Edgar Degas, Painter of the Dance

Note: if you are here looking for the Edgar Degas Packets, they are at the bottom.

I saw an art meme the other day, which tried to give a quick-and-easy way to identify certain artists. My favorite had to be this one:

Image result for Van Eyck, putin
…Google, “Putin, VanEyck” and you’ll find the whole “Silly but Accurate Guide on How to Recognize Famous Painters by Their Art.” As with a lot of art, there is some nudity. And there’s a lot of truth to these memes.

So…when it came to identifying Degas, what do you think this list said?

If you said, “Ballet Dancers,” “Ballerina,” or “Dancers,” you’ve won the prize!

Degas is known for his ballet dancers. Ballet dancers dancing, stretching, standing, waiting, putting on their shoes, adjusting their costumes…Degas seemed to paint nothing but dancers.

Which isn’t true. He painted more than ballet dancers. He painted portraits. He painted horses and their jockeys. He painted singers. He painted circus acrobats.

But he did paint ballet dancers…a lot.

Like, over half of the thousands of paintings, pastels, drawings, and more that Degas put on paper was of a dancer.

Danseuse Faisant des Pointes.jpg

There were just a few…

Today, Edgar Degas is classified as an “Impressionist Artist.” He lived during the Impressionist period. He drew and painted in the loose manner with vibrant colors, like the Impressionists. He was friends with many Impressionist painters, and exhibited alongside them for many years.

But he would HATE the fact that he’s now labeled, “Impressionist.” He really despised the term, and considered himself a “realist” painter.

Impressionists, like Monet, were fascinated with the play of light, color, and shadow and how it changed over time. Degas was more fascinated with line and form and movement. He once said he would prefer going back to black and white, if given a chance to start over.

Impressionists often preferred to work “En Plein Air” (Fancy French Art term meaning, “Work Outside.”) Degas had eyes that watered and hurt in the sunlight, so he stayed inside, observed and painted inside, and avoided painting outside as often as possible.

Impressionists were obsessed with painting the spontaneous moment. Degas thought that was stupid: he would sketch ideas over and over, and when he thought he had something he wanted to paint, he would carefully arrange the various elements into a composite whole. Despite the fact his paintings almost look like candid photographs of a ballet company’s work, they are each carefully composed.

Many Impressionists believed they should work together and commune together. Many married and had large families, and saw each other socially. By contrast, Degas believed a true artist had to live, and work, alone as often as possible. He never married, and eventually even withdrew from the artist friends he did have.

So in many ways, Degas was not an Impressionist painter. But since he knew them, his style is closer to theirs than the Neoclassical/Romantic styles that were also popular, and he worked at the same time they did, he often gets categorized with them.

So if you’re wondering why “Impressionist” is in quotes in the Degas packet, that’s why. Monet and Morisot are Impressionist artists. Degas…only kind of.

The Art Packets, including the usual bio, vocabulary, quotations, sample pieces, and take home suggestions are there are usual. The Tutor notes are different. Honestly, I hate these Degas projects, because they don’t really do anything that resembles a Degas…anything. And based on a near-fire experience, we are actually just going to use plain pastels on paper (like Degas did, go figure) for our school project this week. So the notes cover that as well. I hope everything is a blessing for you!

C2W15 Degas

C2W15 Degas Tutor Notes