Dots and Data: Seurat, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty

Michael Gutierrez



More than any other artist of the modern era, Georges Seurat has been subjected to an analysis in which the genius of his works is reduced to the theoretical framework?pointillism?out of which they supposedly emerged. This paper considers three major paintings, Une Baignade, Un dimanche après-midi à l?île de la Grande Jatte, and Les Poseuses, to examine the relation of Seurat?s theory to his practice. First, we take a historical look at the theory and practice of optical mixture, a critical technique for Seurat. Second, we develop a philosophical critique of the results achieved by these methods, by way of the aesthetics of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Third, we study the three paintings to determine the extent of Seurat?s actual adherence to these theoretical methods, and we draw a broader conclusion concerning the relation of art theory to practice.



aesthetics, Seurat, pointillism

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