Æsthetic Rivalries: Word and Image in France, 1880-1926 by Linda Goddard (review)
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Reviewed by
Goddard, Linda. Æsthetic Rivalries: Word and Image in France, 1880-1926. Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2012. Pp. xxii + 275, 36 color illustrations. ISBN: 978-3-03911 879-3

Inter-arts rivalry, otherwise known as the paragone, pertains to all eras and media, as W.J.T. Mitchell demonstrated in his text Iconology of 1986; nevertheless, scholarly examination of rivalry has been a bit of a difficult issue, as its study is sometimes erroneously construed as promotion of hegemony. Linda Goddard's Æsthetic Rivalries goes a long way to demonstrating why this should not be the case.

The primary goal of Goddard's study is to assess competition, both theoretically as well as actionable, largely between poets or art critics and painters, who were operating in the window of artistic production at the turn of the twentieth century, focusing on such figures as Gauguin, Mallarmé and Picasso, among others. Laid out chronologically, the author endeavors to demonstrate the variety and breadth of relationships between artists of diverse textual and visual media through topical case studies of specific ideological competition, which was often evidenced through artistic products. This historic window is aptly chosen to reflect a period when synæsthesia in the arts was in a frenzy, and it allowed the author to chart an important junction in æsthetic debates when painting was shifting with force towards both abstraction and conceptual tenets, which she observes saying that "For many, the margin between these opposing concepts of the 'literary' was narrow and unstable, so that painters had to achieve a delicate balance between representation and abstraction to avoid transgressing in either direction" (115). Conceptually, synæsthesia was a phenomenon whereby artists tended to draw inspiration from a closed circuit of inter-arts references, and generated works and critical responses that were artificially referential, rather than focusing on copying nature, as has been well discussed by Elizabeth Prettejohn.

Also quite appropriate is the "case study" approach to the issue of artistic rivalry. The history of competition amongst the arts is difficult to study because the motives and circumstances that prompt competitive responses between specific artists or factions of the art world are often the result of nuanced environments. One artist's reasons for inciting a duel are typically quite unique to his/her entourage of mentors, students, critics, viewers and patrons. For example, one might well imagine that Leonardo da Vinci would not have been such a poster-child for the paragone had it [End Page 332] not been that, much to his dismay, painting was not yet afforded a position among the heralded and codified list of liberal arts during his time. Because the acknowledgement of rivalry is not just about identifying historic phenomena, but rather is a scholarly approach to the study of how competition has impacted art and related disciplines over time, Goddard's book would benefit from a stronger acknowledgement of this tradition, despite her great facility with this approach. The text tends to be light on pre-1880s primary sources that impact the debate over the hierarchy of the arts at the end of the nineteenth century, as well as secondary sources from scholars who study the paragone in the nineteenth century, including Peter Cooke, George Mras and Alexandra Wettlaufer, to name a few. Whether this is demonstrative of publishing restrictions or the author's methodology is unclear, though she goes further than most in using the appropriate historical term and context. Additionally, Goddard does mention a few luminaries of the debate, such as Leonardo and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and it is worth observing that the long history of inter-arts rivalry makes it virtually impossible to summarize, especially given the current limitations in humanities publishing (9). So, perhaps there was wisdom in the author's approach by not opening this can of worms.

As a study of artistic competition, Goddard demonstrates conceptual mastery of the variables most central to this kind of scholarly inquiry. The scholar of artistic rivalry typically focuses upon such issues as how hierarchies of, and supposed limits for, the arts are developed, expounded, enforced and rejected, as well as how such hierarchies have been tied to those of the senses...