November 15, 2012
“The Third of May 1808”: The Influence of Modern Paintings
Throughout history, documents have formed the basis of the society we live in today. One document that has changed over time, influencing many communities with its revolutionary thought, and promoting a new way of thought regarding War and art itself, is Francisco Goya’s painting “The Third of May 1808”. Marshall McLuhan believes that every document, regardless of the message they communicate, exert a compelling influence on man and society. Goya’s painting is an example of one of these documents. According to Duguid and Brown, a document can allow for the formation of new societies and communities, such as the revolutionary communities created out of Goya’s painting. Goya’s painting also helped usher in the modern, emotional, and honest way of painting in the late 19th century, in part, as McLuhan would say, thanks to the telegraph (McLuhan 5). “The Third of May 1808” was a document with the ability to exert a compelling influence on man and society from the past, present, and into the future. “The Third of May 1808” is one of many paintings depicting the horrors of war. With his painting, Goya gave us an intimate look at war, highlighting the evils of ignorance and superstition in his work. According to McLuhan, this painting had the ability to exert a compelling influence on man and society. Goya introduced into Spanish society a new way of thinking and painting. Goya is largely seen as one of the fathers of modernist painting, in large part due to “The Third of May 1808.”(Hughes 208) McLuhan writes that documents have the ability to transform an entire environment, which is basically what happens with Goya and his painting. “The Third of May 1808” was published posthumously in Spain, but that didn’t stop the wave of change from crashing down. Goya’s painting conveyed information in a way that was sympathetic to the Spanish people at the time as he painted Napoleon’s soldiers as the aggressive men they were, killing innocent Spanish civilians without a second thought (Goya 12). This form of thought conflated with the revolutionary thought at the time, as the political situation at the time was a time of pretender Kings, and confusing love affairs. Some Spanish men then saw Goya’s painting and the ‘focused’ message that it brought regarding the feeling of revolution. Using, McLuhan’s theory of “hot” and “cool” mediums, “The Third of May 1808” was an inherently “hot” medium as it had a focused message regarding the horrors of war; however, this was not the only message that some would see in Goya’s painting in later years. France was notably appalled at the treatment the French were getting in Goya’s paintings. Goya was suitably harsh when showcasing Napoleonic troops in Spain, depicting them as firing on helpless civilians among other disastrous acts. Because France was very much in an era of nationalism at the time, not revolution, as in Spain, Goya’s painting caused its message to conflate into a renewed rivalry against France and Spain (Keegan 163). “The Third of May 1808” might have been a “hot” medium; however, different communities can interpret visuals quite differently thanks to their different thoughts and culture. Going back to McLuhan, he is correct in the sense that documents forge communities as well as, such as the case with the French, forging a feeling of nationalism and unity. Documents can forge diverging communities with its ability to garner multiple interpretations, Duguid and Brown are men who believe this; although, on a smaller scale. “The Third of May 1808” formed large, diverging communities in regards to the French and Spanish, but it also formed much smaller communities among the elites, as they were fascinated by Goya’s new way of honest and emotional painting. We are indeed “linked by text” (Duguid and Brown 12), and it shows with how the painters of the time start...
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