The Realist Manifesto

The title of Realist was thrust upon me just as the title of Romantic was imposed on the men of 1830. Titles have never given a true idea of things: if it were otherwise, the works would be unnecessary.

Without expanding on the greater or lesser accuracy of a name which nobody, I should hope, can really be expected to understand, I will limit myself to a few words of elucidation in order to cut short the misunderstandings.

I have studied, outside of any system and without prejudice, the art of the ancients and the art of the moderns. I no more wanted to imitate the one than to copy the other; nor, furthermore, was it my intention to attain the trivial goal of art for art’s sake. No! I simply wanted to draw forth from a complete acquaintance with tradition the reasoned and independent consciousness of my own individuality.

To know in order to be able to create, that was my idea. To be in a position to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my epoch, according to my own estimation; to be not only a painter, but a man as well; in short to create living art—this is my goal.

-- Gustave Courbet (1855)

The Realist Manifesto (2004-ongoing) is a six-part sculptural installation that takes its title from Gustave Courbet’s above manifesto. It centers on the ever-changing depiction of the worker and labor in art, the evolving notion of “realism,” and the development of the role of the artist through close analysis of and extrapolation from six French artworks (two paintings, one readymade, one pair of artist’s books, one “demonstration”, and one film) over a 150-year-period (1850-2000).