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Gustave Courbet has  been one of my favorite artists since I began reading about him in high school AP art history.  I had a teacher, Michael Milan, who had a particularly demented view of how to teach young adults.  Looking back, Milan was kind of the originator of shock and awe.  He was no doubt gay, extremely cosmopolitan and most likely came from old money, the kind of money that allows you to not give a fuck about anything, including the health of your teeth.  Milan taught English, studio art and art history and there was a group of 4 or 5 of us that found him completely hilarious, mostly on Monday when he would flamboyantly talk about the weekend cocktail parties he had attended and how most of us in the room would have absolutely no idea how to function even on the most basic level in the elevated cultural settings of these aforementioned events.

This was ironic because he was teaching kids that were all interested in the same intellectual and cultural spheres that he was, nonetheless, he ruled in the classroom not by example, but by blunt mockery and elitism.  Like I said, he came form old money.  Where Milan excelled was conveying his own passion for certain writers and artists and sometimes it was more of a show to listen to Milan than make fun of him, to his face, which we no doubt did and mostly took it as far as we could before Milan got bored or called us immature and newt rapscallions .

Courbet was a favorite of Milan’s.  I remember the first time I witnessed L’Origine Du Monde, seen below:

This is not an easy piece of art to have come up on the screen when you are 17 and in mixed company.  It was absolutely shocking and perverse and one of the most in-your-face pieces of cultural conundrum I had ever been faced with.  The title is straight-forward enough (The Origin of the World) however, loaded with dense innuendo and contrast.  Courbet was part of the Realist movement in painting.  This is the depiction of everyday scenarios that did not emphasize style over stark representation, with a leaning towards the sordid and sometime ugly moments in our lives.

This blended perfectly with Milan’s style of teaching, he felt it was more important to challenge and show us the underside of our existences rather than encourage whenever possible and remind kids that they are all special stars in the sky.  The more we are coaxed into following a healthy, acceptable path of doing things, the more complacent we become in our thoughts and actions, ceding any notion of living of a life of true liberty.  While recently doing some reading about Courbet I came across this very anarchistic approach to how he lived:

“…in our so very civilized society it is necessary for me to live the life of a savage. I must be free even of governments. The people have my sympathies, I must address myself to them directly.”

No doubt Courbet partied like a rock star when it came to expressing his inner torrent of anger with institutionalized systems of thought and systems of rule.  As head of all Paris museums during the Paris Commune rule, Courbet lead the charge for the destruction of the Vendome Column.  This ultimately led to Courbet being run out of Paris and living in exile in Switzerland.  Whereas this may seem a troubled move, a man who is free in his heart and mind, is never the prisoner of any institution.  The quote of Courbet’s that inspired me to write this goes, “I am fifty years old and I have always lived in freedom; let me end my life free; when I am dead let this be said of me: ‘He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty.”

One of my great goals in life is to maintain a position where I can create freely and feel great satisfaction with my productions, a lover and fierce savage to the people around me, who I value and respect so much.

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