Social World of the Artist : Overview
The Baroque period ushered in a wave of change for artists who were enjoying unprecedented social and artistic freedoms. Artists who worked in the Baroque used their work to elevate their status within society. Previously, art was classified as a craft, but this would change during the Baroque as artists frequently began depicting themselves as nobles and classifying their work as a scholarly pursuit. This was especially true in Catholic areas where the institutionalization of art was common, thereby separating art from other ‘crafts’. Academies of Painting and other artistic disciplines elevated artists to the level of the scholar. Academies arose all over Europe, with one of note in France; this academy was clad with budding and dominant artists with Dutch heritage and training. The self-portrait was the most common method for an artist to display their status. Depictions involving elaborate settings and scholarly robes set the artists apart from common people by presenting themselves as members of the nobility. The Baroque period allowed for the elevation of the artist all across Europe; this was seen on a societal level through the institutionalization of art. Works produced in this period also reflects this shift, as the identity and status of the artist was a main focus within portraits during this era.
Aside from societal mobility for artists in this period, the Baroque allowed for an expansion in artistic subject matter. This creative license was unique to the Baroque as works did not have to focus on significant figures or narratives. Artists who pursued ‘ordinary’ imagery mainly worked in the Dutch Republic because the budding capitalist system created the demand for diverse subject matter. While Dutch artwork was often based on commonplace imagery, it also functioned as a commentary on the current state of society. In this way, the role of the Baroque artist transcended the act of creation, and instead found itself in the social sphere. With the expansion of the new art market, there emerged a new breed of amateur artist. Guilds saw this influx as a threat to their hard-earned monopolization of the art world. They believed that these amateur artists, with their mass production and use of subpar materials, devalued the status of art production in society. However, even printmaking could be argued as an intellectual study, going far beyond its status as a mere craft. As artists took on a new role as social commentators; they expressed their discontent by imposing strict regulations to curb the developing practices and voiced their opinions through artistic means.