Demons according to Goya

“May the people, recognizing itself in its misery, learn to blush at its cowardice and to hate its tyrants; may the aristocracy, exposed in its fat and obscene nakedness, receive, on each of its muscles the flagellation of its parasitism, its insolence, and its corruption.”

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

          Though the nineteenth century French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon directed his commentary favoring the works of the French painter Gustave Courbet and his praise of realistic subject matters and the moralizing role it played on its observers, this dismissal of neoclassical tradition which sought to engage in its didactic duties through mythological or literary subjects, making the message rather distant and vague to the audience, in exchange of facing the viewers with the crudest and grimmest reality of themselves can be attributed to no one more than the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Goya’s works succeed in bridging two traditions that seemingly appear to be on opposite sides of the artistic spectrum, this is done by having the praise for reason characteristic of Neoclassicism come to life through nightmare-like and fantastic subject matters. As a result, Goya succeeds in providing us a dystopian outlook of what happens when we fail to tame our monstrous inner demons through rationality.

During 1799, Goya’s respected position as First Court Painter led Goya to feel confident in venturing in printmaking, the production of the prints were both financed and marketed by him. His first series of Prints Los Caprichos was advertised in the main Newspaper of Madrid, El Diario de Madrid, where he described the prints as a series of scenes, errors and vices of every civil society which seemed the most appropriate to be ridiculed. This ridicule of the errors in the Spanish society or satirical social criticism was not new to the Spanish people, for British prints were already distributed throughout Europe. They were introduced in Britain artists William Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray; Goya simply adopted the ideas and motifs to those encountered in every day Spanish life. Though the Prints didn’t generate a generous income, it was more about Goya establishing his independence and his own voice and style as an artist.

Goya’s prints utilized a technique known as Etching, which next to engraving it is the most commonly used method employed in print making. Professional printmakers usually practiced engraving, but etching on the other hand was the method that caught the attention of many well-known artists aside from Goya, including some Tiepolo and Piranesi during the seventeenth century. Throughout the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, etching techniques became for sophisticated with the invention of the aquatint. In this process, soluble granules are mixed in the ground in a way that the acid is able to create a finely pitted surface; this technique was mastered by Goya and hence employed in the production of his prints.

The series Los Caprichos consists in a group of around 80 prints depicting the social decay of Spanish society. The first 40 prints of the series seek to provide a straightforward representation of what Goya believes are the illnesses Spanish Society encounters. The second group of the prints makes use of nightmare scenery and subject matter as an alternative way of showing the social decay Goya strives to emphasize in his prints. Understanding the socio historical context of Goya and his motives in the production of his print series Los Caprichos, paves way to further discuss the artwork featured above:

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes’ print No.66 “Allá va eso” (there it goes) from the series Los Caprichos first published in 1799, temporarily exhibited at Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts a gift by William and Dorothy Walmsley; was witnessed first handed on November 15, 2015. When analyzing the subject matter of the print it is important to remember that print No. 66 belongs to the second group of prints within the series that utilize dark creatures such as witches, goblins, demons, and bats for the purpose of Goya’s satirical criticism. To further understand the subject matter its important to compare the print to a similar one that can expand or clarify the creative process of the artist. This work brings to mind Goya’s print from Los Caprichos No. 68 “Linda Maestra!” (A fine teacher) in which one views a witch teaching a young lady how to fly on a broomstick, bringing to the viewer’s attention to Goya’s commentary on bad examples. Almost suggesting that following the teachings and lessons of the old, ugly witch will evidently lead the young lady to a similar path. The same can be said of the Print No. 66 “Allá va eso” where just like in “Linda Maestra!” we evidence an old witch teaching a young girl how to fly on a broomstick. There is a main difference between both prints can only be explained by analyzing the composition. Goya unlike in print no. 68, does not show the figures separately in fact, he places them in such a way that one appears to be part or an extension of the other; also the young lady has her eyes shut into the action, it is only the old witch the one aware of the environment.

Based on this it can be argued that while the old witch is a bad example it is up to the blind judgment of the young girl to follow her example, and when viewing the bat wings that stem from the young lady’s back, in a way they emphasize the idea that it is indeed the young girl listening and acting upon the bad example of the old witch was truly enables them to have the wings to fly. When relating the title to the main action of the print it is important to think that Goya does not refer to them as individuals or even separate beings, but rather as one conjoined, deformed monstrous thing seen from a far, and that might perhaps be best to see it from a distance – “There it goes”. Goya manages to place the town in the background suggesting the women are flying in the outskirts of the city. Their monstrosity leads them to be casted outside of civil society. The figures are placed directly in the mid-section of the picture plane to emphasize its importance and message. High contrasts and great detailing in the bodies add to the grotesque and unpleasant display of their bodies.

When thinking of modern Spanish art it is impossible not to bring Goya’s works into mind, even though he was not the only recognized painter at the time. Nevertheless, Goya managed to cast under the high contrast shadows of his paintings, most of his contemporaries. Goya’s works continue to serve as poignant reminders of human nature and in his works we can evidence the tragic ending of a man born in a world that praised reason, and to die in a world of decay, irrationality and chaos, leaving behind nothing but the cruelest most grim portrayal of the reality of the depravity our human nature is capable of in his artworks. As the 19th century philosopher, Pierre-joseph Proudhon would have mentioned and agreed: Let us recognize ourselves in our misery and learn to blush at our cowardice.

