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Edgar Degas: Last Academic or First Modernist

            This short note addresses the question whether Degas should be considered the last of the academics or the first of the modernists. While it may be possible to argue in favor of either thesis, in this note I will provide examples that lead me to believe that Degas should be considered a modernist. The following are the key points that I would like to consider.
             Degas" interest for the new techniques and the foreign art. In the mid 1800s there was a continued increase of exchanges between Europe and foreign countries. The exchange was not only commercial but also involved cultures, ideas, and styles. At that time the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai was searching for new ideas and techniques from his European colleagues, although at that time such exchanges were opposed by the Japanese government. Similarly, European artists started to express more desire to learn from exotic cultures. This modernist trend manifested itself also in new materials, such as pastels, yellow wax, real hair, real cloth for sculptures, etc.
             Degas" interest for unconventional subjects. The interest on prostitutes, poor people, working class people is a sign of change in the society and a departure from the traditionalists attitude of choosing subjects within the rich class. I feel that at that time the meaning of art was changing. Art was becoming a way to please everybody. It was no longer for a limited group of people. The society was changing under the influence of new forces, such as socialisms. Degas himself was affected and, perhaps not on purpose, he became involved in such movement.
             Degas" style, focus on movement and colors. The snap shot style of Degas in some of his works is clearly an influence of the new photography technology that was becoming popular at that time and that gave artists new source of inspiration. The use of bright colors, together with movement, was also a departure from the traditionalist approach of choosing still poses for their models and subjects.

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