John S. Hallam
THE SIX digital collages linked from the timeline above are samples taken from a larger project entitled Paris Salon Exhibitions: 1667–1831. This collection comprises sixty original digital collages initially designed and intended for courses in French art of the long eighteenth century. They could also be used in general art history surveys, French culture classes, or a course on the history / theory of art exhibitions and display. The project came about as a result of both realizing the significance of these government-sponsored exhibitions of contemporary French art for students and confronting the paucity of general visual and textual sources beyond very focused studies (i.e. the Salons of the Revolution). I was also noticing more and more that students today seemed increasingly comfortable in visually oriented learning environments. My solution was to create a history of the Salons with the Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, etc.).
In this series, representative works or highlights from every exhibition, along with related texts (either in the original French or translations) map the development of the exhibitions, the range of participating artists, and the reactions of an emerging audience. Each collage includes a key that identifies artists, subjects, and dimensions (in centimeters) when known. Titles of works are reproduced from the original published catalogs (livrets) in early modern French. Brief commentaries for each Salon often incorporate additional visual information, the function of which is to provide some basic historical and cultural facts, as well as to stimulate discussion and further research.
The Salon collages can be used in many ways, from following the exhibition career of individual artists to tracing the changes in categories such as portraiture, historical painting, and sculpture. I have found the collages very useful in providing a context for major artists such as François Boucher, Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Jacques-Louis David, and Eugène Delacroix. Students can observe and analyze the similarities and innovations among a diversity of artists in the same exhibition. I have also used the Salons to talk about audiences and the resultant emergence and development of art criticism. Many Salons incorporate the comments / perspectives of critics such as La Font de Sainte-Yenne, Diderot, Stendhal, as well as lesser known scholars. Such comments, when paired with images, launch discussions ranging from aesthetic criteria and critical biases to attacks on the Royal Academy, social classes, and indirectly/by inference the monarchy/government. Other Salons focus more on institutional practices such as the constant support of grand historical painting at the expense of other genres or the establishment and effects of juries that decide who may exhibit and what may be put on view. An unintended and surprising consequence was that students were inspired to make their own art historical collages. To that end, I now often assign research projects resulting in presentations of student-created collages, either in a digital medium or on large cardboard panels, to the class. Finally, a very practical pedagogical result of incorporating these Salon collages in the classroom is that students simply better remember the issues, the artists, the works, and their significance if they have access to the collages before examinations. I fully expect to discover more uses in the future.
The medium of digital collage involves a distinct epistemological process; that is, the way in which knowledge is produced through this cultural artifact is unique. Each Salon can be approached as a puzzle to be solved or resolved in many ways. The fundamental task is to make sense of the collage(s) by (re)constructing the art historical and/or social context of the exhibition(s), including the participating artists, themes, visual modalities, etc. Digital collage is an especially polysemic medium/experience in which the juxtaposition or co-mixture of pictures and texts generate a triangulation of meaning(s) in the movement among images, words, and the viewer-reader. Digital collage is also a form of qualitative research in which aesthetic and design elements shape and represent historical information / data. The flexibility and richness of the medium lead to multiple pedagogical possibilities. The collages may be placed on a website, projected on a large screen or printed in any format. Individual works in the collages can be enlarged and isolated by creating a PDF document, a PowerPoint presentation, or links in HTML.
The sample collages included here engage issues surrounding the origins of the Salons (1673), the advent of art criticism (1763), the status / significance of female members of the Academy (1783), Romanticism (1824), and the impact of the revolutions of 1789 and 1830.
Pacific Lutheran University