Degas’s propensity for saying one thing and doing another is undoubtedly linked to his inveterate experimentalism (or opportunism, as Feyerabend would put it), his propensity to try anything that might lead to new ways of reinterpreting and revising his customary subjects and compositions. Consequently, for all their pungency and quotability, his quips—which I don’t intend to stop quoting—cannot be taken as entirely descriptive of his practice. Pedersen and her colleagues are not as careful about this as they should be. They take at face value the artist’s repeated assertions that, contrary to his fellow Impressionists, he had upheld the classical tradition of draftsmanship as transmitted through Ingres: “I’ve always tried to urge my colleagues to seek for new combinations along the path of draftsmanship, which I consider a more fruitful field than that of color. But they wouldn’t listen to me and have gone the other way.” Degas’s drawings are marvelous, and the early ones, cool and linear, show Ingres’s unmistakable influence. But in the practice of drawing, Degas radically departed from the method of Ingres and the academic tradition of which his work is the apotheosis.
more from Barry Schwabsky at The Nation here.