Category: Art
The Role of the Artist

The field of art is advanced by different kinds of artists who are essentially regarded as people who create art. Primarily, artists are people who are involved in various activities that are related to the creation, demonstration or the practice of art, especially visual art. As such, art is characterized by various human activities such as those involved in painting, drama, literature, and music among others, and the subsequent products that accompany these activities. Art has been evolving over time since the 14th century from the traditional expressive forms of art to the highly complex and abstract forms that are observed in contemporary art. Various distinct periods define the evolution of art in relation to Spanish art including the Golden Age experienced in the early 16th century to the late 17th century as well as the Avant-Garde period in the early 20th century. This paper compares the role of the artist during the Golden Age and the Avant-Garde period in Spain.

The Role of the Artist: Avant-Garde Period versus the Golden Age

The role of the artist can be explained in terms of social activism, collaboration, research or inquiry, role modeling, and teaching. Additionally, since the product of art seeks to convey varied messages to different people in the light of various factors, including existing circumstances and location, the role of the artist is exemplified by themes that the art conveys such as the struggle between modernity and tradition among others. The role of the artist as the teacher in relation to the Golden Age is defined by the artist instructors' role in instructing and facilitating the learning of art. The period saw many artist-instructors taking the role of a facilitator where the teacher encouraged active learning, where learning came naturally and not from the study as much, but from occupation, hence, encouraging creativity which explains why it was the Golden Age.

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The center of the artist’s role as a collaborator is the training of the artist with a basic love of art that encouraged each other in the production of realistic art. On the other hand, the artist’s role as an educator in the Avant-Garde period is exemplified by imparting of art knowledge by the artist-instructor to passive learners who can be viewed as being discouraged from thinking creatively or critically in self-directing their learning. The collaborator’s role in this period was also de-emphasized, with stark and emphasized differences between artists and learner’s highlighting the order of the day. As such, the Golden Age encouraged creativity more than the Avant-Garde period especially with issues in training and the politics of art tainting the practice of art in those periods. Additionally, comparing the artist’s role as collaborator, the Avant-Garde period highlights a marked removal of collaboration between artists and learners even though artists worked in groups whereas the Golden Age saw much collaboration between artists leading to the production of realistic art masterpieces.

Considering the artist’s role as a role model, the Golden Age in Spanish art highlights a situation where the artists acted as motivators of each other in their endeavors towards the production of art. With a marked realism in the production of their art with a preference for a broad visual synthesis and a prevalence of pictorial over tactile values, the Golden Age artist heavily influenced each other. With much Italian influence in the production of art, Spanish art was advanced through training in various schools as well as personalized training of father and son as observed between Francisco and his son Ribalta who later inspired other artists in adopting his realistic art style. Ribalta was quite influential in the Golden Age as he was the first painter who sought to change his course of career by abandoning Mannerism, the major form of art in that time, to pursue a more realistic art style embodied in his Last Supper masterpiece.

For the Avant-Garde period, the artist’s role as a role model is exemplified by a distinct rebellion where the production of art that was different was frowned upon by other artists, which highlights how the period’s artists rejected the change. However, since a change could not be stopped, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon painted in 1907 classically highlights the struggle that artists underwent in terms of change. The task of role model was not prominent as when it came to change event though Picasso’s painting spearheaded the revolution of change after he was challenged by an art critic, Madame Stein who saw his work as a prototype of a new era. This task highlights the theme involving the struggle between tradition and modernity where the artist could not let go of outdated forms of art and embrace new forms. Instead of trying to understand the painter’s point of view, many artists who could have gained from Picasso’s inspiration as a role model in modernist art, they frowned upon his work, which now has been embraced and developed by many artists. Unlike the Golden Age in Spanish art, the Avant-Garde period is seen as diminishing the artist’s role as a role model where works highlighting new forms of art were frowned upon.

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In the Avant-Garde period, the artist’s role as a social activist highlights the artist’s ability to facilitate a sense of responsibility, whether social or moral in nature which implies social change. This role of the artist is communicated by Picasso in his painting, Guernica, which shows Germans killing the infirm, non-combatant elderly and small children, a painting meant to inspire pity, mercy and social change on behalf of the government. Essentially, he wanted the world to be aware of the plight of Spaniards by showing his paintings in mass media especially in the light of Franco’s dictatorship. In this period also, the artist’s role as a researcher or enquirer is embodied by the wave of transformation that gripped the art world. Poets, composers, painters, and playwrights among other artists such as Federico Lorca, Nijinsky, and Diaghilev as well as Picasso whose artworks showed innovativeness basically highlighted the artist’s role as a researcher who reveled in their work through informed discovery. With many art politics involving the appropriateness and meaning in the production of new art forms, the artist’s role as a researcher in this period led to new trends such as Ultraism, Surrealism, Cubism, and Dadaism among others.

The artist’s role as a social activist and as a researcher or enquirer in relation to the golden age is underscored by the events of that time involving the power of the Catholic Church and the call for change in terms of Reformation and the Counterreformation. Given the fact that numerous Spanish artworks of this period incorporated religious elements, the artist’s role as a social activist is seen in Francisco’s De Zurbaran’s ascetic, austere and severe artwork. His work supported the Counterreformation which highlights the need for changes including a social change at that time while calling the church to expedite positive change in light of the church’s efforts in patronizing artists who supported Counterreformation. The artist’s role as a researcher in this period is shown by Zurbaran’s work, which was heavily influenced by Caravaggio’s and Velazquez’s works, after which he sought technique and inspiration in mannerist paintings. The combination of varied techniques in the production of artwork by these artists highlighted their desire to produce artwork that was phenomenal through research which enabled them to incorporate various forms of art in one artwork. Therefore, the artist’s role as a social activist and a researcher in the Avant-Garde period and the Golden Age in Spanish art highlights both as challenging negative events especially in terms of social norms.


The role of the artist during the Golden Age and Avant-Garde period in Spanish art is generally assessed in terms of collaboration, social activism, role modeling, research, and teaching. The two periods highlight similarities and differences in these roles as well as themes such as the forces of oppression and freedom and the struggle between tradition and modernity as seen in Picasso’s artworks. Similarities are seen in the artist’s roles as a researcher as well as a social activist while differences are observed in the role modeling, collaboration and teaching roles of the artist. Overall, the two periods highlight the time when changes were taking place, with art forms and trends such as Mannerism and traditional forms of art changing into more realistic styles and modernist forms of art embodied in Picasso’s works.

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