According to that story, the police thought about arresting him, but decided against it. Mitchell managed to escape arrest, but among the rest of us, arrests for swearing at the police are far from unheard of. These arrests have happened under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. People arrested under Section 5 can be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice, and convictions can result in a fine.
As importantly, it heralded a reconfiguration in the respective positions of the critic and the artist, if not a reconceptualization of the very meaning of these terms.
The trial exposed to scrutiny the spiritualizing mission of criticism itself while bringing about an elevation and expansion of the concept of the artist.
As Shearer West has argued, it also offered an important precedent for the power of laughter and wit to demolish the self-representations of established power.
Portrait of John Ruskin Figure 2: Portrait of the Painter, c. Whistler too was forced to beat a hasty retreat. Granted a technical victory by the jury but awarded damages of just one farthing the smallest coin of the realm without costs, Whistler was bankrupted by the trial and forced to sell his magnificent Godwin-designed house in Tite Street.
That the buyer was the critic Harry Quilter, whom he despised, only added insult to injury.
Within a year he had departed England for Venice in an effort to renew his creativity and bank balance—though not before issuing a vituperative pamphlet, titled Whistler v. The etchings and pastels with which he returned from Venice went some way to restoring his reputation—even his enemies conceded he was the finest etcher since Rembrandt—and he continued to be sought after as a portrait-painter for the rest of his life.
But in the years following his return from Veniceit became increasingly clear that the trial had hardened Whistler in his scorn for the English; the final parting came when he took up residence permanently in Paris in Art and Art Critics had merely been the first of many publications in which the ever-litigious Whistler represented himself as the living personification of the artist as permanent outsider.
The Baronet and The Butterfly: When Whistler exhibited eight paintings at the Grosvenor Galleryhe was associating himself with the most avant-garde trends in contemporary art.
Watts among others—stood opposed to the orthodoxies enshrined in the Royal Academy: The Falling Rocket, c. Ruskin had spent the best part of three decades inveighing against the hefty capitalization and swift consumption of art. By no means did the verdict vindicate the paintings themselves.
The cultural consequences of the trial grew out of the contradiction between the legal verdict and the insulting damages.
No matter what face they chose to put on it to the world at large, both Ruskin and Whistler must have felt privately that the outcome represented a form of defeat or public rebuke—as indeed it was. The consequence was a revolution in the respective standings of the artist and the critic, if not a radical reconceptualization of the very meanings of these terms.
As the presiding judge acknowledged, criticism itself had been placed in the dock when Whistler took out his injunction against Ruskin: For many Victorians, nobody arbitrated better than Ruskin between the competing claims of appearance, depth, truth, falsity, art, and commerce in a society increasingly given over to quick commodification and mass production.
People who liked to be on the right side reserved judgment until the arbiter of English taste, John Ruskin, had expressed his, the Daily News remarked. As importantly, the trial appeared to undermine the claims of truth itself insofar as they had underpinned the authority of the critic till now.
So far as Ruskin personally was concerned, it was not the imputation of malice or defamation driving the verdict that would have been upsetting so much as the idea that his words represented a subjective, personalized opinion.
What effect does it really produce on me? Suddenly it must have appeared that Pater had found support from the most unexpected of quarters. This elevation of the artist was not without its effects on Oscar Wilde.
The questions with which the dialogue begins—Why should the artist be troubled by the shrill clamor of criticism? Why should those who cannot create take upon themselves to estimate the value of creative work?
In this association of the artist with unseriousness, Wilde again borrows from Whistler: As importantly, in his presentation of the trial in his magnum opus The Gentle Art of Making Enemies—a book much admired by the wit and caricaturist Max Beerbohm—Whistler asks his reader to laugh at the whole affair, not least by the care with which he deploys the graphic machinery of the book page layout, typography, marginal annotation, graphic end-piece so as to undermine any claims put forth in the central text that is, his transcript of the trial itself.
The principal actor in the Whistler-Ruskin trial, by this account, was neither the litigant nor the defendant but rather the public in the balcony, whose laughter, like that of Whistler himself, echoed long after the jury had delivered their mocking verdict.
An Annotated Uncensored Edition Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Lectures and Essays in Criticism. U of Michigan P, A Pot of Paint: Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler v. Studies in Art and Poetry: U of California P, Letter 79 of Fors Clavigera:In "Self-Reliance," philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson argues that polite society has an adverse effect on one's personal growth.
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