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SLOTH | Les Prostitueés: Olympia

As a hard working, young woman, I have always admired fellow women who go into the working field carrying the financial burden of entire households on their backs. As a way to end this series of the “seven deadliest sins” I have chosen to speak on women who in my regard, have ventured in perhaps one of the hardest, most dangerous, and less rewarding professions of all; Prostituées, Courtesans, The “Olympias” of the world: Prostitutes.

When one takes the step to be a participant of an exclusive relationship, one has promised fidelity to the person who in our regard merits it. The person we have chosen as our spouse is not the best option for us in the planet, simply because a whole lifetime wouldn’t be enough to meet all 6 billion people on earth to choose our spouse from. The person elected, as our spouse is that one who is a better match for us compared to all previous options encountered. This in economics is understood as “Marginal Decision Making” where both the benefits and the costs of a product (or person) have been weighted, and then the marginal benefits of the same product (or person) are then later compared to the marginal benefit received from all previous options considered. The product, or person, we chose in the end is that whose marginal benefit primes over it’s marginal costs, and exceeds the marginal benefit of all other products, or people, considered. We employ Marginal Decision Making in everything we do, from comparing prices and products at supermarkets, to choosing our partner or spouse.

While economics can help us understand why we have chosen to marry someone and offer our significant other our fidelity, economics also holds the answer as to why we are likely to be unfaithful to the same person. How can this be? Simple, it’s called “The Law of Diminishing Marginal Benefit” This law states that amount of consumption of a determined product is inversely proportional to the marginal utility derived from consuming each unity of the same product. Sounds confusing? Allow me to set an example. Suppose you love chocolate, (as you love your wife or girlfriend), the first time you tasted the first bite of chocolate you heart and soul melted, you would probably agree with the Mayan belief that cocoa beans are the Gods’ drink in heaven. Your craving is now satisfied. Supposing you decide to continue having more and more of it, your satisfaction will slowly begin to decrease. Your love for chocolate will probably be rating around a seven or so by now. But if you, the chocoholic, continue to eat more and more chocolate your love for chocolate will probably reach to a rating of three, and as you keep eating you will eventually reach the point where you might start getting sick and tired of Chocolate. Chocolate will now provide you dissatisfaction, rather than satisfaction. You have now reached the point of Dis-utility, congratulations.

The law of diminishing marginal benefit applies to almost everything we consume and we find pleasure in, including people. This does not justify, but rather explain infidelity; it explains the reason why after years of being married to the same person, someone else might begin to seem more sexually appealing. This also serves to understand the core fundament behind prostitution.

“I always wanted to help people but the only skills I could make use of is that with my body. So I use it to heal the hearts of men and women alike, allowing them to drown in pleasure and forget the world, which puts them down. Sure some will despise me, some will think I’m broken and try and take advantage of that, while other will try and offer me escape, but I don’t want to, I’m not broken, I do this because I enjoy it, and making the people I serve happy.”

– Prostitute for over 5 years.

Prostitutes, and openly sexually active women (like myself), are what in the late 19th and early 20th century in Paris were known to be a Demi-monde. The term implies to live a hedonistic lifestyle, and describes the behavior of a person who choses to openly act outside of the established societal bourgeois values. The modernist French painter Claude Manet’s “Olympia” (1863) excelled in representing a reformed and rather challenging version of the Italian Renaissance master’s “Venus of Urbino” (1742). Olympia was the name associated with prostitutes during 1860 Paris; and rather than seeming inviting and seductive towards the viewer. Olympia’s gaze is confrontational, and that of stoic indifference towards both the viewer’s judgment of her sexual labor and the arrival of the new client, suggested by the arriving bouquet, held by the African maid.

It is also noteworthy that her hand placed on top of her genitalia is often interpreted as the freedom to grant or deny access to clients, which could be attributed to the fact that Olympia might be a highly-payed courtesan of the time as indicated by the pearl-costly pendants she wears. Finally, though both are nudes, the “Venus of Urbino” and “Olympia” contrast in themes as indicated by the animals featured on each painting respectively. The “Venus of Urbino” was meant to represent the wife of the Duke of Urbino seductively waiting for her husband, her fidelity embodied in the dog sleeping by her side. “Olympia” on the other hand awaits anyone; she awaits no one, for what belongs to everyone belongs to no one. Her sexual freedom embodied in the cat awake and alert by her side. 

Prostitution has been mistakenly and often categorized as a slothful way of gaining wealth, as both the words “sloth” and (sexual) “Labor” are mutually exclusive of each other. In the world there is no such thing as equality of opportunity, there is only equality in potential, in potential of working. To some and many women in the world, prostitution serves as the best of all options before them, and will (in most cases) willingly choose to become prostitutes; Marginal Decision Making at it’s finest. The question with legalizing prostitution should in my regard, not be based from it’s morality perspective, but rather on whether it should be regulated to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, or epidemics as was the case in 19th century Paris and Syphilis. Simply put, as long as resources remain scarce and must then be allocated thorough pricing, as long as there is a demand for a determined product or service, there will always be someone willing to work and supply it; for it is a universal truth of life, that…

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground (…)”

– Genesis 3:19