艺术史家罗伯特 L. 赫伯特（Robert L. Herbert，1929-）认为米勒是一个19世纪的神话，但并不是现实。通过对那些被忽略或被边缘化的上千件手稿的研究和比照，他将米勒对前工业时代田园风光的描绘看作其个人对城市工业变迁的极端反应，从而找到一个过去的美好家园，来消除对快速扩张的城市、急剧发展的城市工业的恐惧，将自己从城市生活和冷酷无情的资本主义制度中释放出来。而被作为之前艺术史家的原始材料的传记，则忽略了这些内容。
Traditional manuscripts research mainly focuses on western art history. Although,in the field of Western art, manuscripts have been around for a long time, research of manuscripts has a very short history. During the Renaissance and classical art period, studies on manuscripts were rare. Only after the art history became a modern discipline,did the manuscript begin to be valued and become a subject of study for art historians. Manuscripts are often viewed as a starting point or a link in a purposive process, or as "proof" of reality and authenticity in comparison with the finished work.
In traditional art history, the lower limit of research on manuscripts is Impressionism, because most impressionistic artists create works directly outdoors, rather than carrying out structural studies in the studio. In this sense, Impressionism and other modern art styles which emphasize originality and ingenuity, are fundamentally “anti-manuscript”. Many works that look like manuscripts do not point to the final work. Of course, this does not mean that modern artists have no manuscripts in the traditional sense. For some works, especially those created for research, manuscripts are still the process and basis for the final creation, and they are valuable for art history research.
The art historical value of manuscripts can be approached from two perspectives. For one thing, the manuscript is an exercise for artistic creation. For another, the manuscript serves as a carrier of special information. In different research methodologies, manuscripts may present different value. In the traditional approach, emphasis is placed on how the artist’s individual style and language develop, and how his creative thinking is formed and change. One of the common features of this type of research is the need to establish a link between the manuscript and the final work and to define and discuss the final work through the similarities or differences between them.
Another methodology that approaches manuscripts from the outside of art and aestheticscarries out studies insocial, economic, political, and cultural historical fields. This is quite common in art history studies in recent decades. For example, the research on patronand patronagesystems that were prevalent in previous years was closely related to manuscripts. Such studies do not aim to justify a certain conclusion by the study of manuscripts. On the contrary, art historians often overturna long-established conclusion. The finished work is seen as a result of modification or hiding of information, while the manuscript reveals many secrets behind it, which presents more primitive and authentic message.
I’ve also noticed this in my research on the Barbizon School. For example,Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) repeatedly sketched about the subject of “The Sower” since the 1950s. There are not only the three completed oil paintings but also a large number of manuscripts. Among the oil paintings such as The Sower, The Gleaners and The Angelus, people could detect more of pastoral atmosphere full of religious sentiments. However, in a sketch forThe Sower, there is an unexpected “telegraph tower”. In the history of art, the Barbizon School is always associated with the simple rural life that resembles the Garden of Eden in an ideal world. However, the advent of modern devices such as telegraph towers breaks this myth. A split emerges between manuscripts and the final work.
The Barbizon School was active from the 1840s to the 1880s. In the 19th Century France fraught with revolutions, how could Barbizon, which was only tens of kilometers away from Paris, be free from turbulence and emerged as Eden? In fact, many artists came to Barbizon to escape the turmoil in Paris, but this was not an idyllic pastoral land, but in the throes of French modernization. At this juncture, it was the golden age of the French industrial revolution when the peasant economy began to shift to agricultural capitalism and large farms began industrialization. The farm not far from Millet's residence was a large one that was no longer an idyllic Garden of Eden. Art historian T.J. Clark called the firewood gathers in Fontainebleau forest “the proletariat in the forest”, where disturbing social factors surged. Why, then, did Millet filter the scene in reality, and eradicated the modernity in his manuscripts, eventually depicted an outdated rural scene?
Art historian Robert L. Herbert (1929-) considers Millet as a 19thcentury myth instead of a reality. By studying and comparing thousands of manuscripts that have been overlooked or marginalized, he views Millet's pastoral landscape as an individual's extreme reaction to the industrial changes in the city. That is, by creating a better home out of the past, Millet tended to eliminate his fear of the rapidly expanding city and to free himself from urban life and the callous capitalist system. However, this insight was overlooked in the biographies, which had been taken as the primary material for the previous art historians.
Millet's first biographer is Alfred Sensier (1815-1877). Sensier was a civil servant of the National Gallery of France and a national arts and culture institution. He was also the main patron of Millet and Rousseau in Barbizon. Through his promotion and sales, most of Millet's paintings were sold to the middle class in the city of Paris. On the one hand, in the eyes of the then middle-class, the suburbs and the nearby rural areas were far from beautiful and were full of conflicts. On the other hand, in the turmoil of the revolution, they wanted to seek comfort and remedy for their anxiety fromthe ancient history of the countryside. As a result, Millet's portrayal of the outdated village landscape gave what consumers are eager to see. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand the tremendous changes made from reality to manuscripts and from manuscripts to his final works.
Manuscripts in the study of traditional art history often point to the story behind the important work, and the study of manuscripts often brings about new discoveries. However, with the rapidly updating research methodologies of art history, and the scope and definition of manuscripts constantly expanding for both modern and contemporary art, manuscripts are taking on different historical forms, varying from onetoanother to different degrees in forms, value and functions. In modern and contemporary art, there are many so-called manuscripts that actually do not correspond to the finished works. They are not the studies of a certain subject in the traditional sense, nor are they used to realize a certain result. Sometimes they are independent works per se, and sometimes they are attached images or texts.
In addition to independent art works, manuscripts of modern art sometimes areemulatedpractices. This is especially true for Van Gogh, whose large number of surviving manuscripts is copies of Millet's work. In the 20thcentury, visual acquisition of the real image became unnecessary because of the advent of cameras and video recorders. Many of the new art genres that emerged after World War II can also be described as manuscripts in the broad sense. For example, the conceptual art popularized in the 1960s and 1970s not only has the root of surrealism but also is a leftist response to the pursuit of materialism in the World War. Therefore, the concept of de-materialization became predominant. However concept always has to be presented with material at the lowest limit, hence the manuscript becamethe most important carrier of concepts, and i.e. literature itself became art
In contemporary art, direct visual reproduction of the reality becomes less frequent, so doesthe manuscript in the traditional sense. But for the installation, performance or conceptual art, there would be what we call blueprints, which in fact include the artist's ideas and illustrations. Sometimes the blueprint itself is a workof art. When we call them manuscripts, there are in fact inherently different from those duringthe Renaissance period of time. For the study of art history, their value and judging criteria are still needed to be considered. However, unlike traditional manuscripts, they can sometimes be used as a kind of productive material.
There was once a project called “The Abolished Plan” curated by Biljana Ciric, who collected plans which had failed to be finalized since the early ‘80s in China, and explored the reasons behind. The exhibition not only had correlation with the curatorial idea, but also with external factors such as the art agency, the art market and public aesthetic. From a grander perspective, these phenomena were also closely related to the reality of the Chinese society. Apparently, such a project about manuscripts is as creative and academic. It is obviously necessary for art historians and art critics to recognize the different historical forms and value of manuscripts and then treat them differently from different perspectives with different approaches.