Being an author is like being in charge of our own (your& James M. . respectfully) insane asylum. It's a dream.
Ay, a Beautiful day in Nova Scotia. I got Cranky because I had to hop in my PU and visit Library.
I really had to visit the P.O..
The Post Office staff are nice.
It's twenty-two miles and rural.
I was called `My dear & O, my love.
P.O. clerks call lobster folk `Lovely.
They cheered me up. I said`Love Ya.
I certainly don't mean`physical love.
The news and book reviews are rude.
Your no rude. People in world Rude.
People ate bad lunch at`Red Lobster?
People act big shot and are`Little Eels.
Base human folk needs `Redemption.
I still can't read comments @ Salon.
I use the Library gizmo. Button work.
Maybe I be bad lawyer. I dance bugs.
Jitterbug dance is all I know to do.
Maybe James M.E. & You `LTD.
You be a barrister. JME yodel.
You can start a Dancer Hauls.
Dancer can pick-up Lawyers.
Haul philosophers to jails.
You can write a book too.
I may stay here Forever.
I become a real Hobo.
I get a stick and Sack.
I'll Haul You Lobster.
Lobster in green bag.
Lawyers are so nasty.

Not you. Some stick!
They blind as skunk!
Sigh no-see self-vile!
I vowed to not comment.
I best get back outdoors.
Quakers seem kind-kin.

Ducks are Glorious.
I watch baby ducks.
I view a procession.
They get born to swim.
Seagulls fly overhead.
Lawyers dispute Life.
IMO most cause strife.
They have no good eyes.
Oy! critique nasty self.
I mean folk are inner nasty.
It's time to ballet dance now.
I got too much to think`bout.
If I speak out-loud I may honk?
I'll start to Honk & Haul Ya gal?
smile . . .
I just read your last comment.
Lawyers hit puck into eyeball.
I'm think we very ill these days.
Canadians seem more caring.
They smile and call you dear.
If I babble any longer? Gargle.
If I get near filthy folk I cuss.
I mutter nasties like a rabbi,
judge, and cuss like a farmer.
I may regret?
It's banter.
I am pissed.
I get calm`gin.
It's calming here.
Avoid bad people.
No walk`bout with:
green pines in eyes.
on and ons`shush.
Not you etc., hush.
You can dance too.
I Haul a skunk too.

Guttural noises sound? Ugly.
Librarians are so Tutu. Wow.
I mean most here are Lovely.
I've read papers in college trying to prove that Degas was dehumanizing his dancers. Never bought into that.
They look pretty human to me.
I love this man's art. Thank you.
Not at all what I came here expecting, but a very pleasant surprise. I loved your last paragraph.
You couldn't find anything funny to say about Degas? He's one of my favorites too. You might have seen the exhibit at the MFA this winter. I've loved the little bronze dancer ever since I was an art student, and had fantasies of picking her up and running to the car with her under my arm. The guards don't carry guns. Notice that next time ;-)
You continue to amaze, frighten and delight.
A rare serious one from you, Con! Most people don't appreciate the hard work of rehearsal that goes into each performance. Degas showcases the work and turns into beauty.
I think I commented on your other post. Another thought.

I never thought about the work that goes into a dance. The ballerina studied for her 10,000 hours....and the artist studied for 10,000 hours. Her moment lives forever because he drew it...not because she danced it. Maybe..but had she not danced it...he might not have drawn it. Think about it.
I loved this Con, and love his pastels, charcoals and especially the laundresses...I adore the jewel-like colors in his waning years perhaps as I reflect upon my semi-compromised vision too. Loved your picks and all you had to say! Thanks!