Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of the Arts


Art and Design

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Susi Colin

Committee Member

Anne Betty Weinshenker

Committee Member

Mimi Weinberg


In the Renaissance, art was a highly regulated profession anchored within the framework of the guilds. It was integrated into the labor and business aspect of craftmaking, and the artist was not viewed as an independent originator separate from society, but a contractor/craftsman. Nevertheless, there were individual craftsmen whose work stood out above the common masses of master craftsmen. Generally, these new, rather autonomous painters, received some guidance in the planning of their iconographical program with many of their commissions utilizing the assistance of their workshop. This marks the beginning of the conceptual autonomy of the artist, but does not require much of his own manual involvement beyond creating the disegno - he still enjoyed the assistance of journeymen and apprentices in his studio.

At what point did it become important to the painter to feel the necessity to assume full control of the manual aspect of his work without assistance of the studio? And to what extent was this influenced by external factors? It seems that eventual societal and economic change, change in patronage, criticism, as well as theory, contributed to the shift in the perception that the painter should be fully responsible for his work. The need for artists to be seen as intellectuals prompted the rise of the academies in France and England. While in the workshops artists copied designs and styles of one master, the academies allowed artists to study many different styles from classical canons. Over time, the economic and political conditions of the time created a new class of patrons who began to purchase art with themes they could understand. This in conjunction with the criticism that artists’ creativity was being stifled by the strict hierarchy of rules and themes dictated by the academies, enabled artists to become more independent. In addition, the writings of the Enlightenment promoting the idea of original genius and imagination coupled with the Romantic notion of artists being emotional beings from which ideas flow spontaneously led to a dissociation from classical history painting.

While there is little evidence to prove that artists neglected the entire studio process, the shift of the public view of the artist as one being inspired independently does allow us to believe that artists did begin to work with less aid if any from assistants. The rapidly changing social strata of the Industrial Revolution, the radical ideas of the French Revolution, and the new views of the Romantic writers all collided at the same time in history. They brought with them a crisis in the art world by highlighting how it should be organized, how artists should be trained, and how ultimately they functioned and worked in a rapidly modernizing society. The artist becomes more of an independent entity, relying less on the production assistance of studio hands and classical themes and compositions, and ultimately utilizes imagination and creativity in the making of art.

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