Inventing the Modern Artist

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The opera La Boheme opened in Paris in 1896. The story described a group of young men who hung out in raffish cafes, fell in love with pretty but problematic girls, spent freely when they had some money and hid from the landlord when they didn't. They were artists. This idea - that artists are people whose colorful, challenging, and occasionally anti-authoritarian behavior is appropriate to their gifts of genius - is a distinctly nineteenth-century construction. In this class we will study the artistic and cultural events of the nineteenth century through a particular lens, the rise of the modern artist and modern art, but we will take a broad approach. Along with romanticism and impressionism we will address the emergence of socialism and revolution, domesticity and modern gender roles, photography, psychology, atheism, and imperialism.