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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Families, Status and Dynasties: 1600-2000


The roots of the artistic profession go back to the craftsman’s trade, the first lower-ranking origin of profession in this book, but artists upgraded their status when they became professionals in the nineteenth century. Art schools or academies set up across Europe at the time played a critical part in this development. Educated artists formed a special type of profession: they needed to have both artistic talent and the capability to create works of art, which eventually determined how far up artists could move on the career ladder. There were virtually no offices that could guarantee their rise to prominence. Instead, independent artists were thrown into the market of the arts, in the same way as entrepreneurs competed against each other in their own market. However, they became entangled with each other in a special market—the market where works of art are exhibited and where decisions are made on their value. The status hierarchy of artists was formed here and in many other performances. Being featured in an international art book is one such performance, a typical way of canonizing great art and cementing the hierarchy of artists. In the same way as in the case of entrepreneurial dynasties, prominence could be gained at local, national and international levels, but only international fame elevated the artist to the uppermost rank. The same in fact applied to science, where ordinary professors were distinguished from those who created ‘grand theories’, such as Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud, who now feature on Internet top ten lists of scientists.

The view which says that musical or some other talent is a hereditary quality speaks for the continuity of the artist profession in the family. This was and indeed still is the case in some musician families, but it seems to be difficult to create dynasties at the uppermost layer of artists. If the first and foremost artist—or scientist—in the family is branded a genius, his or her descendants will tend to be eclipsed by their parents, even if these descendants are professional artists. Dynasticity thus starts with this person and reaches its heyday with his or her rising fame. The descendants can prolong this heyday by entering the arts as professionals, but also by treasuring the legacy of the family’s protagonist. The length and kudos of the extended heyday is very much dependent on the achievements of the celebrated artist.

Despite some tendency towards dynasticity, artists were more inclined to create intragenerational bonds—the kind of laterality that gives precedence to partners, lateral kin relationships and friendships, those who belong to the same generation. This was most conspicuously seen in the artist communities set up in Europe as well as in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Marriages and love affairs were established within these enclaves, between friends and friends’ sisters and brothers and between in-laws. Entry into this kind of enclave depended on like-mindedness—on intellectual and artistic enthusiasm and a common ethos of art and lifestyle. The most significant contribution of artists was that they proclaimed loud and clear that art was not only about the making of a new kind of art, but essentially tied up with a certain type of way of life, equivalent to the way in which works of art were made.

The kernel of this new way of life was liberation: love was to be liberated from the regulations that hitherto had restricted its direction, including status equivalence. The concomitants of free love were common-law marriages or cohabitation (as it was later to be called), divorces and separations and sequential partnerships. The public parading for free love occurred at the same time as the Danish King, Christian IX (1863— 1906), cultivated domesticity in his extended family and as advocates of the Victorian frame of mind preached the virtues of harmonious family life. Both of these dogmas—freedom of love and domesticity—placed the emphasis on feelings, but in such ways that they appeared to be diametrically opposed to each other. But it so happened that in the same way as marriages were contracted between social equals in King Christian IX’s extended family, so artists were apt to establish liaisons with artists or with those who worked for the arts or who just hung around in their circles—with those who shared their lifestyle. A shared lifestyle—or shared values—came to be an important element of equivalence in the marriage market, turning status equivalence into like-mindedness.

Despite the tendency to socialize with soul mates, the most prominent artists at least were invited to attend events arranged by high-ranking people from other status hierarchies. These gatherings marked off not their marriage market, but the circle of the privileged few, which would be called the elite. They came from the uppermost ranks of civil service, politicians, scientists, the nobility and entrepreneurs. The journey of artists from the craftsman trade to the highest echelons did not take very long, less than a century.

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