Every age has had arguments about art and beauty that are deeply entangled in questions of philosophy, society and even morality.
In the late 17th century, two sides of the French Academy lined up in favor of either design or color as the fundamental and most important aspect of painting. In favor of design (or ‘drawing’) were the conservative and classically minded Poussinistes (taking their name from the earlier 17th-century French painter Nicolas Poussin). In favor of color were the more radical and democratizing Rubénistes (following their own bright star, the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens).
The argument between these two sides was deep and multifaceted. It involved serious arguments over everything from the true purpose of painting, to the capacity of the uneducated layperson to appreciate art, to the very role of reason in human life. Pamphlets were written. Statements were issued. And the battle raged for almost thirty years inside and outside of the academy.
Take a look at one of each of these great artist’s most famous works and put yourself in the shoes of a partisan. Note the statuesque restraint of Poussin’s work versus the free-flowing lyricism of Rubens’s piece.
Can you see what the fuss was about?