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a trend in painting formulated in the art academies of the 16th through 19th centuries and founded on dogmatic adherence to the importance of external forms in classical art.
Academism made possible the systemization of artistic education and the strengthening of classical tradition, which were transformed into a system of “eternal” canons and instructions. Considering contemporary reality unworthy of “exalted” art, academism presented instead timeless and nonnational norms of beauty, idealized images, and subjects remote from reality (from ancient mythology, the Bible, and ancient history), which it emphasized by conventionality and abstraction in modeling, color, and drawing and theatricality of composition, gesture, and pose. As the official school accepted by most monarchies and bourgeois states, academism turned its idealistic aesthetics against progressive national realistic art.
Academism arose at the end of the 16th century in Italy. The Bologna school—which formulated rules for the imitation of the art of antiquity and the Renaissance as well as the French academism of the second half of the 17th and 18th centuries (C. Le Brun and others)—mastered a group of the principles and methods of classicism and served as a model for many European and American academies of fine arts. During the 19th century, the leaders of academism—such as A. Canova in Italy, D. Ingres in France, and F. A. Bruni in Russia—insisted on the emasculated tradition of classicism and fought against the romantics, the realists, and the naturalists but accepted some of the outer aspects of their methods, reducing academism to eclectic salon art. Academism declined under the blows of the realists, including the Russian peredvizhniki (members of the Society of Wandering Exhibitions), and bourgeois individualistic opposition; it was retained only in part at the end of the 19th century and in the 20th century in a group of countries, for the most part in the renovated forms of neoclassicism. The term “academism” is also understood more broadly to mean any canonization or transformation of the ideals and principles of the art of the past into immutable norms. In this sense one speaks of the academism of several schools of Hellenistic and Roman sculpture, which canonized the heritage of the ancient Greek classics, or of a group of modern artists who have tried to revive the concepts of schools and currents which have become historically outdated.
A. M. KANTOR