Exhibit | ‘Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty’ at MoMA, New York

There is the sense that fine art comes from some ethereal process full of sunshine and double rainbows — as if an artist sits down in front of a canvas, raises a brush and a masterpiece simple pours into the page.

However, like all creative acts of great skill and significance, the work of great artists require years of training, endless practice, extensive planning and hours of preparation. The latest special exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art takes a look at the hard work and craftsmanship that must go into the forging of fine art.

Also: Exhibit | Looking Beyond the Drops with Jackson Pollock at MoMA, New York

Running now through July 24, Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty is an extensive look at the master’s creative process — a focus that elevates the exhibition beyond a mere collection of paintings. Known forever internationally for his impressionist paintings of Parisian ballerinas, Degas obviously painted a wider range of subject matter. However, he brought the same painstaking process of planning and sketching to each of his paintings.

The exhibition also spends time exploring Degas’ proficiency as a print maker. Later in his artistic career, Degas discovered the monotype process — using ink on a metal plate that’s run through a press to create a unique print. 

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MoMA’s curators and designers structured the exhibit to study how Degas progressed from sketch upon sketch, to painting, and to print by arranging the stages of the artist’s work alongside each other. The thoughtful presentation allows the visitor to observe how Degas’ imagery evolved as he studied and rendered it repeatedly.

According to MoMA’s presentation, Degas described his process in very clear terms as he would instruct his students: “Make a drawing, begin it again, trace it, begin it again, and retrace it.” And all of that work would precede any work in painting or printmaking. 

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All totaled, MoMA’s A Strange New Beauty features more than 120 monotypes alongside more than 60 sketches, paintings, and drawings. The result is a fascinatingly well-rounded examination of an artist’s working life above and beyond the end result masterworks.