2 Have Images Lost Their Influence?

Connor Old

As discussed in this lesson, images can have a powerful impact. This lesson, centered around the French Revolution, demonstrated the impact artists such as Jacques-Louis David had on the revolution’s success. This period of rejecting established norms and innovations in the art exhibition space piqued my curiosity and allowed for further reflection, establishing a clear line between the significant impact of art during the long 19th century and the present. If images could start a revolution, do they still hold that same power in today’s culture? This thought led to further research discovering more about David’s innovative exhibition practices. As mentioned in the lesson, David rebelled against the academy when he displayed The Intervention of the Sabine Women by charging admission for a solo exhibition, even including a mirror to place the viewer inside the painting. However, further research discovered that this was not the only time David did this as he experimented with mirrors when displaying Mars Being Disarmed by Venus and The Coronation of Napoleon (Greenberg, Ferguson and Nairne 1995). All three of which influenced the expansion of the independent exhibition during the early Third Republic (Ward 1991). This research allowed me to further reflect on how art exhibitions have evolved and wonder if the delivery method could change how the viewer perceives the image. At this time, both the independent and the academy systems exerted a form of curation. However, this curation slowly degraded as the enlightenment values that spurred the French Revolution evolved to provide a truly democratic platform; the internet.

While this new form of display allows marginalized members of society to showcase their art, something much harder to accomplish in the 19th century, their ability to have a significant impact has proved more difficult. People consume everything at once. A political poster may be seen alongside a picture of a dog on Instagram, positioning the two as being of equal importance. This paralysis of choice leads to a psychological phenomenon called continuous partial attention, where the people who engage with a constant barrage of visual imagery as found on social media are often easily distractible and fail to aptly critically engage with the images (Bawden and Robinson 2009). Furthermore, social media sites are designed to provide you with content that they think you will like, making it harder for images meant for social change to reach their desired audience (Bruns 2019).

So, it was in researching the developments of the art exhibition and David’s ability to independently exhibit his paintings for a more significant impact that illuminated his importance to me. For as much as his paintings were crucial to the revolution and subsequent years after, the venue they were displayed in was equally as important. This conflicts with how the inundation of images in today’s culture, as consumed through the internet, has desensitized some of its impacts. While the effect of visual images themselves hasn’t changed, as seen by the recent George Floyd protests that began because of a visual, their ability to meaningfully influence modern culture is more complex than ever because of the way people engage with them.


Bawden, David, and Lyn Robinson. 2009. “The dark side of information: overload, anxiety and other paradoxes and pathologies.” Journal of information science 180-191.
Bruns, Axel. 2019. “Filter bubble.” Internet policy review 1-14.
Greenberg, Reesa, Bruce W. Ferguson, and Sandy Nairne. 1995. “Thinking About Exhibitions.” 323-327. London ; New York: Routledge.
Ward, Martha. 1991. “Impressionist Installations and Private Exhibitions.” The Art Bulletin 599-622.


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Art in Revolution: Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture Copyright © 2022 by Connor Old is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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