A VERY MODERN MANIFESTO – GOYA 1792
An Unknown Treasure
It is little known that the Spanish enlighted-romantic master painter Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) wrote to inform Academics of his suggestions for a new curriculum, training students of the Arts. it was, in effect, a manifesto establishing the core need for freedom of expression in one’s Art. At the time he was teaching at the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando . He was already a pioneer in his subject. Later on, he became Painting Director but resigned from his post in 1797 due to his progressive deafness.
Years after, in the 20th century, many others have written about the freedom, subjectivity, anti-system and even the anarchy in art. Painters and thinkers like Kandinsky, Marc, Macke, and others associated with the “Blaue Reiter”. Goya’s suggested curriculum presaged the Dadaist movement in their manifestos between 1918-1924 and André Breton and Diego Rivera, in their book “Manifesto for a revolutionary and independent art” in 1938. The great difference between these moderns and Goya, is that while he purely talked about Art, the moderns mixed the art questions with their personal vision of society, politics and the condition of humanity. Views that were understandably contextualized in living in a world after the First World War, while the raising of all colours of totalitarianisms percolated the second world war which consequently complicated the initial, simpler question which Goya answered so eloquently.
Nevertheless, living himself in turbulent times and being a witness to both the European War of Secession and the “War of Independence” against Napoleon´s France, Goya´s principles and credo led him to make a fierce critique on war in his famous paintings and series of prints “The disasters of War” (1810-1815). In these he, for the first time, depicted the real insane face of conflicts; the violence, the wildness, the famine, the disease, the tragedy and the death of the population rather than the political propaganda of heroism and patriotism that was typical at that time. With shapes and colors he publicly condemned in a way that wouldn’t be permitted with words. That immediacy has always been an advantage of visual art.
He wrote, prophesying, that the noble art of painting should be completely free. No rules at all: different teaching for different people. The Academies should be just a shelter for those who wanted to learn. Students should not be compelled to learn geometry and perspective in order to draw properly but left to develop their own practice and individual talent. Through hours of practicing they would learn slowly to solve the technical problems that arose, and would more easily advance in all other branches of art. The teachers should just be there to give general support, advice, tips and knowledge and not try to teach their own particular styles that history and experience has proved to be useless for others.
He added that the art of painting was connected with the Divine because it imitated all that God has created: the Sacred Nature; that the most gifted lecturer or artist could not give many rules helpful for others being such an intimate and profound personal experience of the world; that the most casual works could be much celebrated than the more accurate or careful ones, underlining the importance of copying directly from nature rather than from Greek sculptures, which are themselves subjective copies of nature.
He finished his exposition stating that the only way he knew to promote, enhance and boost the Arts was to protect and appreciate the good teachers and the gifted talents, giving the latter commissions to help produce works and help them to continue practicing. Above all and I translate literally, “to leave the genius of disciples who want to learn art run in freedom , without oppression and without the slightest change to their inclinations for this or that style in painting”.
This was written on the 14th of October 1792. Does it sound familiar to you?
Susana Gómez Laín
Susana Gómez Laín is the Madrid Correspondent for the New Art Examiner. She is an alumni of Plymouth College of Art and a criminal lawyer.
Volume 31 no.6 July / August 2017 p 31