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Art, (in)visibility, and Ebola

“What are the consequences of a digitally-created society in the psyche of the global community?”

By Leigh E. Rich, Michael A. Ashby, and David M. Shaw

[V]isibility is central to the shaping of political, medical, and socioeconomic decisions. Who will be treated—how and where—are the central questions whose answers are often entwined with issues of (in)visibility … [and] the effects that media visibility has on the perception of particular bodies (Pietrzak-Franger and Stoddard Holmes 2014, ¶1–¶2).

In a documentary entitled Paris: The Luminous Years (Adato 2010), writer Janet Flanner (who wrote for The New Yorker under the penname Genêt) describes the intense friendship of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Both were inspired by Paul Cézanne and his retrospective at the 1907 Salon d’Automne—which, according to Paris: The Luminous Years, marked in Janus-like fashion the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries in art. Flanner tells of the frequent visits between the two painters, where they “talked and talked … two or three months that they just spent gabbling, gabbling.” And from their camaraderie and gabble emerged something new, something hinted at in the earlier work of Cézanne. “[B]ack and forth it went,” Flanner says of Picasso and Braque’s dialogue. “And they hammered out between them the beginnings of Cubism.”

At the time, their revelatory work wasn’t particularly well received. The jury of the 1908 Salon d’Automne rejected Braque’s landscape paintings of the French village of L’Estaque (though “two jurors voted to save one of his pictures”), and it was Henri Matisse, a friend and member of the jury, “who famously described Braque’s pictures as having been composed ‘avec les petits cubes’—a phrase that the French art critic Louis Vauxcelles promptly picked up and published” (McAuliffe 2014, 180).

Vauxcelles had intended the term “Cubism,” as Mary McAuliffe explains in Twilight of the Belle Epoque, “as an epithet” (2014, 180), much in the same way he had scorned Matisse’s own Femme au chapeau (1905) and similar boldly colored works by André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, and others at the 1905 Salon d’Automne—dubbing these painters “les fauves” (wild beasts).

What perhaps seemed shocking at the time, whether in response to Fauvism, Cubism, or the other 20th-century Post-Impressionist movements, was these artists’ straying from realistic representations of their subjects (and even the painting of surreal subjects). [continued …]

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Rich, Leigh E., Michael A. Ashby, and David M. Shaw. 2014. Art, (in)visibility, and Ebola: “What are the consequences of a digitally-created society in the psyche of the global community?” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 11(4): 405–411.

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