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Prophets, Paupers or Professionals?

A Social History of Everyday Visual Artists in Modern Germany, 1850–Present


Charles McClelland

How did German visual artists relate to the broader society around them between the invention of the artist as «genius» and visionary, in the Romantic era of the nineteenth century, and the struggle to overcome pauperization and social marginalization through collective professionalization during much of the twentieth? The collective – if not always agreed – aspirations and expectations of artists in this long period are best reflected in the schools and academies that came to dominate their education, in their professional associations, and their strategies of marketing and economic well-being. Like members of other German learned professions, visual artists struggled to achieve autonomy from state, church, and other powerful social and economic forces while also raising and maintaining ever-evolving professional standards. Like other professions, they were forced also to make compromises with power and money, losing many battles in the process. The subjectivity of values surrounding art, the de facto economic status of artists as small entrepreneurs unable or unwilling to submit fully to corporate, bureaucratic, or union organization, and the practical inability to limit their numbers all conspired to undermine fully successful professionalization. By bringing the tools of social history to bear, this book sheds rare illumination on the little-known history of the many «everyday» German artists, rather than on the better-known works of the few.
Contents: Who is an Artist? – Forming Artists – Artists’ Rewards – Herding Cats: Organizing Artists – Artists in Society: Myths and Realities.