Academic art is all preconception, all design. It is an art that does not involve risk, an art that knows exactly where it means to end up. If an academic artist is immensely gifted or skillful, the result can be rather astonishing, a trick perfectly performed. The examples are legion: Roman busts of Antinous, Vasari’s paintings and murals, much Italian religious painting of the seventeenth century, Valenciennes’ big Neoclassical landscapes, Winterhalter’s portraits, the Op Art of Agam. There’s an impersonality to all this work, and although it can occasionally be confused with the immolation of personality that we know from great art, it is of course a totally different thing. The academic artist is impersonal because the successful completion of a plan necessitates a suppression of personality. Academic art is eerily anonymous. This helps to explain its frequently strong period flavor.

The work that Brice...


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