Within the great, seemingly unending expanse of the Internet, millions of voices can be heard and a multitude of languages are forever recorded. Virtual bridges crisscross the world, and now we can savor and judge a plethora of artistic creations. We listen to musicians from South Africa; we admire the handicraft of artisans in Mexico, and we read novels written under the blazing sun of Egypt, all made possible through a screen.
Just as we receive all this information in the blink of an eye, we are just as quick to pass judgment. We now judge everything by its cover and by how many "likes" and "favorites" it accumulates. We see people rise to stardom, taking advantage of bad publicity, saying, "any publicity is good publicity at the end." We are unable to distinguish whether an artist is popular for the right reason and we need additional tools to make that decision. For example, Tumblr’s tool Fandometrics tracks the shifts in Tumblr’s most frequently used tags, whether they are used to make negative comments or not.
Our hatred serves as the perfect platform for performers to maintain their notoriety. We see negative comments and snide reviews pouring in for artists like Lady Gaga, Pharrel Williams, and Justin Bieber. Are they truly so terrible to deserve such bitter contempt? Lady Gaga's outlandish performances are deemed too controversial, yet we forget that Peter Gabriel used to do the same in his concerts. We are quick to pass judgment without knowing the full details.
This scorn is not only directed at modern artists. Max Geller, a Harvard student created an Instagram account named Renoir Sucks at Painting. He organized a rally against Renoir and the placards read, “God Hates Renoir” and “We’re not iconoclasts. Renoir just sucks at painting!” This protest occured outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
“Put some fingers on those hands! Give us work by Paul Gauguin! Other art is worth your while! Renoir paints a steaming pile!” they chanted and between breaks they would gobble up pizza. The museum didn’t respond to the rally, and no one dared to come out and defend Renoir. The only person who raised his voice against the protesters was art critic Sebastian Smee. The Boston Globe writer called them immature.
“Is it worth getting worked up about Renoir? I often wonder. He is an artist I detest most of the time. Such a syrupy, falsified take on reality,” Semee comments in his article. Renoir was always classified as a reckless painter. The impressionists commented that he didn’t pay attention to the composition or the use of color. When compared to Monet or Manet, critics said he didn’t understand the contrast between shadow and light; on the other hand, he never dared to use his work as a social protest. As a result his paintings lost some artistic value.
“Try to explain to M Renoir that a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with green and purple spots that indicate the state of total putrefaction in a corpse!” Albert Wolff wrote in 1874.
Perhaps, Renoir's mistake was his focus on the “beautiful.” Renoir sold ceramic pieces for a living, believing paintings only served to decorate walls. He wanted to be considered a craftsman rather than a painter; despite forming part of renowned artists circles of the time.
“For me ... a painting should be something to cherish, joyous and pretty, yes pretty!” —Pierre-Auguste Renoir
The heated criticism over Renoir's work resides on the debate between critics and art lovers. Yes, he may have implemented the impressionist’s techniques, but he never adopted a political speech in his paintings.
It's 2016 and the “Renoir Dilemma” is still as strong as ever. Many popular artists make “pretty” music, but fail at experimenting with new sounds, and sometimes this vitriol is because the public despises the performers' personalities.
People hate Bieber’s behavior; he is often criticize for making foolish comments like the infamous, “Anne Frank would’ve been a Belieber.” In his time, Renoir was hated too for his anti-Semitic comments. Julia Manet commented that the French craftsman made harsh comments about his fellow Jewish impressionist painters.
Some would consider the protesters’ attitude childish, but they are not doing anything new, or perhaps hating Renoir is just a farce. The lack of vision and knowledge might turn his work into something special by using adjectives like beautiful, or independent art to describe it. The truth is that he could have done better. His anti-semitism is a whole other issue, but instead we focus on his work, and as we see it, we might think that God may have a twinge of sympathy to him, just a twinge.